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Best External Hard Drives for Long Term Storage in 2023

best hard drive for long term storage featured

If you want to archive your important documents or your media for a long span of time, you don’t quite need to worry about two things:

  • High performance (i.e SSD)
  • Portability

All you need is a quality affordable option that is durable enough to safely store your data without any hassle.

Essentially, I recommend having a 3.5″ external hard drive as the best option for long-term storage. These are also known as desktop hard drives.

However, depending on how much you travel, 2.5″ portable drives can also be an option. Additionally, if you have a huge amount of data to store, then multiple drives, preferably with RAID configuration, in the form of NAS would be recommended. 

Generally, when long-term drives get filled to the brim with data, they are stowed away in a secure place and hence are not connected to the system 24/7.

They don’t need to have a robust TB/year workload specification particularly if the intention is to fill the drives and stow them away.

In the following text, we will review some of the best external hard drives for long-term storage.

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Guide to Choosing the Best External Hard Drive for Long-Term Storage

Handed a list of hard drives, what would influence your decision about which one is the best for long-term storage?

External hard drives come in many shapes, sizes, and specs. You can find large 3.5″ HDDs as well as much smaller NVMe SSDs.

However, the right choice for long-term storage is generally not based on whether a disk is high-performance or not, instead, it mainly depends upon GB/dollar cost as well as other functions like RAID capability, which can come in handy for mirroring drives for extra data security.

Performance does matter here but not so much. After all, a storage/archival drive is not your “HOT DATA” drive. Hot DATA is basically the data you access very frequently. 

Dollar / GB Cost

Among the most critical factor for deciding the best hard drive for long-term storage is its cost.

Generally, when you look into a hard disk for a PC, you take its performance into consideration. However, for long-term storage cost-effectiveness is the primary metric. 

This is because drives used for long-term storage are rarely used too often. They are intended for backing up data only. You will mostly find them thrown in a stowage space where they permanently reside with your data for good.

Recommended Options for Long Term Storage

So as alluded to earlier, there are basically four types of external storage hard drives:

External Drive Type Features
Single 3.5″ Desktop Drive – Large and require an external power source
– Feature 3.5″ drives
– Upto 22 TB per drive
– Most Affordable
2.5″ Portable Drives – Feature a 2.5″ drive
– Upto 5 TB per drive
– Can carry around
External SSD – Most expensive
– Fastest
– Very slim and portable
Multiple 3.5″ Drives
NAS Drives
– Large storage systems
– Featuring multiple 3.5″ or 2.5″ drives
– RAID configuration
– Large NAS have NETWORK connectivity

For long-term storage, you are looking at either the first option if you have personal data to store.

OR you are looking at the fourth option (multiple 3.5″ or NAS) if you have an enterprise level of data to store.

Again, any option or system featuring the 3.5″ drives would be the BEST option due to the sheer affordability.

For Personal Use

With that said for an affordable option for personal use, I recommend the single drive 3.5″ Desktop drive WD MY Book.

WD My Book

4TB-22TB Single Drive USB 3.0

For Small Enterprise

For a small enterprise, you can look at the WD My Book Duo as an option. This features a dual-drive configuration.

But NO Network Option

WD My Book Duo

8TB -44 TB = divided into two drives.
RAID 0 configured out of the box.

The best part about this option is that it allows for RAID configuration.

So if the data is critical, you can use RAID 1 for mirroring. That way if one of your drives fails, the other will have the exact copy of your data.

However, with mirroring, your effective capacity is halved. So if you have an 8 GB capacity (2 x 4 TB) drive, your effective storage would be 4 TB only.

The other configuration is the RAID 1 (aka stripping) which can be used for improving the speed.

Unfortunately, the drives highlighted above do not have network capability.

If you want network capability, then you will need to look into drives that have an RJ45 connector (network card). These are generally more expensive.

WD My Cloud Home

Network DriveWiFi and RJ45
2TB -12TB = divided into two drives.
Single or Dual
Dual Drives have RAID

More Than 2 x Drives

If you have A LOT of data to store and if one or two hard drives will simply not suffice, then you can either keep on procuring more of the external drives above as each one gets filled OR you can invest in a robust NAS.

NAS – An Option for Large DATA

nas for long term storage
Synology DiskStation DS2419+

If you have a significant amount of data to store or if you want to procure a data storage solution for a small to medium-sized firm, then a NAS server can make a lot of sense.

Network Attached Storage (NAS) is a central storage space that is accessible by everyone on the network.

NAS storage can be arranged in a RAID configuration. RAID configuration can allow you to improve the speed, mirror the data, or both.

  • RAID 0 – Stripping for improving performance
  • RAID 1 – Mirroring – for Making exact copies of data – perfect for critical data.

You need to have at least 2 x hard drives for RAID to be configured.

NAS servers can have 2-12 drive bays (and more). These servers have their own CPU, RAM, and networking capability for processing data and in and out of the disks installed effectively.

What Kind of Different Medium Do You Have to Store Data for the Long Term?

There are many storage options out there for long-term data storage. Let’s go over them very briefly.

1. Media Cards and Flash Drives

They have a limited amount of storage capacity, they are prone to getting misplaced, and can break easily.

On top of that, they are not designed to store data for more than 10 years. The drive essentially deteriorates as they lose their internal charge over time.

2. CD/DVDs

This a good option, but archiving and storing data here is a very slow and tedious process. On top of that, if you want longevity of your data, then you need to buy gold CDs which can put a cost burden on you.

3. SSDs

We talk more about this below, but essentially they face the same problems as Flash Drives and Media Cards. The loss of data is a concern here.

4. Hard Drives

Hard Drives are the most resilient, cost-effective and durable option for data storage at the moment. Until a more robust technology becomes available, Hard Drives will reign supreme not just for personal data storage but for professionals as well as for enterprises such as Data Centers.

SSD vs HDD for Long Term Storage

SSDs are fast. The hard disks are nowhere near in comparison to the speed that the newer SSDs can provide. The external SSDs using the USB Gen2 interface can reach a speed of 1050 MB/s. The nominal speed for an external hard disk using USB 3.0 is only 120-140 MB/s.

With that said, for long-term storage, SSDs make little sense since they are very expensive. A 1 TB external hard drive working at 1050 MB/s costs more than a 4 TB 3.5″ External Drive (Take Samsung SSD T7 vs WD MY Book for instance). 

As mentioned earlier, long-term storage entails that the disk is used only to store data and is seldom used.

As such, external SSDs make little sense for data that would merely be archived.

How to Physically Store Drives for Long Term Durability?

The way you store the drives physically has a direct impact on the overall durability and security of the data.

For instance, you have to make sure that the room you store your drives is neither too humid nor too dry.

High relative humidity can create vapors and having a dry environment can create static discharges both of which are harmful to delicate electronic circuits.

It is a good idea to store the drives in a container well padded from all sides to absorb shock and prevent dust from accumulating.

disk storage box
A Typical Hard Drive Storage Case

You can find plenty of storage boxes for stowing away internal 3.5″ or 2.5″ hard drives.

However, when it comes to external hard drives due to them having different shapes and designs, you may have to concoct a box of your own.

Alternatively, you can remove the hard drive inside the external enclosure and store them away in the dedicated hard drive storage cases.

Rugged for Critical Long Term Data and if You Travel

While not entirely necessary, a rugged enclosure for a drive is great if you move a lot and are worried about physical safety.

The ruggedized enclosure is mostly available for 2.5″ portable hard drives and not for the larger 3.5″ desktop external hard drives.

The ruggedized hard drives are shockproof and have ingress protection.

Final Words

In this article, we looked at some of the best external hard drives for long-term storage by first talking about which type of hard drive would make the most sense.

Since long-term storage means that the data will seldom be accessed, affordability is the main metric. And for that, the 3.5″ hard disk drives make the most sense.

External 3.5″ HDDs are known as desktop drives. These can be found in single or dual configurations with each drive having a maximum of 22TB capacity.

If you need network support, or if you are looking for a storage solution with more than two hard drives, then a specialized NAS is what you should look into.

Atif Qazi

Atif Qazi is the founder of PCGearLab.com and a huge gaming nerd. Thanks to a vast IT related experience under his belt, you can often find him writing detailed pieces of content on PC hardware. But in all honesty nothing gives him more pleasure than 'one-shotting' everyone as a stealth archer in ESO:Skyrim.

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