What Is a Wireless Hard Drive?

Is an external wireless drive worth the money?

An internal hard drive is essential to your PC or Mac. It's where the operating system, software, and other files are stored. In addition to an internal hard drive, it's often useful to have an external hard drive that plugs in via USB, helping you back up your files if the original device fails.

If you choose a wireless external hard drive, you'll have all the advantages of an external hard drive without having to plug the device into your desktop or laptop. Wireless hard drives are convenient, versatile, and offer a clean setup.

Here's a look at how wireless external hard drives work, what these drives are used for, and tips for buying one.

Wireless hard drives work with Windows, Mac, and Linux computers as well as iOS and Android mobile devices.

A grey colored wireless external hard drive
Vincent Huijgens / EyeEm / Getty Images

What Is a Wireless External Hard Drive?

A wireless external hard drive looks similar to a regular external hard drive. It's a standard hard drive placed inside its own case, existing safely outside the computer. These drives don't need cables or physical tethering to connect to a computer or device.

All wireless external hard drives come with a power cable. Some may include extra cables for connecting to a USB socket or for plugging into a Wi-Fi router via an Ethernet cable. Some wireless external hard drives create their own network so it can work completely independently from your wireless network.

A wireless hard drive's features depend on its model and manufacturer, such as Western Digital or Seagate.

Wireless external hard drives vary in size, with some more portable than others. Consider your portability and space needs before purchasing one.

While a traditional external hard drive is limited because it requires you to plug it into your computer or another device, a wireless external hard drive is more flexible. 

Place it anywhere in your home (provided it's connected to your Wi-Fi network) and access it from all your devices. Like the best technology, it's the kind of thing you can install and not think too much about again. 

How Does a Wireless Hard Drive Work? 

The hard drive part of a wireless external hard drive works the same as the hard drive inside a computer. The way it's connected is the difference.

Wireless hard drives connect either directly to a Wi-Fi network (such as by plugging it into a router) or by creating its own network for you to join with your devices.

In many cases, it takes only a matter of minutes to set up a wireless hard drive. Join it with other devices as you would a regular Wi-Fi network, such as by entering a password. It shows up as a separate hard drive on your PC or Mac, so you can easily browse your files, just as if it were next to you. 

Some of the latest wireless external hard drives also have NFC technology built-in. Touch your NFC-supported smartphone or tablet to the hard drive and immediately browse your files without joining the Wi-Fi network. 

Why Use a Wireless External Hard Drive?

A hard-wired solution such as a conventional external hard drive may be cheaper than a wireless external hard drive, but that doesn't mean it's better. There are many reasons why a wireless external hard drive might be a good option for your situation.

Flexibility

If you have a laptop you move around your home often, you don't have to take the external hard drive with you. The wireless external hard drive stays connected at all times, and you don't have to keep plugging it in and unplugging it.

Worldwide Use

Many wireless external hard drives are accessible from any Wi-Fi network. This means you could be located somewhere else in the world, away from home, and log into the hard drive to access key files. It's like your own personal cloud service, but without worrying the company will close down or leak your data.

Make sure your security settings are up to date and safe so strangers can't easily access your data.

Streaming Capabilities

Most wireless external hard drives don't only offer networking capabilities. These drives also offer ways to stream media files across devices. Depending on your home setup, you could stream family photos to a smart photo frame, stream your iTunes library, or store your home movies and access those movies from any device.

Multiple Computers Can Use It

Like anything else on a wireless network, multiple people can use a wireless external hard drive at the same time. Back up files while a family member is streaming a movie, for example.

It's Ideal for a Small Business

Many large businesses use NAS devices to keep their data safe yet accessible by all the computers within the office. Such units serve as a central location for your data but are often expensive and complex. For a small business, a wireless external hard drive is a good, inexpensive alternative that's easy to set up and use. It keeps company data safe while facilitating collaboration.

Wireless Hard Drive Buying Tips

When looking to buy a wireless hard drive, think about your home or business needs.

Capacity

Make sure you buy a wireless external hard drive with a larger capacity than you need. Plan ahead and future-proof how much space you might require.

Needs

Consider your unique situation. Do you need a wireless external hard drive for music files or backups of important documents? Your particular requirements affect the capacity and wireless speeds you'll need.

Features

While buying a larger capacity is always worthwhile, don't buy a hard drive with more features than you require. For example, you don't need streaming capabilities and apps when you only regularly back up your laptop's hard drive.

Security

Remember to set up the security features correctly before you begin using a wireless external hard drive. The main disadvantage of a wireless external hard drive is the risk of someone else accessing it. With a strong password, this is less likely to occur.