That’s a big question. The simple answer? It depends.

If you’re looking for quick, short-term solution for storing and transferring files, then yes, an external hard drive is an excellent choice. However, if you want a reliable, long-term backup, an external hard drive is not the answer.

What is the purpose of an external hard drive?

External hard drives are great for storing data and transferring files from one computer to another. If you’re running out of space on your computer, they are great for storing large files and providing a temporary backup until you can find an alternative solution.

One of the greatest benefits of using an external hard drive is that it is portable. They are typically small and lightweight, so they are easy to carry and store. They are also easy-to-use: Most computers will automatically backup your files when your external hard drive is plugged in and delete old archives when the drive is full.

External hard drives are relatively inexpensive. Seagate, SanDisk, Samsung and Toshiba all offer reliable external hard drive products on Amazon at affordable prices. They typically cost anywhere between $50 – $100.

How long do external hard drives stay good?

Unfortunately, there is no conclusive data. If you do a quick search online, most experts estimate that your hard drive will work properly from anywhere between 3-10 years. It largely depends on the type, usage, and how well you take care of it.

The most reliable data comes from a study done in 2013 by Backblaze, an online backup company. They run approximately 25,000 disk drives at all times, and according to their research, 22% of all hard drives fail within the first four years.

According to PC World, “hard drives are generally reliable for the short term, and if removed from operation and safely stored, may last a decade or two before magnetic properties diminish to the point of producing unrecoverable errors. In constant use, mechanical stresses shorten a drive’s lifespan to three to five years.”

At best, your external hard drive may stay good up to 10 years, if you’re really lucky. Realistically, don’t plan on your hard drive working properly after a few years.

In his article, “How long to hard drives last,” Tyler Wilder from PCGAMER advises, “always assume that any drive could fail at any time: today, tomorrow, in five minutes from now.”

How do I extend the lifespan of my external hard drive?

Time is ultimately the biggest reason why your hard drive will fail – they aren’t built to last forever. Although you can’t control the aging process of your technology, there are a few things that you can do to take care of your external hard drive and extend its life:

  • Make a good purchase: Before you buy a new hard drive, read the most recent tech reviews to find out which ones are the most reliable. Buying a good one up front will save you from a lot of trouble later.
  • Follow the instructions: Before you use your external drive, make sure to read through the manufacturer’s instructions so that you know how to properly use and care for the device.
  • Avoid extreme temperatures: Don’t let your hard drive overheat! Keep it cool. Extreme temperatures can damage the electronic components.
  • Dust it: Make sure to keep your hard drive clean. Dust acts as an insulator and may cause it to overheat.
  • Treat it kindly: Take extra care when handling your drive. The more it gets thrown and jostled around, the more likely it is to get ruined. Store it in a safe, clean space where it is unlikely to get hit or damaged.
  • Eject it properly: When you remove your external hard drive from your computer, make sure to use to eject it from the computer before you pull out the plug.

The better you treat your hard drive, the more likely it is to stay good for a longer period of time.

Are there better backup options available?

Yes! External hard drives are not the only form of backup on the market. However, there some are more reliable than others.

CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs don’t have very long shelf lives, so you’ll want to avoid those entirely. Online backups are somewhat reliable, but not 100%. Even bigger companies like Amazon have experienced major crashes and lost customer data.

If you want to make sure your files stay safe for an extended period of time, then you should consider archiving.

The most reliable archiving technology is the MDISC. When you archive your files onto an MDISC, you literally engrave your data onto a stone-like core, a carbon compound, that is design to last for up to 1,000 years.

Unlike external hard drives, you only need to save your data once, and then you never have to worry about it again. You drastically reduce your chances of experiencing data loss.

If you’re looking for a simple solution, burns your photos and videos onto MDISCs for you. When you sign up for our subscription service, we do all the work. Simply connect to Google drive, Flickr, Instagram or Facebook, and we’ll send you a new disc each month. Still not convinced? You can sign up for a trial and we’ll send you your first disc for free.

External hard drives are great for short-term data storage, but if you want to keep your files safe for an extended period of time, archiving is the only way to go.

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