Fastest external hard drive of 2024

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In an era where computers are increasingly powerful yet often limited in storage capacity, the search for the fastest external hard drive becomes a priority for many. With laptops frequently shipping with only 1TB of SSD storage, an external hard drive is a practical solution for managing files and media more efficiently.

When it comes to choosing between an SSD and an HDD, the decision often hinges on the balance between speed and cost. 'Is an SSD a hard drive?' you might ask. 

While many consider an SSD (Solid State Drive) a type of hard drive, it isn't actually the same thing as a traditional HDDs (Hard Disk Drives), and this SSD vs HDD difference extends to the best external hard drives and best portable SSDs.

Without getting too deep into the weeds, the best hard drives offer larger storage capacities at the cost of speed while the best SSD is substantially faster but don't come in the kinds of high capacities that are common for HDDs. The fastest hard drive, then, doesn’t always mean it will be the best portable storage option, but they are often much more affordable, assissible, and remain an essential way to preserve important files for the long term.

Our guide focuses on a variety of fastest external hard drives, examining internal and external benchmarking methods to evaluate the speeds of different drives, considering both 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch external HDDs where appropriate. However, our scope excludes internal hard drives designed for PCs, laptops, or servers, and multi-unit hard drive hubs like the best NAS devices. We hope to provide you with comprehensive insights into the fastest external hard drive options so you can choose the right storage device that meets your needs, balancing speed, capacity, and cost.


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The fastest external hard drive of 2024 in full:

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We've extensively tested countless external hard drives over the years, and so we've pulled together the fastest external hard drive options on the market today to help you find the right external drive for your needs and budget.

The fastest external hard drive overall

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)
Fastest and biggest external hard drive

Reasons to buy

Up to 22TB of external storage
Cheaper than the previous design
Well engineered hardware

Reasons to avoid

Pre-formatted for Mac
Lacks USB-A cable
No software utilities

External HDDs tend to be much slower than an external SSD, but where hard drives don’t skimp out on is size. While data transfer rates are relatively compromised versus the average SSD, look no further than the SanDisk Professional G-DRIVE Desktop and its maximum 22TB storage capacity and rapid read and write speeds compared with other hard drive options. We’ll be clear – you aren’t taking this hard drive anywhere with you. It weighs 1.4kg and its 41 x 133 x 210mm dimensions mean it’s far better suited to finding a home on your desk than being carried around in your bag.

Nevertheless, despite its relatively cumbersome exterior, and the need for a power supply, the trade-off is blistering speeds of up to 280MB/s for an HDD in the 18TB model, according to the manufacturer. This is thanks to the enterprise-class 7,200RPM Ultrastar drive fitted inside. If you’re looking to expand your desktop storage, it’s a perfect addition to your home office or desk setup. Its 22TB maximum capacity is also the largest for a single drive, rivaled by the Seagate One Touch Hub. While the Seagate might be a tad slower, it’s also much cheaper, so you’ll need to take that into account when making a buying decision too, but there’s no beating the SanDisk for speed.

Read our full SanDisk G-DRIVE review.

The fastest, most portable external hard drive

(Image credit: LaCie)

2. LaCie Mobile Drive

Fastest and smallest external hard drive

The sizes of portable hard drives are, quite understandable, limited by the 2.5in spinning disk situated within them – with manufacturers able to shrink SSDs beyond these confines. Nevertheless, the LaCie Mobile Drive is among the smallest and best-looking hard drives out there, with the 2TB version offering dimensions of 14 x 85 x 118mm. 

Its minimalist design is also complemented by clean laser etching, although the dimensions do expand to 20 x 85 x 118 with the 4TB and 5TB versions. That said, these are still much better than most hard drives out there. It’s not too shabby either as far as speed is concerned. With maximum read and write speeds of up to 130MB/s, it comes in at more than the average 120MB/s you’d expect from a hard drive, making it among the quickest in this category, especially if you’re looking for a small hard drive to use on the go.

What you do miss with the LaCie Mobile Drive is the lack of the rugged qualities normally associated with the LaCie brand. Nevertheless, it’s much sleeker than a variety of external hard drives including the LaCie Rugged Mini, and it’s reasonably priced, too, making it a great option if portability is what you’re looking for in a hard drive.

The fastest, most affordable external hard drive

(Image credit: Western Digital)

3. WD My Passport

Fastest and best value for money external hard drive

If you’re looking for a large external hard drive, there’s little beating the WD My Passport when it comes to byte-for-buck. This hard drive features a 2.5in SMR-based drive with a 128MB cache, and can just about pip the 2TB LaCie Mobile Drive to the post on write speeds, according to benchmarking by Tom’s Hardware. The LaCie, as we’ve covered, isn’t a slouch as far as HDDs are concerned – but, obviously, its average read and write speeds of 127MB/s and 124MB/s aren’t going to match the best SSDs. 

With features such as password protection and AES 256-bit encryption, however, the WD My Passport is one of the best options for the security and price-conscious, with the 5TB option currently on sale for little more than £100 – around £15 less than the similarly priced 5TB WD Elements Portable HDD.

The fastest rugged external hard drive

(Image credit: ADATA)

4. ADATA HD710 Pro

Fastest and most rugged external hard drive

ADATA’s eye-catching HD710 Pro may not be to everyone’s liking in terms of its design, but there’s no doubting its chops on the durability front. Available in a variety of colors, the ADATA HD710 Pro’s durable triple-layered casing is engineered with a silicone material that includes military-grade shock resistance. 

The robust and rugged hard drive is also tested beyond IPX8 requirements, according to the manufacturer, meaning it goes beyond the standard IP68 you’d expect from other rugged hard drives. What does this mean in practice? The ADATA HD710 Pro can be submerged in water for up to 60mins (complete with waterproof covers for the USB port), and it can be dropped from a height of 1.5m. This is complemented by in-built shock vibration sensing technology, with a tiny red light alerting users to any disturbances.

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Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.

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