Backing up your computer is great practice for good digital hygiene, and keeping your important documents and photos safe on an external hard drive can make a PC crash or virus problem much less stressful. These essential tools are easily portable, affordable, and can grant you the storage space needed for a few extra files, or even a few terabytes of video.
There's an external hard drive to suit computer users of all kinds, coming in a variety of storage capacities and specific capabilities depending on your needs. With so many on the market, look no further for the best external hard drives to keep your data secure.
— Best Overall: WD Elements Desktop Hard Drive
— Best Cheap: Seagate Portable External Hard Drive HDD
— Best SSD: WD My Passport SSD External Portable Drive
— Best Portable: Samsung T5 Portable SSD
— Best for Photos: SanDisk Extreme PRO Portable SSD
— Best for Gaming: WD BLACK D30 Game Drive SSD
— Best Durability: Samsung T7 Shield Portable Solid State Drive
How We Picked the Best External Hard Drives
In many cases, the data on your computer can be more important than the computer itself. That’s why our first criteria was reliability; you need to be able to count on your external hard drive to keep your information safe. We narrowed down our top picks from over 30 external hard drives, paying mind to a few important factors.
Reputable Brands: Brands earn consumer trust and a good reputation by creating reliable products. Since reliability is so important for an external hard drive, it pays off to invest in a product from a reliable brand — even if it is a little bit more expensive. Reputable brands also tend to have better support, in case something goes wrong with the hard drive. Of course, any brand can have a product that is a dud, so we considered consumer reviews as well as the product specifications to narrow down our top picks.
Space Requirements: Capacity needs will vary depending on what you plan to store. To cater to a range of shoppers, we included hard drives with a range of capacity options. You’ll find budget-friendly options in the list to store a few documents and photos up to large-capacity drives to store terabytes of 4K videos.
Performance: We included a mix of HDD and SSD options to suit shoppers with different performance needs (and budgets). We prioritized hard drives with good performance metrics (like decent read/write speeds and protective cases), as well as positive consumer reviews that show the drives perform as promised in real-life settings.
Related: Get it all done with the best laptops.
The Best External Hard Drives: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: WD Elements Desktop Hard Drive
Why It Made The Cut: With capacity options ranging up to 18TB and a sleek desktop design this HDD hard drive can backup all of your devices.
— Drive Type: HDD
— Capacities: 3TB, 4TB, 6TB, 8TB, 10TB, 12TB, 14TB, 16TB, 18TB
— Dimensions: 5.31 inches L x 1.89 inches W x 6.53 inches H
— Large capacity
— Excellent value
— Vertical design saves desk space
— Narrow and tall design can tip over
— Not as portable
— Requires an external power source
Remembering to backup your devices is easier when you have a desktop external hard drive. The WD Elements Desktop Hard Drive is always there and ready to plug in, whenever you feel the need to back up your data. This HDD drive features a vertical, desktop design in an attractive case. The small footprint saves desk space and the exposed sides and venting help to keep the drive cooler.
The drive is pre-formatted to use right out of the box with Windows PC, but may need reformatting for use with Macs. An outlet is required for power and it plugs into your computer with the USB 3.0 interface (which means it’s also backwards compatible with USB 2.0 devices).
Storage capacity starts at 3TB and goes up to an impressive 18TB, making this one of the highest-capacity options available. This desktop external hard drive makes it easy to back up every last file, photo, and video on your computer — you’ll need a lot of files to run out of space with this drive.
Best Cheap: Seagate Portable External Hard Drive HDD
Why It Made The Cut: This portable HDD is a basic choice, but has an excellent capacity and read/write speed for its economical price.
— Drive Type: HDD
— Capacities: 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 5TB
— Dimensions: 4.6 inches L x 3.15 inches W x 0.58 inches H
— Decent read/write speed
— Portable and compact
— Lacks security features
A high-quality external hard drive doesn’t need to break the bank. With the Seagate Portable External Hard Drive HDD, you can backup your important files without spending too much of your hard-earned money.
This HDD drive comes in four capacity options ranging from 1TB to 5TB, so you have an affordable option for one device or several. The drive is pre-formatted for Windows, so you can connect it using the convenient 18-inch USB 3.0 cable and drag and drop items right away. With a decent read/write rate of speed of 120MB/s, it won’t take too long to transfer your important files. Reformatting may be required for Mac computers.
The portable size makes this external hard drive a suitable pick to store in a desk drawer or bring on-the-go. It’s powered through the USB cable, so there’s no need to sit near an outlet to connect this drive. With a simple design and budget-friendly price, this external hard drive is an excellent choice for most users.
Best SSD: WD My Passport SSD External Portable Drive
Why It Made The Cut: With a fast read/write speed, password protection, and a sturdy metal build, this external hard drive is a smart choice for important files.
— Drive Type: SSD
— Capacities: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB
— Dimensions: 3.9 inches L x 2.2 inches W x 0.4 inches H
— Password protection with hardware encryption
— Includes both USB-A and USB-C cable
— Shock-, vibration-, and drop-resistant metal construction
— Compact size
— Short USB-C cable
SSD external hard drives are faster than their HDD counterparts, and the WD My Passport SSD External Portable Drive is no exception. This mid-price hard drive offers read speeds up to 1050MB/s and write speeds up to 1000MB/s for speedy transfers. It comes in 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, and 4TB capacities to make storing files a breeze.
This hard drive is compatible with both Windows and Mac and is equipped with USB 3.2 Gen 2 technology. It comes with a USB-C cable and a USB-A adapter to work with any computer or laptop. The included WD Discovery backup software (internet activation required) makes it simple to transfer data, and once on the drive, it’s easy to keep your data well-protected with the password-enabled 256-bit AES hardware encryption.
All of these performance features are packed into a bold and attractive metal design that is shock- and vibration-resistant, as well as drop resistant up to 6.5 feet. This hard drive was designed with aesthetics in mind, with several color options, smooth rounded corners, and a ridged surface.
Best Portable: Samsung T5 Portable SSD
Why It Made The Cut: This hard drive has a durable metal build, fits in the palm of a hand, and weighs just 1.8 ounces, making it an ultra-portable option.
— Drive Type: SSD
— Capacities: 1TB, 2TB
— Dimensions: 2.91 inches L x 2.26 inches W x 0.41 inches H
— Very small and lightweight
— Sturdy metal construction
— Optional password protection and AES 256-bit hardware encryption
— Slower than some SSDs
While all external hard drives are technically portable, a compact and lightweight version is the best choice for frequent travelers. This Samsung T5 Portable SSD is a very compact option, measuring about half the size of a smartphone.
Measuring just 2.91 inches long by 2.26 inches wide by 0.41 inches high and weighing 1.8 ounces, this sleek and slim SSD hard drive can easily fit into a pocket, bag, or carry-on to accompany you wherever you need it to go. It’s also made of shock-resistant metal to better handle dents and dings that can happen on the road. Since it’s an SSD drive, there’s no moving internal parts to worry about when carrying this external hard drive.
This external hard drive is small but doesn’t skimp on features. It comes in a 1TB or 2TB size with an acceptable read/write speed of 540MB/s. It has a USB 3.1 Gen 2 interface and comes with both a USB-A and USB-C cable to connect to different devices.
Just in case the hard drive ends up in the wrong hands while you’re out and about, you can take advantage of the optional password protection and AES 256-bit hardware encryption to keep your data more secure.
Best for Photos: SanDisk Extreme PRO Portable SSD
Why It Made The Cut: This drive features 2,000MB/s read/write speeds wrapped up in a durable case to make it quick and easy to transfer photos, even if you’re a photographer on the road.
— Drive Type: SSD
— Capacities: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB
— Dimensions: 4.36 inches L x 2.28 inches W x 0.41 inches H
— Fast 2,000MB/s read/write speed
— IP55 rating to protect from water and dust
— Attractive design
Photographers need a high level of performance from their tech, including any hard drives for storing photos. Whether you’re backing up important professional photos or cherished family memories, the SanDisk Extreme PRO Portable SSD is an ultra-portable option that is up for any job.
Very fast read/write speeds make it super quick to backup your photos, whether personal photos or snaps for clients. When paired with a device that supports USB 3.2 Gen 2x2, this hard drive can reach 2,000MB/s read/write speeds. It includes both a USB-A and USB-C cable for better compatibility.
This hard drive is small enough to slide into a camera bag and durable enough to take almost anywhere with you, making it an excellent option for personal or professional storage. It features an IP55 rating against water and dust, which means it can tolerate splashes of water and some dust ingress, and is drop-resistant to handle falls from up to 6.5 feet. Besides keeping safe from falls, water, and dirt, this drive also includes password protection featuring 256‐bit AES hardware encryption to keep your data protected.
Best for Gaming: WD BLACK D30 Game Drive SSD
Why It Made The Cut: Designed with gamers in mind, this external hard drive has good read/write speeds, a sleek look, and comes with a detachable stand so you can keep it propped. up on a console.
— Drive Type: SSD
— Capacities: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB
— Dimensions: 2.38 inches L 3.77 inches W x 1.8 inches H
— Attractive and sleek design
— Includes a detachable stand
— Good read/write speed for gaming
— May not reach full read/write speeds on some devices
For those with a sizable game library, storage space can feel like a scarce resource, especially as new and exciting games are released. While many external hard drives will work with gaming setups, the WD Black D30 Game Drive is designed with gamers in mind.
This external hard drive has excellent compatibility across popular systems and can be used with Xbox, Playstation, and PC systems. To make it easier to connect, it comes with an included USB-C to USB-A cable to connect to Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 consoles. Plus, with a decently speedy read/write speed of 900mb/s, this hard drive is fast enough for intense game play, with minimal load times. Since this external hard drive is a small and portable SSD drive, it’s excellent to bring traveling or to game a friend’s place, and it can save space on top of your entertainment setup. The hard drive is made to be displayed, with an attractive, industrial-inspired design and a detachable stand, so you can leave it out on a console without it being an eyesore.
Best Durability: Samsung T7 Shield Portable Solid State Drive
Why It Made The Cut: Samsung T7 Shield can take most of what you throw at it, from dust to water, and can even withstand a drop from upwards of nine feet.
— Drive Type: SSD
— Capacities: 1TB, 2TB
— Dimensions: 2.4 inches L 3.8 inches W x 1.8 inches H
— Dust and water-resistant
— Can take the occasional spill
— Stays cool
— Occasionally slower than advertised
An external hard drive is a great addition to your home rig, but what if you need to travel with all your extra data? The Samsung T7 Shield Portable Solid State Drive is strong enough to stand up to the dangers that would destroy lesser drives.
Its durability is truly unmatched for an SSD. It comes complete with IP65 water and dust resistance, making it great for packing your drive along with you when you brave the elements. The attractive rubberized grip not only makes pulling this out of a backpack or laptop case easy, but it gives it an extra layer of protection. Go ahead, drop it from a height of 9.8 feet or lower. It can take it. Your games, photos, and sensitive documents will be safe and secure. Even when it's transferring files as fast as 1,000 MB per second, the SSD stays cool and quiet. This means even when you're running games directly off the Samsung T7 Shield, your games will run smoothly, with little to no lag or slow down. That said, the transfer rate is "up to 1,000 MB per second," and occasionally it transfers files far slower than that. Plus, it's compatible with tons of devices, including Mac, PC, and even Android.
Things to Consider Before Buying an External Hard Drive
An external hard drive is a must-have device for anyone with a PC, but with a plethora of options available, how do you find the best hard drive for your needs? We dive into the most important factors to consider, including the hard drive type, storage capacity, performance, and portability.
HDD vs. SSD
External hard drives come in two different types: traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs).
HDDs are a popular and budget-friendly choice. Their main downside is that they have moving parts inside that can break down or wear out over time, especially with a lot of movement. HDDs also tend to be slower, but are less expensive and can have a much larger capacity than SSDs.
SSDs tend to be smaller, lighter, and faster than HDD drives. Since they don’t have moving parts like in HDDs, they also usually last longer and are better for traveling. However, they are more expensive and tend to have a smaller capacity, with many SSD options maxing out around 2TB.
When shopping for an external hard drive, storage space is one of the most important factors to consider. There’s no use in buying a hard drive that can’t store all your information, nor does it make sense to overpay for a hard drive that’s far too large (it’s a good idea to buy a drive with double the storage space you think you need — but you don’t need to go overboard). External hard drive capacities generally range from 128GB to 18TB
For backing up some documents, photos, and home videos, or for expanding the space of your laptop or tablet, a lower-capacity drive is suitable. An external hard drive up to 500GB or 1TB should be enough for most users backing up or transferring files, music, photos, and videos from a personal computer.
For storing more files, like large amounts of photos and videos, or backups for multiple computers, a larger capacity is likely necessary, and you can find options ranging up to 18TB. As storage capacity goes up, so does price.
Most drives can work on either PC or Mac, but some may need reformatting before use. Also consider how you will connect it to your computer; most new drives include USB-A and/or USB-C cables, many with USB 3.0 compatibility.
Read/write speed is one performance metric to look at if you plan to use your drive often for transferring large files. Read/write speed refers to how quickly the external hard drive can access its stored files as well as save new ones. Read/write speeds are typically measured in megabytes per second (MB/s) and can range up to 200MB/s in HDDs and upwards of 2000MB/s in SSDs. Keep in mind that read/write speed is also affected by the host device and usage conditions, so not every drive will always hit its advertised read/write speed.
For storing sensitive data, some external hard drives offer security features like password-protection or high-level encryption. Consider these features if you plan on backing up important personal or work files.
The ideal external hard hard drive size and type can depend on how portable you need your drive to be. If you plan on keeping it tucked in your desk for occasional backups, a desktop HDD should be suitable; they offer excellent storage capacity for money, and you don’t need to be as concerned about the moving internal parts if it only sits at your desk.
For frequent traveling, consider for a more compact, lightweight, and rugged SSD drive. Look for a sturdy case, a good drop rating, and a suitable size for your needs.
Q: What brand of external hard drive is most reliable?
There are several reputable brands that manufacture reliable external hard drives. Since there isn’t one brand that comes out on top, it’s best to pay attention to the hard drive specs and user reviews; this will give you a better idea of the best external hard drive for your needs.
Q: How long should an external hard drive last?
Hard drives have parts that can deteriorate over time. It’s best to replace your external hard drive around the 3- to 5-year mark to keep your data safe. This doesn’t mean every hard drive will fail at this point (many hard drives will last for years or decades longer, and a few will fail sooner). But backing up your data to multiple places, taking good physical care of your external hard drive, and replacing it every few years is best practice to make sure your data stays protected.
Q: Is WD better than Seagate?
Both WD and Seagate make excellent external hard drives. These brands are two of the best external hard drive brands and often offer competitive products and prices. Comparing hard drive specifications and consumer reviews can help you narrow down the right external hard drive between the two brands.
Q: Are 10TB drives reliable?
Yes, 10TB external hard drives are a reliable choice. These large capacity drives are ideal for those who need to store a lot of data.
Q: How can I securely dispose of old hard drives?
A data-wiping program will delete your data from an old hard drive. However, if you want to be extra sure that the hard drive data is unrecoverable, you should also take the step to physically destroy the hard drive.
Q: How much do external hard drives cost?
Expect to spend between $100 to $200 for an external hard drive. The price will depend on the hard drive type and size and the storage capacity of the drive.
Related: The best computer monitors for work or play
Final Thoughts on External Hard Drives
The WD Elements Desktop Hard Drive has a sleek, desktop design and comes in storage capacities ranging from 3TB to 18TB to store all of your important data, all for a cost-friendly price.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.