Any portable hard drive, SSD or even a flash drive will let you transport, store and backup your files. But getting the best external hard drive or best external SSD for your storage needs is important. A portable hard drive or SSD is a do-it-all storage wallet, a travel-friendly device that can carry huge files (or lots of small ones) between PCs, Macs and phones, back up your irreplaceable data, offload from your DSLR or drone while in the field, and more.
But with dozens of external drives 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? Or is a slower, roomier and more fragile (and much cheaper) portable hard drive OK for your storage needs?
To help you pick the best portable external drive for your needs, we meticulously test and review dozens of drives as they become available and publish our list of specific recommendations of the best portable SSDs and hard drives on this page.
Before we get to the picks, there are a few important things to think about, whether you need a drive for work, school or home use. Consider how rugged your drive needs to be, how much capacity you need, and what connections will be available in places where you'll want to plug in your drive. An extremely fast drive at home won't be useful if you can't plug it in at work or school. And you may not want to pay for extra speed if the ports where you use the drive most are old and slow.
If you're curious about the kinds of speed and features that will be available with cutting-edge and future external drives, check out 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.
- You Can Save Money By Making Your Own Portable SSD. If you're even a little tech savvy, you can pick up an external SSD enclosure and use an old M.2 drive you might have around from a laptop or desktop upgrade, or buy one that you see on sale. We've detailed how to build your external SSD here. Also note that a recent Silverstone Raven SSD enclosure works with both SATA and NVMe drives. So if you opt for that model, you'll have far more drive options, and you could upgrade later to a speedier drive.
Best External Hard Drives and Portable SSDs You Can Buy Today
Samsung’s T7 Shield is an iterative upgrade over previous models, but it comes with newer, faster flash. More importantly it's been optimized to maintain very high sequential write speeds, which is exceedingly important for external drives, while also being ruggedized for tough, outdoor environments. It's IP65-rated for dust and water resistance, and Samsung says it can handle drops of up to 3 meters (9 feet, 10 inches).
There are speedier, pricier 20 Gbps drives available today, and even faster USB4 drives are on the horizon. But at the moment, the T7 Shield’s write consistency, paired with its reasonable price, makes it great for photographers and videographers, particularly those on the go.
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.
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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