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How Do I Transfer Data from a Computer to an External Hard Drive?

A person can copy files by selecting them, then pressing the ctrl and c keys at the same time.
An external hard drive.
A USB cable is often required to transfer data from a computer to an external hard drive.
Most external hard drives connect to PCs via USB cords.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 July 2014
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As demands for increased storage space and the safety of information on computers have increased, external hard drives have become a popular option. It is easy to transfer data to an external hard drive on most computers and operating systems. Using an external hard drive will reduce the potential for data loss or corruption. In addition, data can be backed up and archived on an external hard drive so that it doesn't take up room on a primary hard drive. In most cases, transferring data from a computer to an external drive is as simple as plugging the drive into the computer, selecting the files on the computer you want to transfer, and copying them to the external drive.

To transfer data to an external hard drive, first select an external hard drive which will meet your storage needs. Depending on the type of data, you may want a hard drive with a very large capacity. If you have a lot of images, video, or music files, an external hard drive with lots of room is an excellent idea. If you are planning to transfer data like documents, a smaller capacity external hard drive is sufficient. Some external hard drives are small enough to fit on a key chain, which is useful for travelers who need small files on the go.

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External hard drives come with a connecting cable, which is often a Universal Serial Bus (USB) cable. External hard drives are also available with other connections such as Firewire. Make sure that your computer supports the connection used by the external hard drive. USB ports are common on most computer systems and are therefore usually a safe purchase.

To transfer data, begin by plugging the external hard drive into the appropriate port. Most computers will recognize the hard drive as a new device, and will scan it to determine what it is. The computer will assign the portable hard drive a letter. This allows you to transfer data to it exactly like you would move files around on your computer.

Select the data you want to move, determining whether you want a copy on the external hard drive or whether you want to remove the data from your primary hard drive altogether. In many cases, you may be able to view the contents of folders on each drive side-by-side, one showing the drive or folder you want to copy or move files from, and the other showing the destination on the external hard drive; you can then simply drag the files you want to move from one window to the other. You can also cut or copy the files from their original location and paste them on the destination drive.

Many USB devices are also hot swappable, which means that they can be plugged in and turned on while the computer is turned on. To remove the device, use the computer's ejection utility. This ensures that the device will not be damaged when you power down and unplug it. When you transfer data, you want to ensure that it will not be lost, so be certain to wait until the computer indicates that it is safe to disconnect the external hard drive.

An external hard drive can be used to transfer data to and from multiple computers. The drive can be plugged into any computer with the appropriate port, which will recognize the drive. The data on the drive can be seen and manipulated at will by the user. This allows multiple users to take advantage of the same external hard drive. In addition, it makes data portable, which can be highly useful.

External hard drives are far less vulnerable to virus attacks and spyware because they are not continuously connected. When you transfer data, make sure that it has been scanned so that you do not inadvertently introduce viruses to your external hard drive.

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Discuss this Article

anon928974
Post 51

I have a Toshiba 500gd external hard drive. I recorded shows from my Dish DVR. I no longer have the DVR. How can I transfer my shows or watch them on my computer now?

anon340187
Post 50

I have an LG external hdd 500gb and when I plugged it into my HP PC running Windows 7, the Nero software was installed prompting me to do my back-up via this program. Do I need to do it through this? Seems more complicated. I've tried so far, but the simple copy/paste method and doesn't always work or doesn't copy all the files. Sometimes I get 'cannot transfer file' or 'location of file moved.' Any help/guidance would be appreciated.

vsmith1026
Post 49

Does a portable external hard drive also store the programs that support the data? I gave my aunt my old hard drive and told her to plug it in. I pretty much deleted everything except for few movies. It was fine for a couple of days but, today she turned her pc on and it froze on the black Intel screen. I'm assuming the pc is trying to boot up from the external drive. I will check the BIOS settings, but my question is I had a Seagate Folder on my pc with all the folders. Should I download this folder on her pc?

anon330332
Post 47

I am trying to transfer my dvds that I have burned to my Toshiba Convio Ext 3.0 hard drive.(from drive E to Drive I on my computer). I have attempted this with several different software apps and without them and no luck. This thing did not come with a step-by-step manual. This is not an excuse, but I am 70, not the sharpest pencil in the box but I can usually figure it out, and I have miserably failed at doing it. Can you help?

anon313134
Post 46

I have always been able to back-up my pictures from my PC (Windows Vista) to my external hard drives. I would simply open the picture folder; then, open the picture folder on my external hard drive; and, just drag the picture from the PC to the external hard drive folder -- that simple. Now, for some reason, it no longer works. I drag the pic from the PC folder to the external hard drive folder, but nothing happens; it does not create a back-up. Any idea what happened?

anon303523
Post 45

To all those who don't understand how to move data from the computer to the hard drive, I'll explain.

For PC: When you plug in your hard drive, open 'My Computer' and there you should be able to see one of the drives that will be labelled as 'External Harddrive' or something along those lines. The names vary with the software but look for the company who makes the hard drive's name; that might be present. Then what you will want to do is simply drag the folders or files that you wish to put onto the hard drive onto the drive in 'My Computer'. It will be easy to do from the desktop but it might get a little fiddly with multiple folders and locations.

For Mac: Simply open finder and at the bottom left there should be a name under 'Devices.' All you have to do is drag the files and folders you want into that hard drive like with above.

For both it should take a few seconds to a few minutes depending on the size of the files. Hoped I helped!

anon154191
Post 43

My ibook died and the mac shop took my hard drive out and told me I could put it on a external drive? How do I do that?

anon148952
Post 42

I am trying to transfer my iphoto and imovie libraries to my seagate external hard drive, though when I transfer either a movie or folder of photos they download onto the external drive as individual files.

I have some 10,000 photos. How do I transfer them as a folder instead of individually. That would be too daunting to try to retrieve them at a later date if I can't organize them into the hard drive. Does anyone have any suggestions? How do I move entire folders? I use a MAC, have Iphoto 11, etc. Please help.

anon143115
Post 41

Will files like msn, enternet explorer, microsoft word, etc. still work if I move them to my external hard drive?

anon142770
Post 40

i am having a tough time loading files from my 320GB portable hard drive to my PC. Can you help?

anon137802
Post 39

@Anon114010: you are so rude. People are trying their best to help you, and explaining the best they can. People just don't help him. He doesn't appreciate it at all.

anon130748
Post 38

I am re-locating without my desktop and want to take its files with me to use on a different computer in my new home. Is transferring the files to a portable hard drive the best way to go? What must I do to then load the files onto a different computer?

anon120854
Post 37

Thanks. it was just what i needed.

anon114010
Post 36

This is totally inadequate. I have an external hard drive. I want to put all my photographs, videos and documents onto it from my computer's internal hard drive, without deleting them from it. You assume I somehow know how to do this! You really need to post a detailed step-by-step guide and not make assumptions. The computer world is largely inhabited by people who assume we all know. We don't!

anon108062
Post 35

to anon 81577: Thanks for a very clear explanation. How refreshing that was!

anon81577
Post 33

right click start button;

explore;

find file you want to transfer. If you want a copy on each drive then right click on file and copy. Paste to external drive. If you want to just move the file, right click the start button again, explore, now find the external drive. Drag the file from your C: drive to the external drive. That's how you do it.

anon79607
Post 32

Thanks for this. I initially thought that transferring data to my external hard drive but now I've learned from you that it's pretty easy. Thanks very much.

anon72970
Post 29

is it possible to move favourites list of external hard drives? Can someone else then see your favourite list if they put the external hard drive on their pc?

anon72736
Post 28

There are 20 people here asking for more information, but nothing is done! What's the point of having an incomplete article?

Moderator's reply: Our mission is to provide short answers to common questions. One limitation of short answers is that they typically can not be comprehensive by definition.

Since we are not equipped to respond to specific questions, we created these discussions so that readers may ask and answer each others questions on a given topic. Whether and when your questions will be answered, however, depends on fellow readers and posters.

For more information on our posting guidelines, please visit our Article Discussion FAQ for more information about our discussions section.

Thank you for visiting the site and for contributing to the discussion!

anon66147
Post 27

Wise Geek: Your article is fine as far as it goes. You tell us what an external drive is and how to plug it in to the computer. But you forgot to explain to the technically inept (many of us) exactly how to get the info from the computer to the external drive.

You say, 'This allows you to transfer data to it exactly like you would move files around on your computer. Transfer the data you want to move, determining whether you want a copy on the external hard drive or whether you want to remove the data from your primary hard drive altogether.'

But the big question is: just what steps does one take to do this?

anon63198
Post 26

@ questions 10 and 24: It is likely that your external hard drive is FAT

formatting to NTFS will allow larger file sizes to

be stored.

anon62771
Post 25

I have a Mac and for some reason i cannot move my pictures to my hard disk. it's blocking me. Does anyone know why and how i can fix it? all my pictures are there and i can't move my 400 pictures to the hard disk. thanks in advance.

flosssc
Post 24

I'm in the same boat ask question ten, which is: how can i transfer video file 7gbsize from hard drive to external hard drive? The computer says disk clean up is needed but there is over 100gb space on the drive. can you tell me please why the pc asks that.

anon57181
Post 22

Can you tell me how to transfer? I thought I did but my internal hard drive is the same size.

luvleeleeann
Post 21

How do I transfer programs from c drive to my external drive? Step by step instructions please, as I am quiet technologically challenged! What I want to do is transfer so that I can free up some room and make my computer run faster. I am using Windows xp. Thanks in advance xx

anon55691
Post 20

What is the procedure for transferring programs from my c drive onto my removable storage then removing it from my c drive?

anon49900
Post 19

"if i want to put my songs from itunes on there, will i still have to have the software on my computer afterwards?"

Yes, you still have the software on your computer and after changing the "path" to your external drive you can still play your itunes songs from your computer itunes library. hope it answers your question, thanks.

anon46070
Post 18

if i want to put my songs from itunes on there. will i still have to have the software on my computer afterwards.

anon45933
Post 17

Can the sims 2 be transfered onto an external hard drive with out deleting the saved games?

anon44093
Post 16

i just purchased a new laptop and want to transfer files from the external hard drive on to my new computer. how do i go about doing this?

Techlearner
Post 14

Two questions. How do I get access to the answers to these questions. I tried clicking on the boxes and nothing happens.

Also, when you back up a hard drive on an external drive, will it also back up your applications, like Wordperfect? Will that count as making a copy of the software?

lolwme
Post 13

How do I actually transfer the data I want to move?

EdStarr00
Post 12

How do I transfer files from my pc to an external hard drive?

sunshinedj
Post 11

I am trying to help a friend. My friend has a computer for her son and it has a virus on it. I have brought it home to try to remove the virus for her. I am wanting to connect my friends hard drive to mine in order to scan it with my anti-virus software. Is this possible? I don't want to transfer any info.

jtnsgbgg
Post 10

how can i transfer video file 7gbsize from hard drive to external hard drive computer says disk clean up needed but there is over 100gb space on drive. please help.

sandpebbles
Post 9

After I transfer a program to an external hard drive from my computer by using "copy" and "Paste" at the "Explore page", can I\should I, delete the program from the C:\ drive. If so, can I merely delete it from the "Explore" page or do I use the add\remove program from the control Panel?

abbey73
Post 8

Your Open QuestionShow me another ยป

Old Sony PC shows low disk space. Maxtor Onetouch 4 on, but I don't know how to use it! Need to move my pics!

Old Sony (6 years) running out of space. I have lots of pictures, etc. and want to use the external hard drive to store them. I use picasa, and I can't figure out how to safely move the pics to the Maxtor, then go back and work on them. I also have Panda security--takes up lots of space. My computer is running really slow. I try to clean it up, but I'm stupid and afraid I'll crash everything, or lose my pictures. I back them up to cd every once in a while. Please explain to me how to use the external hard drive so I can go back and forth and be able to work off of it (for extra storage). Then, can I take the pics off of my internal hard drive to free up space? thank you!!!!

texaspops
Post 7

I have XP. I also have a WD 500GB external hard drive. Being as I am the dullest tack in the box I need someone to show me how to transfer files from computer to the external drive. What do I do to, ie: back up all my photos. Can I send all at the same time or what? Not only am I a dull tack, I am also 70 years old. Not that I'm using that as an excuse, but it helps.

anon12248
Post 6

Until I am able to logon, I need someones help. I do not have a deep pocket so buying multiple devices is not a viable solution.

My pc motherboard recently went bad. I was able to dismantle the hard drive. I have a new PC now with same OS, XP pro. I need valuable data and files from my old hard drive. I tried installing the hard drive in my new PC, IBM thinkcenter, but it would not work. How can I get some fies I desperately need from the old hard drive and save them on my new PC?

MARCUS

anon3991
Post 5

from the geek sitting next to me: it is possible, but there are a lot of flaming hoops involved.

If you don't already know how to do this, we strongly recommend that you not try.

That said, if you're technically inclined, and have lots of free time and not a lot of cash, this may be the best way to resuscitate your computer. Good luck!

anon3989
Post 4

Hello, I have a laptop with a crashed hard drive. Instead of replacing it can I buy an external hard drive only ?

anon3789
Post 3

How do I transfer all at once the entire content of my PC to the external hard drive?

anon3288
Post 2

I use Adobe Premier 6 to edit family movies. The computer I use will only write the final film to a VHS tape. I then have to copy the tape to a DVD recorder in order to burn to a DVD.

If I connected an External hard drive to the editing computer, could I then connect the HD. to a the DVD recorder and burn direct to disc ??

Roy Milne

fatcat
Post 1

Hi I am trying to find a "how to" regarding retrieving and transfering data from a hard drive to a new computer. I am fairly novice regarding computers. My old computer (XP home) recently had an accident that left it unable to power on. Decided to purchase a new upgraded machine (Vista). I pulled the hard drive in the hopes of using an external usb drive enclosure to first transfer my files and settings then use the old WD 200GB HD to backup my new computer and store media files etc...Can you explain how this is done using Vista?

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