Best external hard drives of 2024

Best external hard drive: quick menu

Several of the best external hard drive picks on a desk with a laptop

(Image credit: Future / John Loeffler)

See all our top picks
1. Best overall | WD Elements
2. Best budget | UnionSine Ultra Slim
3. Best for Mac | WD My Passport Ultra
4. Best gaming | Seagate FireCuda Gaming
5. Best backup | Seagate Expansion
6. Best rugged | LaCie Rugged Mini
7. FAQs
8. How we test

The best external hard drive is an invaluable accessory for your desktop or laptop PC as it can provide a crucial lifeline to more storage right when you need it. That’s especially true if you’re someone who is often out and about taking photos, recording video, or capturing gameplay, where high-resolution files can quickly fill up traditionally far slower micro SD cards. 

What’s most exciting about the external hard drives available in 2024 is that they aren’t just limited to older and slower mechanical HDD technology or even beholden to the SATA form factor. That’s because we’re now seeing some incredibly quick and compact offerings from the best portable SSDs running NVMe technology which blow the lid off of what was previously thought possible only a handful of years ago. 

For the fastest and most consistent transfer speeds, you’re definitely going to want to consider the latter. However, should capacity be king above all else then you may find solace in a larger and slower HDD to act as a reliable backup drive. Nowadays, the vast majority of modern external hard drives are powered by either USB 3.2 or USB-C connections making them far more capable than older USB 2.0 or micro-USB offerings of the past. 

What’s more, we’ve tested every external hard drive in our buying guide with our internal benchmarking suite to test how the manufacturers' claims hold up to scrutiny before recommending them. Below you’ll find top offerings from Western Digital, Seagate, LaCie, and more considering the individual chassis and capacities as well. 

The best portable drive overall
Top portable drive

The best portable drive overall
If you're looking for the best portable storage drive overall, and it doesn't matter whether its an HDD with spinning disks or a portable SSD with solid-state flash memory, then the Samsung T7 Touch is exactly the drive you're going to want to pick up. With its blazing fast read and write speeds and fingerprint security features at a great price, you can't go wrong. It only goes up to 2TB, so if you're looking for more substantial backup storage, this isn't the drive for you, but if speed is what you're after, look no further.

The best external hard drive: quick list

Recent updates

April 3, 2024: Refreshed entire list with top picks, new test data, and analysis of individual drive results.

John Loeffler
John Loeffler

John (He/Him) is TechRadar's Components Editor and has been reviewing computer hardware with TechRadar for several years. As our component lead, he is responsible for testing any and all components that hit the market, including GPUs, CPUs, storage drives, and more. He has extensively tested all of the external hard drives on this list, and chose each based on these test results as the best in their category.

The best external hard drive of 2024 in full:

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Below you'll find full write-ups for each of the best external hard drive picks on our list. We've tested each one extensively, so you can be sure that our recommendations can be trusted. 

The best external hard drive overall

1. WD Elements Portable HDD

The best external hard drive overall


Capacity: 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 5TB
Average Price per Terabyte: 29.75
Interface: Micro-B USB 3.0
Dimensions: 4.35 x 0.59 x 3.23 in | 110.49 x 14.99 x 82.04mm"
Weight: 0.29 lb | 0.13kg
Average Sequential Read (as tested): 114.0 MB/s
Average Sequential Write (as tested): 109.0 MB/s

Reasons to buy

Great balance price, capacity, and speed
Very portable design
Fantastic price per terabyte

Reasons to avoid

Not the best drive in any one category
Only two-year warranty

The WD Elements external hard drive isn't the fastest or the most spacious on the market. Neither does it have the lowest price per terabyte, the largest variety of capacities available, or the best warranty of all the drives I've tested. But this is my top pick for the best external hard drive overall because in every category, it is consistently in the top three. 

Whereas one drive might have the lowest price per terabyte (Seagate Expansion) or the best warranty (like the LaCie Rugged Mini), they generally have steeper shortcomings that offset those advantages, like being more expensive, or being a worse overall value.

The WD Elements then is very much a jack-of-all-trades kind of drive, doing all things reasonably well, while not outperforming in one category or the other. For most people though, this is exactly the kind of drive you'll want: something that offers you a good bit of everything without having to make too many sacrifices in the process.

As far as performance goes, again, this isn't the fastest drive I tested. Far from it in fact, but its read speeds were close enough to most of the drives that this won't be noticeable, and its random write speeds, which is essential for a regularly used external HDD, are a good bit higher than its competition. 

In the end, it came in with the third best overall score and the second best value score, while offering higher capacities than the UnionSine DataPocket and a portability that the Seagate Expansion can't offer, all while coming in at an acceptable price point for an external HDD with a higher capacity.

The best budget external hard drive

2. UnionSine Ultra Slim

The best external hard drive for those on a budget


Capacity: 250GB, 320GB, 500GB, 750GB, 1TB, 2TB
Average Price per Terabyte: 50.63
Interface: Micro-B USB 3.1
Dimensions: ‎4.56 x 0.5 x 3.15 in | 115.83 x 12.7 x 80.01mm
Weight: 0.3 lb | 0.136kg
Average Sequential Read (as tested): 141.0 MB/s
Average Sequential Write (as tested): 148.0 MB/s

Reasons to buy

Fantastic performance for the price
Available in smaller-than-normal capacities
3-year warranty

Reasons to avoid

Maxes out at 2TB
High file copy time

There are only a couple of things that hold back the UnionSine Ultra Slim external HDD from being the best external hard drive overall, and it's a shame, because this is a great drive. 

Its overall scores are second only to the top-scoring Seagate Expansion, and its slim profile makes this a very easy drive to carry around, though it's slightly bigger than the WD Elements and WD My Passport Ultra.

Its lower capacity options compared to the other external HDD picks on this list cut against it, but if you don't need more than 2TB of external HDD storage, then this is definitely one of the drives you should get, thanks to its fast read speeds, three-year limited warranty, and outstanding price.

 Despite its low price point, It has a rather high price per terabyte owing to its limited capacity options, with its max capacity topping out at just 2TB. While it does have several much smaller capacities starting at 250GB, the utility of such small capacities on an external HDD makes them harder to recommend, especially when you can get a faster portable SSD with the same or greater capacity for not a whole lot more money.

Performance-wise, the UnionSine Ultra Slim manages to outperform all of the drives on this list in terms of overall read speeds save for the Seagate Expansion, though it does have a much longer copy time in my 25GB file copy test, and its average write speeds are much lower than other drives.

These latter two points really hurt since file writing and copying speeds are the two biggest factors when it comes to an external HDD's performance since you are far more likely to be writing data to the drive than reading from it on a regular basis.

Still, on balance, its performance is outstanding, and its price-to-performance value is the best on this list, and it's not even close.

The best external hard drive for Mac

3. Western Digital My Passport Ultra

The best external hard drive for Mac users


Capacity: 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 5TB
Average Price per Terabyte: 31.82
Interface: USB-C 3.1
Dimensions: 4.33 x 0.83 x 3.21 ins | 110 x 21.1 x 81.53mm
Weight: 0.51 lb | 0.23kg
Average Sequential Read (as tested): 114.0 MB/s
Average Sequential Write (as tested): 109.0 MB/s

Reasons to buy

USB-C interface
Decent price per terabyte

Reasons to avoid

Getting it to work with Windows can be a hassle

There aren't a lot of external hard drives out there with a USB-C interface, so Mac users have had to make a lot of compromises over the past couple of years but with the WD My Passport Ultra for Mac, macOS users have a solid option for Time Machine backups and other long-term storage on the go.

Like the WD Elements, this isn't the fastest drive on the list, despite it's USB-C port, and it's speeds are largely the same as what you'll get with the WD Elements, though you'll have to spend a bit more money to get the My Passport Ultra for Mac.

This might be a harder pill to swallow for some, since this drive's overall score is the lowest of the drives we tested, and finding a USB-C to Micro B connector isn't all that hard, so any of the other drives on this page will serve just as well for your Mac, though none will work as well with your Mac out of the box.

In terms of performance, you're essentially getting the same speeds and scores as the WD Elements, with a noteable exception. Copying files internally is incredibly fast on this drive, second only to the Seagate Expansion, but copying to this drive is significantly slower in my testing.

I would argue that the latter is more important, but your mileage may vary. Ultimately, if you're a Mac user and you just want a drive that you can pull out of the box, plug in, and get going, this drive is a good bet, despite its shortcomings.

The best external hard drive for gaming

4. Seagate FireCuda Gaming Drive

The best external hard drive for PC and console gaming


Capacity: 1TB, 2TB, 5TB
Average Price per Terabyte: 41.24
Interface: USB 3.2 Gen 1 (Micro B)
Dimensions: 4.8 × 3.19 x 0.85 in | 122.5 x 81 x 21.5 mm
Weight: 0.59 lb | 0.27kg
Average Sequential Read (as tested): 147.0 MB/s
Average Sequential Write (as tested): 134.0 MB/s

Reasons to buy

Great read and copy-to-drive speeds
RGB lighting compatible with Razer Chroma
Doesn't need external power

Reasons to avoid

1-year warranty
High price-per-terabyte

Modern game consoles and the best gaming PCs have all largely moved on to faster SSD storage, making gaming hard drives much less relevant than they once were, but they're not obsolete just yet, especially if you're dealing with an absolutely massive game library that is too much of a hassle to download and uninstall on a regular basis.

The FireCuda external game drive is exactly the kind of thing you need in a case like this. With up to a 5TB capacity, reasonably fast sequential read speed, and a very fast copy-to-drive speed, the RGB accent lighting with Razer Chroma support is really just an added bonus.

On the downside, this drive has a pretty high price per terabyte, only a few capacity options, and just a 1-year warranty, but it's not the end of the world for a drive like this.

On the performance end, this drive is near the top in terms of sequential read speeds, which is essential for game loading or copy operations to a faster SSD, and copy-to-drive operations, which you'll need if you want to move games on and off the drive with your console or PC's main storage.

Ultimately, it isn't the best value of all the drives tested, but it's better than most, especially if you opt for the 5TB drive, which you can usually find on sale.

The best high-capacity external hard drive

5. Seagate Expansion

The best high-capacity external hard drive for desktops


Capacity: 4TB - 24TB
Average Price per Terabyte: 22.84
Interface: USB 3.0 (Micro B)
Dimensions: 7.04 x 1.65 x 4.92 in | 178.75 x 41.9 x 125 mm
Weight: 2.59 lbs | 1.176kg
Average Sequential Read (as tested): 242.0 MB/s
Average Sequential Write (as tested): 237.0 MB/s

Reasons to buy

Massive capacity
The fastest external HDD I tested
Not too big for a desktop drive

Reasons to avoid

Needs external power

The Seagate Expansion desktop external hard drive is the best-performing HDD I tested, and it's not close.

With scores that nearly double the nearest competition and read and write speeds second only to an external SSD, the Expansion in a seriously robust external drive, perfect for regular system backups thanks to its huge capacity options.

Those capacities also come at a very low price-per-terabyte, making this ideal for housing massive video and other media files in addition to system image files. The downside is that this isn't a very portable drive, owing to it needing to be plugged into an external power source like a wall outlet or a portable battery.

If you're looking strictly for a deskto