Looking for the best external hard drive? Our essential guide will help you navigate the maze of options out there, explaining what you need to be looking for in terms of capacity, specs, extra features and brand name. Don't part with any money before you've consulted our carefully curated list.
Getting the right hard drive in place can solve your digital storage problems for years: you'll finally have enough room for all those movies, music files, photos, documents, and everything else you've managed to amass – and if you buy one of the best external hard drives, you'll be able to trust it with your data.
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The 10 best external drives you can buy today
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.
If you're happy to leave your drive powered up on the desktop and don't need it to be portable, then the Western Digital Black D10 has the performance and the looks that you need. There's only one storage option – 8TB – but that should be enough for you, whether you're using this with a computer or a video games console.
And that wide compatibility is only part of the story here. It's speedy and quiet even under pressure, it's designed to be placed either horizontally or vertically, and you can even charge your other gadgets off it. If you're looking for one of the best external hard drives for a desktop setup, then you can't do much better than this.
You can always rely on Western Digital for your external hard drive needs, and the updated My Passport line gives you a pile of additional storage at a good price, and in a compact form factor. You can even pick from black, blue and red as the outer casing colour.
With an eye-catching design and USB 3.2 support, the drive comes with 256-bit AES hardware encryption is included and backup software, if you need it. You can easily connect the drive to your favourite cloud services too – simple, effective, reliable hard drive storage.
The Lacie Mobile SSD wraps up 500GB, 1TB or 2TB of SSD capacity in an impressively slim design. It's ready to go on Windows or Mac right out of the box (no formatting needed), and can reach super-fast read speeds of 540 MB/s (though your actual rate may be less).
Go for the very top capacity and you can store up to 200,000 high resolution photos and up to 65 hours of video, so this isn't a drive that you're going to need to replace anytime soon. It comes with a reversible USB-C cable that'll work with USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3 devices.
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.
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.
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.
Samsung has always been ahead of the game with SSDs and the 860 EVO is a very good example of that – now available in storage sizes up to a colossal 4TB. This huge capacity means if your pockets are deep enough, then mechanical drives are no longer needed.
For this drive Samsung has switched to using V-NAND 3-bit MLC technology for storage, which is very reliable and as a result the 860 EVO comes with a 5-year warranty, which is a great longevity. Add sequential read speeds of up to 550 MBS per second and sequential write speeds of up to 520 MBS per second and you’ve got a fast, reliable and reasonably priced option. We approve.
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.
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.
How to choose the best external hard drive for you
The good news is choosing an external hard drive needn’t be particularly time-consuming task – it's mainly a question of capacity, which boils down to how much room you need for all your stuff, now and in the future.
After capacity, consider if you want a portable drive (powered via USB), or a fixed desktop drive (with its own power socket). Portable drives are ultra convenient but cost more, whereas the desktop drives are cheaper and often have higher capacities.
As prices fall, SSD (solid-state drives) are becoming more popular: they're ultra-fast – much quicker than conventional mechanical drives – but you will pay extra for that speed, and can't usually get as much in terms of capacity.
So, which is the best external hard drive? We like all of the drives we've mentioned below, so it really depends on how much storage space you need and how much you're willing to spend to get it.
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