It's a Great Time to Go for a Drive
In an era when Apple charges 99 cents per month for 50GB of iCloud storage and Google offers 100GB of free storage for two years with the purchase of a new Chromebook, mainstream external hard drives might appear less essential than they once were.
But modern external drives are faster, more stylish, and often more durable than their counterparts from a few years ago. They're ever cheaper and more capacious, too. For about $50, you can add a terabyte of extra storage to your laptop or desktop by just plugging in a USB cable.
Choosing an external drive isn't as simple as buying the most expensive one you can afford, however. The capacity and type of storage mechanism are the two most important factors to consider, and each one will increase or decrease the cost dramatically depending on your needs. Other factors include the physical size of the drive (is it designed to be carted around or to sit on your desk?), how rugged it is, the interface it uses to connect to your PC, and even what colors it comes in. This guide will help you make sense of all the options. Here are the key questions to ask as you shop.
Find the best external hard drive for your PC or Mac. Welcome to our list of the best external hard drives money can buy in 2018. With the best external hard drives, you never have to. See it on Amazon. One of the Best Gaming External Hard Drives For Mac Silicon Power Armor A60. The Silicon Power Armor A60 is a rugged and portable external hard drive that comes with 3 TB storage capacity, military-grade shock-proof body, cable carry design, USB 3.0 and is compatible with Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS4 Pro and PS4 Slim.
The Need for Speed: Hard Drive or SSD?
Solid-state drives (SSDs) have fewer moving parts than traditional hard drives, and they offer the speediest access to your data. Unlike a conventional disk-based hard drive, which stores data on a spinning platter or platters accessed by a moving magnetic head, an SSD uses a collection of flash cells—similar to the ones that make up a computer's RAM—to save data.
Just how much faster is it to access data stored in flash cells than those stored on a spinning platter? Typical read and write speeds for consumer drives with a single spinning platter are in the 100MBps to 200MBps range, depending on their USB interface and whether they spin at 5,400rpm (more common) or 7,200rpm (more expensive and less common). External SSDs offer twice that speed and sometimes much more, with typical results on our benchmark tests in excess of 400MBps. Practically speaking, this means you can move gigabytes of data (say, a 4GB feature-length film, or a year's worth of family photos) to your external SSD in seconds rather than the minutes it would take with an external spinning drive.
Not only is it faster to read and write data stored in flash cells than those stored on a spinning platter, but it's also safer. Because there is no spinning platter or moving magnetic head, if you bump the SSD while you're accessing its data, there is no risk that your files will become corrupted and unreadable.
While external SSDs are now readily available and cheaper than they were a few years ago, they're not a complete replacement for spinning drives. Larger external drives designed to stay on your desk or in a server closet still mostly use spinning drives, taking advantage of their higher capacities and lower prices compared with SSDs.
Physical Size Matters: Desktop or Portable Drive?
If you have a large photo or video collection—perhaps you are a photo or video editor, or maybe a movie buff—you'll likely need several terabytes of space in which to store it. So your best option is a desktop-class drive. We define these as having one or more spinning-platter drives inside and requiring its own dedicated power cable. Of course, in this scenario, your files are going to have to stay at your desk.
A desktop drive with a single platter mechanism inside will typically use a 3.5-inch drive inside and will be found in capacities up to 12TB, and most are roughly 5 inches tall and 2 inches wide. In addition to storing large media collections, these drives can also serve as inexpensive repositories for backups of your computer's hard drive that you schedule using either the software that came with the drive or a third-party backup utility.
The next size up for consumer desktop drives is about the same height but twice as wide to accommodate additional drive mechanisms in the chassis, such as with the Western Digital My Book Duo. These larger drives are more expensive but also much more capacious; the highest-capacity current models employ two drives for up to 20TB of storage. Note: In the case of these and single-platter-drive products, you're not meant to swap out the drive or drives inside.
The largest desktop drives are often much, much larger than the first two categories, so large that you'll want to stick them under your desk or in a dedicated server closet. They're mostly intended for professional use in editing studios, surveillance control rooms, and the like. Their defining characteristic is the ability to swap drives in and out easily, so they provide quick access to the drive bays at the front of the device. Most are sold without drives included, so you can install any drive you want (usually, 3.5-inch drives, but some support 2.5-inchers). Their total storage capacities are usually limited only by their number of available bays and the capacities of the drives you put in them.
At the other end of the physical-size spectrum are portable drives, some of which now use an SSD inside instead of a spinning platter to save space, as well as to increase throughput and durability. These drives can be truly tiny, weighing just a few ounces and with their largest sides measuring less than 3 inches long, like with the Samsung Portable SSD T5. Others use spinning platters and are a bit larger, like the LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive, but they still fit easily in a purse or even a coat pocket. Portable drives get their power from the computer to which you connect them, through the interface cable, so there's no need for a spare wall outlet.
Need Redundancy or Extreme Speed? Consider a RAID
If you buy a larger desktop drive with two or more spinning platters, you'll almost certainly have the ability to configure the drive as a RAID array using included software. Depending on which RAID level you choose, you can prioritize capacity, speed, or data redundancy, or some combination thereof.
A collection of spinning drives configured with a RAID level designed for faster access can approximate the speeds of an SSD, while you should consider a drive with support for RAID levels 1, 5, or 10 if you're storing really important data that you can't afford to lose. Hit the link above for explanation of the strengths of each RAID level.
What Interface Should You Look For?
How an external drive connects to your PC or Mac is second only to the type of storage mechanism it uses in determining how fast you'll be able to access data. Unfortunately, these connection types are constantly changing, and the internet is littered with outdated references to legacy interface types such as eSATA and FireWire.
Right now, the fastest mainstream connection type is Thunderbolt 3, which is handy assuming you have a newer laptop or desktop with a Thunderbolt 3 port. All late-model Apple laptops have them, but they're much scarcer on Windows machines. This interface uses a USB Type-C connector and offers blazing throughput of 40GBps. As an added bonus, a desktop drive that supports Thunderbolt 3 might also come with additional DisplayPort and USB connections that allow you to use the drive box as a hub for your keyboard, mouse, monitor, and other peripherals.
You'll really only see the speed benefits of Thunderbolt 3, however, if you have a drive that's SSD-based, or a RAID array. If you'd rather save money than time transferring your data, if you're buying a desktop drive with a single platter-based mechanism inside, or if you have a PC that lacks Thunderbolt 3, you'll want to make sure your drive has a USB connection. Nearly every recent drive we reviewed supports USB, and the same goes for laptops and desktops.
Not all USB ports are created equal, though. The most prevalent is the standard rectangle shape (called Type-A) that's been present on devices for decades. The oval-shaped Type-C connector is quickly gaining traction, though. It's capable of supporting the USB 3.1 standard in addition to Thunderbolt 3, though most Type-C ports include only the former. If you buy a drive with a Type-C cable, make sure it also includes a cable with a rectangular Type-A plug if your PC lacks a Type-C port. Otherwise, you'll need to buy a separate cable or adapter.
Do You Need to Go Rugged?
If you carry your drive around frequently, you'll want to pay attention to how rugged the drive is. Some models include plastic bumpers, and some even meet military standards for shock and dust protection. (Look for support for specifications such as IP67 or IP68.)
And of course, if you're carrying your drive around with you, you want it to look nice. Some, like the Samsung T5, come in multiple colors, while others, like the ADATA SD700, are super-slim and ready to be tossed in a pocket.
Perhaps the only thing you don't need to pay much attention to is the warranty. If your drive breaks because you damaged it, the warranty likely won't cover it. Even if the drive fails because of a manufacturing defect, most warranties simply replace the drive and don't cover the cost of recovery services that attempt to rescue your data from the broken drive.
Let's Look at the Top Models We've Tested...
Also know that you can find external drives that do way more than just store your data. Some include SD card readers to offload footage from a camera or drone in the field, while others have built-in Wi-Fi and can double as an all-in-one home media server. Some of that kind even come with extra-large batteries that can charge your smartphone while you're on the go.
To get you started in the right direction toward the right add-on backup/storage solution, below are 10 of the best drives we've tested of late, at a variety of prices and capacities. Some are SSD-based, while others are platter.
Best External Hard Drives Featured in This Roundup:
CalDigit Tuff Review
Pros: Rated to survive 4-foot drops. Certified waterproof and dustproof. Comes with USB 3.0 and USB-C cables.
Cons: Warranty limited to two years. SSD option is still unreleased.
Bottom Line: Not only is the CalDigit Tuff a rugged hard drive designed to survive extreme conditions, it's also a terrific value.Read Review
Western Digital My Book Review
Pros: Comes in a variety of large capacities. Three-year warranty.
Cons: Requires external power adapter.
Bottom Line: With a full 8TB for less than $250, the 8TB version of the Western Digital My Book is a deep well of affordable storage for your photos, music, videos, and more.Read Review
ADATA HD830 External Hard Drive Review
Pros: IP68 resistance to water and dust. Highly crush-resistant chassis. Aggressive price for capacity, build. Two colors to choose between.
Cons: On the heavy, bulky side for some. Only waterproof and dustproof when the USB cover is closed. Could use a Type-C cable.
Bottom Line: It's brawny, but the ADATA HD830 offers superior protection and value for the money in a rugged external platter-based drive.Read Review
LaCie Mobile Drive Review
Pros: Slick, faceted design. Solid-feeling aluminum enclosure. Useful LaCie Toolkit software handles backup and restore, as well as mirroring. On-the-mark performance.
Cons: A little hefty. Toolkit utility requires a download.
Bottom Line: A metal-skinned gem of a platter hard drive, the LaCie Mobile Drive looks great and performs on point. It's geared to macOS users, but it will please anyone with an eye for style in their gadgets.Read Review
Samsung Portable SSD T5 Review
Pros: Excellent performance. Includes USB 3.0 and USB-C cables. Compact. Android-, Mac-, and Windows-compatible.
Cons: While a comparable good per-gigabyte value, the drive itself is expensive.
Bottom Line: Samsung's Portable SSD T5 drive has a speedy USB-C interface, plenty of reliable storage, and it takes up about as much room in your pocket as a short stack of credit cards.Read Review
Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch Review
Pros: Fabric-covered enclosure. Small and light. Seagate Toolkit provides handy backup/recover functions, as well as mirroring. Data protected by password and AES-256 hardware encryption.
Cons: Fabric cover a bit slippery to grip. Seagate Toolkit a separate download.
Bottom Line: Combining on-point performance and strong encryption, Seagate's Backup Plus Ultra Touch portable drive is a great choice for everyday backups and security-first use alike. Plus, a fabric coat adds appeal.Read Review
Akitio Thunder3 RAID Station Review
Pros: Excellent connectivity options and transfer speeds. Solid build quality and attractive aluminum finish. Easy disassembly. Cooling fan can be disabled. No software required for Macs. Hardware RAID controller.
Cons: Expensive. SATA interface limits read/write speeds. Only 27W of power delivery.
Bottom Line: With its wealth of ports, the Akitio Thunder3 RAID Station is both a connectivity hub and a capacious external hard drive for multimedia content creators.Read Review
Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC Review
Pros: Built-in USB cable. Ruggedized. Dust and water resistant. Hardware encryption. Mac and PC format utility.
Cons: NFC card is easy to lose. Doesn't unlock via smartphones.
Bottom Line: The 1-terabyte Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC has a built-in cable you can't lose, a rugged chassis that will survive a rough daily commute, and an NFC card and reader add some security to this portable hard drive.Read Review
Samsung Portable SSD X5 Review
Pros: Extremely fast data transfer speeds, thanks to Thunderbolt 3 and PCIe NVMe interfaces. Multiple capacity options. Sleek design.
Cons: Expensive. Heavy. No USB support. Difficult to connect to Windows PCs.
Bottom Line: The sleek, expensive Samsung Portable SSD X5 offers the fastest single-drive external storage money can buy, but it's suited mainly to well-heeled content-creation pros using late-model Macs.Read Review
Western Digital My Passport Wireless SSD Review
Pros: Durable. Built-in SD card reader and USB port. Plex support. Doubles as a power bank.
Cons: Expensive. No Thunderbolt support.
Bottom Line: The Western Digital My Passport Wireless SSD is pricey, but this feature-packed drive can do much more than just wirelessly transfer files.Read Review
Welcome to our guide to buying the best external hard drive or backup hard drive in 2019. When looking to buy the best external hard drive for your needs, there are quite a lot of things you need to consider - and this guide will help you.
Plus, with Amazon Prime Day 2019 rapidly approaching, there's a good chance that we're going to see some major price cuts to the best external hard drives out there. If you do find a killer deal for any of the drives on this best external hard drive list, then you can buy in full confidence that you're getting a brilliant external drive for your money.
When buying the best external hard drive for your needs, you need to make sure you get a device that can safely and securely store your important files. Reliability is of the upmost importance here, as you do not want to buy an external hard drive that fails on you - making you lose all your important backups.
The best external hard drives will also be quick - either because they use SSD (Solid State Drive) technology, or because they use the latest connectivity technology, such as USB-C.
The biggest deciding factors when it comes to data transfer rates is the connection the drive uses, and whether it is a standard hard drive or a solid state drive (SSD). Many external hard drives use USB 2.0 connections, but for faster speeds you'll want USB 3.0 or ideally the newer USB Type-C connection. You'll need to ensure your PC or laptop also has a USB Type-C port.
You'll also need to think about how much storage space you need. The best external hard drives offer a range of capacities. We'd recommend 500GB to start with, as that gives you plenty of space to store your files without costing too much money.
However, if you deal in large files, such as high resolution photos and videos, then you may want to consider buying a bigger drive, with external hard drives offering terabytes (TB) of storage space.
Buying the best external hard drive for your needs involves figuring out how much space you need. You don't want to buy an external hard drive that's too small, and end up running out of space, but neither do you really want to pay over the odds for storage space you'll never need.
So, we've listed the best external hard drives money can buy in 2019. Each external drive (or backup hard drive) on this page has been carefully picked to make sure it offers fast data transfer speeds – essential if you move lots of big files regularly – while also offering sturdy build quality so you don't have to worry about them breaking and losing your files.
How To Format External Hard Drive For Mac
When buying the best external hard drive for your needs, there are certain things you need to take into account. For example, you'll want to make sure you have a drive that offers fast data transfer speeds.
In this guide we list the best external hard drives with both traditional hard drives and faster (and more expensive) solid state drives.
Still, the best external hard drives are also dependable and rugged, so you can safely store your data without worry. The best external drives will also be light enough to carry in your bag, with large capacities so that you can keep your data safe when travelling.
There's a huge range of external hard drives on offer, so we've put together this list of the best external hard drives to help you find the perfect one for your needs.
1. Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC external hard drive
Capacity: 2TB Interface: USB 3.0
Today's best Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC 2TB deals
An external hard drive you can buy without breaking the bank, Buffalo's MiniStation Extreme NFC could be your match made in heaven.
With compatibility for both Mac and Windows machines, the Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC is very flexible, and comes with a rugged case that's dust and water resistant, along with a built-in USB 3.0 cable.
Not only is your data kept protected from knocks and drops with the rugged shell, but it's also got 256-bit AES security features and NFC (Near Field Communication) features as well.
Essentially it allows you to unlock the drive to get to your files quickly and easily by tapping the supplied NFC card onto the drive's body. Pretty neat!
- This product is only available in the US at the time of this writing. UK and Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro
2. Western Digital My Passport Ultra 4TB external hard drive
Comes with Encryption and a long warranty
Capacity: 4TB Interface: USB 3.0
The latest generation of the Western Digital My Passport Ultra range of external hard drives has landed, coming in sizes from 1TB to 4TB. It features cloud storage and 256-AES encryption, along with WD's own software suite.
It is a good performer when it comes to data transfer speeds but doesn't come near the top of the leaderboard. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't reach the top speeds of solid state external drives, but for external hard drives based on traditional HDDs, this is the drive to consider.
3. Samsung T5 SSD external hard drive
The best external SSD of 2018
Capacity: 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, 2TB Interface: USB Type-C
If you'd rather have an external hard drive that took advantage of solid state drive (SSD) speeds, then the Samsung Portable SSD T5 is definitely the best external hard drive for you. Samsung has a brilliant reputation for external SSDs, thanks to products like the T3, and the T5 builds on its predecessor by adding a fast USB Type-C connection that ekes out every last drop of performance from the solid state drive inside. Of course, it's also backwards compatible with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 if your PC doesn't have USB Type-C. It's expensive, but it's well worth the cash.
Read the full review: Samsung Portable SSD T5
4. Adata SD700 External SSD
Capacity: 256GB, 512GB or 1TB Interface: USB 3.0
The Adata SD700 will suit those looking for a rugged storage device that can provide ample capacity without costing too much. It performs superbly well and remains the only SSD we’ve seen that is IP68 rated.
Thanks to the solid state drive that resides in this external hard drive, it's a lot faster than external drives that use traditional spinning hard drives - so you're getting great transfer speeds as well as rugged protection.
It also comes in capacities up to 1TB, so you don't have to worry about missing out on storage space just because it uses an SSD - this drive really does hit all the right notes.
5. WD My Book Duo 4TB external hard drive
Capacity: 4TB Interface: USB 3.0 x 2
If you're looking for the absolute largest capacity external hard drive, then the WD My Book Duo 4TB is the one to get, offering a huge 4TB (you can also get versions with up to 20TB) of storage space over two hard drives.
If you don't mind sacrificing some of the ample storage space you can set the drives up in a RAID array, so you have file backups of your files should one of the drives die.
This USB 3.0 drive has many of the features of a fully-fledged NAS device (including a high price), and if you have a router with a USB 3.0 port you could use this as a network attached storage device in its own right.
The device, which comes with two-year warranty, has 256-bit AES hardware encryption, and automatic backup software (WD SmartWare Pro).
Worth noting that the enclosure used is fully serviceable and that WD ships the drive already pre-formatted for Windows users (NTFS).
6. Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt external hard drive
Best Thunderbolt external hard drive
Capacity: 1TB, 2TB Interface: Thunderbolt, USB 3.0
If you have a device with a Thunderbolt port, then this is a great option, as it provides twice the speeds of standard USB 3.0 drives. It's also not especially expensive compared to other Thunderbolt drives. The price is kept down due to its use of a traditional hard drive, rather than an SSD, which limits the potential speeds. It also comes with a USB 3.0 port for people without access to Thunderbolt.
- This product is only available in the US and UK at the time of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the WD MyBook Duo
7. Seagate Backup Plus Desktop Drive 5TB
Capacity: 5TB Interface: USB 3.0
Today's best Seagate Backup Plus Desktop Drive 5TB deals
If you want to combine speed and capacity, then the Seagate Backup Plus Desktop Drive 5TB is definitely worth considering. It comes in a range of sizes up to 8TB and it beats the competition when it comes to read and write speeds as well.
On top of this storage and speed, you get a decent amount of peace of mind thanks to Seagate's lower than average failure rates, especially in bigger capacity hard drives.
You also get backup software, and the drive is compatible with both Windows and Macs, though it's formatted for Windows out of the box unless you go for a Mac-specific hard drive - though these are more expensive.
8. Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro external hard drive
Capacity: 2TB Interface: USB 3.0 and Wi-Fi
Today's best Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro deals
Even if we had mixed feelings on past versions of the My Passport Wireless, the 2016 “pro” variant of the external HDD restores faith in the Western Digital name. The design, for one, has been overhauled and no longer resembles the My Passport Ultra or My Passport for Mac. Instead, there’s now a more premium feel to the My Passport Wireless Pro. It resembles an external DVD drive, but considering the onboard SD card slot, don’t worry about getting it confused with anything else. For photographers, this will make the Wireless Pro stand out.
Internal Hard Drive For Macbook Pro
For everyone else, there’s a massive 6,400mAh battery built into the device. This lets the drive be used completely free of wires over 2.4GHz or 5GHz channels. When it’s wired up, however, don’t expect cutting edge connection tech, as the My Passport Wireless Pro uses only USB Type-B to Type-A. Completely absent is the latest and greatest USB-C connection.
Where the My Passport Wireless Pro compromises on affordability, it’s able to benefit in just about every other area. Of course, not everyone needs a wireless hard drive or SD card support, but for those who do, it’s almost essential.
Read the full review:Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro
9. LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive 4TB
Capacity: 4TB Interface: USB-C
Today's best LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive 4TB deals
You may have stumbled upon the LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive when perusing the Apple website for USB-C accessories. There’s a reason for that: the Porsche Design ships with both USB Type-C to Type-A and USB Type-C to Type-C connectors, making it a worthy candidate regardless of your setup.
It’s expensive for an external hard drive, don’t get us wrong, especially if you’re in the market for the top-end 4TB option. On the other hand, this is an HDD that could theoretically output speeds of up to 5Gbps, if it weren’t hindered by the limits of SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) technology.
Comprising five 800GB platters in a 15mm form factor, the LaCie Porsche Design Mobile is an excellent challenger to the Seagate M3, though it’s notably bigger in both weight and dimensions.
Sure, it packs an extra convenience factor in the form of USB-C, but it should be noted that the Porsche Design Mobile is still limited to USB 3.0 speeds. Plus, even an aluminum finish can’t prevent it from clashing with your Rose Gold MacBook. Nevertheless, LaCie’s offering is the best USB-C external HDD money can buy, at least for the time being.
Read our full review:LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive 4TB
10. iStorage diskAshur 2TB external hard drive
Best for security
Capacity: 2TB Interface: USB 3.0
Typically, iStorage hard disks cater best to governments and multinational organizations around the world, for good reason too – they offer tight security like no other drives around.
If someone tries to tamper with your iStorage drive, you can configure it to self-desturct. What's more, the data is encrypted by the 256-bit AES protocol, with multiple forms of protection in place to ensure the bad guys don't get in no matter how persistent. When you consider all that extra security, the prices won't scare you away either.
Sure, it's still expensive, four times the price of an equivalent 2TB drive, and unlikely to be the most nimble performer. But, you're paying for a product that's virtually uncrackable. Bear in mind, though, you'll get no help from the manufacturer if things go awry and you lose your password.
Read our full review: iStorage diskAshur DT
Gabe Carey and Matt Hanson also contributed to this article