Best external desktop and portable hard disk drives of 2016

Find the best external hard drive for your PC or Mac

Even in a world replenished by the wonders of cloud computing, the external disk drive, or HDD for short, has its place. With desktops on the wane and laptops favoring quick and mobile SSDs over high capacities, our virtual file cabinets are running out of space for not only our original files but our backups as well.

All things considered, you don't need to shell out a monthly subscription fee for iCloud or OneDrive when you can simply purchase an external HDD. Not only is it more affordable in the long-run, but you can get more space for less than even a solid state drive. With the right external hard drive like, say, Seagate's colossal 10TB Barracude Pro, you'll be able to store all of your important files without compromise, no Internet connection required.

The question remains however: how do you know which external HDD is best for you? Luckily, we're here to help. In the following list, we'll discuss external hard drives that are both powerful and premium, affordable yet functional and even a handful that play friendly with the cloud. Let's begin, shall we?

best external hard drives

1. Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC

Wireless security

Capacity: 2TB | Interface: USB 3.0

NFC security
Rugged design
Not the fastest drive

An external hard drive you can buy without breaking the bank, Buffalo's MiniStation Extreme NFC could be your match made in heaven.

With compatibility for both Mac and Windows machines, the Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC is very flexible, and comes with a rugged case that's dust and water resistant, along with a built-in USB 3.0 cable.

Not only is your data kept protected from knocks and drops with the rugged shell, but it's also got 256-bit AES security features and NFC (Near Field Communication) features as well.

Essentially it allows you to unlock the drive to get to your files quickly and easily by tapping the supplied NFC card onto the drive's body. Pretty neat!

Seagate 5TB

Western Digital My Passport 4TB

Fast speeds

Capacity: 4TB | Interface: USB 3.0

Large capacity
Good data transfer speeds
WD backup software is basic

The latest generation of the Western Digital My Passport range of external hard drives has landed, coming in sizes from 1TB to 4TB. It features cloud storage and 256-AES encryption, along with WD's own backup software.

Best of all, it is a very good performer when it comes to data transfer speeds, beating many of its competitor. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't reach the top speeds of solid state external drives, but for external hard drives based on traditional HDDs, this is the drive to get.

Seagate 5TB

3. Seagate 5TB Expansion

Plenty of space

Capacity: 5TB | Interface: USB 3.0

Plenty of storage space
Fast hard drive
Blocky design

Though the Seagate 5TB expansion is older than the above, it also boasts more storage for the price you pay. In fact, you can expect to shell out just under £20 per TB if you're in the UK or a little less than $24 in the US.

The Seagate 5TB Expansion has 64MB of cache and demands an external power supply unit to get it going.

Unlike many external hard drives, however, it has a 7200RPM unit inside, meaning that is, unless you opt for the more up to date version from Curry's, which isn't quite as fast. Great if you want to reduce its power consumption, not so much for everything else. Both drives bolster a two-year warranty.

This drive is ideal for gamers as it complements quite nicely the internal storage of gaming consoles like the Xbox One.

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4. WD My Book Duo 16TB

The most space you can get

Capacity: 16TB | Interface: USB 3.0 x 2

Huge amounts of space
RAID support
Expensive
Need two USB 3.0 ports free

If you're looking for the absolute largest capacity external hard drive, then the WD My Book Duo 16TB is the one to get, offering a huge 16TB of storage space over two hard drives.

If you don't mind sacrificing some of the ample storage space you can set the drives up in a RAID array, so you have file backups of your files should one of the drives die.

This USB 3.0 drive has many of the features of a fully-fledged NAS device (including a high price), and if you have a router with a USB 3.0 port you could use this as a network attached storage device in its own right.

The device, which comes with two-year warranty, has 256-bit AES hardware encryption, and automatic backup software (WD SmartWare Pro).

Worth noting that the enclosure used is fully serviceable and that WD ships the drive already pre-formatted for Windows users (NTFS).

5. Seagate Innov8 8TB

Combines capacity and portability

Capacity: 8TB | Interface: USB 3.0 and USB Type-C

High capacity
No need for power supply with USB-C
Expensive
USB-C support still in infancy

The Seagate 8TB Innov8 range is worth a mention. It is a normal-size 3.5-inch desktop hard disk drive but doesn't need an external power supply to run.

Instead, it needs to be powered via a USB Type-C connector without which it won't work. It does pave the way for customers to move staggering amount of data around without being tethered.

What sets the Innov8 apart from the competition is the design. All metal with fins to keep the drive cool and a minimalist approach to the drive's construction.

If absolute performance coupled with ease of use is what you are yearning for, then for a small business user or someone working in the creative industry, the Innov8 is a no-brainer.

Others will probably settle for far cheaper but less elegant options like the WD My Book mentioned previously.

Read our full review: Seagate Innov8 8TB external hard disk drive

6. Seagate Backup Plus Desktop Drive 5TB

Best performance

Capacity: 5TB | Interface: USB 3.0

Very fast data transfer speeds
Reliable
You pay more for the Mac-formatted version

If you want to combine speed and capacity, then the Seagate Backup Plus Desktop Drive 5TB is definitely worth considering. It comes in a range of sizes up to 8TB and it beats the competition when it comes to read and write speeds as well.

On top of this storage and speed, you get a decent amount of peace of mind thanks to Seagate's lower than average failure rates, especially in bigger capacity hard drives.

You also get backup software, and the drive is compatible with both Windows and Macs, though it's formatted for Windows out of the box unless you go for a Mac-specific hard drive - though these are more expensive.

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7. Maxtor M3 4TB hard disk drive

Large capacity, small price

Capacity: 4TB | Interface: USB 3.0

Very cheap
Good warranty
Build quality lacking

Maxtor, a hard drive brand purchased by Seagate a few years ago, has quietly been revived and is our overall best buy when it comes to portable hard disk drive, models that can be powered using the USB port only.

At 4TB, it is the largest 2.5-inch drive you can buy; surprisingly, it is even cheaper than the most affordable 4TB internal drive of this size and by a very, very wide margin (£55).

In fact, you would be better buying these and pry them opened to get the drives. That and the Samsung M3 Portable appear to be twins with identical dimensions and patterned finish.

The drive comes with a three-year warranty, even bigger than some of the more expensive professional drives, as well as a number of bundled applications.

8. Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro

Wireless wonder

Capacity: 2TB | Interface: USB 3.0 and Wi-Fi

Wireless AC
USB 3.0 support
Good battery life
No USB-C
Expensive due to Wi-Fi features

Though our feelings were lukewarm on the My Passport Wireless of yesteryear, the 2016 “Pro” variant of the HDD restores faith in the Western Digital name. The design, for instance, has been overhauled and no longer resembles the My Passport Ultra nor My Passport for Mac. Instead, there’s now a more premium feel to the My Passport Wireless Pro. It resembles an external DVD drive, but considering the onboard SD card slot (and a dedicated SD transfer button), don’t worry about getting it confused with anything else. For photographers, this is the Wireless Pro’s killer app.

For everyone else, there’s a massive 6,400mAh battery built into the device. This lets the drive be used completely free of wires over 2.4GHz or 5GHz channels. When it’s wired up, however, don’t expect cutting edge connection tech, as the My Passport Wireless Pro uses only USB Type-B to Type-A. Completely absent is the latest and greatest USB-C connection.

Where the My Passport Wireless Pro compromises on affordability, it’s able to benefit in just about every other area. Of course, not everyone needs a wireless hard drive or SD card support, but for those who do, it’s almost essential.

Read the full review: Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro
 

9. LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive 4TB

USB-C star

Capacity: 4TB | Interface: USB-C

Fast USB-C connection
Great design
Expensive
You need USB-C ports to take advantage of speed

You may have stumbled upon the LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive when perusing the Apple website for USB-C accessories. There’s a reason for that: the Porsche Design ships with both USB Type-C to Type-A and USB Type-C to Type-C connectors, making it a worthy candidate regardless of your setup.

It’s expensive for an external hard drive, don’t get us wrong, especially if you’re in the market for the top-end 4TB option. On the other hand, this is an HDD that could theoretically output speeds of up to 5Gbps, if it weren’t hindered by the limits of SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) technology.

Comprising five 800GB platters in a 15mm form factor, the LaCie Porsche Design Mobile is an excellent challenger to the Seagate M3, though it’s notably bigger in both weight and dimensions.

Sure, it packs an extra convenience factor in the form of USB-C, but it should be noted that the Porsche Design Mobile is still limited to USB 3.0 speeds. Plus, even an aluminum finish can’t prevent it from clashing with your Rose Gold MacBook. Nevertheless, LaCie’s offering is the best USB-C external HDD money can buy, at least for the time being.

Read our full review: LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive 4TB
 

10. iStorage diskAshur 2TB

Best for security

Capacity: 2TB | Interface: USB 3.0

Physical security
Rugged design
Expensive

Typically, iStorage hard disks cater best to governments and multinational organizations around the world, for good reason too – they offer tight security like no other drives around.

If someone tries to tamper with your iStorage drive, you can configure it to self-desturct. What's more, the data is encrypted by the 256-bit AES protocol, with multiple forms of protection in place to ensure the bad guys don't get in no matter how persistent. When you consider all that extra security, the prices won't scare you away either.

Sure, it's still expensive, four times the price of an equivalent 2TB drive, and unlikely to be the most nimble performer. But, you're paying for a product that's virtually uncrackable. Bear in mind, though, you'll get no help from the manufacturer if things go awry and you lose your password.

Read our full review: iStorage diskAshur DT

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré (Twitter) has been musing and writing about technology since 1997. Following an eight-year stint at ITProPortal.com where he discovered the joys of global techfests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro