The best external hard drives are just the ticket if a small-capacity solution just won’t cut it and your budget is limited. Storage solutions like USB flash drives and microSD memory cards are just not robust enough for handling large files and faster read/write speeds. On the other hand, while portable SSD drives and secured drives are more durable and a lot faster, they also tend to be more expensive.
Offering an effective and portable backup solution for carrying your files wherever you go, the best external hard drives are a great way to save, secure and protect all your files and folders. The fact that they are typically affordable for a lot more storage space makes them an even more cost-effective solution for everyone. In other words, they hit that sweet spot between cost and practically.
Giving you more storage space in a robust or rugged package at much a lower price than SSDs, these are the best external hard drives in 2020. Whatever your storage needs are, you’ll find something on this list that will suit them.
- We've also featured the best external Mac harddrives.
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Best external hard drives on Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday
With Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday coming soon, the best external hard drives are expected to get some massive price cuts, just like in previous years. This means that you can purchase one of these external hard drives for much less, saving you even more money to use for something else on your shopping list.
Whether you’re buying one for your laptop or planning on gifting one during the holiday season, it would be wise to wait until these major deal events of the year. With Amazon Prime Day likely to arrive sometime in mid-October and Black Friday rolling around the end of November, you won’t have to wait for long.
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Best external hard drives at a glance
- Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC
- Western Digital My Passport Ultra 4TB
- Samsung T5 SSD
- Adata SD700
- WD My Book Duo 4TB
- Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt
- Seagate Backup Plus Desktop Drive 5TB
- Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro
- LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive 4TB
- iStorage diskAshur 2TB
If you’re looking for the best external hard drive that will save you a ton of cash, 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!
Read the full review: Buffalo MiniStation Extreme
- This product is only available in the US at the time of this writing. UK and Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro
The latest generation of the Western Digital My Passport Ultra range of external hard drives is here, coming in sizes from 1TB to 4TB, and they’re among the best external hard drives out there. It features cloud storage and 256-AES encryption, along with WD's own software suite.
It is a good performer when it comes to data transfer speeds but doesn't come near the top of the leaderboard. 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 consider.
Read the full review: Western Digital My Passport Ultra
If you'd rather have an external hard drive that takes advantage of solid state drive (SSD) speeds, then the Samsung Portable SSD T5 is certainly among the best external hard drive for you.
Samsung has an excellent reputation for external SSDs, thanks to products like the T3, and the T5 builds on its predecessor by adding a fast USB Type-C connection that ekes out every last drop of performance from the solid state drive inside. Of course, it's also backwards compatible with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 if your PC doesn't have USB Type-C. Be prepared to shell out a bit more cash, but it’s well worth it.
Read the full review: Samsung Portable SSD T5
The Adata SD700 will suit those looking for a rugged storage device that can provide ample capacity without costing too much. It performs incredibly well and remains the only SSD we’ve seen that is IP68 rated.
Thanks to the solid state drive that resides in this external hard drive, it's a lot faster than external drives that use traditional spinning hard drives, which means that you're getting great transfer speeds as well as rugged protection.
It also comes in capacities up to 1TB, so you don't have to worry about missing out on storage space just because it uses an SSD - this drive really does hit all the right notes.
Read the hands-on review: Adata SD700 External SSD
If you're looking for the absolute largest capacity external hard drive, then the WD My Book Duo 4TB is the one to get, offering a sizeable 4TB (you can also get versions with up to 20TB) of storage space over two hard drives.
You might sacrifice some of the ample storage space, if you don’t mind losing some, so 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).
Read the full review: WD My Book Duo 4TB
If you have a device with a Thunderbolt port, then this is a great option, as it provides twice the speeds of standard USB 3.0 drives. It's also not especially expensive compared to other Thunderbolt drives. The price is kept down due to its use of a traditional hard drive, rather than an SSD, which limits the potential speeds. It also comes with a USB 3.0 port for people without access to Thunderbolt.
Read the full review: Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt
- This product is only available in the US and UK at the time of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the WD MyBook Duo
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.
Read the full review: Seagate Backup Plus Desktop Drive 5TB
Even if we had mixed feelings on past versions of the My Passport Wireless, the 2016 “pro” variant of the external HDD restores faith in the Western Digital name. The design, for one, has been overhauled and no longer resembles the My Passport Ultra or 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, don’t worry about getting it confused with anything else. For photographers, this will make the Wireless Pro stand out.
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
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
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
Choosing the best external hard drive
When buying the best external hard drive for your needs, you need to make sure you get a device that can safely and securely store your important files. Reliability is of the utmost importance here, as you do not want to buy an external hard drive that fails on you - making you lose all your important backups.
The best external hard drives will also be quick - either because they use SSD (Solid State Drive) technology, or because they use the latest connectivity technology, such as USB-C.
The biggest deciding factors when it comes to data transfer rates is the connection the drive uses, and whether it is a standard hard drive or a solid state drive (SSD). Many external hard drives utilize USB 2.0 connections. However, for faster speeds, you'll want USB 3.0 or ideally the newer USB Type-C connection. You'll also need to ensure your PC or laptop also has a USB Type-C port.
You'll also need to think about how much storage space you need. The best external hard drives offer a range of storage space. We'd recommend 500GB to start, as that gives you plenty of space to store your files without costing too much money. That’s certainly good enough for most users.
However, if you’re dealing with large files – such as high-resolution photos and videos – in your typical workload, you should consider buying one with a bigger storage space. Luckily, many external hard drives offer terabytes (TB) of storage space for not much more money.
Buying the best external hard drive for your needs involves figuring out how much space you need. You don't want to buy an external hard drive that's too small, end up running out of space and buying another one. However, you also don’t want to pay over the odds for storage space you'll never need.
In addition, the best external hard drives must also be dependable and rugged, so you can safely store your data without worry. The best external drives must also be light enough to carry in your bag, with large capacities so that you can keep your data safe when traveling.
- We've also featured the best rugged hard drives.
Gabe Carey and Matt Hanson also contributed to this article