Any portable drive will let you store, backup, and transport files. But getting the best external hard drive or best portable SSD for your needs is important. An external hard drive or SSD is a do-it-all storage device. It’s a pocket-friendly gadget that lets you carry huge files (or lots of small ones) between PCs and Android devices, back up essential data, offload footage from your DSLR or drone while on the go and more.
But with dozens of models available, how do you know which is the right external drive to buy? And should you opt for a faster, more rugged (and more expensive) external SSD instead of a hard drive made up of fragile moving parts? To help you pick the best portable external drive for your needs, we thoroughly test and review key drives and publish our list of specific recommendations on this page.
If you're headed back to school soon (whether virtually or in person), you may need a roomy external drive to tote around large files. You may already know how much you're willing to spend on a storage drive and how much space you need. But there are still things to think about, like how rugged your drive needs to be or what connections will be available in places where you'll want to use your drive.
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).
- 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 irreplacable 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
SanDisk’s Extreme v2 is one of the best portable 10 GBps SSDs for content creators on the go. Powered by a fast NVMe SSD and sporting a USB 3.2 Gen 2 bridge chip, SanDisk’s Extreme v2 packs twice the performance of its predecessor and offers increased security with hardware-accelerated full disk encryption.
Not only does it respond quickly when reading your media files or documents, but even when taxed with large write transfers, it is one of the fastest-writing portable USB 10Gbps SSDs for the price. The Extreme v2’s design is similar to the Extreme Pro v2, but it is smaller and lighter. That said, the Extreme v2 lacks the rigid aluminum construction and power indicator light we see with the more expensive model. However, the Extreme v2 is fairly priced, IP55 water and dust resistant, available in capacities up to 4TB, and comes backed by a 5-year warranty.
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 2x2 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.
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.
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.
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 laptop or upgraded away from in your desktop, 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.
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