Update, 3/2/23: Content verified and updated for 2023.
What to Look for in an External Hard Drive
Hard drives are more complicated than how much data they can store. There’s a lot to consider about a drive before buying one, from how fast it can transfer data to the tech it uses to save that data in the first place.
- Drive Type: There are three main types of hard drives to pick from: Hard Disk Drives (or HDDs), Solid-State Drives (or SSDs), and Non-Volatile Memory Express SSDs (or NVMes for short). HDDs use physical, analog discs to read and write data and are the slowest of the lot for it, but they’re also significantly more affordable. SSDs have no moving parts and can transfer data much quicker, and NVMe’s even more so. Both types of SSDs are more expensive than HDDs for their increased speed, but there are other benefits—for example, HDDs can make a small amount of noise due to the spinning disc, while SSDs are quiet.
- Speed: To go along with the previous section, just getting an SSD isn’t enough: You’ll also want to keep an eye on the read and write speeds (which is how fast the drive can retrieve data from a device and send it back, respectively). Just because it’s an SSD doesn’t mean it will be a particularly fast one, so we’ll make sure to let you know the speeds of all the drives on this list.
- Size: External drives are extremely popular for their portability, but that doesn’t mean every drive is pocket-sized. Some are, sure, but others are so large you’ll barely ever remove them from your desk. Different sizes have different use cases, basically, so you’ll want to consider how the drive’s size affects what you want to do with it.
- Storage: How much storage do you really need in an external drive? 500GB? 1TB? 5TB? 36TB? There are drives on this list that can offer all of those capacities and more. It probably won’t surprise you to learn the price goes up with how much storage a drive has. But something you should be aware of is that what it says on the store page isn’t necessarily how much storage you’ll have access to. Drives have to reserve a certain amount of space for formatting and other important processes—for example, a 1TB drive may only make 920~GB available to you.
- Security: Your data is important, so a drive offering simple password encryption and other security features is a major bonus. You don’t have to use these of course, but if you’re transferring something private and want to make sure if you lose the drive people can’t access it, then these are extremely useful.
- Ingress Protection scale (or IP rating) which tells you exactly how protected the device is from those elements. Durability: If you’re taking a drive out of the house, then you want to make sure it can survive the outside world. Simple drop-resistance and maybe even some waterproofing go a long way towards protecting your data from physical threats. Water and dust protection, in particular, are usually measured with the
Best Overall: Western Digital My Passport
- ✓ Durable
- ✓ Secure
- ✓ Compact
- ✓ Stylish (five different color options)
- ✗ No waterproofing
Let’s start with something that covers all the bases. Western Digital is already well respected for its hard drives in all forms, but this highly portable NVMe SSD has plenty of finer touches. It features read and write speeds of 1050MB/s and 1000MB/s, respectively, as well as drop resistance up to 6.5 feet and password encryption to keep your files safe.
The sleek body has some subtle style to it as well, so if you like your gadgets to look good, you’re covered here. It’s available in gray, gold, silver, red, and blue with four storage size capacities ranging from 500GB up to 4TB. If you just want a fast drive that can fit in your pocket, the My Passport is it.
Western Digital My Passport
An NVMe drive that covers all the bases.
Best for Portability: SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD
- ✓ Super small
- ✓ Secure
- ✓ Fast NVMe Storage
- ✓ Shock- and water-resistant
- ✗ Expensive
If you’re looking for something really compact, then SanDisk’s SSD is the one you’ll want to go with. Measuring just 3.97 x 2.07 x 0.38 inches (10 x 5 cm), this drive is built to fit onto a keychain without issue. Despite the small size, it still reads and writes at 1050MB/s and 1000MB/s, respectively. And you can rest easy knowing that it can survive two-meter drops and is rated IP55 against dust and water.
You can get this drive with 500GB to 4TB of storage and it includes optional password encryption to make sure that data is safe.
SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD
This compact drive still delivers durability, security, and high speeds.
Best for a Budget: Seagate Portable External Hard Drive
- ✓ Affordable
- ✓ A lot of storage
- ✓ Sleek
- ✗ No security features
- ✗ Slower
The first HDD of this list and it’s perfect if you’re looking to save a lot of files while also saving money. This straightforward drive doesn’t feature anything fancy, but that allows even the 5TB model to charge less than most of the other drives here. It only runs at 140MB/s both read and write, which isn’t that fast, but if you’re in the market for budget storage that’s a trade-off you’ll need to make.
You can get this drive with 1 to 5TB of storage and in either black or silver.
Seagate Portable External Hard Drive
An HDD that offers a lot of storage for a good price.
Best for Bulk Storage: Western Digital My Book
- ✓ Loads of storage
- ✓ Made for back-ups
- ✓ Secure
- ✗ Slower
- ✗ Big
If a few terabytes aren’t going to cut it for you, then this HDD from Western Digital should provide you with the massive amount of storage you’re after. The My Book is a drive built for backing up data, but you can use it as a normal external drive as well—the main difference between it and most external drives is it’s built for desk use. The My Book is relatively big in the world of hard drives, and that only becomes more true as you increase its capacity. You can pick up a model of the My Book with anywhere from 3 to 36TB of storage. More than enough for whatever crazy storage needs you may have.
It hovers around 150MB/s for both read and write speeds. It does require an external power source, unfortunately; when you’re dealing with this much data, that’s just something you have to accept. The My Book also features password-enabled encryption for security which is especially crucial when you have some much data in one place.
Western Digital My Book
If you need a lot of storage, this is the drive to get.
Best for Durability: LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive
- ✓ Extremely durable against shocks, dust, and water
- ✓ Has both a HDD and SSD model
- ✓ Secure
- ✗ Strange physical design
- ✗ More expensive than standard drives
While many of the drives we’ve discussed have featured durable designs, LaCie’s really takes the cake. The thick bumpers on each side of the drive can handle all sorts of bumps and falls, and the drive is rain-resistant as well. There are actually two versions of this drive: an HDD with read/write speeds of 130MB/s, and an NVMe SSD with 1050MB/s read/write speeds. The SSD model is actually a Seagate Firecuda drive in disguise—an SSD well-renowned for its quick transfer speed, especially in the gaming community.
Either way, these drives are excellent if you’re concerned about physical threats just as much as digital ones, as it also includes password-enabled encryption for security. The SSD is available with three storage size options—500GB, 1TB, or 2TB—while the HDD has four options ranging from 1TB up to 5TB, for those who need a little more space.
LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive
Protect your data against both physical and digital threats.
Best for Content Creators: Samsung T7 Shield
- ✓ Rugged
- ✓ Quick transfer times
- ✓ Highly compatible
- ✗ Pricy for the storage you get
If you make content for a living or even just as a hobby, you know that storing your digital content is critical to your workflow. Whether you’re a photographer out in the wild, a video maker filming on the streets, or an influencer making content on the go, a rugged, compatible hard drive is a must. The SAMSUNG T7 Shield is coated in a thick rubber guard with grooves and is P65 rated against dust and water to make it tough enough to go anywhere with you.
This rugged external hard drive also features fantastic transfer speeds and can read and write up to 1050MBps. It also lets you edit files directly from the hard drive. Additionally, it’s compatible with the whole range of devices you use, including PCs, Macs, Android devices, gaming consoles, and more. Plus, the T7 Shield is sleek and stylish and comes in three different colors with a storage capacity of up to 4TB.
SAMSUNG T7 Shield 1TB, Portable SSD, up to 1050MB/s, USB 3.2 Gen2, Rugged, IP65 Rated, for Photographers, Content Creators and Gaming, External Solid State Drive (MU-PE1T0R/AM, 2022), Blue
Save the content you're working on, no matter where you're working!