The Best External Hard Drive in 2021
The hype machine may lead you to believe all our data is headed to the cloud, but don’t count physical storage out just yet. External devices have grown in popularity over the past decade, so choosing the right one can become confusing with the wealth of options available. If you want to ensure you pick the best external hard drive for your needs, follow these easy tips.
How to Choose the Best External Hard Drive
HDD or SDD?
There are two types of external hard drives, and the style you choose dictates the speed at which it can read and write data. Everyone will be familiar with HDDs, but if you’re running a dated rig, a solid-state drive may seem somewhat exotic.
HDD – HDD stands for a hard disk drive, and it’s the most common option available. They utilize a spinning platter and magnetic head and allow you to vastly increase your storage for cheap. On the downside, they are not as fast as SSD and prone to errors due to those mechanical parts.
SSD – On the other end of the spectrum, we have solid-state drives or SSDs. You can think about these as big flash drives in a sense, but ones that are very fast and expensive. We’re talking seconds instead of minutes compared to some HDDs. This style of hard drive is also perfect for people on the go as there is less concern about data loss from a drop or bump.
What will you use your new external hard drive for? If you’ve found your way to our site, there’s a strong chance you game, but that’s not the only data you may want to keep secure. How much space you need to back up save files or store classics varies, so there is no magic number. It all comes down to your needs at the end of the day.
With that in mind, go big or go home with a standard hard disk drive. The prices have come down considerably in recent years, so it doesn’t make sense to pick up a 1TB drive when you can triple that for a few more bucks. If you’re in doubt, opt for a 5TB external drive unless you are a media mogul with thousands of games and films to store.
As for solid-state drives, you have to consider their capacity beforehand carefully. They aren’t cheap, but they are extremely quick. If you underestimate your needs with an SDD, you could end up buying a cheap HDD to go with it once you run out of space.
Plenty of PCs and laptops still use the USB 2.0 standard even though modern machines, smartphones, and slates are using USB-C now. No matter how fast the drive is, you’re going to lose speed if the ports on your end are outdated. Even the best external hard drive for PCs will slow to a crawl if you’re using a 2.0 port. Outside of USB 3.0 and C-type jacks, we also have Apples array of ports to contend with.
Thankfully, there is no shortage of options for Macs although there is another “connectivity” issue of sorts that may cause problems. That would be formatting, something you’ll have to do more often than not with a Mac. If speed is critical, look for an external hard drive that comes ready to roll for Macs or one that doesn’t require reformatting.
We’ve all spilled a soda on our keyboard at some point, and before the rise of wireless tech, plenty of peripherals hit the floor. High-end external hard drive can cost considerably more than an optical gaming mouse, which means durability is key. Unfortunately, it varies wildly although solid-state drives are still your best bet.
When it comes to external damage, you can always choose a case, but some hard drives have built-in protection. A shockproof model will keep your data safe during a drop while a waterproof HDD allows you to store or access your action shots from damp locales, not when you’re back home at the PC. If drops are your primary concern, pay attention to the rating but never put it to the test intentionally.
The term waterproof can be a little tricky if you don’t read the fine print and another area where the rating matters. It can be easy to get excited when you see an “IPX” tag, but there are different degrees of protection against water and dust. Some hard drives are also water-resistant, not waterproof which makes a huge difference.
Compared to other types of consumer tech, you aren’t going to get much when it comes to extras with hard drives. The most common accessory would be the cable, which can vary in quality so you may want to have a spare on hand. Many companies also include security software or free trials that give you a taste of premium programs from Adobe and others.
Colors aren’t an accessory, but important when you consider most drives don’t have a whole lot of style. Gamers that want a hard drive that stands out in a crowd will find an array of colorful options available. Warranties can vary as much as the colors, but the longer the warranty, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
Upgrades are a common occurrence when new games roll out, and some components are easier to swap out than others. Hard drives can be a pain, but not if you think outside the box and decide to get an external hard drive. From speedy gaming SSDs to large hard disk drives, these portable wonders provide a lot of bang for your buck.
12 Best External Hard Drives
SanDisk Extreme SDSSDE60
The Best External SSD
If we had to assign the SanDisk Extreme SDSSDE60 to a tier, it would be in the luxury class. This fast solid-state drive won’t take up much space and is capable of handling far more abuse than its competitors.
From a technological standpoint, this solid-state drive is comparable to other top models. It can hit speeds up to 550MB/s and leaves a tiny footprint behind as it’s about the size of a modern smartphone. Durability is the standout feature considering it has an IPX5 rating and can handle a 2-meter drop. The SanDisk Extreme is also universal in the sense that it works with both PCs and Macs thanks to a variety of connectors.
The SanDisk Extreme SDSSDE60 is an excellent SSD and can be used as gaming hard drive, and we like the fact there is a size and price point for everyone from 250GB to 2TB. Even if you aren’t partial to Fortnite or Minecraft, it’s a great choice when you need something rugged for the road or are merely a clumsy PC user.
- Resistant to water and debris
- Shockproof housing
- Plenty of adapters
- Solid Security
WD My Passport Ultra (Metal Enclosure)
Amazing Portable External Hard Drive
WD My Passport Ultra is a very good choice if you are looking for an external drive with a lot of memory because it comes in three versions: 1TB, 2TB, and 4TB allowing you to have a lot of movies, games, files or simply music videos there.
It can be connected by using USB-C port, as well as using the USB 3.0 port, which gives you multiple options to connect it.
This external HDD is very durable since it has a refined metal cover.
For internal protection, there is an option to use 256-bit AES hardware to protect the device with the password of your choosing, allowing you to protect your secret files.
WD My Passport External HDD is fully compatible with Windows 10 Operating System and it also comes with a 3-year warranty, in case it gets broken.
- Offers a lot of memory storage
- Durable design, with metal cover
- Includes password protection
- Compatible with Windows 10 OS
- It is a bit slow
Samsung T5 Portable External SSD
A Tiny and Secure SSD
Samsung is responsible for all types of tech including hard drives both internal and external. The Samsung T5 is another SDD that needs to be on your radar and one you could potentially lose if you’re not careful. It’s that small…
The T5 portable SSD is only 2.9” x 2.2” with a weight of 51 grams – just let that sink in for a minute. That’s smaller than a deck of cards which is impressive as it’s a 1TB SSD with a 540 MB/s transfer speed. You can also hook this one up to Macs with ease and pull up to 10Gbps from USB 3.1 compatible devices.
The Samsung T5 portable SSD is arguably the best external hard drive for backup purposes with AES 256-encryption and a solid 3-year warranty. It’s only available in one color, but with four options ranging from 250GB to 2TB in size.
- Shock resistant
- AES 256-bit encryption
- USB-C to USB-A and USB-C cables
- Aluminum shell
- The price tag
Toshiba Canvio Advance
A Perfect Choice for Gamers
Billed as a hard drive for creators, the Toshiba Canvio Advance is a great option for gamers as well. It’s not fancy, but won’t let you down whether you use it to store PC games or need to backup thousands of high-res photos.
This platter-based drive spins at speeds up to 5400rpm, so you can expect write speeds of around 140MB/s. That’s par for the course given its size, and as you’d expect, dips down to 60MB/s if you are sans a 3.0 port. If you’re running Windows, you’ll get software for automatic backups and password as well although Mac users are out of luck in that regard.
The Toshiba Canvio Advance isn’t necessarily the best external hard drive for Mac users and definitely in the budget-friendly realm but a solid option nonetheless. It’s available in four different hues in two styles with Classic and Contemporary. Four sizes are available if you go with the former while the latter comes in 1, 2 or 3TB configurations.
- Multiple colors and sizes
- Automatic Backup (Windows Only)
- Not Mac-friendly
Western Digital Elements Hard Drive
Simplicity Done Right
Western Digital has always been a fine choice when it comes to external hard drives that perform without breaking the bank. Their 2TB Elements hard drive is no exception and ideal if you’re in need of a cheap external hard drive for gaming or backups.
The Element is geared towards users that need space and aren’t necessarily concerned about speed. The internal drive speed clocks in at 5,400rpm and it’s compatible with both USB 3.0 and 2.0 computers. There is plenty of storage although it’s a little barebones with no bells & whistles aside from a free trial of WD SmartWare Pro.
While SDDs are dandy, they aren’t for everyone due to their price. If you’re gaming on the budget, and in search of the best external hard drive for PS4, this one is well worth a look. It comes with a USB cable and a 2-year warranty out of the box.
- 2TB is nice for the price
- Slim design
- Short cable
- Very basic
The Best Option for Laptop and Mac
An Excellent Option for Macs
Seagate Backup Plus Slim external HDD comes with 2TB of storage space, allowing you to hold a lot of important files on it, without having to worry about not having enough space.
The device is fully compatible with both Mac and Windows operating systems, so you will have no trouble to use it on either of them.
Its design is very pretty. It features a very minimalistic brushed metal enclosure, allowing it to be very durable and last longer.
As for its connectivity, it has USB 3.0 connection (cable included in the package), allowing you fast transfers.
Another very useful feature is that it allows you to schedule automatic backup on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, so you won’t have to worry about losing your files.
If you purchase this external hard drive, you will get a complimentary subscription for Mylio Create for one whole year and membership access to Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan for duration of two full months.
Along with that, comes the warranty on the product, which lasts two years, which you can use in case there is any problem related to the device.
- Decent amount of storage space
- Pretty and durable design
- Both Mac and Windows compatibility
- Mylio Create subscription and Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan membership
- Two-year warranty
- It’s a bit noisy
LaCie Mobile Drive
Affordable Price Point Category Beast
LaCie Mobile Drive features multiple storage options, varying from 2TB and going up to 5TB, allowing you to have a lot of space for your files, music, movies, and games.
It can work pretty well on both Mac and Windows operating systems, allowing you to use it wherever you need it, without any restrictions.
If you need to transfer some files pretty fast, then you can connect this external HDD to other devices by using USB-C port. Apart from that, it also features USB 3.0 connectivity.
When it comes to its design, LaCie Mobile drive is very slim and light, making it easier to carry on your travels if there is a need for that, which makes it a pretty good choice for doing business and carrying important company files with you on meetings.
- Multiple storage options, up to 5TB
- Mac and Windows compatibility
- USB-C connection for faster file transfers
- Regular USB 3.0 cable for connecting to legacy computers
- Very nice and lightweight design, good for traveling
- Some people complain about losing content after unplugging without ejecting
Silicon Power Rugged Armor
The Best 1TB External Hard Drive for the Outdoors
If you like what SanDisk brought to the table with their rugged external hard drive, you’ll definitely dig the Silicon Power Rugged Armor A60. While not a solid-state drive, it’s just as durable and perfect if you’re searching for the external hard drive for Xbox One or console usage.
This hard drive has military-grade protection so it can handle rain or dirt along with being dropped from your desk. The shockproof case is coated with an anti-slip material as well and is resistant to scratches and other external damage. The design makes the Armor A60 easy to carry whether you’re transporting your data to the beach or a friend’s house for a long gaming session.
While there’s a lot to like about this hard drive, there is one thing to keep in mind. It’s only resistant to sprays and splash damage – not dunks in a pool. Aside from that, it’s a reliable option that’s available in several colors and sizes.
- IPX4 rating
- Good shock protection
- USB-C option available
- Great price
- Not waterproof
LaCie Rugged Mini Portable Hard Drive
When Connectivity is Crucial
LaCie stands out from other hard drive manufacturers due to their unique designs. The LaCie Rugged Mini is quite a bit different from the Porsche Design in that regard, but an excellent choice if you want something durable and appreciate options in the connectivity department.
The Mini Portable lives up to its rugged namesake as it can withstand a drop from 2-meters and sports a 1000 G shock-resistant hard drive. It’s not waterproof (or resistant) however, so proceed with caution around liquids. That said, it has encryption software, automatic backup, and an Eco mode that will help you save some juice. The speeds are in line with the rest of the pack, but the connectivity options are not.
Whether you need a Thunderbolt port or a USB-C, LaCie has you covered. There are five models with different ports setups while the sixth can handle three including the most popular options. If you have a lot of gadgets, the Rugged Triple is definitely your best bet.
- Multiple sizes
- Lots of connectivity options
- Solid price tag
- Shockproof design
- Tougher alternatives available
WD MY Passport Wireless SSD
An Excellent SSD for Media Streamers
Western Digital has always been a name you can trust when it comes to storage. The WD MY Passport is a slick solution to your portable storage needs, and full of helpful features tech-savvy consumers will appreciate.
This SSD has a modern look, but a durable shell that can handle a drop of 3 feet. The SSD has a built-in SD card reader that can hit speeds up to 65 MG/s and it’s capable of streaming 4K through the My Cloud app as well. Other features to note include Wi-Fi, a one-touch copy button, the ability to preview RAW images on your mobile, and a solid battery that doubles as a 6,700mAH power bank.
Western Digital’s SSD is portable and reasonably priced considering what it brings to the table. The battery is rated for around 10 hours depending on your usage. This drive is available in four sizes from 250GB to 2TB.
- One-touch copy
- Can charge devices
- Build quality
- Battery life could be better
Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch
A Stylish Hard Drive with a Nice Price
Portable hard drives generally fall into two categories in our eyes with rugged and stylish. The Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch is the latter as it will look good on any desk and we think you’ll be thrilled with the price point as well.
Seagate’s portable solute isn’t an SSD, but what it lacks in speed it makes up for in size. The 2TB model has a mouth-watering price tag to go along with its woven casing, and it’s also secure. The drive has 256-AES encryption and comes with connectors that allow you to use USB-C as well as 3.0 and 2.0 ports. We also like the fact this drive is ready to roll with Windows or Macs straight out of the box.
The Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch is powerful and portable with a top speed of 120 MB/s and excellent encryption. It’s thin, but a little boxier than some models although you won’t have a problem in the pocket by any means. This hard drive is also available in a 1TB edition, but the 2TB model is a much better value for the price.
- Stylish design
- 256-AES encryption
- The price tag
Samsung X5 Portable SSD
The Best Portable NVMe SSD
Samsung is known for making gadgets that are just as fast as they look. The X5 Portable SSD is certainly no exception with top-tier speed, and it’s also the first portable NVMe solid-stage drive from the company.
Do you need a portable SSD that’s small but can take a beating better than the rest? This drive has a metal body with a non-slip bottom and is rated with withstand drops of up to 6 feet. That should cover most folks needs, and its fast with read speeds up to 2,800MB/s and 2,300MBs when it’s time to write. The X5 also features Thunderbolt 3 connectivity and AES 256-bit encryption to keep your data safe.
From a thermal management system to the overall speed, there’s a lot to love about the Samsung X5. While it’s disappointing you don’t get Wi-Fi given the price, the build quality is excellent, and it’s an ideal option if you need a drive with Thunderbolt 3. This drive is available in 500GB, 1TB or 2TB editions.
- The speed
- Excellent build quality
- Thunderbolt 3
- It’s expensive
Table of Contents
- How to Choose the Best External Hard Drive
12 Best External Hard Drives
- SanDisk Extreme SDSSDE60
- WD My Passport Ultra (Metal Enclosure)
- Samsung T5 Portable External SSD
- Toshiba Canvio Advance
- Western Digital Elements Hard Drive
- The Best Option for Laptop and Mac
- LaCie Mobile Drive
- Silicon Power Rugged Armor
- LaCie Rugged Mini Portable Hard Drive
- WD MY Passport Wireless SSD
- Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch
- Samsung X5 Portable SSD