If you run if you don’t have enough storage space on your laptop, you need to back up your data or store leftover videos that you will edit one day (yes, I swear), an external hard drive can solve your problem. The trouble is that there are hundreds of drive options, from cheap to insanely expensive – which one is right for your needs? We’ve tested dozens of different usage cases to find the best portable hard drives for your workflow.
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Best for backups
I know this guide is for portable hard drives and this is definitely not portable, but submit with me. For incremental backups, which we recommend, portability is not your top priority. And usually your backup software will work overnight, so speed isn’t a big factor either. That’s why the first drive I recommend is this Western Digital Elements.
For more than a decade, I have been using some variations of the WD Elements desktop hard drive to make incremental backups of my data. They are large and require an external power supply, but these are some of the cheapest and most reliable drives I have used. Check prices on larger drives as well; sometimes you can get a drive of 6 or even 8 terabytes for not much more.
Other excellent security disks:
- Seagate Expansion Desktop HDD 4 TB (95 USD): Seagate is another reliable drive manufacturer. It never hurts to have multiple backups, and if you want more backups, use drives of different brands, as this will reduce the chances of both failing at the same time.
- 4 TB Western Digital Elements Portable HDD (105 USD): If you don’t mind spending a little more, you can get a drive of the same size in a more portable form factor that doesn’t require an external power supply. The 4-terabyte model often sells for less than $ 100.
The best portable drive
These Crucial drives are my favorite removable drives. They have reasonable prices (for portable SSDs) and are very fast. The only drive I tested with faster read speeds was the Samsung T7 (see below) and it costs $ 90 more. They are also lightweight, which means they are ideal for when you are working outside the home. I use one to save video clips and it’s fast enough to edit them right away from disk. The only drawback is the plastic construction. Don’t expect many drops to survive.
Best for speed
If money isn’t an item, and only speed matters to you, these Samsung portable drives do everything else I’ve tested. They are lightweight and have metal housings that make them reasonably indestructible. The key is in the price. The cost per gigabyte is the highest in this guide. If you want portable i quickly, you will have to pay.
Another quick alternative: Seagate’s One Touch SSD ($ 300 for 2TB) it pulled very close to a second in our speed tests behind the Samsung T7 and is slightly cheaper.
The best leader anywhere
If you need a drive that can last a lifetime backpack or camera bag, get wet or keep the droplet on a hard surface, OWC drives are your best choice. It’s hard to pick a winner here because there are a lot of solid options, but OWC’s Electron Drive narrowly beat others in benchmark tests. I also like that you can replace the drive inside the aluminum case (it’s easy to unscrew it), which means you can pick up a faster bare SSD in two years and throw it in the Electron.
Another non-destructive drive: I really like Sabrent Rocket Nano SSD (159 USD for 1 TB). It is smaller and slightly faster than the upper OWC, but it has two drawbacks. The first is that it can get very hot. If you’re trying to work with this in your lap, you may be embarrassed. Another issue is that sometimes my PC recognizes me very slowly. I couldn’t find a pattern for this; sometimes it appeared immediately, sometimes it took a few minutes. If those things don’t bother you, this drive is tiny, cheaper, and comes with a padded rubber case.
The best padded discs
The devices guided above are a solid solution for people who need to make backups in the field, such as photographers and videographers. But if you want an extra level of comfort, this padded LaCie train has long been a favorite with passengers. LaCie produces both an SSD version and a traditional spinning version. If speed is not an issue, as with backing up every night, then cheaper spinning it makes more sense. If you’re actually backing up in the middle of a photo shoot or a similar situation where that needs to happen quickly, the SSD version is what you want.
Tips for buying a hard drive
Choosing the right hard drive comes down to balancing three things: speed,, size, i Price. If you make backups every night, then speed and size probably don’t matter. Go for the cheapest drive you can find – to a certain point. The drives don’t last forever, but some definitely last longer than others. I suggest you stick to well-known brands that have a good reputation like Seagate, Western Digital, Toshiba and others presented here. This is based in part on experience and in part on the drive failure data that Backblaze has I have been publishing for years. Backblaze goes through huge amounts of hard drives copying customer data, and his report is worth reading. It’s easy to take: stick to the name you know.
If speed outweighs the price, then you want to look at SSDs. SSDs not only have a speed advantage, they also lack moving parts, which means they will withstand the bumps and drops of life in a bag on the road better than turning the drive. The downside is that they can wear out faster. Each write operation to the SSD – that is, when you save something on it – slightly degrades the individual NAND cells that make up the drive, which consumes it somewhat faster than a rotating drive. How fast depends on how you use it. However, I have several SSDs older than 5 years and during that time I used them for daily backups. None of them had any problems.
When would you like an SSD over a spun drive? The answer is almost always – if you can afford it. But especially for any drive you work with regularly: your main boot drive, an external drive from which you edit documents, and even for backups if you need them to happen quickly.
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