Top 10 best external desktop and portable hard disk drives of 2016

Find the best external hard drive for your PC or Mac

Update: We’ve swapped out the Western Digital My Passport Wireless with its “Pro” counterpart, accompanied by a USB-C offering at numbers 8 and 9!

Yes, 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?

1. Best external desktop hard disk drive

best external hard drives

  • Maxtor D3 Station
  • Buy it for £59 at Ebuyer, $109 on Newegg

An external hard drive you can buy without breaking the bank, Seagate's Maxtor D3 could be your match made in heaven.

With compatibility for both Mac and Windows machines, the Maxtor D3 station draws power from a mains adapter and boasts support for a number of uniquely tailored applications such as AutoBackup, Secure Drive and SecretZone, each of which are already preloaded on the device. Of course, if you don't like bloatware, you can wipe the drive clean out of the box.

Also included with the D3 Station is a three-year warranty as well as a USB 3.0 cable. It won't break any speed records with its mere 32MB of cache and 5400RPM spinners, but for a low-capacity drive, you won't find a better deal.

2. Best external desktop hard disk drive (performance)

Seagate 5TB

  • Seagate 5TB Expansion
  • Buy it for £99 or $118 on Amazon

Though the Seagate 5TB expansion is older than the above, it also boasts more storage for the buck. 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.

Like its sibling, the Seagate 5TB Expansion has 64MB of cache and demands an external power supply unit to get it going.

Unlike the D3, 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.

3. Best external desktop hard disk drive (capacity)

Seagate 5TB

  • Seagate STEB4000200 4TB Expansion
  • Buy it for £117 on Box, $109 from Newegg Business

When it comes to external hard disk drives, this is as simple as it gets: a desktop hard disk drive, a power supply and an enclosure plus the cheapest TB price in the UK for sub-£100 units.

Seagate tried to make the device as attractive as possible with a textured side (it's designed to be stored on the side rather than flat vertical) and a black piano finish.

It has a 4TB capacity, a 5900RPM rotational speed, 64MB of cache and, because it is a 3.5-inch model, will also need to be connected to the mains to work.

Note that this hard drive is actually cheaper than its internal equivalent. In other words, it costs less despite shipping with an external power supply, a connection cable and an enclosure.

4. Best external desktop HDD (high capacity)

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  • WD My Book 8TB
  • Buy it from Ebuyer for £221, $249 on Amazon

There are only three 8TB external hard disk drives in the UK and this one is not only the cheaper but also, arguably, the harder worker.

Unlike the competition, this one doesn't use SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording), instead swapping air for helium.

That makes your drive cooler to run and more frugal when it comes to power consumption; the drives are 5400RPM and come with 128MB cache due to the size.

Note that the drive is cheaper than an equivalent 8TB internal hard drive which means that if you need a bunch of high capacity drives for your NAS, you might save yourself hundreds of pounds by buying those and taking the hard disk drive out.

5. Best external desktop HDD for capacity (portability)

  • Seagate Innov8 8TB
  • Buy it from Ballicom for £336, $349 on Newegg

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. Best external desktop-attached storage (performance)

  • WD My Book Duo 16TB
  • Buy it from BT for £477, Amazon for $549

This item can only be ordered on request but is worth the wait. It has two 3.5-inch 8TB WD Red HDD at its heart and although this is a NAS (network attached storage), it can still be used as a DAS.

The Red drives – which are also used in the WD My Book 8TB - are designed for always-on performance with 128MB cache and a spinning speed of 5400RPM.

The device, which comes with two-year warranty, has 256-bit AES hardware encryption, an automatic backup software (WD SmartWare Pro) and can be configured either in RAID-1 or RAID-0.

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

Note that you will also be able to augment its internal capacity via two USB 3.0 connectors.

7. Best external portable hard disk drive (capacity)

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  • Maxtor M3 4TB hard disk drive
  • Buy it from CCL for £104, $151 on Newegg

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. Best external portable hard disk drive (wireless)

  • Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro
  • Buy it for $229 or £242 on Amazon

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. Best external portable hard disk drive (USB-C)

  • LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive 4TB
  • Buy it for $219 or £144 on Amazon

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. Best external desktop hard disk drive (secure)

  • iStorage diskAshur 2TB
  • Buy it from Insight for £176

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

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article



Editor, TechRadar Pro

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