External hard drives are essential devices, no matter how or what you use your computer for. They allow you to perform whole-system backups or specific folder backups, saving your files in the event of a system malfunction. They can provide additional storage for PCs and laptops (especially laptops with smaller, but lightning-quick SSD drives).
They allow large swathes of information to be shared between systems with ease. They can even be used on gaming consoles like the Sony PlayStation 4 and Xbox One to store the ever-growing game files of the digital, disk-less era. Some people may even wish to hook up one to their television recorder, allowing them to create enormous libraries of on-demand digital programming and movies – like their very own private Netflix server.
Whatever the reason may be, if you’re on the lookout for a new external hard drive, we’re here for you. We’ve rounded up a selection of the best external hard drives available, including HDDs and SSDs. Below you’ll find our picks from well-known brands like Samsung, Seagate and Western Digital, in a range of sizes and specifications.
If at any point you get stuck with terminology, head down to the bottom of this page where we have an FAQ breaking down some of the key terms and concepts.
Please note: Listed read speeds provided by manufacturers. Always check operating system compatibility.
The best at a glance:
Samsung T5 Solid State Drive SSD
Seagate Expansion Desktop 6 TB External Hard Drive HDD
iStorage 1TB Secure Encrypted Hard Drive
SanDisk Extreme Portable Solid State Drive SSD 250GB
Toshiba Canvio Basics 1TB Portable External Hard Drive
WD 4TB My Passport Portable Hard Drive
The best in detail:
The best external hard drives
1. Samsung T5 Solid State Drive SSD
The Samsung T5 is a real favourite of ours. Not only is it an affordable external SSD drive, but its use of USB-C means that it provides impressive speeds of 540MB/s. For those who don't have access to USB-C on their computer, the T5 is also compatible with standard USB 3.1 connections (cable included). It's lightweight, robust and easy to use, and the AES 256-bit hardware encryption provides a welcome peace of mind. We think this makes a great addition to a gaming laptop with limited memory capacity – installing games to this isn't a problem due to the quick read times.Available in 500GB, 1TB and 2TB.Connection: USB-CWorks with: Windows, macOS, AndroidRead speed: 540 MB/s
2. Seagate Expansion Desktop 6 TB External Hard Drive HDD
If you deal with large files like films, images and music recordings, then you're already aware of the importance of both additional storage and file backup. The Seagate Expansion 6 TB can fulfil either of these roles, or even both at the same time once partitioned. While the read speed isn't up to USB-C speeds, the USB 3.1 connection is capable of good speeds. While for gamers read game installs this may prove problematic, those working with digital image files and standard documents shouldn't struggle. In our opinion, this option from Seagate is the ideal balance between huge storage, transfer speeds and value for money.Also available in capacities from 500GB through to 10TB.Connection: USB 3.1Works with: Windows, PS4, Xbox OneRead speed: 160 MB/s
3. iStorage 1TB Secure Encrypted Hard Drive
If security is your top priority, then the iStorage Encrypted Hard Drive is for you. In addition to the built-in 256-bit AES hardware encryption, the drive requires the user to enter a unique seven to 15 digit pin before data can be accessed. The inbuilt diskAshur2 also auto-locks the drive once a connection is removed (this can also be set to trigger after a period of time), and can even be set to run a self-destruct feature via a specific pin. Once entered, this pin instantly deletes the "encryption key, all PINs, data and then creates a new encryption key". The encryption found here is to a military standard – if your work sees you handling sensitive files, or you just want to keep you private documents safe in the case of a theft or loss, then you can't really get any safer than his product.The model we've chosen here uses USB 3.1 and has a capacity of 1TB. For those in need of higher speeds, the same encryption can be found in an SSD variant. Large memory sizes are also available.Though this sounds very high-tech, and in some ways it is, the iStorage drive doesn't require any software downloads and works across all major operating systems, including Linux and Android.Connection: USB 3.0Works with: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, Chrome, Thin Clients, Zero Clients, Embedded Systems, Citrix and VMwareRead speed: 148 MB/s
4. SanDisk Extreme Portable Solid State Drive SSD 250GB
Portable memory expert SanDisk hit a home run with the Extreme range of SSDs. Designed for those who are always on the go, the Extreme Portable SSD holds 250GB of memory within a shock-resistant, rugged, and water and dust resistant case with an IP-55 rating. The size of the device is also impressive, measuring in smaller than a smartphone -its easy to tuck into a jacket or backpack pocket. Connection to a computer (either Mac or PC) can be made via a USB-C or USB 3.1 port.Connection: USB-C and USB 3.1Works with: Windows and macOSRead speed: 550 MB/s
5. Toshiba Canvio Basics 1TB Portable External Hard Drive
Maybe you don't want the latest, fast and most rugged external hard drive. Maybe you just want to keep your external hard drive at home and use it to back up family pics and some important documents. If you're looking to keep it simple, then the Toshiba Canvio Basics External Hard Drive is here. Easy to install and set up, the 1TB memory will be amble for your average computer user. The USB 3.0 connection is fast enough for reading and writing documents, and even weekly or monthly system backups.Mac users will need to look elsewhere, however, as this one is formatted for Windows.Connection: USB 3.0Works with: WindowsRead speed: 130 MB/s
6. WD 4TB My Passport Portable Hard Drive
The Western Digital My Passport Portable Hard Drive is popular for a reason – it's affordable, reliable and big on memory. It connects via a USB 3.0 connection, so read/write speeds are good enough for most situations. WD's software (optional) is a breeze to use for newcomers and can be used to set up an access password. Encryption here is the industry-standard 256-bit AES. It's a versatile hard drive too, as it can be formatted to work across Mac, PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.Works with: Windows, macOS, PS4 and Xbox OneConnection: USB 3.0Read speed: 130 MB/s
What is the difference between HDD and SSD memory?
Hard drive disks (HDD) are mechanical, writing, and reading information on spinning disks (or platters) via an actuator arm, which moves across the platter. The platters are broken down into a series of tracks and sectors. It's within these that data is stored and addressed with a location.
Solid State Drives (SSD) write and read using flash memory, much like USB flash drives. Data is stored in grids and blocks, and though the process is more complicated than in HDD, the available space is utilised more efficiently thanks to a series of processes that go on behind the scenes.
HDD is reliable, though they are large and rely on mechanical procedures to store, write and read memory. SSD is a newer technology and uses no moving parts: it's far quicker at data retrieval, is smaller in size, and runs more efficiently. SSDs are popular within the gaming community due to their rapid load times. HDDs are cheaper and are available with much larger storage capacities.
What is AES-256 encryption?
AES-256 stands for ‘Advanced Encryption Standard – 256 bits’. There’s plenty of maths going on behind the scenes, but what this effectively means is that data is scrambled with a cipher to an uncrackable degree. It's unpacked and decoded when it arrives at its destination, but for anyone trying to intercept the signal, they would see nothing but a mess of digits. Without the secret cipher key, an AES-256 encrypted message will have "1.1 x 10 to the power of 77" possible combinations, which is beyond the decryption software in the USA’s National Security Agency (or at least that we know of...).
What’s the difference between USB 3.0, USB 3.1 and USB-C?
USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 connections are the common, box-like connections. These connections will work with any USB port that is this shape, though the speed at which the connections read and write data work will vary. USB ports with a blue connection inside are 3.0 or 3.1 connections, and they will offer the quickest speeds, roughly double that of the black USB ports.
USB-C is a newer version of the USB connection. It is slim and oval, and has much higher read/write speeds than the USB 3.0 and 3.1.
Not all computers have this new USB-C connection port, so some external hard drives come with adapters, allowing USB cable to be plugged into the box-like standard USB ports. When this happens, the speeds are limited to the speeds of the port. A USB-C cable plugged into a standard USB port with an adapter will not read/write to the same speeds as a USB-C connection plugged into a USB-C port.