Do you love taking pictures, organizing documents, playing games, listening to music or having all the latest movies and TV shows ready to watch at your fingertips? If the answer was yes to any of those, then you might need an external hard drive.
Whether you’re a gamer, a busy parent or a media collector, you might be on the hunt for extra space to keep your computer files safe and secure. If you’re looking for the best external hard drive to hold all of your important files, use this guide as a reference to ensure you get the most out of your purchase.
How to Choose the Best External Hard Drive
What’s an external hard drive and why would you need one?
An external hard drive is a piece of external hardware that stores files. If you want the extra room on your computer, laptop or console, you can choose to buy an external hard drive to keep certain files within the drive for safekeeping. Many external hard drives also come with additional security features to make sure your files are as safe as they can be.
There are many reasons why a person might want one or more external hard drives. Here are the three main reasons:
- More space! The space on your computer is precious. More space means more room for larger programs and bigger games. By keeping your pictures, music and other files on an external hard drive, you can free up valuable real estate on your desktop.
- Convenience. An external hard drive can keep all of your important files organized in one place so they’re easily accessible. Having a huge amount of files on your computer can also slow it down, so a hard drive can help improve the performance of your system.
- Safety. Whether it’s something like getting your laptop stolen or having your computer crash; life happens. If you have an external hard drive, you can avoid losing your files by having backup copies.
On top of being useful and efficient, external hard drives are fairly affordable, making them a no-brainer addition to any PC setup.
Most of the best external hard drives come with 1TB, 2Tb, 4TB or 5TB. There are even some that go up to 8TB or 16TB. “TB” stands for “terabytes”, which is approximately a trillion bytes of computer storage.
Figuring out how much storage you need will play a critical role in which external hard drive you choose. If you’re mainly dealing with word-processing documents and smaller files, you should be fine with 1TB or less. However, if you’re storing large game files, pictures and music, you should probably consider something with 2TB or more if you want long-term storage availability.
An external hard drive doesn’t have to suck up your budget, but you’ll also want to consider paying more or less depending on how much space you need. External hard drives can run between $50 and $150 depending on their specifications. Here are a few features that effect the price of an external hard drive:
Type: There are two main types of storage drives to know about: solid-state drives (SSD) and hard disk drives (HDD). Here are a few pros and cons for both:
- SSDs are fast; a PC with an SSD can boot up very quickly.
- SSDs are more expensive, especially if you want more storage.
- HDDs can store huge amounts of data without costing too much in comparison to SSDs.
- HDDs can slow down over time.
SSD external hard drives are expensive and uncommon, so it’s generally a safer bet to choose an HDD external hard drive in most cases.
Storage: The more storage you want on your external hard drive, the more you’ll have to spend. External hard drive storage capacity can range from 1TB to over 8TB, with 4-6TB being more common choices.
Note that anything over 8TB is a LOT of space and can be considered overkill for some people, so don’t pay more for an external hard drive with that much space unless you’re sure that’s the best option for you. That being said, a large-capacity external hard drive may be necessary for large families, businesses and hardcore enthusiasts.
Portability: The level of portability you need should depend on your lifestyle. Some external hard drives are more portable than others; in other words, some are lighter and more durable while others are heavier and better suited to sitting on your desk at home. External hard drives designed for portability can be more expensive but might be worth it if you need to frequently travel for work or play.
The interface of the best external hard drive will be easy to read, user-friendly and intuitive. If you don’t want to spend hours trying to navigate or configure your external hard drive, you might consider an external hard drive with built-in software.
Different brands of external hard drives may come with different software that allows you to schedule backups and manage your files. Some programs even help you monitor the health of the drives and assist you in running backups to other sources, such as the Cloud.
If you’re looking for a fast setup with most of the work already done, look for external hard drives with “plug and play” features for a less complex setup. An external hard drive with a dashboard interface can also be a time-saving way to check in on your remaining storage space and ensure that all of the drive sectors are functioning as they should.
If you’re looking at buying an external hard drive, you’ll need to know what ports you’ll be working with.
Here are the most common types used today:
- USB 2.0
- USB 3.0 (the most common for the best external hard drives)
- USB 3.1 Gen 1
- USB 3.1 Gen 2
- Thunderbolt 3
If you want to stay current with technology, it’s important to research the latest ports because these will have an impact on the speed and connectivity of your devices.
Different external hard drives may have added security features, such as automatic backup. If you’re buying an external hard drive to keep your files safe, it might be a good idea to consider an external hard drive with hardware-based encryption. This is especially important if you intend on using your external hard drive for travel or for storing private files.
RAID, backup solutions and hardware encryption. There are several extra features that can add protection to your stored files, including software that provides automatic backups and password protected encryption. While these features will take up space within the external hard drive, they can add valuable security to your sensitive or private files.
Privacy. If you’re using your external hard drive for work or if you’re sharing it with other people, the security of your files should take priority. Some drives come with software that allows you to set up individual users with their own allotted space. Having password encryption is also an extra shield to protect your files if your drive gets stolen.
Physical durability. If you plan on taking your external hard drive with you while on the go, you need to make sure you get one that’s durable, slip-resistant and shockproof. Some models are even water-resistant.
Warranty. You should be able to use your external hard drive for at least a couple of years, so make sure you get one with a long warranty and avoid running it on a daily basis to lengthen its longevity.
The speed at which the external hard drive reads and writes data is critical to how quickly you can access the files on your desktop or other devices. You’ll need an external hard drive with higher speeds if you’re dealing with larger files, such as videos.
The speed of an external hard drive largely depends on how it connects to your device. If you want a faster external hard drive, look for one with USB 3.0 rather than 2.0, because 3.0 is about ten times faster. Other fast options include eSATA, FireWire and Thunderbolt. Make sure you know what types of ports your computer or device has to ensure compatibility with your new external hard drive.
Operating System. Whether you run Windows 10, MAC OS X or something older, it’s important to check that the hard drive you want will work for your system. Some external hard drives are specific only to Windows and not Mac. In those cases, you will need to configure the external hard drive for Mac.
Multiple Devices. If you want to use your files across multiple platforms, such as between laptops, PCs and gaming consoles, you’ll need to find an external hard drive that has the right compatibility features for your needs. Some external hard drives are optimized for storing games from consoles, including the Xbox One and the PS4.
11 Best External Hard Drives in 2020
A Budget Oriented Drive with Only the Basic Functions that Will Do the Job
If you don’t need fancy features, but only a reliable storage with just the basic functions at an affordable price, WD Elements is the right drive for you.
Highly versatile, simple to use and with support for both Windows and Mac, consoles and many other devices equipped with USB2.0 or USB3.0 port, this device is exactly what the vast number of users needs.
Although a bit slower than its main rival, Seagate Expansion, with a writing speed of 95MBps and reading speed of 100MBps, this drive is still good enough for movie playback, as app storage and for many other similar tasks.
More importantly, WD Elements offers one of the best price per GB ratios on the market and comes in various capacities (1TB, 2TB, 3TB and 4TB) that are large enough for the majority of users. In other words, maybe it isn’t the fastest, partially due to the use of 5400rpm drives, but it is surely among the most affordable large-capacity options out there.
You should also know that its low price comes at a cost, presented through the lack of many features, such as encryption for example, but also the backup software that is free to use for only 30 days. Nevertheless, if you want a cheap option for your storage, you should seriously consider it.
- It lacks features
Seagate Backup Plus Slim
Old Hardware in a Shiny Armor
If you are looking for a solid-performing external hard drive that brings an attractive appearance and a compact size in one, Seagate Backup Plus Slim drive is a good choice for you.
Although this updated version of Backup Plus Slim doesn’t bring many changes compared to the previous version, except for the more stylish-looking enclosure that is, again, made in a minimalistic manner, it is still good enough for the most users. No, it won’t blow you away with its performance and read/write sequential speeds of around 120MBps; nevertheless, it will do a job.
Seagate Backup Plus Slim is available in four colors (black, red, light blue and silver) and four capacities (1TB, 2TB, 4TB and 5TB) and like its predecessor offers a one-year free Mylio Create subscription and free two-month membership to Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan. Moreover, it offers a two-year warranty and USB3.0 connectivity (its cable has a removable USB Type-C connector), and more importantly, has a tiny body that allows for its easy placement in a pocket or a bag.
Altogether, Seagate Backup Plus Slim doesn’t bring anything revolutionary, or majorly different to the competition or its predecessors. In other words, this drive is probably the best evidence that hard drives’ time is over and that we are now counting their last days.
- Beautiful design
- Decent performance
- A Free one-year Mylio Create a subscription
- Too expensive if you just need storage
- No data decryption
WD My Passport Ultra
A Solid Storage Device for Everyday Use
WD My Passport Ultra is a good storage device that doesn’t bring anything mesmerizing; nevertheless, it perfectly fulfils its purpose.
It is equipped with some useful features such as 256-bit AES hardware encryption, both USB Type-C and USB3.0 (over the adapter) connectivity and a solid WD Discovery software that allows for easy handling of photos and videos and their import from cloud services and social networks.
This device is available in 1TB, 2TB, 4TB and 5TB capacity and two colors: dark blue and silver. Moreover, it offers a compact design and very attractive appearance that presents a mixture of anodized metal and textures, and more importantly, comes with a three-year warranty.
WD My Passport Ultra offers solid read (125MBps) and write (120MBps) sequential speeds; however, it lacks some of the important features such as shock resistance and Mac compatibility.
All in all, WD My Passport Ultra is a good external hard drive option. Nevertheless, if you are concerned only about the amount of storage, there are certainly more affordable options out there, such as Seagate Expansion or WD Elements.
- USB Type-C connection
- Three-year warranty
- Lacks shock resistance
Samsung T5 Portable SSD
An Expensive, but Super-fast External Storage that Doesn’t Accept Compromise
Finding a fast external storage that will satisfy even the most demanding users, including professionals, is not an easy task, but Samsung T5 Portable SSD is managing it with ease. Although very expensive, this drive is worth the money because of its dazzling speeds and a great pack of features.
Its read/write speeds go up to 540MBps/515MBps, which may differ depending on the configuration of the device it is used on. Also, it offers numerous security features, such as password and AES 256-bit hardware encryption, and comes in various capacities that include 250GB, 500GB, 1TB and 2TB drives.
Samsung T5 Portable SSD uses a fast USB 3.1 Type-C Gen 2 port that can reaches speeds of up to 10Gbps, for its connectivity and supports various platforms: Mac, Windows, Android, etc. This SSD is equipped with the ASMedia mSATA-to-USB bridge controller and uses a 64-layer 3D V-NAND Triple Level Cell flash memory, which is responsible for its amazing speeds and great performance.
Compact, with a fully metal design, three-year warranty and altogether amazing efficiency and characteristics, Samsung T5 Portable SSD is an ultimate storage solution device, but only if your budget allows it.
- Metal construction
- No backup software
Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch
A Decent Storage Solution for Everyday Backups
Seagate has produced a lot of similar, but still different products in its Seagate Backup Plus line and Ultra Touch is one of those derives that shares a lot in common, but still presents a distinctive device.
What separates it from the bunch, in the first place, is the design that incorporates the woven, textile fabric into its outside shell, making it original and good-looking at the same time.
Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch comes in two capacities (1TB and 2TB) and offers nice data protection, which includes both password and AES-256 hardware encryption. It comes with a two-year warranty and offers USB3.0/2.0 connectivity, along with the USB Type-C one that can be accomplished by installing the included cap addition.
The drive itself archives read/write speeds that are around 120MBps and is compatible with Windows and Mac OSs. Its software offers neat backup/recovery options, as well as mirroring, which is very handy if you always need to keep all your data with you. Along with that, Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch provides a one-year free use of the Mylio Create and two months of a free Adobe CC Photography membership.
Generally speaking, this external drive has every feature that a regular user might need, and all that for a fair price.
- Nice data protection
- Software package needs to be downloaded
WD My Passport Wireless SSD
A Highly Versatile Portable SSD Ideal for Content Creators
Not many devices on the market give such a wide range of data transfer options and overall high compatibility as the WD My Passport Wireless SSD. This portable drive is equipped with an SD card reader, offers both wireless and wired connectivity and supports various operating systems that include Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.
Because of these characteristics and generally great durability, this device is a perfect companion for photographers, movie makers and other content creators demanding a large-capacity storage on go.
WD My Passport Wireless SSD has a battery that can last up to 10 hours, comes in four different capacities (250GB, 500GB, 1TB, 2TB) and offers a modest two-year warranty. Unfortunately, although it has a great multi-functionality, its data transfer speeds are a bit disappointing for the device of this price. SD card reader reaches read/write speeds between 40-50MBps, which is fine, but wireless transfer speeds are only around 15MBps, while wired ones, through a USB3.0, are around 390MBps, which is pretty sluggish for a portable SSD. The main reason for that is the lack of Thunderbolt or any other similar type of connection interface that would drastically increase the wired file transfer speeds.
Overall, this is a quality device with great usability that demands just a little upgrading to become superb.
- Wireless connectivity
- No wireless files transfer protection
Silicon Power Rugged Armor A60
An Affordable External Hard Drive that Will Even Withstand a Storm
If you are looking for a drive that offers plenty of capacity and the highest possible case protection at a fair price, Silicon Power Rugged Armor A60 is the device for you. Its performance and transfer read/write speeds of around 110MBps won’t impress anyone. Nevertheless, they are good enough for the majority of users.
Silicon Power Rugged Armor A60 comes in capacities from 500GB to 5TB and it supports Linux, Mac and Windows. Also, it offers a USB 3.1 Gen1 or USB Type-C connectivity (depending on the model) that unfortunately doesn’t achieve its full potential because of the slow built-in 5400rpm drives. On the other hand, its rubber/plastic case provides an extensive mechanical protection, complies with various military-grade shockproof standards, and even offers IPX4 protection (water resistant) which makes it ideal for outdoor use.
This drive comes with the SP Widget software that offers just the right number of features, including AES 256-bit encryption, data backup, recovery – basically, all the stuff needed by a regular user.
Silicon Power Rugged Armor A60 comes with a three-year warranty and altogether presents a good entry-level outdoor storage option. Therefore, if you need a durable large capacity device, this is the one to choose.
- Highly durable
- Quality software
- Not the most reliable drives inside
Toshiba Canvio Advance
A Decent External Hard Drive for Easy Everyday Use
External hard drives market is pretty packed these days and if the device doesn’t have some fancy features that will make it stand out from the crowd, there is a huge chance that the device will stay hidden in that mass of similar-looking and performing devices. Toshiba Canvio Advance is exactly one of those devices that don’t bring anything special but still present a decent storage option at an affordable price.
This drive comes in 1TB, 2TB and 4TB capacity and in four different colors (black, blue, red and white). Also, it has a two-year warranty, comes with the USB3.0 connectivity and can be used on both Windows and Mac, along with PS4 and Xbox One.
Its read/write speeds go around 120MBps, which is expected from a 5400rpm drive and will do a proper job for most users.
Toshiba Canvio Advance offers easy data backup, including auto-copy, with the help of its Toshiba Storage Backup Software, but also gives the much-needed data protection with its other app named Storage Security Software.
Overall, Toshiba Canvio Advance isn’t a drive that will overwhelm you with its amazing speeds or shiny features. This drive is, before anything else, here to do the easy job of storing your data and is doing it flawlessly.
- Small size
- Short cable
LaCie Rugged Mini
An External Drive that Will Protect Your Data Even if You Run it Over with a Car
The main purpose of external drives is to back up your data and keep it safe. The majority of the drives are doing a fine job in this department, but LaCie Rugged Mini has raised this to a much higher level and offers not only the basic mechanical protection but also the shock, water and pressure resistance. In other words, you can drop it from a one-meter height, leave it in rain, step on it, or, in theory, even run over with your car, and all your data will still stay safe and sound.
All this is achieved thanks to its design that incorporates a removable orange rubber sleeve and a brushed aluminum chassis, resulting in a super-durable device.
LaCie Rugged Mini comes in four capacities (500GB, 1TB, 2TB and 4TB), offers a modest two-year warranty, is equipped with the 5400rpm drives and achieves not that impressive read/write speed of around 130MBps. Also, it offers built-in password protection and comes with a decent software package that allows for automatic backup, encryption, and power management.
Although a bit expensive and with not that great performance, LaCie Rugged Mini still has a great value, mostly because you can be sure your pictures, documents and other personal information will stay protected no matter what, and that is something that has no price.
- Interesting look
- Shock, water and pressure resistant
- Loose USB connector
SanDisk Extreme Portable External SSD
One of the Fastest External SSD Drives on the Market
If you are looking for a super-fast external drive that will also give you a great mechanical protection, SanDisk Extreme Portable External SSD comes as one of the best options on the market right now. With a read speed of around 560MBps and a writing speed of about 500MBps, this drive blows away most of the competition and only a few drives, such as Samsung T5 Portable SSD, for example can really compete with it.
This drive comes in four capacities (250GB, 500GB, 1TB and 2TB), offers USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C connectivity (it also has a Type-A adapter) and supports full use on both Mac and Windows. Also, it is supplied with the SanDisk Secure Access 3.0 software that comes equipped with backup, encryption (including 128-bit AES), recovery and many other very useful functions.
SanDisk Extreme Portable External SSD has a three-year warranty, and more importantly, offers a shock, dust and water-resistant design, and it even complies with the IP55 rating. In accordance with its protective design, its outside is made out of textured rubber, while there is also a plastic loop at the top, for easy clipping and extended portability.
All in all, SanDisk Extreme Portable External SSD has every characteristic of a premium portable device and presents an ultimate choice for your storage.
- Nice design
- IP55 rating
- Great performance
LaCie Mobile Drive
A Beauty and a Solid Performer in One
A quality performance, followed by good looks and a large capacity is what most users are asking for from their external hard drives, and LaCie Mobile Drive fulfills exactly that.
It is available in four capacities (1TB, 2TB, 4TB and 5TB) and two colors (moon silver, space gray) and offers a highly attractive metal-skinned design that distinguishes from every other external drive. Moreover, it provides very good read (125MBps) and writes (120MBps) sequential speeds and overall decent versatility thanks to the USB3.0 and USB Type-C connectivity and compatibility with both Windows and Mac.
LaCie Mobile Drive offers a free one-month subscription to all Adobe Creative Cloud Apps, comes with a two-year warranty and very good LaCie Toolkit software that delivers some very handy functions such as “Mirror”, which allows for file syncing between the dedicated folder on the external drive and the computer itself.
Overall, LaCie Mobile Drive is a great pocket-sized storage device that is highly appealing to a very large base of users and altogether, one of the best external hard drives on the market, or at least the most attractive one.
- Good LaCie Toolkit software
- Slim design
- Free one-month subscription to all Adobe Creative Cloud Apps
- A bit pricey
External hard drives are incredibly affordable and there are plenty of options for size and features. They’re a must-have for any gamer or media enthusiast who wants an additional layer of file security (even if you already have the best gaming PC with reliable SSD)!