External vs. Internal Drives. How To Store Your Music.

Jan 29, 2020 | Music

In my first video about my choice os storage, I recommended my favorite SSDs. But why go external in the first place? Why not keep it internal? Let’s dive into this a bit more.

First A Word On “Just How Much” Do You Need

In this world of ever-increasing storage needs with higher quality files and just the sheer abundance of material out there plush the decreasing price of storage, one has to make a personal decision on how much music to bring to an event in the first place. This will largely dictate what type of storage to choose. If you are in the mindset of bringing as much as possible, that you are constantly adding to your library, or are even considering video, then external is likely the best route. While internal options are out there, you are generally forever limited to that amount of storage. Apple is not the only manufacturer in the game that is soldering their equipment onto their boards.

If you like the mindset of keeping things lean, that you only really need access to a few hundred or a couple thousand songs at any given event, then internal is likely the best option for you.

My Preference First

Now there is no right or wrong in this. There are just simply advantages and disadvantages for either choice. When I first got back into the game I went all external. I wanted to have as much material as possible. But doing this using Serato made things load up slowly and I decided for a number of years to streamline it all. But when I started to examine using Virtual DJ it opened up new opportunities to have large libraries load quickly. So back to external drives I went.


One of the most critical things you need to do in either solution is to clone your drives. In the case of an external drive, the path is pretty straight forward; buy a second drive and clone away. If you decide on the internal path a little more care has to be done to keep things in sync. For instance, with a MacBook, you will need to put your receiving-end laptop into target disk mode and reboot so it acts as a hard drive. Then sync, eject, and reboot. A few extra steps, but really it’s not too big of a deal when you get used to it.

Now the choice of your software is going to depend on how you sync everything including your library, and it’s worthy of another article. But just be mindful that you should be syncing more than just the music files themselves.

Given the simplicity of swapping around hard drives, I have to give externals the advantage.

Advantage: External

Capacity / Price Per GB

The price of storage typically goes way down over time. It’s just the mechanics of supply, demand, refinement of the process, etc. Now when SSDs came into play it allowed for more capacity in a smaller form factor, and while the initial prices were higher than spinning hard drives, they are now below the magical > 1TB @ $100 making the choice to go that route much more appealing.

In the choice of external vs. internal, there are some price differences to consider. On average an external drive can be a little more expensive than a similarly specced internal drive. But if you opt for OEM installed drives (like a MBP) your storage costs could be much much higher for internal drives (albeit their internal drives are incredibly fast).

This one is a bit of a wash because it will largely depend on the type of laptop you choose, how much capacity there is, the type of drive, etc.

Advantage: Neither

Disaster Recovery

One of my most stringent requirements is to be back up and running in the face of a disaster. Be it my laptop catches on fire to a drunk uncle crashing into my equipment. Keeping things going is paramount. So when it comes to storage my needs are pretty straight forward. What are the most convenient options to swap out gear and get back up and running.

Now with an internal drive, you have but once choice, grab your laptop, fire up, and you are off and running. The problem is going to be the history of your previous played files is not going to be there. Also, any changes you have made will not be there either. Still, you are back in operation fairly quickly.

With an external drive, you have a new combination. If the laptop fails you swap in the replacement laptop but now your history is there when it was last written to your database (if you are maintaining the database on the drive). If you have a drive failure it’s a quick swap but like the internal drive, you’ll lose the history of the night.

The advantage goes to the external drive for providing more alternatives to get back into playing music as quickly as possible.

Advantage: External


I don’t think there is much to say about the ruggedness of an internal vs. and external. Some external drives like the SanDisk drive I recommend are rugged and rated IP55 for drops and some uninviting dust and water. And internal does not have any protections like this, and there are few laptops on the market that are ruggedized.

Advantage: External


This comes down to preference in the end, but for me, the choice was really clear. Having an external allowed me to stop micromanaging my music and just carry it all. For me, that is about 1.2TB of storage where the rest of the space allows me to save off a couple of Final Cut Pro projects.


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