Even in a world full of cloud computing, the external hard drive disk, or HDD, has managed to subsist. With desktops on the wane and laptops regularly packing small SSDs in the name of speed and mobility, many of us simply don't have the space to store our stuff. Besides, who wants to pay a monthly subscription for iCloud or OneDrive?
With most of us living our lives digitally, it's increasingly essential to ensure we preserve backups of anything important. To do that, the use of an external hard drive is in order. Not only are they more affordable than SSDs, but the right external hard drive is capable of storing all of your important files without compromise.
But how do you know which external HDD is best for you? We're here to help. In the ensuing list, we'll discuss external drives that are both affordable and functional, both powerful yet premium and even those designed to dabble with the cloud.
Do bear in mind that your mileage will always vary when it comes to reliability, a factor that was not taken into account when putting together this list. Let's begin, shall we?
- Also check out: Top 10 best internal desktop and laptop hard disk drives
1. Best external desktop hard disk drive
If you want to buy an external hard disk drive but don't want to break the bank, check out the D3 from Maxtor, which is now owned by Seagate.
Compatible with Mac and Windows devices, it is powered by a mains adaptor and offers a number of applications like AutoBackup, Secure Drive and SecretZone, all preloaded on the device.
The D3 Station also comes with a three-year warranty as well as a USB 3.0 cable. It won't break any speed records (its hard drive has 32MB of cache and a 5400RPM spinning speed) but you also won't get a better cost per TB for a low-capacity drive.
2. Best external desktop hard disk drive (performance)
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 above model though, it has a 7200RPM unit inside which means that it will perform better, 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 great for everything else. Both drives carry 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)
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)
There are only three 8TB external hard disk drives in the UK and this one is not only the cheaper but also, arguably, the better performance wise.
Unlike the competition, this one doesn't use SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) and swaps 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)
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)
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)
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)
This is an external hard disk drive with a difference. The My Passport wireless, as its name implies, can work without being connected to a computer.
In fact, it touts this as one of its (many) advantages compared to traditional portable hard disk drives.
It can actually stream content to more than one device, acting like a small network attached storage. WD says that up to four HD videos can be streamed simultaneously thanks to the Wireless-N MIMO-enabled connectivity.
There's a SD card slot to backup all your content (albeit slowly) and its battery is big enough to power it for up to six hours (after that, you can always use a portable battery to charge it).
Read our full review: Western Digital My Passport Wireless 2TB
9. Best external portable hard disk drive (wireless)
A special mention for this drive. If you're partial to Seagate for whatever reason, their Wireless Plus drive matches the WD drive above when it comes to capacity and connectivity.
It doesn't have a card reader and can connect only to three devices, but the Seagate Wireless Plus 2TB drive makes up for it by being much thinner and lighter. It also has a much longer battery life (up to 10 hours).
As for the WD model, there's a 5400RPM hard disk drive at its heart. It has a two-year warranty and you can use it as a Wi-Fi hub to share a single internet connection with up to seven devices.
Like the above you will also be able to use it with an external battery pack to boost its battery life. Just don't try to connect it to a laptop to charge it if you want to use the wireless feature.
Read our full review: Seagate Wireless Plus 2TB
10. Best external desktop hard disk drive (secure)
- iStorage diskAshur 2TB
- Buy it from Insight for £176
iStorage hard disks are the choice of governments and multinational organisations around the world, with good reason – they're designed to make life very difficult for anybody who tries to access unauthorised data.
The PIN-protected drive can be set to self-destruct if tampered with, the data is encrypted (256-bit AES) and there are multiple forms of protection to ensure the bad guys don't get in no matter how persistent. When you consider all that extra security, the prices aren't too frightening, either.
Sure, it is expensive (costing around four times the price of an equivalent 2TB drive) and unlikely to be the fastest around but you do get something that's essentially uncrackable. Bear in mind, though, that you won't get any help if you happen to lose the password.
Read our full review: iStorage diskAshur DT
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article
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