The 9 Best External Hard Drives of 2021

Back up your songs, photos, and files with these external hard drives

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The Rundown
"Weighing less than 2 ounces, the all-metal, shock-resistant enclosure is very portable."
Runner-Up, Best Overall:
ADATA SD700 256GB SSD at Amazon
"This travel-ready external hard drive uses 3D NAND technology to pack tons of space into a small form factor."
"If cost is no concern, we recommend taking a close look at the Seagate Backup Plus Hub."
"Features an internal shock sensor that will make sure your data isn’t corrupted if the drive is jostled while in use."
"comes in 3, 4, 6, 8, or 10TB varieties and offers Western Digital’s own backup solution for Windows users."
"A boon for those looking for true plug-and-play simplicity and freedom."
"The A60 reads and writes super fast thanks to the USB 3.0 cable."
"With its distinctive rubber bumpers and brushed aluminum chassis, the drive offers drop resistance up to 5 feet."
"The WD_Black P10 Game Drive offers reliable performance in a chassis whose outward appearance looks fit for a battlefield."

If you've never taken advantage of one of the best external hard drives, chances are you don't know what you're missing. A great external hard drive is an incredibly convenient way to add a huge amount of storage to an existing machine without having to pry open your case and tinker around in the internals. Even better, they're incredibly portable, and one of the best ways to move huge archives of media, data, and other files, without having to wait hours for terabytes of data to slowly upload and download.

Given the huge capacity of some of these drives, they're also a great solution for backing up your data. Ever wanted to put your complete music discography on a single drive, or backup that aging collection of DVDs still collecting dust on your shelf? Or maybe you want a digital home for all your personal videos and photos to live that, crucially, isn't always connected to the internet and therefore vulnerable? Maybe you just want to archive every game save you've ever made, or move all your old documents off drives that are currently in active use. In any of the above scenarios, an external hard drive is a perfect fix, especially if you're running out of internal space for drives (like if you're using one of the best mini PCs).

External drives are great for laptops too, which often suffer from limited data capacity and to which it's even more difficult to add more storage, so take a look at our roundup of the best laptops currently on the market, or read on for the best external hard drives.

Best Overall: Samsung T5 Portable SSD

Samsung T5 Portable SSD
What We Like
  • Compact design

  • Lightning fast transfer speeds

  • Compatible with multiple devices

What We Don't Like
  • Smaller storage space

  • Outdated aesthetic

  • Pricey

The Samsung T5 Portable DDS is on the pricey side (especially in the larger capacities), but the speed and security it comes with are worth it for those looking for durable performance. Weighing less than 2 ounces, the all-metal, shock-resistant enclosure is very portable. What really makes this device stand out, though, is its super-fast transfer speed, with up to 540 MB/s thanks to the SSD design, making it ideal for transferring giant files like 4K videos. Our tester agreed, raving that its speed was unbeatable. The T5 connects to just about anything, too, with its USB 3.1 Type-C and Type-A ports and works with Windows, Mac, and Android devices. Plus, integrated AES 256-bit hardware encryption ensures the safety of your data.

"It’s about half the size of most smartphones, making it easy to carry around wherever you go." Jordan Oloman, Product Tester

Runner-Up, Best Overall: ADATA SD700 256GB Solid-State Drive

What We Like
  • Military-grade protection

  • Pocket-sized

  • Blazing SSD speeds

What We Don't Like
  • Low capacity

  • Expensive

Most hard drives only claim reliability and durability for mechanical operation over time, but ADATA’s SD700 SSD drive offers more substantial protection. This travel-ready external hard drive uses 3D NAND technology to pack tons of space into a small form factor that allows easy pocket entry and removal. It looks a little wild with the rubber bumper, especially on the yellow model, but that’s key to an engineering job that resulted in IP68 water and dust resistance, plus shock protection from bad drops. 

The ADATA SD700’s storage capacity options top out at 1TB, which may not be ideal for those looking to archive a heavy assortment of multimedia. This makes it a more niche option for those working in the field, or just to protect themselves from their own clumsiness. No matter your use case, you’ll have blazing speeds thanks to its solid-state nature. ADATA claims read and write speeds of up to 440MB/s — about four times as fast as normal hard drives — so you’re waiting mere seconds for files to load. USB 3.1 connectivity works into the equation to maximize throughput speed, and it also provides power over the same cable. There’s a limited three-year warranty to back you up, but with the way ADATA built this external hard drive, you may never need it.

Best Splurge: Seagate Backup Plus Hub 6TB STEL6000100

Seagate Backup Plus Hub 6TB
What We Like
  • Massive capacity

  • Great value for size

  • Solid speed

What We Don't Like
  • A few interrupted connections

  • Must reformat for Mac OS

If cost is no concern, we recommend taking a close look at the Seagate Backup Plus Hub. It houses SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) drives, which allow more physical bits of memory in the same space without decreasing the size of the bits. This drive offers a lot of capacity — available in 3TB, 4TB, 6TB, and 8TB versions — and is fast and flexible.

Best Portability: Toshiba Canvio Advance 3TB Portable Hard Drive HDTC930XR3CA

Toshiba Canvio Advance
What We Like
  • Compact

  • Stays cool

  • Good speed

What We Don't Like
  • Must reformat for Mac OS

Not much bigger than a deck of cards, Toshiba’s Canvio Advance portable hard drive offers 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, and 3TB models to fill with as much media as can fit. It plugs into your Mac or PC with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0. Some customers report seeing around 110 Mbps of throughput when using a USB 3.0 port. It also features an internal shock sensor that will make sure your data isn’t corrupted if the drive is jostled while in use. Users delight in the small size, fast transfer speeds, and cool running temperature of this little portable drive.

Best for Business: WD 8TB My Book Desktop External Hard Drive

WD 8TB My Book Review
What We Like
  • Automatic backup system

  • Fantastic storage capacity

  • Above average transfer speeds

What We Don't Like
  • Needs external power to function

  • Limited portability

The My Book Desktop External Hard Drive from Western Digital, while large, fits the bill for business owners in need of serious space: It comes in 3, 4, 6, 8, or 10TB varieties and offers Western Digital’s own backup solution for Windows users. It’s also compatible with Time Machine for Mac users (though you may need to reformat). It has 256-bit AES hardware encryption for strong security and has both USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports to connect to a wide range of computers. You'll have to rely on the device's wall-based power supply, but according to our tester, that’s worth the trade-off for this spacious vault that holds your invaluable digital data.

"My Book managed a read speed of 190.6 Mb/s and a write speed of 189.5 Mb/s, which is more than above average." Jordan Oloman, Product Tester

Best Storage Capacity: Western Digital Elements 10TB Desktop

WD Elements Desktop
What We Like
  • Tons of space

  • Relatively cheap

  • Simple to use

What We Don't Like
  • Bulky design

  • Needs external power

For documents, music, and a little light gaming, a 2TB hard drive is perfect, but storage needs can bubble in no time if you’re a heavier user, especially when you add 4K video to your bottomless nests of folders. That’s why products like Western Digital’s Elements drive are awesome. The 10TB model costs just over $160, which is not a throwaway purchase, but represents an outstanding value in the realm of supplemental storage. 

This thing is bulky — it weighs a hair over two pounds and measures out like a meaty book — but that bulk may be a positive depending on who you ask. A more spacious interior ultimately allows heat to dissipate faster. There is where you’ll also find the USB 3.0 interface (it still works with USB 2.0 devices, just not as fast) and the 12V DC power port. Flip it around to the front and all you’ll find is a lone LED bulb to let you know everything’s working as intended. We also love that Western Digital shies away from bundling too many auxiliary features, a boon for those looking for true plug-and-play simplicity and freedom.

Best Durability: Silicon Power 1TB Rugged Armor A60 Military-Grade

Silicon Power 1TB Rugged Armor
What We Like
  • Water resistant

  • Drop-proof and shockproof

  • Reasonable price

What We Don't Like
  • A little bulky

Silicon Power’s Armor A60 external hard drive, in 1, 2, or 5 TB versions, is no joke, offering a tough, drop-proof (up to 4 feet) exterior with a shockproof design andIPX4 water-resistant protection. The textured casing is also scratch and slip-proof with a silicon bumper around the sides. The A60 reads and writes super fast thanks to the USB 3.0 cable, which conveniently affixes to the drive itself, and is compatible with Mac and PC devices courtesy of the FAT32 file system. While there might be higher performing everyday options, for photographers and others looking for a device that's adventure compatible, the A60 is a perfect choice.

Best for Apple: LaCie Rugged 2TB Thunderbolt USB-C Portable Hard Drive

LaCie Rugged 2TB Thunderbolt USB-C Portable Hard Drive
What We Like
  • Extremely durable

  • Integrated connecting cable

  • Large capacity

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Easily disconnects

If you’re looking for a Mac-friendly external hard drive that’s built for durability, take a look at LaCie’s Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C portable hard drive. With its distinctive rubber bumpers and brushed aluminum chassis, the drive offers drop resistance up to 5 feet, crush resistance that can withstand up to a 1-ton car, and IP54 water and dust resistance. You’ll never worry about losing your connecting cable, either, as this series of hard drives, available in 2 to 5 TB capacities, have an attached USB cord in your favorite flavor (USB-C, USB-C Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt, or USB 3.0). It's fast, too, with up to 510MB/s with the SSD version and up to 130MB/s with the HDD version.

Best for Gaming: Western Digital Black P10

WD Black P10
What We Like
  • High capacity options

  • Bold rugged design

  • Fast performance

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

One of the most recognizable names in the persistent storage game, Western Digital’s rock-solid Black line is back with a gaming-centric hard drive that promises to support the habit exquisitely. The WD_Black P10 Game Drive offers reliable performance in a chassis whose outward appearance looks fit for a battlefield. The rugged exterior — complete with industrial screws that really drive the look home — lends itself well to travel, so don’t sweat toting it to a friend’s house. 

A standard hard drive in a 2.5-inch enclosure, you can get the WD Black P10 as low as 2TB, but it may be worth stretching up to 5TB if your gaming taste is more eclectic than most. You’ll get HDD read speeds of up to 130MB/s, which doesn’t come close to an SSD’s capability, but should ensure your games’ load times aren’t hindered. Speaking of consoles, Western Digital offers this thing in both generic and Xbox-branded varieties, the latter of which is just as suitable for any other console or PC. The difference is that the Xbox version comes with two months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which offers tons of free games on both PC and Xbox One, including multiplayer access.

Final Verdict

We chose the Samsung T5 Portable SSD as your top choice because of how perfectly it balances speed, price, and convenience. If what you really need is a massively capacious drive to stash a ton of media or games, the My Book from Western Digital and its roomy 8TB has you covered.

How We Tested

Our expert reviewers and editors evaluate external hard drives based on connectivity, capacity, performance, and reliability. We test their data transfer speeds in a variety of scenarios, both read and write, consider their design, setup, and the drives as a value proposition and stress test them to get an initial read on durability and reliability. All of the drives we reviewed were purchased by Lifewire; none of the review units were furnished by the manufacturer or retailer.

About Our Trusted Experts

Patrick Hyde has written about consumer technology for over four years. He's previously worked in Seattle's booming tech industry, and has a lot of familiarity with consumer electronics.

Jordan Oloman has previously written for Kotaku, Eurogamer, IGN, GamesRadar, and other publications. He has lots of background in gaming and tech, and knows a good external hard drive when he sees one. He liked the Western Digital My Passport for its bang for the buck, and the Samsung T5 SSD for its speedy transfer speeds.


Should I buy an external hard drive or a USB flash drive?

If you're looking for a large amount of storage, faster transfer speeds, and don't mind a large form factor and higher cost, an external drive is the best option. For smaller amounts of data in the most portable size available (and even greater plug and play convenience), check out our list of the best USB flash drives.

Are external hard drives good for backing up data?

For long term backup, traditional HDDs, including external options, are the best solution, providing the most data stability and capacity for the price (or for a faster solution at a higher price tag, an SSD, possibly an SSD in an external enclosure).

What's the difference between USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB-C, etc. external drives?

The USB standard an drive relies upon to connect to your devices will determine a number of things about its potential performance, including maximum transfer rate. The transfer ceiling for USB 3.0, for instance, is theoretically ten times higher than 2.0. Letters following a USB designation (like USB-A, USB-B, or USB-C) indicate the physical type of connection; USB-A is the familiar rectangle most associated with the standard, while USB-C is a reversible flat oval.

The Ultimate External Hard Drive Buying Guide

Digital storage is changing. Internal storage drives are getting bigger, cloud storage is getting cheaper, and USB drives are getting less common. But that doesn’t necessarily negate the need for a good external hard drive — in fact, sometimes they’re the best way to go.

Buying a hard drive isn’t as simple as purchasing the first (or cheapest) one you see. There are a number of factors to consider when buying an external storage drive, and the kind of drive you ultimately end up buying could dictate what you’re able to do with it.

So what should you keep in mind? For starters, you’ll want to decide between a hard drive and a solid-state drive, both of which offer some major advantages and disadvantages. You’ll also want to think about drive speed, hard drive format, connectivity, and special protection features.

Before diving into our guide, there are a few terms you should know. You'll most likely be deciding between a drive of multiple gigabytes (GB), or multiple terabytes (TB). One terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes, and one gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes (MB). An MP3 file takes around 3.5MB, meaning that one gigabyte can store around 285 songs. One HD movie takes up around 3.5GB — so one terabyte can store 285 HD movies.

Here’s everything to consider when buying an external drive.

Western Digital My Passport
Lifewire / Quentin Washington 

Storage Size

The most important thing to consider is the size of your drive. We’re not talking how physically big, but rather, how much storage you want. It’s hard to recommend a storage size because it varies from person to person and largely depends on what you plan on storing. A good rule of thumb, however, is to determine how much storage you think you’ll need and then buy a drive that’s double.

If you plan on storing documents only, you probably don’t need much more than 80GB. If you’re storing a small to medium music collection and photos, then up to 256GB should be fine. For storing movies and other video content, the amount you need could range into the multiple terabytes, especially if the movies are in 4K. Ultimately, it’s always good to get more storage than you think you’ll need — even if it means shelling out more money.

Types of External Drives

Next, it’s time to decide on the kind of storage drive you want. There are two main types of external storage drives, and while they ultimately serve the same purpose, the way they store files is markedly different.

Hard Drive (HDD)

Traditionally, if you wanted a storage drive it meant buying a hard disk drive. There are some advantages and some disadvantages to this. For starters, hard disk drives have been around for quite some time, so they’ve become relatively cheap. They function by storing files on an electromagnetic disk that spins around and is read by a moving arm.

Because of those moving parts, they’re much more likely to break with a lot of movement. The speed of a hard disk drive is essentially dictated by how fast the electromagnetic disk spins, and they're generally slower than solid-state drives. (We’ll get more into the different speeds later.) Hard disk drives are the way to go, however, if you want a lot of storage at a cheap price and don’t plan on moving them a lot.

Solid-State Drive (SSD)

Solid state drives do away with the moving electromagnetic disk, and replace it with what’s called “flash storage.” That’s the same kind of storage that’s used in smartphones, RAM in computers, and, these days, many of the internal storage drives in computers. Solid-state storage essentially uses microchips to store information, and as a result, there are no moving parts. That means there’s a lower failure rate, higher speed, and simply better overall performance. In particular, that means they’re great for running software or an operating system off of.

Of course, there is a downside to all of those advantages — and that’s price. Solid-state drives are much more expensive than hard disk drives, and while they are going down in price, you simply can’t get multi-terabyte solid-state drives without spending at least a few hundred dollars.


There are a few things that can affect the performance of a hard drive beyond simply what type of hard drive it is. That’s truer of a hard disk drive than a solid-state drive, but solid-state drives still have performance-related metrics that you should pay attention to.

Seagate Backup Plus Hub 6TB
 Lifewire / Claire Cohen

Transfer Speed

The transfer speed of a hard drive largely has to do with the type of connector that the hard drive comes with. Newer connection standards have higher transfer speeds. The term “transfer speed” is technically a little misleading, as it doesn’t really dictate exactly how fast a hard drive can transfer files to and from your computer. Instead, it tells you how fast a hard drive can theoretically transfer files, based on the connection protocol the hard drive uses.

In the past, the connector was the main limiting factor in how fast a drive could transfer files: USB 2.0 hard drives, in the real world, could transfer data at up to 20 MB/second, while FireWire 800 drives limited things to 85 MB/second. These days, the newer USB 3.0 standard allows for data transfer at up to 460 MB/second, while Thunderbolt allows for speeds of over 1GB/second. Because of that, the connection type isn’t the bottleneck. Instead, the speed is dictated by how fast the hard drive can read and write data, which is referred to as the read/write speed.

Read/Write Speed

Read/write speeds refer to how quickly a hard drive can access the files stored within it — not how quickly those files are transferred to or from a computer. The “read” speed refers to how quickly a hard drive can access a stored file, while the “write” speed refers to how quickly a drive can save a new file. Given the development in transfer protocols, read/write speeds are a much better indicator of how fast your hard drive will be able to actually transfer files than “transfer speed,” especially when it comes to hard disk drives.

Read/write speeds change a lot depending on whether it’s an HDD or SDD, and even within those categories there can be some variation. As mentioned, HDDs have a spinning disk inside of them, and the rate at which drives can access data depends on how quickly that disk spins. Commonly, drives spin at 5,400RPM, or rotations per minute, and drives at that speed generally have a read/write speed of around 100MB/s. Some HDDs have a physical speed of 7,200RPM, which allows for a slightly faster read/write speed of 120MB/s.

Read/write speeds can vary a lot with SSDs, but typically they range from 200MB/s at the slowest to multiple GB per second at the fastest. If all you’re doing is transferring files, then any of those speeds should be more than enough, but if you’re using your drive to store software or your operating system, then something on the fast end might help. In that case, look for speeds of 500MB/s or more.

Western Digital drive
Lifewire / Quentin Washington

Other Features and Considerations

While the type of hard drive and performance of the hard drive are perhaps the most important factors to consider, there are a few other features to keep in mind.

Network Connectivity

While most consumer-level hard drives connect to your computer through a USB cable, some offer network connectivity instead, meaning you can access your hard drive from any computer or phone that’s on the same network. That can be pretty helpful for those who have multiple computers set up and simply want to use an external hard drive to back up files and transfer files between computers.

You can actually give any external hard drive network features by simply plugging it into your router — providing your router has a compatible port on it — but it will require a little more tweaking to get set up properly. Still, special network-connected drives have some advantages. For example, so-called “Network Attached Storage” or NAS, can be used as a media server by apps like Plex, while standard router-connected drives aren’t necessarily able to do so. NAS is a little more expensive, but it’s also often expandable thanks to extra slots in the enclosure, which can accept more actual hard drives.

Check out our guide to the best NAS (Network Attached Storage).


The kind of port or ports that your hard drive uses to connect to a computer is very much linked to transfer speed. Most hard drives connect to a computer through a form of USB. That could mean the now-outdated USB 2.0 or the newer USB 3.0 or USB 3.1, and if it is USB 3.1, it could also connect through the newer USB-C connector, while still using the USB 3.1 standard.

Other ports, which are increasingly less common, include FireWire 400 and FireWire 800, though fewer and fewer computers support those ports, so you should be wary of that when purchasing.

We recommend looking for a hard drive with USB 3.1 support and a USB-C connector, especially if your computer is relatively new. It might mean having to buy an adapter to use with your current computer that may not have USB-C, but it means that when you upgrade to a new computer, your external hard drive will stay usable.

Check out our guide to the best USB-C adapters available.

Seagate external drive
Lifewire / Claire Cohen


External hard drives come in a few different formats, though it’s very easy to reformat a hard drive if you happen to buy the wrong kind. Hard drive formats are largely linked to the operating system that you’re going to be using the hard drive with. Here’s a quick rundown.

NTFS is the most common format for new external hard drives and can be used with Windows computers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as well with any other operating systems. Macs can read NTFS-formatted hard drives, but can’t write to them.

HFS+, which stands for “Hierarchical File System,” is a hard drive format that works much better with Macs, and it’s an improvement on the older HFS format in that it can support larger file types. Unfortunately, HFS+ drives don’t really work with Windows computers. HFS+ drives are the way to go for those who plan on using them with Macs that are running slightly older versions of macOS.

APFS is a newer hard drive format that works with Mac computers, but it only works with Mac running macOS High Sierra or newer. Like HFS+ drives, APFS drives can’t be read by Windows computers.

exFAT is essentially a mix of NTFS and FAT32, an older drive format that’s not used much anymore. There are a number of advantages to exFAT drives — namely that they can be recognized by both Windows and Mac computers, so if you need support for both, it’s worth formatting your drive to exFAT.

If you’re not sure what hard drive format to go for, then go for exFAT, since it works with most operating systems. Most hard drives come in NTFS, though, so you may need to buy one and then reformat it. Keep in mind it's not as easy to reformat a HFS+ or APFS drive if you need to use it on Windows.

Physical Size

The physical size of an external hard drive doesn't necessarily translate to the amount of storage space, particularly with the advent of flash storage. You really only have a say in the physical size of a hard drive when it comes to solid-state drives, as there are standard sizes for hard disk drives. Hard disk drives’ spinning disks can come in either 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch sizes. A standard size for a portable hard disk drive, for example, is the Western Digital Elements 2TB hard drive, which comes in at 4.35 x 3.23 x 0.59 inches. Smaller desktop hard drives come in at around 7 x 5 inches and range up from there.

Solid-state hard drives can be much smaller, making them much more portable. The SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD, for example, comes in a size of 3.79 x 1.95 x 0.35 inches — a fairly average size for solid-state drives.


External hard drives can come with features designed to keep files more secure, which might be important if you plan on using yours to store sensitive information. For example, some hard drives offer password-protection by default, meaning you can easily set a password to keep all your files safe. Some also offer high-level encryption, rendering your files useless to those who don’t have your password, even if they manage to somehow hack into the drive.


A hard drive buffer is essentially storage that exists between the computer and the actual storage in a hard drive. Files stored by the hard drive in the buffer can be accessed far quicker than those stored in the main storage of a hard drive, and the bigger the hard drive buffer — sometimes called the cache — the better the overall performance the drive is likely to have.

Generally speaking, you really only need to care about the size of the buffer if you plan on running software from your hard drive. If all you’re doing is storing files, the type of drive and the speed of the disk will be much more important.

If you do feel as though you need a hard drive with a larger buffer, then we recommend getting one with at least a 64MB cache, though those with 128MB and even 256MB are pretty common, too.


Depending on the type of hard drive and the amount of storage you opt for, the price can vary drastically.

Hard disk drives, as mentioned, are much cheaper than solid-state drives, so if you need a lot of storage at a reasonable price, a HDD might be the way to go. You can expect to pay around as little as 3 cents per GB for a HDD.

On the other hand, it's not uncommon to see a solid-state drive that runs into 25 cents per GB. Lower-capacity SSDs might range up to 40 cents per GB, while 2TB SSDs might come at 20 cents. Of course, that still makes for a drive that costs hundreds of dollars.


While there's a lot to keep in mind when buying an external hard drive, hopefully, this will help you narrow down your selection. Our overall recommendations? If you want lots of storage at a reasonable price, and don’t plan on moving your hard drive around a lot, go for an HDD. If you want fast performance and either don’t need a lot of storage or are willing to spend more, then an SSD is your best best. In both cases, it’s a good idea to find a drive that supports USB 3.0 or later, and a USB-C port might be helpful depending on whether your computer has a USB-C port.

There are a few brands that have built a reputation for quality external hard drives, including Western Digital, SanDisk, and Seagate. It’s often worth buying a hard drive from a reputable brand, as smaller companies may not offer much in the way of support for faulty drives.

Rest assured, no matter what your needs are there’s likely a hard drive out there for you, and hopefully purchasing is a little easier with your new-found knowledge of their key features.

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