Investing in an external hard drive is the easiest way to add extra storage to your Windows PC or Mac. It’s a great way to back up your important files, gain storage capacity for games and media content, or create a complete backup of everything on your computer. After months of research and testing, we’ve found the best external hard drives on the market
Of course, not everyone works at a desk. If your lifestyle requires a portable hard drive, we recommend G-Technology ArmorATD with USB 3.1. It is designed for beating that is used on the go. Impact, water, and dust-resistant, this is a fast external drive designed to stand up to casual abuse.
What you should know about buying an external hard drive
Many people use hard drive as a blanket term for computer storage. But there are some important differences between hard drives and solid-state drives. Traditional hard drives store their data on spinning metal-coated glass disks, called platters. A head rotates around the drive, reading magnetic data or writing new data.
Solid-state drives (SSDs) store data on a computer chip like a camera memory card. The advantage of SSDs is that since there are no moving parts, they are faster and less susceptible to damage from rough treatment. Although they’ve been around for several years now, SSD storage is still expensive compared to the per-gigabyte cost of a hard drive.
The main advantage of hard drives over solid-state is that they cost significantly less. But they are fragile: for example, a hard drive’s platter can be damaged if the drive is bumped. Solid-state drives don’t have this problem.
Know your port
Currently, there is no single standard for connecting an external hard drive to a computer These are the ones you’re most likely to run into:
- USB 3.2 Gen 1: Both generations of USB 3.2 devices use USB-C sockets, which are smaller with rounded edges. If you have an older computer with an old-style rectangular USB port, USB 3.2 devices are still compatible with a suitable cable. Most portable hard drives include cables for both USB-C and USB ports.
- USB 3.2 Gen 2: The latest and fastest standard for how computers connect to external devices like portable hard drives. USB 3.2 devices (like many of the portable hard drives we’ve tested here) can send or receive data at up to 10 GB/s, twice as fast as the previous standard.
- Thunderbolt 3 and 4: Another criterion for how computers connect to devices. Thunderbolt 3 and 4 devices are compatible with USB 3.2 ports, as they use the same USB-C type port.
A word on hard drive speed
Hard drives are complicated; A few things affect read and write speeds when transferring data. This includes data type and connection speed. It’s slower, forever, to write many small files to a drive than one large file Because the computer has to do a lot of background work to keep track of small files.
The connection of the hard drive to the computer can also make a big difference. If you have a USB 3.2 Gen 2 drive connected to a PC with only USB 2 ports, it will take longer to copy data because the PC will limit the transfer speed.
When testing the external hard drives featured in this guide, we used a PC with USB 3.2 Gen 2 and Thunderbolt 3 so we could record the best speeds possible. If your external hard drive is running slower than you think, check to see if it’s plugged into the fastest port available, or consider upgrading your computer.
One of the most commonly mentioned characteristics you associate with a hard drive is its revolutions per minute (rpm). This is a measure of how fast the platter that holds the data on the hard drive is spinning. Some drives run at 5400rpm; Others, at 7200rpm. The latter can read and write data faster due to its high speed.
2.5-inch hard drive vs. 3.25-inch hard drive
There are two types of hard drives that hold data, based on the size of the platter: * 2.5-inch drives are designed for use inside laptops: they are small and don’t require much power. It is these drives that you will find in most portable external hard drives. An external 2.5-inch drive can handle nothing but the power supplied by the USB port it’s plugged into. The downside to using a 2.5-inch drive is that they don’t hold as much data as 3.25-inch drives, with their larger platters. * 3.25-inch drives are designed for use inside desktop computers, they are larger and more power-hungry. External storage drives that use 3.25-inch disk drives, such as the WD My Home, require an external power adapter to operate. A USB port cannot supply enough power to run them.