External Hard Drive

An external hard drive is a hard drive in a separate enclosure that can connect to a computer to store and transfer data. They provide extra data storage space when internal drives are nearly full, serve as destinations for system backups, and help transfer large amounts of data between computers.

External hard drives have used multiple interfaces over the years — SCSI, USB 2.0, Firewire, External SATA, and USB 3.0. Most external drives now use USB 3.2 or Thunderbolt connections, which offer significantly faster data transfer speeds than older standards. USB 3.2 can transfer data up to 20 Gbps, and Thunderbolt can transfer data up to 40 Gbps.

External hard drives are an important part of a digital backup plan. One can be kept in a safe location between backups in case the computer is damaged or lost. Using the drive to restore data or perform another backup is as simple as connecting it to the computer, and either copying the necessary files from one drive to another, or using a backup utility to automate the process.

NOTE: While many high-capacity external drives use hard disk drives, external solid-state drives (SSDs) are increasingly common. Since they lack moving parts, they're less susceptible to damage by being carried in a laptop bag.

Updated January 12, 2023 by Brian P.

quizTest Your Knowledge

Which device might have a boot sector?

Correct! Incorrect!     View the Boot Sector definition.
More Quizzes →

The Tech Terms Computer Dictionary

The definition of External Hard Drive on this page is an original definition written by the TechTerms.com team. If you would like to reference this page or cite this definition, please use the green citation links above.

The goal of TechTerms.com is to explain computer terminology in a way that is easy to understand. We strive for simplicity and accuracy with every definition we publish. If you have feedback about this definition or would like to suggest a new technical term, please contact us.

Sign up for the free TechTerms Newsletter

How often would you like to receive an email?

You can unsubscribe or change your frequency setting at any time using the links available in each email.

Questions? Please contact us.