A portable hard drive or SSD is a do-it-all data device, one that can carry huge libraries of files and share them amongst PCs, Macs, tablets and phones. It can also hold full system backup files that restore your computer’s OS and software, in case you experience a crash. Getting the best external hard drive or best external SSD for your needs is an important shopping decision, and one where you’ll want to balance price, performance, features and even durability.
But with dozens of portable storage options available, how do you know which is the right external drive to buy? Should you opt for a speedier, more rugged (and more expensive) external SSD instead of a portable hard drive made up of comparatively fragile spinning platters and an actuator arm? Or could a slower, roomier and much cheaper portable hard drive be adequate for your storage needs?
To help you pick the right storage device for your needs, we test and review dozens of drives as they become available and publish our list of specific recommendations for the best portable SSDs and hard drives on this page.
If you’re looking for a less expensive, more-DIY alternative you can also create your own external drive with one of the best SSD and hard drive enclosures. You could also go for one of the best Flash drives, which are all pocket-friendly but usually not as performant as SSDs. Some of the fastest flash drives these days, though, are getting close to SSD performance, and some models offer up capacities up to 2TB, so they are a much more viable performance option than they used to be.
Picking the Best External Drive or SSD for You
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When shopping for an external drive or SSD, consider the following:
- Portable Hard Drive or SSD? Drives that have spinning storage platters inside are very affordable, with 1TB models often selling for under $50 (£40). But they’re also much slower and more fragile than solid-state drives. If you don’t need terabytes of storage and you often travel with your drive, a portable SSD is worth paying extra for. A portable SSD will also be much faster at reading and writing lots of data. But if you need cavernous amounts of external storage, a hard drive is a better option for most, as multi-terabyte external SSDs sell for several hundred dollars, but 4TB portable hard drives can sell for under $100 (£90).
- What USB connection? You can get a drive with a USB or Thunderbolt interface that operates at up to 5 Gbps (USB 3.x), 10 Gbps (USB 3.1 / 3.2 Gen 2), 20 Gbps (USB 3.2 Gen 2×2) or 40 Gbps (Thunderbolt or USB 4) but you’ll pay more for the privilege. If you are getting an external SSD and your PC has at least one 10 Gbps port, we recommend spending a little extra to upgrade to 10 Gbps. The 20 and 40 Gbps speeds are nicer, but not worth it unless you are a creative professional.
- How much capacity? For full-system backups of a computer with a 1 to 2TB internal SSD, a 1TB external storage drive should be adequate because imaging software such as Acronis uses a lot of compression. For backing up personal collections of photos and family videos, look at the total GB of data you have and get a drive that’s at least 50 percent higher capacity higher so it’s future-proof. If you’re a creative professional that works with uncompressed media such as RAW files, a 4TB external storage drive is ideal but pricey if you’re using an SSD.
- Don’t Use a Portable Hard Drive as Your Only Backup. Portable hard drives are made up of spinning glass or metal platters, making them a poor choice as a primary backup of your data–especially if you carry them around. Portable SSDs are better here, but you should still keep your irreplaceable data backed up on a desktop drive and / or on a cloud service. Because hardware failure is always possible, and portable drives are often small enough to lose or leave behind by accident.
Best External Hard Drives and Portable SSDs You Can Buy Today
The SanDisk Pro-G40 is an excellent all-around portable SSD. It has both Thunderbolt 3 and USB modes, so it will work on a wide range of devices, although you may need a Type-C to Type-A adapter or cable. All-around performance is good, write performance is exceptional, and your experience in general should be consistently fast. The drive is built on somewhat dated hardware, but this is a mature platform that works excellently for a portable solution. The metal and rubberized casing is another bonus as it keeps the drive cool while also protecting it against most environmental hazards.
The primary downside to the Pro-G40 is its price. If you don’t need the Thunderbolt functionality you have better options like the Samsung T7 Shield. You can also put together your own portable solution by buying an appropriate enclosure and drive. If you want high-end portability and performance in a rugged package, though, the Pro-G40 is the drive for you.
If you’re on the hunt for a new external hard drive, WD’s My Passport is an excellent choice. With a solid track record, password protection, and capacities of up to 5TB, it’s prepared to store a lot — if not all — of your data and keep it safe.
As street prices have started to fall, it;s become a better value than ever. It looks good and comes backed by a plentiful 3-year warranty. To top things off, it boasts top-notch AES 256-bit hardware encryption password protection to keep your content secure from prying eyes.
For those looking to spend a little less on an portable hard drive, who also don’t need 5TB of storage, should also consider Seagate’s Backup Plus Ultra, which features a good software suite AES 256-bit encryption, and USB-A and USB-C support via an adapter.
Built for the professional market and priced as such, SanDisk’s Extreme Pro v2 has a durable, secure design. When paired with the latest systems that fully support its USB 20 Gbps connection, it delivers very fast file transfer speeds that rival the Thunderbolt 3-based competition. The Extreme Pro v2 houses WD’s SN730E, a PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 NVMe SSD, and an ASMedia ASM2364 USB Gen 2×2 bridge chip.
All of this is protected by a rigid aluminum chassis that’s covered in an impact-absorbing silicone. The drive is even IP55 water and dust-resistant. Not only is it fast and well-designed, but it is also secure, coming with AES 256-bit full-disk encryption and password protection for those who need to keep their data locked away from prying eyes.
If you like the idea of a 20 Gbps SSD but don’t quite have the budget for SanDisk’s Pro v2 drive, Kingston’s XS2000 isn’t quite as fast, especially under sustained workloads. But it sells for about $50 less at the 1TB capacity.
While it is on the pricey side, LaCie’s Rugged RAID Pro isn’t too overpriced considering its market placement and the peace of mind of data redundancy. LaCie includes one month of all Adobe apps for free, a $79.49 (£61) value. More importantly, the drive comes with three years of free data recovery protection. That service can (at times) cost thousands of dollars.
If you are a creative professional in the market for an external HDD, be sure to check this drive out. There aren’t many competitors: Most other HDD solutions are much larger, and flash-based SSDs don’t yet offer similarly-priced capacity, nor the same value-adds. The LaCie Rugged RAID Pro 4TB has a unique blend of features and accessories that make it easy to use and quite the versatile travel companion.
Samsung’s T7 Touch is an innovative portable SSD that blends USB 3.2 Gen 2 performance with convenient AES 256-bit hardware security that’s unlocked by the touch of your fingertip. The built-in fingerprint scanner is the most convenient way to unlock your data that we’ve seen yet. The design is elegant and to a higher standard than your ordinary run-of-the-mill portable drive. The aluminum construction is solid, and various color options are available to suit your unique taste.
That said, G-Technology’s recent ArmorLock drive gives Samsung a run for its secure storage money, by using an app and key that’s stored on your Android or iOS phone to unlock your drive. It may not be as convenient as swiping your finger across a sensor on your external SSD, but it might just be more secure.
Driven by an OEM variant of a Samsung 970 EVO and an Alpine Ridge Thunderbolt 3-to-PCIe bridge, Samsung’s X5 is the fastest Thunderbolt 3 portable SSD we’ve tested. Not only will it help speed up your workflow, but it also comes with an additional layer of AES 256-bit hardware-based encryption and password protection for those who need to meet compliance requirements. The three-year warranty is lacking for the professional crowd, and we wish the company offered more color options like those found with the company’s T5 and T7 portable SSDs.
With QLC NAND, Sabrent’s Rocket XTRM-Q aims to undercut most of its TLC-based competition while still delivering the storage goods. Not only does it come in high capacities, but the Rocket XRTM-Q is also very fast, performing well on both Thunderbolt 3 and USB hosts.
The Rocket XTRM-Q is an excellent pick if you plan on using it with a multitude of devices and across platforms. At lower capacities, it’s surprisingly affordable, undercutting most other TB3 drives. And if you are in the market for something as high in density as Sabrent’s Rocket XTRM-Q, we must say that without much competition at the moment this is the drive for you.
While it is expensive at 8TB and the QLC NAND flash can be slow at times, competitive pricing, fast performance, and attractive, durable design prop Sabrent’s Rocket XTRM-Q up as one of the best portable SSDs available.
Sabrent has pushed the boundaries of fast flash and high capacity with its recent SSDs, surpassing the biggest names in the industry. We thought that 8TB of flash storage was niche and extreme enough for most prosumers and enthusiasts when we first reviewed Sabrent’s 8TB Rocket XTRM-Q, but now the company is doubling down and pushing capacity to new limits with its 16TB model.
The new variant doubles capacity to 16TB, but it isn’t quite as portable as the 8TB model due to its larger form factor and power requirements. While the original XTRM-Q contained one Rocket Q M.2 NVMe SSD within, the new 16TB model has two of them behind a slightly different Thunderbolt 3 bridge, providing a ton of fast flash storage and potentially bus-saturating performance for those who need it. But its Intel Optane-like cost of $2,899.99 makes the 16TB Rocket XTRM-Q is not just one of the highest-capacity storage devices we have tested, but also one of the most expensive. At this price, nothing else compares to the sheer capacity and performance that it provides. But if you can’t spend as much and/or you need USB support as well as Thunderbolt, one of the lower-capacity XTRM-Q drives will serve you better.
Also note that, if you have a spare drive, you can easily make your own portable drive. Dozens of 2.5-inch drive enclosures can be found online for between $10-$25 (£15-25) that will let you drop in an old drive easily, and turn it into an external hard drive or SSD.
And if you have an M.2 drive that you’ve swapped out of a gaming laptop, ultrabook or upgraded away from in your gaming PC, we’ve recently looked at NVMe enclosures from MyDigitalSSD and Pluggable. If you have a SATA-based M.2 drive that you’d like to turn into a portable drive, Silverstone’s MS09 enclosure lets you do just that. And if you’re keen on building your own speedy external SSD but don’t have a drive handy to use, the recent WD Blue SN550 is a good candidate for that task. It’s only available in capacities up to 1TB, but it’s plenty speedy for external storage, and the more spacious model is already selling for as little as $115 at various online outlets.
Just make sure you get an enclosure that matches your drive, be that SATA or NVMe. And also keep in mind that DIY external drives usually aren’t sealed, so they’re not as likely to stand up to dust and dampness as well as external SSDs and portable hard drives that are designed to do so.
Finding Discounts on the Best External Storage Drives
Whether you’re shopping for one of the best external storage drives or one that didn’t quite make our list, you may find savings by checking out the latest Crucial promo codes, Newegg promo codes, Amazon promo codes, Corsair coupon codes, Samsung promo codes or Micro Center coupons.
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