Cloud storage vs. external hard drive

When I was younger I used to be quite savvy with high street tech. I worked in mobile phone shops for several years and new all the available mobile phone models and the latest gadgety features they had at the time. But a few years later I met Dave who is an IT geek and a gadget lover. Gradually, all my gadgety and digital needs were taken over by Dave (mainly because it was so much easier to let him do it all) and now I am really out of touch.

One of the biggest changes I have noticed is the price of digital storage. When I was doing my A levels in 2005 it cost me £20 for a 512MB memory stick and now you can pick up a 1TB external hard drive for around £60. 1TB is 2000x bigger than a 512MB memory stick, to put that price change over 9 years in perspective. In 2005 the largest available hard disk drive was only 500gb (half of 1TB)!

But now the rise of virtual storage, referred to as the ‘the cloud’ (not to be confused with the Wi-Fi company by the same name) or cloud storage, digital data backup has been revolutionised.  Now anyone can use the internet to save data with companies that can be accessed anytime. However, as with most things, there is a debate over the old fashioned and the futuristic. Which method of back up is best?

Pros and Cons
I researched the subject to found the following pros and cons for each:

Cloud storage


  • Some storage is available for free with some providers.
  • Can never lose it
  • Can be accessed on any device
  • Files can be shared easily with friends and family
  • Always up to date with technology 


  • Relies on an internet connection to upload files and access files. 
  • Uses internet bandwidth which can cost if you haven’t got an unlimited upload plan.
  • It costs above the free storage threshold (5gb for Google)
  • If you decide to revert to hard drive storage you will need to transfer all your files
  • Regular payments are required and infinitely
  • Some providers force the customer to do a manual sync every time a change is made to a file. If you change a file stored on your PC, you have to re-upload the newest version to the cloud yourself.

Hard drive

  • Pros 
  • One time investment
  • Fast file transfer 
  • Safe from hackers
  • You can encrypt files to protect them from hacking
  • Internet isn’t required to access files


  • Susceptible to fire, loss, theft and damage
  • Will only work with devices that have a port to connect a cable
  • Hard drives need to be connected all the time
  • You need to trust the service provider. 
  • Expensive and sometimes even impossible to retrieve data from damaged hard drives
  • Hard drives may not be around forever. Think floppy discs and even CDRs!
  • Of you change a file on your PC you will need to change it on your external hard drive also

The pros and cons list for each is quite balanced in my opinion. So cost could be a deciding factor. I have researched some pricing to get a better idea of the cost implications of each storage method.

This handy little comparison from Which magazine shows the process for different amounts of storage from several different providers.

The first main price difference is that several cloud storage providers offer a certain amount of free storage such as Google drive (5gb). The second difference is that cloud storage is costs each year where as an external hard drive has just a one of cost.

To compare the costs directly I paid £66 for a 1TB portable hard drive from Viking Direct (there are cheaper retailers but I like their service and we use them at work) where as the cheapest provider of 1TB cloud storage is PC World KnowHow at £50 PER YEAR. Yes, pretty similar prices but cloud storage you have to pay every year.


In conclusion to my research I choose an external hard drive for backing up data. I was charge only once and I can access my files anytime I like, even when I don’t have the internet.

However, I do use Google Drive which offers some free storage but this is mainly for shared documents with Dave, such as shopping lists and budget spread sheets, rather than backing up data.

With the way technology goes, the cost of cloud storage will decrease continuously. But for now, for me, an external hard drive is the best data storage option because it is the cheapest and I can access my files any time with no internet required.

What do you think?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the debate and which is your preferred storage method and why.

By Jenni Tulip

I'm a bright-haired, hill walking, magpie whispering, skull collecting, tree hugging, money saving, bird watching, happy campervanning, ferret fanatic, woodland dweller sharing my stories and passion for the outdoors to inspire you to immerse yourself in nature.

  • I've got a hard drive that I take everywhere for all my important stuff but I use dropbox too as it means I can access everything on all my devices. I've got a google drive but don't think I've ever used it!


  • CJ

    A really interesting post. I'm not tech savvy at all (and I don't back up anything, sharp intake of breath), but I've learned lots here, so thank you for an interesting and well put together read. CJ xx

  • I agree that using both is best 🙂

  • Thank you for your kind comment. Glad it helped you and you should really back up your data! Everyone who has lost photos once will never forget to back up again! x

  • Cool post! I confess, I am scared at the idea of the cloud. I am not a technophobe (nor do I have any of the latest stuff conversely though) but I just don't like the thought of it being in the ether!x

  • Anonymous

    I backed up everything to external hard disk which worked great till I had a break-in, and someone stole my laptop … and my external hard disk. 3 years worth of photos of my kids are irreplaceable. Backup irreplaceable things to both (preferably automatically)!