If you’re shopping for computer peripherals, an external solid-state drive (SSD) probably isn’t at the top of your shopping list. While your PC or laptop will function without one, the benefits really outweigh the price, and a good external SSD should be a priority for everyone.
Backing up the files you value is important. While accidents happen and electronics die, it’s still reassuring to know that your irreplaceable photos, videos, and documents won’t die with a single device when that does happen.
Price is also a big factor. A few years ago, SSDs were expensive and offered limited storage capacity. Now, they’re better and cheaper than ever. But those aren’t the only reasons why you should have one.
Solid-state drives have several advantages over both flash drives and external hard disk drives (HDD), the biggest of which is speed. They can write up to 10 times faster and read data up to 20 times faster than a disk—so you could save hours while moving data to and from the drive. The raw speed of the SSD may also make you more likely to back things up. Something that takes hours is a chore; something that takes a few minutes might not be a problem.
Durability is also a key factor. While external hard disk drives are designed to take more of a punch than the drive you may have screwed into your desktop, they are still fragile. A good knock may render the drive inoperable, or worse, damage the disk itself and the data stored on it. Alternatively, an SSD has no moving parts, and you would need to utterly destroy the thing to wipe out the data stored on it.
This is where weight comes into things. Chances are, the few ounces of difference between an SSD and an HDD won’t bother you, and you won’t even feel the difference in something like a bag. But consider dropping both drives or knocking them from the edge of a table. The lighter, more durable solid-state drive will almost certainly be fine, whereas the heavier, more fragile hard disk drive may not fare so well.
So what about flash drives? They’re smaller than SSDs, more durable than HDDs, and pretty fast. You can connect an external SSD via a SATA port, but the chances are you’ll be using one of the same USB ports you’d plug a flash drive into. If you’re shopping for around 1TB of storage, there isn’t even a huge price gap either. So what’s the difference?
SSDs are still faster. Both devices are similar, but many SSDs use a DRAM cache to speed up how commonly accessed data is delivered. DRAM doesn’t wear out either, unlike flash memory. So even though your SSD still uses flash memory to store the bulk of your files, the wear on that memory will be greatly reduced, and your drive will have a significantly longer lifespan.
Flash drives are also easier to lose and harder to find. I’ve lost count of the number of flash drives that I’ve left plugged into a college computer, left in my jeans on wash day, or just misplaced and never saw again over the years. I don’t recall ever misplacing an external HDD or SSD.
If you’re concerned about personal information, an SSD can provide an extra layer of security. Even if someone had remote access to your computer, they can’t get at your personal data if it is on an external drive you have stashed in a drawer. Cloud services have repeatedly been hacked, and vulnerabilities are constantly being discovered.
If the device you store your data on isn’t connected to the internet, someone would have to break into your house and physically steal it to get at the data. Even then, you can still password protect and encrypt the data stored on your external SSD, or take it one step further by choosing an SSD with a built-in biometric security factor, as this option does).
This isn’t to say you should avoid cloud services. They’re great for storing images, videos, and files. But data can be lost from the cloud too. There’s no such thing as too many backups, so why not use both?
The other problem with cloud-based data is you need the Internet to access it. While this isn’t a problem 99% of the time, many things can go wrong between your computer and the place where your data is stored.
Most likely is that your Internet service may be down. Most people will know this feeling; it happens to me a couple of times a year. No internet access, no cloud access, no data access. Equally, whichever cloud service you’re using could experience server issues, once again cutting you off from your data.
All in all, modern internet and cloud services are reliable for most of their users most of the time. But it’s not outlandish to suggest you might not be able to access a piece of stored data at a time you really need it. To put it in perspective, if you own a laptop with some charge in its battery, you can access anything on an external SSD at any time—even during a power outage.
You can pick a good 1TB external SSD for just over $100 and use it to securely store anything you really don’t want to lose or might need access to at any time. You can get 2TB of cloud storage for around the same price, but you’ll be paying that repeatedly—and the cost of your cloud storage could always go up.
Writing and rewriting data is the only thing that really impacts an SSD’s lifespan, so if you buy one, back up everything you hold dear, and leave it in a cupboard—it should last indefinitely.
An external SSD will also work with your laptop, desktop, PlayStation, tablet, and most phones. If you have the correct type of USB adapter, you can even store information or switch it between many of your devices.
Equally, if you want an extra layer of security for things like financial documents, ID scans, and the like—you have a device you can completely disconnect from your network. This makes it impossible to remotely access and keeps you safe from bad actors on the big bad internet. For the money, an external SSD is definitely worth having. Ready to pick one out? Check out our guide to the best external hard drives—we have options for all needs and budgets.