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Install sizes for games have grown exponentially in recent years, further stressing the importance of having one of the best hard drives for gaming close at hand. Beyond just providing more raw storage for saves, updates, or DLC, investing in the right hard drive can cut down on load times or even increase the boot speed of your PC.
If you're using one of these hard drives to expand the storage of your PS4 or Xbox One, you'll likely want an external drive like the Seagate Game Drive for Xbox or Playstation at Amazon. While these won't give you the benefit of faster load times, they are the easiest by far to install and use. However, if you're a PC gamer, or you're feeling a bit confident, investing in an SSD like the Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1TB SSD at Amazon can increase storage space and help improve performance.
Make sure to look into our guide to installing an SSD in your computer or how to choose an SSD if you're at a loss as to what goes where before investing in one of our top picks for the best hard drives for gaming.
Ultra-fast read and write speeds
Optimized for 4K gaming and 3D modeling
Space saving design
No macOS compatibility
Issues with Samsung Migration software when creating new boot drives
Most modern motherboards have at least one M.2 slot, and you're missing out if you're not taking advantage of it. Not only does using an M.2 drive free up one of your SATA ports, but these drives also tend to perform better than their SATA counterparts. The Samsung 970 EVO Plus SSD is blazing fast, utilizing 4 PCIe 3.0 lanes for up to 3,500MBps read and 3,300MBps write speeds.
While these speeds are only theoretical, in practice you'll still get pretty close to copying and reading data that fast. An SSD can be a life-changer, especially if you're a gamer, and for its mixture of value and performance, the Samsung 970 EVO Plus is one of the best hard drives you can find on the market.
6 times faster than traditional SATA SSDs
Dedicated game mode
Fast file migration
No heatsink for laptop model
No macOS support
If you're interested in the new M.2 style SSDs, but want something a little more affordable, the WD_Black SN750 is a great runner-up. It's available in capacities ranging from as little as 250GB to 2TB to give you all the room you need to store your favorite games, programs, and files. It's optimized for 4K gaming and video production, so it's able to work as hard as it plays. The SN750 boasts speeds up to 6 times faster than their SATA SSD counterparts from Western Digital. It can give you file transfer speeds up to 3,430MB/s for much faster file migration between computers or internal hard drives. You'll also get read and write speeds up to 3,470 and 3,000MB/s, respectively, for almost instantaneous saving and access to your files. With WD 3D NAND technology, the SN750 allows for much denser storage in an incredibly small format; this gives you more room inside your desktop tower or laptop for things like liquid cooling setups, larger GPUs, and secondary hard drives. The SN750 has a finned heat sink attachment available that is designed for optimal heat dissipation to keep the SSD running smoothly even under intense load. The WD Dashboard app lets you customize performance points, enable the dedicated game mode, and tweak settings to keep your SSD in top condition and to get the most out of your storage device.
Free cloning software
Slower than SSD
Moving parts can fail
There's no way we could forget the old reliable Western Digital Blue on our list. These drives are cheap and slow, and that's why they're absolutely perfect for bulk storage. While they're not NAS grade by any means, The WD Blue WD40EZRZ 4TB is fantastic if you just want something to store music, documents, and photos on without taking up precious room on a solid-state drive.
Even though these hard drives are fairly slow at 5,400RPM, that's more than fast enough for incidental files and local backups. These bad boys are unappreciated workhorses, and the amount of PCs still equipped with them as secondary storage is shocking. Chances are if you've purchased a pre-built computer in the last decade, it had one of these, and there's a reason why. With the WD Blue line being both inexpensive and reliable, it's tough to go wrong.
Laptop and desktop form factors
Rescue Data Recovery available
Slower than SSDs
The 2TB Seagate BarraCuda is built to give you tons of storage while being budget-friendly. This traditional hard disk drive retails for under $60, so you can upgrade your current rig or build your first gaming PC without having to spend a fortune on storage. The HDD uses Seagate's multi-tier caching technology and 7200 RPM to load your most-used programs and files faster so you spend less time waiting for your games to launch and more time racking up wins.
When you buy the 2TB BarraCuda, you can opt for Seagate's Rescue Data Recovery service. It's a cloud storage service that backs up your drive's contents so you can recover important files in the event of the hard drive failing or losing data to software issues or computer viruses. The hard drive is available in 3.5-inch form factors for desktops as well as 2.5-inch form factors for laptops.
4TB model is very expensive
Besides being a cost-effective storage option, the Samsung 860 Pro can provide a solid performance boost for your PC or PS4. This SSD is available in sizes up to 4TB, and features a Read/Write speed of 560/530 MB/s. While this pales in comparison to the speeds offered by conventional M.2 SSDs, this is a vast improvement to the transfer speeds seen in older HDDs. The SATA drive may be showing its age somewhat, but it's earned a reputation for being a stable and budget-friendly option for storage.
Furthermore, unless you've invested in an external HDD, a 2.5 inch SATA drive is your only option for upgrading the storage for your PS4. A detailed tutorial is available here if you're curious about how to get started.
Clone software included
Desktop and laptop use
SSDs, or solid-state drives, have finally reached the point of price parity with traditional mechanical hard drives. The SK Hynix Gold S31 1TB is one of the newest SATA SSDs on the market, and at launch, its price of $120 is around what you'd pay for a 1TB HDD a few years ago.
While an M.2 drive is preferred for a primary drive, the Hynix Gold S31 is cheap enough and has enough space to replace a mechanical hard drive for extra storage. Though it's affordable, this SSD is still blazing fast with up to 560MBps read, and 525MBps write speeds. This drive is a great all-rounder and is just as good for installing games on as it is storing documents and photos.
USB power and data transfer
No data recovery service
Games are only getting bigger, and that means that even the 1TB hard drives standard in the most recent consoles aren't enough. While you can use pretty much any external hard drive with the PlayStation 4, why not go with one that matches it? Most external hard drives are squat, ugly things, and hiding them in an entertainment center isn't an option for everyone.
If you're concerned with how cool your PS4 looks, the officially licensed Seagate Game Drive comes decked in black and Sony blue that makes a perfect match for your console. It costs a bit more than an equivalent non-Game Drive external HDD, but sometimes style is worth a little extra.
Custom drive name
Needs configuration upon setup
Whereas the PS4 Game Drive is a bit subdued, the Seagate Game Drive for Xbox One is an eye-catcher. This Xbox green external hard drive looks terrific paired with a console, and even includes the Xbox logo on the casing.
Again, this hard drive is a bit more expensive than its peers, but it's also way cooler looking. The USB 3.0 connection means that games load just as fast as they do on your console's internal drive, and with 4TB, you can hold most, if not all, of your digital library.
AES 256-bit encryption
Built-in power loss immunity
Older Windows and macOS systems may have trouble recognizing the SSD
Keeping your personal data and programs safe from unauthorized viewing and access is one of the most important things to consider when choosing a new SSD or HDD. The Crucial MX500 features built-in AES 256-bit encryption to protect your entire drive from hackers, and it also has integrated power loss immunity to prevent data loss and corruption if the drive suddenly loses power either during a storm or due to hardware failure. The 2.5-inch form factor means this SSD can be installed in either laptops or desktops for an easy storage upgrade.
The Crucial MX500 uses 3D NAND technology to pack more storage in a smaller physical space as well as Crucial's proprietary Dynamic Write Acceleration tech to give you blazing-fast read and write speeds. The SSD comes with Acronis True Image cloning software included to make migrating files and operating systems fast and easy. The drive is compatible with both Windows and macOS computers, so no matter what operating system you use for gaming, the drive will fit right in.
SSD speed with HDD capacity
Rescue Plan available
Pricey at higher capacities
The Seagate Firecuda uses both solid-state and hard disk drive technology to give you a storage device that combines the best of both worlds. It's built with flash-enhanced memory cells for blazing fast read and write speeds as well as system boot times and program loading. With capacities up to 4TB, you can get HDD-style storage for all your games with SSD access speed without the high cost of top-tier SSDs. It uses multi-tier caching and adaptive memory technologies for ultra-fast loading of your most-used files, programs, and games.
It's available in both 3.5 and 2.5-inch form factors so you can customize your desktop or laptop with better, faster storage. The FireCuda is built for top-tier gaming rigs, using more energy efficient circuitry to lower power consumption without sacrificing performance. You can purchase an optional Seagate Rescue Data Recovery plan to protect your games, files, and personal information from corruption or loss due to hardware failure or unauthorized access.
If you're a PC user it's tough to beat the performance and low profile form factor of an M.2 SSD, that's why our top pick is the Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1TB SSD. However, if you're a console user, an external drive like the Seagate Game Drive for Xbox is the easiest, most budget-friendly option.
Taylor Clemons has over three years of experience writing about games and consumer technology. She has written for Lifewire, Digital Trends, TechRadar and her own publication, Steam Shovelers.
Zach Sweat is a NYC-based editor, writer, and photographer with interests in music, technology, gaming, and the internet. Zach has dual degrees in Journalism and Photography from the University of North Florida and has worked with publications like IGN, Void Media, and Whalebone Magazine.
Digital storage is changing. Internal storage drives are getting bigger, cloud storage is getting cheaper, and USB drives are getting less common. 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.
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.
Next, it’s time to decide on the kind of storage drive you want. There are two main types of internal storage drives, and while they ultimately serve the same purpose, the way they store files is markedly different.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The physical size of an internal 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.
Internal 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 a new storage 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 bet. 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 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.