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Best External Drives: Portable SSDs and Hard Drives of 2021

Recent External SSDs
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Any portable drive will let you transport, store and backup files. But getting the best portable SSD or best portable hard drive for your specific needs is important. An external hard drive or SSD is a do-it-all storage device, a pocket-friendly gadget that you can use to carry huge files (or lots of small ones) between PCs, Macs 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 painstakingly test and review dozens of drives and publish our list of specific recommendations of the best portable SSDs and hard drives on this page.

Whether you're headed back to school or work soon, or working from home indefinitely, there are important things to think about, like how rugged your drive needs to be, how much space you need and what connections will be available in places where you'll want to plug in your drive. 

If you're curious about the kinds of speed and features that will be available with future external drives, check out our stories on USB 3.2 and Everything We Know About USB 4.0.

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 Extreme v2 Portable SSD (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

1. SanDisk Extreme v2 Portable SSD

The Best Portable SSD

Capacities: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB | Drive Type: SSD | Transfer Protocol: USB 3.2 Gen 2 | Sequential Reads: 1,000 MBps | Warranty: 5 Years

Competitive and consistent performance
AES 256-bit Full Disk Encryption
Weather-resistant
5-year warranty
Short cable for desktop use

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. 

Read: SanDisk Extreme v2 Portable SSD Review 

WD My Passport (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

2. WD My Passport

The Best External Hard Drive

Capacities: 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 5TB | Drive Type: HDD | Transfer Protocol: USB 3.2 Gen1 (USB 3.0) | Sequential Reads: 120MBps | Warranty: 3 Years

Competitively priced
AES 256-bit hardware encryption
Solid software suite
3-year warranty
Dated Micro USB connection
Slides around on your desk

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. 

Read: WD My Passport 5TB Review

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.

SanDisk Extreme Pro v2 Portable SSD (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

3. SanDisk Extreme Pro v2

Best Professional-grade Portable USB 20 Gbps SSD

Capacities: 1TB, 2TB, 4TB | Drive Type: SSD | Transfer Protocols: USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 | Sequential Reads: 2,000 MBps | Warranty: 5 Years

Hardware-based AES 256-bit encryption and password protection
Responsive USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 performance
Weather-resistant rugged design
5-year warranty
Short cables for desktop use
Expensive

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. 

Read: SanDisk Extreme Pro v2 Portable SSD Review 

LaCie Rugged RAID Pro

4. LaCie Rugged RAID Pro

The Best Rugged Portable Hard Drive

Capacities: RAID0 | Drive Type: HDD | Transfer Protocols: Thunderbolt 3 , USB 3.1 Gen 1 | Sequential Reads: Depends on configuration | Warranty: 3 Years

Solid sequential performance
Rugged Build
Data recovery service free within the warranty period
Easy-to-use and effective software suite
Uses wall power for systems without TB3 / USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C
Expensive

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.

Read: Lacie Rugged RAID Pro Review

Samsung T7 Touch  (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

5. Samsung T7 Touch

Most Conveniently Secure Portable SSD

Capacities: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB | Drive Type: SSD | Transfer Protocol: USB 3.2 Gen 2 | Sequential Reads: 1,050 MBps | Warranty: 3 Years

AES 256-bit hardware encryption
Built-in fingerprint scanner
Attractive aesthetics
Available in capacities up to 2TB
18-inch USB-A and USB-C cables
3-year warranty
Small write cache

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.

Read: Samsung T7 Touch Portable SSD Review  

Samsung 1TB Portable SSD X5 (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

6. Samsung X5

Best Thunderbolt 3 Portable SSD

Capacities: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB | Drive Type: SSD | Transfer Protocol: Thunderbolt 3 | Sequential Reads: 2,800 MBps | Warranty: 5 Years

Fast Thunderbolt 3
Sequential read and write performance
Full hardware-based encryption
Attractive design 
Slow write speed after write cache fills
Lacks AES hardware encryption or IP rating

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.

Read: Samsung X5 Portable SSD Review

Sabrent Rocket XTRM-Q (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

7. Sabrent Rocket XTRM-Q Portable TB3 SSD

Best High-Capacity/Budget Thunderbolt 3 External SSD

Capacities: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 8TB | Drive Type: SSD | Transfer Protocol: Thunderbolt 3; USB 3.2 | Sequential Reads: 2,700MBps | Warranty: 5 Years (if registered)

Highest-capacity TB3 portable SSD
USB and Thunderbolt 3 compatibility
Slow write speed after write cache fills
Lacks AES hardware encryption or IP rating

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.

Read: Sabrent Rocket XTRM-Q Portable TB3 SSD Review

Interface Shorthand

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.

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.

MORE: Best SSDs

MORE: How We Test HDDs And SSDs

MORE: All SSD Content

  • Gingecat
    I thought the first item seemed too good to be true at £8.59 and I was right. I clicked on the Amazon link and turned out it was
    Khanka hard case carrying bag for SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD
    Did the reviewer have too much to dream last night?
    Reply
  • Ksdomino
    4TB hard drive is the best in 2020? Are you not aware that seagate released a portable (very good and equally reliable) 5TB drive in 2017?!?
    nearly 3 years later and we're still stuck with 5TB (apart from the reviewer that is stuck even lower at 4TB).. Am really hoping the 8TB portables don't take too long.

    Edit: Also if you're going to recommend WD drives in Jan 2020 you might wanna look into the new WD Black drives. They also come in 5TB capacity but cost a bit more because performance.
    Reply
  • JSylvester
    Ksdomino said:
    4TB hard drive is the best in 2020? Are you not aware that seagate released a portable (very good and equally reliable) 5TB drive in 2017?!?
    nearly 3 years later and we're still stuck with 5TB (apart from the reviewer that is stuck even lower at 4TB).. Am really hoping the 8TB portables don't take too long.

    Edit: Also if you're going to recommend WD drives in Jan 2020 you might wanna look into the new WD Black drives. They also come in 5TB capacity but cost a bit more because performance.

    If you're looking for a portable 8TB, there aren't any single 2.5" HDD options. However, LaCie and Oyen Digital both offer a Rugged RAID that is 8TB in RAID0. Oyen Digital also offers a 10TB option.

    For single drives, there are SSD options now that are at 8TB (7.68TB) Oyen Digital just released an 8TB SSD option in their MiniPro line.
    Reply
  • WarthogARJ
    Admin said:
    Here are the best external hard drives and SSDs for the money. These drives offer the best balance of performance, features and price.

    The Best External Hard Drives and Portable SSDs of 2019 : Read more

    I think one metric for comparing storage is to look at Sustained Write Performance as well, because it affects anyone who needs to do a large write: whether it's just once a week, or else many times a day.

    But I've looked at Tom's Hadware's Reviews, and it's hard to get enough details n the process used to perform the test, in order to relate it to other factors, and to other Revew sites. Or in fact to your existing SSD if you test it.

    Specifically, when you do the Sustained Sequential 128kB Write test, what do you use for:
    (1) Queue Depth?
    (2) Conditioning the SSD before?
    (3) Data recording frequency? (your charts are smooth lines, without any points to indicate the datum points). Do you do it 1 or two datum points per second, or is it by data volume, as in 1 datum per GB or so?
    (4) Overprovisioning: do you control this, or do you use the "stock" settings?

    The other review sites that do this type of test (Anandtech, TechPowerUp, Guru3D, TweakTown) supply sufficient detail to be able to use their test results.

    Once you know the above, you can calculate other metrics such as IOPS and Latency. And with so many SSD variants made, it's not possible to find any single Review site that does them all, or even reviews the size you might want to buy.

    Therefore you need to be able to compare benchmark results as best you can, but that means you need sufficent details on the critical parameters used.

    i'm sure it's just an oversight on your part, you give details on other aspects.

    Thank you for your feedback on this.
    Regards,
    Alan, Sheffield
    Reply
  • Snefferdy
    It would be nice if the people writing an article highlighting data transfer speeds knew the difference between a gigabyte (GB) and a gigabit (Gb). 1 GB = 8Gb!

    For example, the first drive (SanDisk) has an advertised top speed of 7.8 Gbps, not 80 Gbps as the authors state.
    Reply