Drop-resistant. Water-resistant. Dust-resistant. Lightning-fast data transfer speeds. Rugged rubberized bumper. Includes reversible USB-C/USB-A cable. Available in 500GB, 1, 2, 4, and 5TB.
Water-resistant but not waterproof.
Convenient auto-backup button. Premium anti-shock protection. Deleted data tracking software tool. Slim. Lightweight. Portable. Available in 1, 2, and 4GB. Made in blue and purple.
Its extremely short connection cable can be annoying.
Extreme drop protection. Water-resistant. Dust resistant. Convenient carabiner loop. Lightweight. Data encryption. Fast read and write speeds. Available in 500GB and 1, 2, and 4TB sizes.
Gets a little warm at times.
Plug and play installation. Compatible with Mac and Windows. Comprehensive data loss prevention software. Sturdy. Blazing-fast data transfer speeds. Available in 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, and 20TB.
Far too large to be a portable external hard drive.
Affordable. Compact. Lightweight. Simple plug-and-play installation. Automatic backup features. USB-C and USB 3.1 connectivity. Available in 1, 2, 4, and 5TB sizes. Made in silver and blue.
Not the fastest drive available.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
We’ve all been there: that moment your laptop or desktop computer tells you it’s running out of hard drive space. In some circumstances, this can be panic-inducing because a lack of space can prevent you from creating or saving new files. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be. If your computer is running out of storage space, you can always add more with an external hard drive.
External hard drives are small, nondescript boxes with extra storage that connect to your computer via one or more USB cables. While they may not look like much, they can be essential tools for keeping your files backed up, and they’re ideal for transporting files that are too large to transfer over the internet.
Most external hard drives look the same, but there are some big differences when it comes to capacity, stability, and speed, so it pays to know what to look for ahead of time.
If you’re unsure which external hard drive to buy, answering these questions can help narrow your search considerably:
Using an external hard drive with a gaming PC or a video game console can be a little tricky because games need fast access to a lot of data and it can be tough to find one that’s up to the task. If you’re buying an external hard drive specifically for video games, search for models that are explicitly compatible with your setup. For example, hard drives that can work with the Xbox One are usually branded or contain explicit “works with Xbox One” language in the product title or description.
The big question with external hard drives is always how big you should go, and we believe that bigger is better. Before you start shopping, take an inventory of how much space you currently have or need so you’re certain to get a drive with enough space. When in doubt, get the biggest drive you can afford.
Portable drives are handy for taking your files with you anywhere, but as you might expect, they’re more expensive and often less capacious than their non-portable equivalents. If you plan on parking your external hard drive somewhere, you can save money by avoiding portable options. On the other hand, if portable storage is key, you might need to adjust your expectations around cost (or compromise and buy a smaller drive).
It can be a challenge to tell different external hard drives apart. Here’s a cheat sheet to the most important differences between models.
The most important feature on an external hard drive is how much storage it has, so prioritize capacity and get the biggest drive you can afford. Just remember that your actual storage will be less than the amount noted on the box (based on the existing files it needs to function), so if you want to know what actual storage different drives have, subtract about 20% from the advertised capacity.
Another key differentiator is how fast a drive can transfer files back and forth. Transfer speed relies on several different things, including the speed of your computer, but the connectivity options are the biggest factor. If you need the fastest external hard drive available, look for one that can connect via USB-C (if you have a spare USB-C port). If you need to work with the older physical USB standard, stick to external hard drives that support USB 3.0, which is faster than, and backward-compatible with, USB 2.0 devices as well.
Taking data with you can be critical, so if you’re looking for a mobile storage solution, you’ll need to limit your search to portable models. Portable external hard drives are a little pricier than their desktop, plug-in equivalents, but they can fit in your pocket, and in some cases transfer data just as fast. Consider your own needs, and if you need to take your data with you anywhere, get a portable external hard drive.
Most basic external hard drives cost between $50 and $100. In this price range, you’ll find drives around the 1TB to 2TB range, which can be perfect for users who typically deal with smaller files. Many of the drives in this price range are portable, so you can still find a deal even if you need to take your data to lots of different places.
If you look in the $100 to $200 range, you’ll see increased capacities and more portable options. Drives at this price typically have capacities ranging from 4TB to 8TB, and often come in multiple colors. If you need enough storage to last you for at least a year or two, you’ll need to spend at least this much.
Between $200 and $300, you’ll encounter external hard drives that have the highest storage capacities. Some models in this range justify the price by including an extra-rugged enclosure, but the truth is that most of them are simply overpriced. Avoid overpaying for your external hard drive, and only spend this much if you absolutely need the space.
A. Yes. External hard drives typically come in OS-agnostic formats, so you can plug them into any computer and start using them right away. In some rare occasions, you may find an external drive that comes in a Windows-only format, but you can use your Mac’s Disk Utility software to reformat the drive to a compatible format. (If you do reformat your drive, do so with caution because the process will completely delete any data saved on it.)
A.Some of them are, but it’s rare. Most external hard drives operate silently, but some models, particularly those that have multiple physical drives inside and are made to plug into the wall, have built-in fans to keep them from overheating. Fans like these aren’t typically very loud, but they’re persistent, leading some users to prefer fanless models.
A. Some external hard drives plug into the wall with an AC adapter to get power, while others can receive a charge over USB. If you find an external hard drive that requires two USB ports, that means one of the connections is used to transfer data while the other transfers power.