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Is the life of a portable hard drive (specifically, a WD Passport) any different from the life of an internal hard drive?
the life of an external drive depends on usage and abuse. if you carry it around with you everywhere it has nearly the same lifespan as that of a laptop hard drive. if it stays immobile (IE in one spot) it may have the same lifespan as a desktop drive. other factors go into this as well including the manufacurer and quality of the product. i have a 250GB Maxtor One Touch II that is still running after nearly 10 years. Meanwhile i have a 500GB Western Digital drive that was DOA.
Some newer external USB hard drives support S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology).
You can download CrystalDiskInfo (and see if your drive supports S.M.A.R.T.) to monitor the health of your drive:
This is a free and open source software, and you can download either portable version or an installer.
internal drives have had a system like that for quite some time especialy laptop drives. the downside is it does slow your seek time down. not by much but when you are doing load intensive work it may become noticeable.