The best external hard drive in 2024: top portable storage for all your data

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

There's nothing worse than running out of storage when you need it most, especially if you're out taking more photos or video than a laptop SSD or camera SD card can handle, so having the best external hard drive with you is essential.

If you're looking for a high-capacity drive to store a library of work that the best portable SSDs can't contain, then the WD Elements external hard drive is exactly what you need. With capacities well above what the best portable SSD can match (at least without spending an absolute fortune), this drive is reasonably fast for an HDD and offers incredible capacity per price, making it the best overall external hard drive I've tested this year.

However, if you need the best transfer rate and you don't need it to be very portable, then the Seagate Expansion is one to consider. As a dedicated backup HDD, it offers a huge range of high-capacity drives that will outperform just about any HDD on the market, though it will still fall short of the SSDs in terms of performance.

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 in 2024

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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

Specifications

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