Should I treat my external drive (used for backups) just like I do my
internal drive which is subject to regular maintenance tasks like Disk Cleanup,
Defragging and so on?
As with so many things, “it depends”.
Whether or not, or how, you need to maintain your external drive depends on
exactly how you use it.
Understanding what each of those maintenance tasks really do should help you
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You mention that you’re using your drive for backups, so this part may not
apply to you. But then again, depending on what you mean by “backup”, it
I don’t even have to ask how you use the drive for this one, the test is
simple: if your external drive died and was completely unrecoverable,
would that be a disaster or an inconvenience? Would you lose things that you
If it’d be a disaster you know what that means: you should be backing up the
contents of your external drive. Perhaps you’d get another external drive to
backup to, perhaps you’d backup your external drive to your internal and vice
versa (totally valid, as long as the data is in two places on two different
hard drives), but you should be doing something.
thing you need to do in terms of cleanup is keep an eye on disk space.”
To be honest, I don’t even run this on my primary drive, but then I’m also a
little geekier than average and know what to clean up manually and when.
If all you do is run a backup program to your external drive, then the only
thing you need to do in terms of cleanup is keep an eye on disk space. When the
drive starts to get too full, you’ll need to delete something. Exactly what
depends on how long you want to keep your backups, and exactly how depends on
the backup program you’re using. But there’s nothing that the disk clean up
utility would do that would help.
If you use your external drive for other things disk cleanup may
help, but in reality it’s still going to be focused on items that more
traditionally live on your primary or system hard drive. Even if you’re doing
things other than backup with your external drive you should probably still
just keep an eye on the amount of free space on the drive and take appropriate
action if it gets too full.
First, realize that defragmenting a drive is only a performance
optimization. In other words the only reason to defragment is to increase (or
maintain) the speed of your hard disk. Particularly with an external drive, the
USB or Firewire interface will often be the real limiting factor on speed and
defragmenting the disk will have little to no impact.
In my opinion defragmenting is really also only called for if the drive is
“busy”. By that I mean that lots of files are being created, deleted, written
to, moved around and so on, every day. That’s typically not what
happens on a backup drive. They get written to infrequently (when the backups
happen) and that’s about it.
Fortunately with most defragmenting tools, Windows built-in tools included,
you can tell whether or not defragmenting even stands a chance of being helpful
by running the analysis that the tools offer. I’ll bet that the majority of the
time there’s simply no need.
Since external hard drives are in their own case and have their own
ventilation systems, this one’s easy to overlook: it’s probably a good idea to
vacuum the ventilation holes to suck up any dust or debris that may have
accumulated. This doesn’t have to happen very often, not even as often as your
main system’s box. But since you should be giving your PC a quick vacuum every
so often, that’s a fine time to do the same with your external drive.
Just remember to turn both off when you break out the vacuum.