Are Internal Hard Drives Faster Than External Hard Drives?

Do the terms Internal drive, external drive, hybrid, SSD, HDD, Intel Optane, USB 3.1, USB 3.0, USB C, High-Performance HDD, mean anything to you? In this article, I will explain all these terms to you, plus we are going to see if internal hard drives are faster than external hard drives.

Yes, in practice, internal drives are faster than external drives. External SSD drives are faster than internal HDD drives only if you transfer 1-2 files per time and not if you transfer multiple files. Lab tests are not to be trusted since the conditions are ideal and not realistic.

Hard Drive Lab Tests Speed vs Real-Life Performance

In theory, external SSD’s USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 drives are faster than internal HDD drives. Also, Lab tests claim that external solid-state drives are faster than internal hard disc drives, but that is what these tests are… Lab tests and not real word tests.

In practice, external SSD drives are faster than internal HDD drives ONLY if you transfer 1-2 files per time and NOT if you transfer multiple files (think above 200 files) at the same time.

Therefore at a day to day use, almost all external drives (HDD or SSD, USB 3.0, or USB 3.1) are slower than internal drives.

  • You should use an external drive only for back up purposes and when speed is not an issue. Otherwise, opt for an internal drive.

If you are a music producer you should know how much storage you need for music production. To find out more, click here.

USB Is Always Slower Than SATA

  • SATA are drives that are connected directly on the motherboard).

It’s a fact that USB drives will always be slower than SATA because of their upper limit. But what does upper limit mean?

The upper limit is the maximum amount of data that can be transferred in one second. 

  • USB 3.0 has an upper limit of 5Gbps, and 
  • SATA III has an upper limit of 6Gbps. 

To clarify 1 Gbps = 125 MB/s meaning, 5Gbps is the same as 625 MB/s.

Thus a SATA connection has 1GBps more than a USB 3.0 connection. The difference may be just 1Ggps, but it is definitely noticeable. 

PRO TIP: Keep in mind that in practise these high speeds are useful only for SSD’s since HDDs cant handle more than 1.5Gbps at a time.

How to Decide Between Internal or External Drives


Which External Hard Drive Should I Choose?

These are the best external drives:

  1. LaCie 2TB Rugged SSD USB 3.1 Type-C
  2. WD My Passport Go Portable 1 TB SSD USB 3.1
  3. ADATA HD710M Pro HDD USB 3.1
  4. LaCie Rugged Mini 2TB HDD USB 3.0

It doesn’t really matter which one you’ll choose, all four of them are superb! Plus, they are rugged! 

That said, if speed is your primary focus, then select one of the first two drives since these are SSD drives.

Keep in mind that if you want to buy an external hard drive, there are five areas of attention:

  1. USB 2.0 hard drives.
  2. USB 3.0 hard drives.
  3. USB 3.1 hard drives.
  4. HDD drives.
  5. SSD drives.
  • NOTE: There is a big difference between USB 2.0 hard drives and USB 3.0 hard drives. There is also a big difference between HDD and SSD drives.

Here is what you should remember:

  • USB 3.1 is faster than USB 3.0. 
  • USB 3.0 is faster than USB 2.0.
  • SSD drives are faster than HDD drives.

And when it comes to HDD external drives, USB 2.0 is three times slower than USB 3.0. Also, USB 3.0 is almost half the speed of USB 3.1, making USB 3.1 the clear winner. 

But Mark, what do all these numbers mean, and what type of external drive should I buy?

I hear you. The best external drive with the best possible combination is a USB 3.1 SSD external drive.

External SSD’s might be more expensive, but they are definitely faster! At this point before purchasing, you should just ask yourself, “do I really need the added speed, or would a (slower and cheaper) external HDD do the job just fine?”

This Is When to Use an External SSD Hard Drive

You should use an external SSD only if speed is an absolute must for you. I’m sure you can use the added speed if:

  1. You are a regular gamer and store parts of the game software on an external hard drive.
  2. You produce music and have a large sample library and don’t wish to wait every time for it to load.
  3. You produce music and want your computer to save/load your project files faster.
  4. You use “heavy” graphic software such as Photoshop.
  5. You are doing a lot of video editing.

Obviously, you should not use an external SSD if you don’t want to pay the price or if speed is not in priority for you.


You Should Always Use an Internal SSD as Your Primary OS Drive

Why do I recommend always using an internal SSD as your primary hard drive? Because of speed & reliability.

  • Windows is writing and reading small bits of information all the time; thus, windows is always keeping your hard drive in a “working” state. 
  • You want these daily tasks to happen as fast as possible. This is important even if you are a casual PC user.

You, even more, want an SSD for you OS if you are using “heavy applications” for let’s say: 

  • Music production.
  • Video editing.
  • Photo editing.
  • Or playing games

An SSD will make your whole computer perform better and give you rapid boot times!

Read the advice I gave in one of my other articles:

“I advise you to use an internal SSD on which you will install Windows plus every other application/software your computer needs. I choose SSD’s over HDD’s for my main hard drive because SSD’s last longer and are almost four times faster than their HDD brothers.”

SSD’s are way more reliable than HDDs. Because SSD’s don’t have moving parts, they last longer.

How Big Should My Primary SSD Drive Be?

Quick answer: either 256GB or 512+GB.

These are the internal SSD drives I recommend:

Buy A 256 SSD If:

If you’re a casual computer-user and you don’t intend to run heavy professional applications on a regular basis (such as Photoshop, Ableton Live, or Sony Vegas), a 256GB SSD should be fine as your main drive.

Also if you are 100% sure you will use the computer only for work-related activities and not for everyday use (meaning you will not install non-work related programs), then a 256BG SSD will probably also be enough.

Buy A 512 SSD If:

If you are like me, you will probably use your computer for both everyday use and work-related activities.

  • I use my PC for music production, audio recording, video editing and photo editing. If you expect you will use your computer in a similar fashion, then your primary SSD should be of 512GB or more!

Graphic and music programs take up a lot of space, and if you use your computer for daily activities, you probably will run out of storage very quickly. Again, to prevent this from becoming an issue, choose a large 512GB SSD (or even a 1TB one!).

Secondary Internal Drive: When to Use an Internal High-Performance Hdd, a Hybrid Hdd or Intel Optane Memory?

There are two types of computer users, casual and intensive.

A. Casual Computer Users

As most casual computer users, you’ll probably need a secondary hard drive for file storage and watching movies, playing music, or storing photos. In this case, almost any HDD drive will do the job just fine. 

The best HDD’s for casual computer users

Because you don’t demand much from your PC you can choose almost any HDD you like without noticing any loss in performance.

B. Intensive Computer User

If you’re planning on doing intensive work that requires more than a few tasks to happen simultaneously, such as: 

  • Video editing.
  • Large music multitrack recordings.
  • Complex video editing.
  • A lot of demanding gaming. 🙂

If you do all that or any of that, then you might want to look for a high-performance HDD, a hybrid HDD or Intel optane memory!

High-Performance HDD’s

These drives are one-of-a-kind. They are 40% faster than the average HDD; you can access files faster and edit multiple files easier.

Here is the high-performance HDD I recommend:

Western Digital Black 1TB Performance

Hybrid Drives

I call these drives Frankenstein drives! These types of drives are a combination of HDD and SSD, providing high speed and high-capacity storage. 

This is the best Hybrid Drive I recommend:

Seagate 2 TB FireCuda

Here is a quote from that explains how Hybrid drives work:

“A hybrid hard drive contains both a traditional magnetic drive and the amount of solid-state storage you’d find in a small solid-state drive. Importantly, this hard drive appears as a single drive to your operating system. You’re not in charge of deciding this which files go on the mechanical drive and which files go on the solid-state drive. Instead, the drive’s firmware manages what is and isn’t on the solid-state drive.

The SSD portion of the drive acts as a “cache” — files you access frequently, such as your operating system files and program files — are stored on the SSD portion of your drive by your firmware. Although this is a cache, it’s stored in non-volatile solid-state memory — that means it persists across reboots, so it speeds up your startup process.”

Since hybrid drives are a combination of SSD and HDD one limitation they have is that they don’t offer a lot of SSD storage. A 1 TB hybrid drive may offer 10 GB of SSD storage and 1 TB of HDD storage.

The Advantages of Hybrid Drives

These are the main advantages Hybrid drives offer

  • The information stored on the SSD part of the drive are safer in case the disc is dropped.
  • Hybrid drives have a large storage
  • Hybrid drives are cheaper than SSD’s
  • Your most frequently used software is going to load faster because it stored on the SSD part of the drive.

The Disadvantages of Hybrid Drives

And the disadvantages of hybrid drives.

  • SSD’s are still faster than SSHD’s
  • There HDD part of the hybrid drive is going to read/write at a lower speed compared to the SSD part.
  • Also hybrid drives are still vulnerable to drops. This is not the case with SSD’s.
  • If you frequently use large software, the small storage amount on the SSD may not be enough for you.

Should I Use a Hybrid Drive?

  1. You should consider using a hybrid drive if you are a casual PC user or if you use your computer for business. The added speed is a plus.
  2. You should also consider using a hybrid drive if you don’t have the budget to invest in an SSD or if your computer only has place for one hard drive. 

By using a hybrid drive when your computer has place only for one drive, you combine the high-speed of the SSD and the large capacity of the HDD.

You should NOT use a hybrid drive if you play large games or is you use graphic software often; since the small -this article was created at pop song university- storage capacity of the SSD may not be able to accommodate these types of applications.

Internal Intel Optane Memory Drives 

Okay, If you’ve never heard about Intel Optane memory drives, that’s okay. Until recently there were also new to me! I have done the research for you so that you don’t have to enjoy it!

  • In most cases, Intel Optane drives have the same performance as SSD drives. The Optane drive is a bit similar to the “Frankenstein drive” we saw above; only Optane memory is much faster. 
  • They also offer a lot of the benefits SSD drives have, plus they are cheaper and can be used with large HDD drives such as 1 and 2TB. 

However, to use Optane Memory, you need a PC that is compatible. More on that later.

Here is a list with the best Intel Optane Memory Drives I recommend:

  • Intel Optane Memory M10 16 GB

  • Intel Optane Memory M.2 2280 32GB

  • If you’re a geek, you would want to know that Optane Memory is a form of disk caching that gives the same speed SSD’s have paired with the large storage capacity we see in HDD’s; making this drive the perfect combination. 
  • The way Optane memory works is it takes “data reads” from your hard drive and stores it in the cache. 
  • Also, the “data writes” go first to the cache, which are then copied to the hard drive.
  • You need a second HDD to combine with an Intel Optane drive.

What I said was a bit technical. If you did not understand it just remember this:

Optane memory works as a bridge between RAM and storage, allowing faster data transfer between the processor memory and storage.

In other words, Intel Otane memory caches your computers frequently used processes, improving the overall performance of your system.

What Do I Need So That I Can Use Intel Optane Memory?

If you want to use the Optane memory technology you need:

  1. A compatible motherboard that accepts Optane memory. 
  2. An Intel chipset that supports Optane memory (only intel 7th-gen, i3, i5, i7 and 7XXX series).
  3. At least one M.2 expansion slot to place the Optane memory on it. 

The good news is that you don’t need to worry about the type of RAM, graphic card, or storage drive. Optane memory is compatible with all versions of these components.

Should I Use a 1TB SSD as a Secondary Drive?

Yes, absolutely! Using a large SSD as your secondary drive is your best option if speed and performance are a must for you.

This are the best secondary SSD drives I recommend:

  • Samsung SSD 960 EVO Series

  • Samsung SSD 860 EVO 1TB

  • Crucial BX500 1TB 3D NAND

But Mark, What Hard Drives Would You Choose?

Okay, If you feel a bit overwhelmed, I can relate, 🙂 this guide is packed with info!

I want to help you out so here is the set up I would choose:

If I Were Building a Computer for Everyday Tasks, I Would Choose:

  1. Main OS hard drive: Samsung 960 EVO 250GB Solid State Drive
  2. Secondary hard drive: Seagate 2 TB FireCuda

Scroll up to find the link of these products

If I Were Building a Computer for Everyday Tasks and Work-Related Activities I Would Choose:

  1. Main OS hard drive: Samsung 960 EVO 500GB Solid State Drive (or larger)
  2. Secondary hard drive: Samsung SSD 860 EVO 1TB (or larger)

Thank you for being awesome!

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