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Computer Components

Why is My External Drive so Slow

Why External Hard Drives Lose Their Speed

External hard drives are awesome for extra storage or easy file transport but nobody likes it when they slow to a crawl.

Fragmented Files: Just like your computer’s internal drive, files on an external hard drive can become fragmented over time. When files are scattered across the drive it takes longer for the hard drive to find and read them.

Full Drive: When your hard drive is close to full finding free space to write new files becomes a challenge even for an automated system like your computer and external drive. This forces it to split files up further increasing fragmentation and slowing things down.

Old or Faulty USB: USB technology is always advancing. If you’re using an older external hard drive (USB 2.0) on a USB 3.0 port or newer you won’t get the full speed. Even worse, a damaged cable or port will drastically slow down transfers. Switch to USB C external drives and you’ll see your speed skyrocket.

Outdated Drivers: Software drivers tell your computer how to talk to devices. An outdated driver might be interrupting the communication with your external drive leading to slower speeds.

Background Activity: If your computer is busy with other tasks the external hard drive will not get top priority. Heavy programs or even too many open browser tabs will eat into your system’s resources.

Malware Infections: While less common malware or viruses can hog your system resources and interfere with how your computer interacts with the hard drive.

Hard Drive Failing: Unfortunately, hard drives have a lifespan. If the drive itself is starting to fail you will experience slowdowns, file corruption and strange noises coming from the drive. SSD external drives don’t have the same issue as hard drives. They are more expensive though.

Troubleshooting Steps

Check Connections: Start simple! Make sure the USB cable is good and try a different USB port on your computer. If you have another cable available give that a shot as well.

Free Up Space: Try to keep at least 15-20% of your external drive free. Delete old files or move them to another drive.

Defragment: Defragmenting your external drive will help improve speed. Avoid defragmenting if your external drive is an SSD because this doesn’t benefit SSDs in particular and sometimes it can shorten the lifespan.

Update Drivers: Search for the latest drivers from your external hard drive’s manufacturer and for your computer’s USB ports.

Close Programs, Games and Other Tasks: Close programs you aren’t actively using to free up system resources.

Scan for Malware: Run a full scan with a trusted antivirus like Malwarebytes or anti malware program on both the external drive and your computer

File System Issues: The way your hard drive organizes files matters. Older formats like FAT32 have limitations compared to newer ones like NTFS or exFAT. Reformat your drive in the NTFS file system but be sure to back up your data first because formatting erases everything.

Power Problems: Some external hard drives (especially larger ones) require more power than a single USB port can offer. Try using a Y-cable (one with two USB plugs for extra power draw) or plug your drive into a powered USB hub.

Conflicting Devices: Sometimes other devices connected to your computer can cause conflicts. Unplug any non essential devices and see if that improves your external drive’s performance.

Extreme Temperatures: Hard drives hate extreme heat or cold. Make sure your external drive is in a well ventilated area away from strong heat sources.

Hard Drive Type

HDD (Hard Disk Drive): These are more traditional mechanical drives with spinning platters. They are much slower than SSDs especially for smaller random files.

SSD (Solid State Drive): These have no moving parts and are much faster. If you have an SSD interruptions are more likely coming from the connection type or system limitations than the drive itself.

Advanced Troubleshooting

If you’re comfortable with a bit more complexity, try these steps:

Check Disk Health: Run tools like chkdsk on Windows or fsck on Linux and Mac to scan your hard drive for errors.

Monitor Resource Usage: Use your Task Manager (Windows) or Activity Monitor (Mac) to see what’s using your computer’s resources during hard drive transfers. This will show you any programs that are causing the slowdown.

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