The best external hard drives

The best bulk storage HDD and lightening-quick SSDs around

The best external hard drives

by William Lobley |

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:

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
USB 3 ports, in the standard box-like shape

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.

USB C
The slim, oval USB-C port and connection

What to read next?

The best monitor arm mounts to declutter your desk

The best laptops under £1,000

The best headsets for your home office

William Lobley is a Content Writer and reviewer for WhatsTheBest, specialising in technology, gaming and outdoors. He also writes for Empire Online.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us