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Should I Leave My External Drive Plugged In?

Monday, December 1st, 2014 by | Filed Under: File & Disk Management

Oveda from Visaila, CA writes:

I have an external hard drive for backup in case my computer goes south. My question is if/when my computer does go bad or gets a virus do the files on the external go with it? Should I not have it plugged into the computer all the time?

If your hard drive were to crash for mechanical reasons, say your hard drive just dies of old age,  your external drive would not be affected. But in the event of something like a power surge damaging your computer, if they’re both plugged into the same place, they both might be damaged.

A virus affects the computer’s operating system and not your external hard drive, but it can be loaded onto the drive as an attachment to a file and if you mirror your entire internal drive, you’ll mirror that virus as well. If you have proper up-to-date virus and malware protection, you shouldn’t get viruses. If it keeps happening, you need to either change your security or find out where they’re coming from. Your security software should also be set to scan your external drive.

Now if you are continually backing up your hard drive because there are frequent changes to the files or you have a nightly full backup scheduled, it makes sense to leave it plugged in all the time.

External Hard Drives

But if you’re backing up, say maybe once a week, there’s no need to plug that external drive in until you’re actually doing the backup. If there aren’t a lot of changes to the files, say you mostly use your computer for surfing the net or e-mail, you probably don’t need to back up on a daily basis. How many times you write to a drive determines its lifespan and there’s really no need to continually back up to an external drive unless there are changes to the files on the computer.  Some manufacturers do suggest turning the hard drives off when not in use because of the heat generated.  But if you will be using the drive frequently, it’s better to leave it on because constantly turning off and on can be hard on the hard drive.

There’s no one right answer. It depends on your needs.

I always suggest keeping an off-site copy of your important files just in case of fire or other natural disaster. Either back those files up in the cloud or keep a drive somewhere like a safe-deposit box.


Of course the issue with keeping a physical drive in a bank is that in the case of a disaster like a tornado or flood, both your home and your bank location might be affected.

 ~ Cynthia

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3 Responses to “Should I Leave My External Drive Plugged In?”

  1. Bill Leach says:

    Yet again! Sage advice Cynthia. As you say, power cycling with its associated surges, thermal cycles, demands on the platter motor really are “heavy.” So it is valid issue but then there is a balance (a bit hard to determine, but it exists). I have had drives run for over 10 years continuously (and provably still work but they were replaced with higher capacity drives). Of course the power supplies were industrial grade with industrial grade USS and surge protection.

  2. Paul Holzwarth says:

    I recommend keeping a large USB back-up hard drive in your car or with one of your children or a fiend, and not the bank.

    • cynthia says:

      Not a bad idea Paul, but you still run into the issue that if there’s a natural disaster such as a tornado or flood or even a house fire, your car is likely to be at your house and probably in your garage where that hard drive can be damaged. Leaving it with a friend or relative is a good idea, too.

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