A hard drive is an important asset for anyone who spends a lot of time in the digital realm. Whether you need somewhere to download more games, a repository for all your family photos, or a secure place in which to store important documents, we can all use a little (or a lot of) extra storage. External hard drives are excellent, often cost-effective, solutions when your computer runs out of space. Fortunately, many options exist to help you get the right size, storage amount, and durability features like waterproofing. Take a look at our buying guide below before reading our reviews of several of the best hard drives.
External Hard Drives vs. The Cloud
When it comes to choosing between cloud storage and external hard drives, it really depends on preference. On one hand, the cloud is typically more convenient, providing a reliable and safe option that allows you to keep adding more storage. It also has the advantage of being accessible almost anywhere, allowing you to sync and reach your materials from services like Apple iCloud, Microsoft Dropbox, or Google Drive so long as you have a device with a Wi-Fi connection. But you may incur monthly fees for extra space, so putting everything on the cloud will be far more expensive in the long run. It’s always best to look into the security info of the platform that you choose, too. You’ll want to know what will happen to your data in every sort of situation—especially in the event that whoever you’re using (though unlikely) goes out of business. On the other hand, external hard drives have the upper hand in putting information security in your hands. Hard drives also have a fixed cost instead of a recurring fee. However, if your hard drive were to physically break, it may be difficult or impossible to get back the information you lost. It’s also worth mentioning that advancements in technology mean the type of USB ports that these drives use may become obsolete, requiring you to buy an adapter to connect them to your latest devices.
What to Consider
Storage: The average person will often find 64 gigabytes (GB) to be more than enough, especially if you’re using the hard drive simply to store extra photos and documents. For saving larger files, many smaller solid-state drive (SSD) models go up to one or two terabytes (TB) while still remaining reasonably priced. Gamers or professionals looking to store huge commercial documents may want a hard disk drive (HDD) model that holds up to 24 TB.
Speed: HDDs tend to run around 100 MB per second to 200 MBps, with SSDs clocking about two times faster for an average of 400 MBps. This determines how quickly you’ll be able to access the data stored on the hard drive.
HDD: Hard disk drives are less expensive than SSDs but can store much more. The downside is they’re physically much bigger. They can also be a bit more delicate—if you move the drive while it’s in the process of reading or downloading files, it could damage the interior disks and make some of your information unreadable.
SSD: Solid-state drives are faster, smaller, and tend to be more expensive. They usually cannot hold as much memory, but for most basic needs, they’re more than adequate, many able to accommodate up to 5 TB. If you’re looking for storage you can take with you, some SSDs can even fit in the palm of your hand.
How We Selected and Rated Them
Each of these hard drives has been evaluated by our test of test editors. We researched ten expert sources such as Digital Trends, Tech Radar, and PC Mag, as well as 22,000 consumer reviews to select the best external hard drives. Our Consumer Score represents the percentage of customers who rated the product at least four out of five stars on retail and review sites like Amazon, Walmart, and the manufacturers’ pages.
Despite being small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, the T5 holds an impressive amount of storage, as it’s available in 500 GB, 1 TB, and 2 TB options. And while it’s on the expensive side, it makes up for it with its portability and speed. For those of us prone to clumsiness, the drop-resistant casing protects it from falls of up to two meters. It can also reach speeds of 540 MBps—significantly above the average for SSDs. As long as your device has a USB (A or C) port, it will be compatible, since the T5 has USB-C but comes with two cables: USB-C to A and USB-C to C.
Available from 500GB to 18TB, this Seagate is relatively affordable and has a contemporary, aesthetically pleasing design. And not only does it look good, but the textured panel has a pleasant feeling and makes it somewhat easier to grip. The One Touch comes with a long USB3.0 cable and is compatible with both Mac and Windows. Also included: a free year of the Mylio Create app, useful for organizing, editing, sharing, and syncing all your photos.
The Adata SD700 is ideal for work in dirty and potentially hazardous environments such as a home workshop. It’s ruggedized to protect against dust, dirt, water, and drops, with a thick, plastic bumper around the edge. With storage options from 256 GB to 1 TB, this SSD provides adequate storage for many without requiring a huge expense.
Western Digital's Elements portable hard drive offers storage sizes from 1T to 5T, which is plenty of space for most of us who need to back up photos, videos, and important files. It connects to your devices with USB 3 and 2 ports, and transfers data quickly. While it's formatted with NTFS for Windows 10, 8.1, and 7, it can be reformatted for other operating systems as well, including Macs and gaming devices.
Not only is this hard drive portable, it’s amply protected and ready to take a beating. Protection includes a design with internal shock mounts, an aluminum shell, and a removable rubber bumper to help shield the delicate insides. All that keeps it resistant to rain, dirt, and pressure of up to 1,000 pounds as well. Keep in mind that the ArmorATD is not the fastest HDD out there. But G-Technology makes it in drives ranging from 1 to 5 TB, which means that you have options regarding both size and price.
Yes, this SSD is expensive. But if speed is your priority, you won’t be disappointed. Samsung claims it has 2,800 MBps read and 2,300 MBps write speeds, and in tests that the reviewers at Tom’s Guide conducted, it met these speeds easily. The X5 has a beautiful sleek design that features internal shock resistance to help keep its contents safe when dropped. But the outer metal shell also makes it somewhat bulky and slippery, so it may not be a first choice if you’re looking for something super portable. While other less expensive options will work just as well to store your data, this is the way to go if you want the newest, greatest, and fastest.
If you’re looking for nearly unlimited storage, the WD My Book tops out at 24 TB. Though this is much more storage than most people will ever need, if you run a business or are a data hoarder, that kind of space practically ensures that you never have to go in and delete older files to free up room. If you want this amount of storage, be prepared to shell out the cash—the 24 TB option tops out at just under $900. If that seems like overkill, the single-drive 3 TB option—at just $90—is a much more reasonable option for most. A concern, especially considering the amount of data it’s capable of storing, is that it has only a two-year warranty. Some reviewers had issues with the drive within the warranty period but also mentioned that the company was quick to replace faulty devices.