Best External Hard Drives: What are the best external hard drives for your PC setup? Here are our top picks.
Updated April 6, 2017: We refreshed this list to ensure you’re still getting the latest models and the correct prices for the best external hard drives out there. We also swapped out the Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim with the Backup Plus Slim after a rash of failure reports.
Having an external hard drive around can come in pretty handy if you need to add a little (or a lot) of extra storage space to your PC setup with relatively little hassle. Navigating the sea of external hard drives can be quite daunting, however, so we compiled a list of our top picks to help you get started.
Western Digital My Passport Portable
If you’re looking for something light and compact, look no further than the Western Digital My Passport Portable. Weighing in at around eight ounces, the drive measures in at about the same size as your average wallet. Given its diminutive size, the drive is an excellent option for tossing in a bag and taking your files on the road.
The My Passport Portable packs plenty of space, too, with storage sizes ranging from 1TB to 4TB. USB 3.0 connectivity should mean fairly speedy transfers, and Western Digital also includes the option to keep your sensitive files protected with 256-bit AES hardware encryption. In its review, PCMag had this to say:
The 4TB Western Digital My Passport is a solid portable hard drive that combines capacity and value with funky design and good performance.
If you’re one for personalization, the My Passport Ultra comes in either black, blue, white, red, orange, or yellow plastic casings. Perhaps the best part is that it won’t break the bank, with the base price of the 1TB drive starting at about $60.
Seagate Backup Plus Slim
While we used to have the Backup Plus Ultra Slim on this list, we swapped it out for the Backup Plus Slim after a rash of drive failure reports on Amazon. The Backup Plus Slim is marginally larger but is still one of the best external drives out there, and it’s available in 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, and 5TB options, as well as four different colors. The Wirecutter named its their top overall pick for an external drive, saying:
The 2TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim is one of the lightest, thinnest hard drives we tested, and it was consistently faster than the competition in our multifile music and photo transfer tests. More importantly, it’s reliable.
This drive is just 0.48-inches thick and about the size of a wallet, so you will have no problem toting it around in a laptop bag or even your pocket. Connect to your PC with USB 3.0 and enjoy blazing fast transfer speeds. If you want the best bang for your buck, go with the 2TB model that starts at about $70.
Western Digital My Book Desktop
If you aren’t concerned with portability and simply want a solid, self-powered external drive for your desktop, look no further than the Western Digital 8TB My Book Desktop. While the more portable drives on this list capped out at 4TB of storage, the My Book Desktop can sport up to 8TB of space, leaving plenty of room for everything from high-resolution video to your music collection and more. This drive was chosen by The Wirecutter for the best bulk-storage option, where the site stated:
Its average read and write speeds were much faster than the only other drive we tested with the same amount of storage space, the 8 TB Seagate Backup Plus Hub, and it had better HD Tune speeds and photo and music file transfer times than most lower-capacity drives we tested.
As with the My Passport Ultra, the My Book Desktop includes the option to password protect your files with 256-bit AES hardware encryption, so keeping your sensitive files secure is easy. As for design, the My Book recently underwent a design overhaul that is pretty attractive and should make it less of an eyesore if you choose to keep it on display on top of your desk.
Compared to more portable options on this list, the price tag of about $200 is a little high. However, there are also 3TB, 4TB and 6TB options that can fit into a range of budgets.
Sometimes, you just need a reliable drive that can take a pounding and keep going. If you plan to use your external drive in the great outdoors or on a worksite, the LaCie Rugged hard drive may be up your alley.
Sporting an enclosure flanked on all sides by bumpers, the LaCie Rugged is rated to withstand accidental drops from up to 6.6 feet. Pop on the port cover, and the drive becomes resistant to water and dust as well, making any outdoor accidents less of a worry. CNET reviewed this drive and had this to say:
With great performance, affordable pricing, support for both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0, and an included Thunderbolt cable, the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt makes for one of the best deals going among portable drives on the market.
One of the more impressive features of LaCie’s Rugged is its Thunderbolt port. While the drive sports a USB 3.0 port for broad compatibility, the attached Thunderbolt cable can provide speedy transfers if you have a Thunderbolt-equipped PC. With storage options of 1TB, 2TB or 4TB, LaCie’s offering makes a pretty compelling case for those hunting for a ruggedized option. The 1TB configuration starts at about $150.
Samsung T3 Portable SSD
If money is no object, and all you care about is raw speed, take a look at the Samsung T3 Portable solid state drive (SSD). As the name suggests, Samsung’s offering packs a SSD inside for incredibly fast sequential read and write speeds of 450MB/s. Not only that, but the drive also does all of its work over a USB Type-C port, which should be good news for those looking to future-proof themselves.
Like others on this list, the drive features 256-bit AES encryption for keeping your files safe. It is also extremely compact, weighing under two ounces and with a footprint that Samsung says is “roughly the same size as a business card.” Chosen as the top external SSD by The Wirecutter, the site stated:
In our tests, the 500 GB Samsung T3 was more than five times faster than the Seagate Backup Plus Slim. It’s also less likely to break if you drop it.
The only catch to all of this is that you’ll be looking at paying a pretty penny to get your hands on this drive. The Samsung T3 Portable SSD starts at about $200 for the 500GB option, and quickly heads north of $700 for 2TB of space. If you aren’t concerned with price and simply want the best performance, however, this drive is worth a shot.