What Is the Difference Between Internal and External SSD?

What Is the Difference Between Internal and External SSD

What Is the Difference Between Internal and External SSD?

Since the invention of computers, developers have come up with different ways of storing data. SSD, which stands for Solid-State Drive, is a new generation storage device used in computers. SSD can either be internal or external, and your choice between the two will depend on your preference. 

The difference between an internal and external SSD lies in how they connect to a computer. Both internal and external SSDs have various connection modes that affect the speed and performance of the device. However, they both use the same technology to write the data stored on them. 

If you’re looking for SSD storage, you may be undecided between internal and external options. Well, this article is just what you need to decide since some of the things we’ll tackle include:

  • What is SSD?
  • The primary difference between internal and external SSD
  • Speed comparisons between the two types

Understanding SSD

SSDs are the more common storage options available today for computers. They’ve replaced the traditional mechanical hard disks. Essentially, SSDs perform the same functions as hard drives, only that they can retain the data even when power isn’t running through them. 

Unlike hard drives, SSDs use flash-based memory, which is significantly faster. The low read access times and fast throughputs help SSDs make computers faster. This property makes SSD storage ideal for companies that use substantial data amounts for servers and gaming purposes. 

Most PCs nowadays use SSD storage. However, some cheaper models may still come with hard drives, while desktop computers typically feature both SSD and HDD as the boot drive and additional storage, respectively. 

Internal vs. External SSD: What’s the Primary Difference?

When choosing between the ideal SSD options, you’ll find they are generally grouped into two; internal and external SSD. The technology behind how the data is written in both options is similar. Both internal and external SSDs store data in a solid-state flash RAM, and the difference comes in how they connect to the computer. 

Internal SSDs are quite similar to computer hard drives. As the name suggests, they are found inside the processing unit and connect directly to the motherboard. They use read and write operations to permanently function and store data, even when there’s no power. 

Internal SSDs use standard SATA, IDE, and m.2. connections. The last option is the fastest and allows you to use the full speed of the SSD. 

External SSDs, on the other hand, connect to a computer through three ways; USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and eSATA. The latter two options are ideal for faster and more efficient performance. However, they are not better than the M.2 connection available for internal SSDs. If you’re using an external SSD and are after the speed, you’re better off going for one with a USB 3.0 connection, which increases the drive’s performance. 

An external SSD’s enclosure will often feature a drive with a SATA interface that you can install internally. Usually, a circuit converts the SATA into USB, and you can even buy these converters separately. 

Is an External SSD As Fast as an Internal One?

For most people, the choice between an internal and an external SSD boils down to how fast each of them is. An external SSD comes with the convenience of portability. But how does it compare in terms of speed? The answer to this question lies in understanding the different interfaces available for both internal and external SSDs. There are various options available, but we’ll only highlight the main ones. 

Internal SSD Interfaces

The primary interfaces available for internal SSDs are Serial ATA and PCI Express: 

Serial ATA (SATA)

This is the most common interface, and you’ll probably find it in 2.5 drives. SATA technology was initially developed for hard drives. SSDs adopted the same technology to be easier for users to upgrade their existing storage drives. One of the best things about this interface is that it offers interoperability with SATA-based HDDs, which is quite convenient. The latest SATA interface models have transfer rates of up to 6GB/s. 

PCI Express (PCle)

PCLe is the ideal choice for a faster bus interface for your internal SSD. It offers a physical connection with a smaller physical footprint that transmits data from one device to another or from the computer to a peripheral device. It is commonly used with M.2 SSDs and uses a Non-Volatile Memory Host Controller (NVMe) communication protocol.

This protocol was specifically designed to work with PCLe and leverages the parallel nature of SSDs. NVMe protocol plus the PCLe connection non-volatile storage features read and write speeds that are 4X faster than SATA SSDs.

External SSD Interfaces

The primary interfaces for external SSDs are USB and Thunderbolt connections:

  • USB: USB connectors are quite convenient, seeing that all desktops and PCs come with USB connection ports. The read and write speeds will depend directly on the type of USB connection you use. USB-C is faster than USB-A connections. The Crucial X8 external SSD, for example, records speeds of up to 5 GB/s with USB-A and can get up to 10 GB/s with USB-C.
  • Thunderbolt: This interface was designed to connect peripherals to computers and is both Apple and Intel’s product. Thunderbolt 3, the latest interface model, features backward compatibility with USB-C and shares the same reversible port. 

How to Speed Up Your Existing SSDs

Besides the connection interface, several other factors determine your SSD’s speed. For optimum results, you must ensure you store the device properly and track its health to avoid lags. 

Here are three things you can do to ensure you always have top-notch speed:

  • Ensure about 15% of the drive is free to boost write speeds. 
  • Update your system to support trim if it doesn’t already. 
  • Always update your firmware and fix any technical issues immediately. 

Internal vs. External SSD: Which One Is Better?

There’s no straightforward answer to which of the two is better since it all depends on the user and how you intend to use the SSD. For most users, speed determines their choice, yet it depends on several factors such as your user system and connection interface. 

If you’re only planning to use the SSD as extra storage and portability is a crucial factor, external SSDs are a better choice. However, you may have to contend with slower speeds, especially if you’re using aging connection interfaces, such as USB-A. 

If you’re after an SSD that will offer speed while supporting large databases, an internal SSD is the way to go. Of course, the new generation PCLe interface will provide better speeds than SATA, especially if paired with m.2 SSDs. 

Before deciding on the ideal option, be sure to confirm which interfaces and forms your computer supports. The last thing you’d want is to spend money on an SSD only for it to fail the compatibility test. 

Parting Shot

Hopefully, this article made things clearer for you in terms of internal and external SSDs. Both use the same technology to store data, and the difference is only in how they connect to a computer. Here’s a quick recap: 

  • SSDs are much faster than HDDs and can either be internal or external.
  • Internal SSDs connect to computers through M.2 connections and SATA, and external SSDs use USB and Thunderbolt connections. 
  • Internal SSDs tend to be faster than external ones since they connect directly to the motherboard. 
  • You can boost your SSD’s speed performance by taking excellent care of it. 


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