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Old 06-10-2006, 01:15 PM   #1
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Advantages and disadvantages of external drives

What are the advantages and disadvantages of external drives (USB) compared to internal drives (IDE). Both for hard drives and for CD-ROM drives.

So far I have:
External drives generally cost more.
External drives are more portable.
External drives are easy to install.
  1. Once installed, and assuming I just leave it always plugged in, is an external drive going to function exactly like an internal drive? For instance, will I need to manually mount the drive? Will a CD icon still appear on the desktop when I insert a CD?
  2. Are external drives safer from damage caused by having other malfunctioning hardware in the computer?
  3. One Web site I found said that external drives are more expensive "due to the duplication of support hardware" (link). What does this mean?
  4. Will any internal 52x32x52 CD-RW read, write, and rewrite at the same speed as any USB 52x32x52 CD-RW?

Last edited by General; 06-10-2006 at 01:22 PM.
Old 06-10-2006, 01:53 PM   #2
David the H.
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1) Assuming your system is properly configured, then yes, it will function pretty much exactly as an internal device would.

2) It depends. They might be a little safer from some forms of internal harm, but they are also more vulnerable to physical damage. But overall I'd say they would be affected the same way as internal drives. See 1 above.

3) The "duplication" mentioned is the fact that external drives need ide to usb translation hardware, external power supplies, possible cooling hardware, and of course, the case itself. All things that are automatically provided to internal drives.

4) Interface speed, along with cost, is probably the biggest disadvantage. External drives will almost always be slower than an equivilent internal. This is mainly due to the fact that the data has to flow through a narrower pipe. Even usb2.0 or firewire is much slower than an internal IDE interface. I doubt very much you'd be able to get the full write speed on a 52x CD drive, for example.

Other things to consider might be the ease or difficulty of installation, the greater use of electricity, possible noise or vibration problems, driver and interface incompatibilities, limited usb/firewire jacks, and probably many more. I'd say, as a rule of thumb, if you have a desktop system, then internal is better than external, as long as you aren't scared to open up the case and fiddle with the insides. Otherwise, go with an external. (Of course, laptop users will almost always need externals.)

The debate is really very similar to the choice between laptops and desktops. Some people need portability and flexibility, and so pay more for less, while others look more for power, and so go for hardware that's not as easy to handle (physically, that is), but is cheaper and more capable overall. In the end, it all comes down to what your individual needs are.
Old 06-11-2006, 01:15 AM   #3
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David the H's answer is spot on. From my point of view, the main practical tradeoff with external drives comes down to "portability vs fragility". It's great to be able to carry a huge 200G or 300G drive with you and plug it in to another machine, but I've seen two external drives suffer failures after only a few months of service (one of them belonging to me) and it's not as though either of them were mishandled or abused. They just seen to be more fragile.

My overall view of them is that they're useful, but it's better to keep your important data on an internal drive, and use the external drive as a portable backup. In other words, copy any important data you need over to it, go to the other location, then copy the changed data back to your PC. Just my 2 cents


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