No matter how much room there is on your computer, it never seems to be enough... which is where an external hard drive comes in.
You can pick them up in all kinds of shapes and sizes nowadays, and there's no 'best' model for everyone, but at the moment we like the features and performance of the Seagate Backup Plus Desktop as a great all-round choice.
How to choose the best external drive for you
Capacity is the major spec to look at of course - how much room there is for your stuff - but you also need to choose between portable drives that can be powered from a USB socket and fixed desktop drives that need their own power connection.
Portable drives are more convenient, but desktop drives usually run faster and offer more disk space.
We're also starting to see the first portable SSD drives hit the market, as prices continue to come down, giving you a third option to pick from.
These solid-state drives are ultra-fast, and much quicker than conventional drives, but (just as when you get them fitted inside a laptop) you have to pay extra for that speed, and the available capacities don't go as high as they do with the conventional, mechanical (HDD) drives.
The 10 best external drives you can buy today
1. Seagate Backup Plus Desktop
A superb all-round choice
Capacity: 3TB-8TB: | Drive: HDD: | Connector: USB: | Portable: No:
We're also big fans of the Seagate Backup Plus models (see below) but these are the higher capacity, non-portable versions: you still get the speed and reliability that Seagate's known for, but you have to find an extra power socket to plug into as well.
That extra power means more capacity and faster speeds of course, so it's not all bad: transfer rates go up to 160 MB/s on Windows or Mac and you can get up to 8TB of capacity here. The optional two-port USB hub on the front is handy for charging gadgets too.
2. WD My Passport SSD 512GB
Fast, portable and reliable
Capacity: 256GB-1TB: | Drive: SSD: | Connector: USB: | Portable: Yes:
This is the first portable SSD Western Digital has put out, combining the high speeds of solid-state disks with the convenience of not needing an extra power socket to get it up and running. The drive's transfer rate speeds top out at 515 MB/s, according to WD.
With an eye-catching design and USB 3.1 support, the drives use Type-C connectors but can be used with older USB ports with a separate cable. 256-bit AES hardware encryption is included and the Windows/Mac drives are shockproof too, just in case you drop them.
3. Lacie Fuel
Wireless streaming to multiple devices
Capacity: 1TB-2TB: | Drive: HDD: | Connector: Wireless: | Portable: Yes:
The Lacie Fuel is all about its wireless capabilities and mobile support: you can take this away on camping trips and have it stream files to iPads, iPhones, Android devices or whatever else you're taking along with you, thanks to its 10 hours of portable battery life.
Lacie says the Wi-Fi hotspot range is 150 feet or 45 metres and if you want to go the old-fashioned route then the drive supports USB 3.0 as well (Type-B). Up to five devices can access the drive at one time, if required, including Windows and Mac computers.
4. Seagate Backup Plus 4TB
Portable storage in a range of shapes and sizes
Capacity: 1TB-5TB: | Drive: HDD: | Connector: USB: | Portable: Yes:
You can pick up Seagate's portable drives in a host of capacities, colours, and dimensions, so head to the Seagate site for a comprehensive breakdown, but across the board you're looking at USB 3.0 speeds, Windows and Mac support, and 120 MB/s or higher transfers.
There are some differences: opt for the chunkier, 4TB "Fast" model and you get 220 MB/s transfer rates in return for a little extra bulk on the drive itself. If you just want simple, affordable, reliable backups (software is included), then these are great portable options.
5. WD My Book
A solid external drive for your desktop
Capacity: 3TB-8TB: | Drive: HDD: | Connector: USB: | Portable: No:
If you're happy to leave your drive powered up on the desktop and don't need it to be portable, the My Book series from Western Digital has a well-respected history. The latest models go all the way up to 8TB, which should be more than enough room for your data.
You get all the usual WD goodies, including compatibility with Windows and Mac machines, speedy and reliable transfers, USB 3.0 support, and strong 256-bit AES encryption, so they're one of the best options for a standard external desktop drive.
6. Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC
The magic of NFC
Capacity: 1TB-2TB: | Drive: HDD: | Connector: USB: | Portable: Yes:
The main party trick of this compact, portable, stylish drive from Buffalo is the NFC (Near Field Communication) technology built in, which means you can unlock the contents of the drive with the swipe of the supplied smart card, with no passwords required.
On top of that encryption and protection, you also get USB 3.0 connectivity (with integrated cable), shock protection, resistance from water and dust and capacities up to 2TB in size, so if you're looking for a portable drive with a little bit extra, this could be it.
7. SanDisk Extreme 510
Well protected and high speed
Capacity: 120GB-1TB: | Drive: SSD: | Connector: USB: | Portable: Yes:
The SanDisk Extreme 510 is an unusual-looking portable option if you want the speed of a solid-state drive and don't mind paying for the privilege - note that although the label on the front says SanDisk, the company is in fact now owned and run by Western Digital.
That strange casing makes the drive resistant to drops, shocks, vibrations and extreme temperatures, and the manufacturer is promising up to four times faster transfer speeds than a comparable HDD drive. Integrated data encryption is provided as standard too.
8. Samsung T3
Capacity: 250GB-2TB: | Drive: SSD: | Connector: USB: | Portable: Yes:
The Samsung T3 is a newer portable SSD option that we like, and not just because it shares our name: it's fast, it's compact, and it can go everywhere with you. You can even connect it up directly to Android phones and tablets for some on-the-go file transfers.
The available capacities go all the way up to 2TB if you've got deep enough pockets and you really have to see the T3 drive to believe how small and light it is (it weighs just 51 grams). If you can afford it, this is a great little external SSD drive to be able to call on.
9. WD My Book Duo
Two drives are better than one
Capacity: 4GB-16TB: | Drive: HDD: | Connector: USB: | Portable: No:
The third WD drive in our rundown is for those who really need a lot of capacity and are happy to pay for it - as the name suggests, the My Book Duo has two drive bays, so you can slot in two hard disks for a total capacity of anywhere between 4TB and a huge 16TB.
Even with the two bays, the drive isn't difficult to configure, and with the standard WD backup software supplied you can be up and running in minutes. If you prefer, you can have the two drives mirror each other, so you've always got two copies of your data.
10. Lacie Rugged
The drive you can take anywhere
Capacity: 500GB-4TB: | Drive: HDD: | Connector: USB-C: | Portable: Yes:
If you're looking for an external hard drive to cope with the stresses and strains of modern-day life then you can't do much better than the bright, padded Rugged model from Lacie, shock and drop resistant to a height of 1.2 metres when not running.
It's also pressure-resistant, and comes with automatic backup software and encryption to keep your data as safe as possible. A variety of connection options are included, from USB 3.0 Type-C to Thunderbolt and Firewire, and it's Mac and Windows compatible as well.
- Want something networked instead? Here are our favourite NAS drives