In a time of Gen5 NVMe SSDs and speedy external SSDs, external hard drives still serve an important purpose: deliver unbeatable cost per GB. What you sacrifice in transfer speeds, you more than make up for in affordability and capacity. If you’re hunting for a reliable backup drive or simply a repository to store tons of photos, videos, and other media, these are some of the best external hard drives.
Tip: confused about capacity? Find out how much hard drive space you need.
- 1. Best Overall: WD My Passport 4TB
- 2. Best High Capacity for Professionals: WD My Book 12TB
- 3. Best Budget: Seagate Portable 2TB
- 4. Best for Outdoors: Adata HD710 Pro 2TB
- 5. Best for Mac Users: Seagate Professional G-DRIVE ArmorATD 2TB
- 6. Best High Security: Apricorn Aegis Desktop 4TB
- 7. Best for Gamers: WD Black P10 Game Drive 2TB
1. Best Overall: WD My Passport 4TB
To pick the best overall external drive, I considered factors such as capacity per dollar, portability, design, and features. The WD My Passport 4TB external hard drive offers storage capacity that’s more than enough for the vast majority of users at a fantastic price. Supporting the USB 3.0 (5gbps) interface, it provides a maximum transfer speed of 640 MB/s.
Compared to many of its competitors, including some from WD itself, the My Passport includes additional features, such as hardware-based encryption and a decent software suite, that make it stand out. Even its design is sleek and extremely portable, allowing you to take it with you without a second thought. You can even use it with both Windows and Mac without formatting the drive.
During sale events, the My Passport 4TB often drops to as low as $70, at which point it’s frankly a killer deal. Unlike the best SSDs, external hard drives aren’t known for their transfer speeds but rather for their affordability and portability.
- Impressive value for money
- Sleek and portable design
- AES-256 hardware-based encryption
- Backup software
- 3-year WD warranty
- Not the fastest hard drive
2. Best High Capacity for Professionals: WD My Book 12TB
The average user may need a 2TB or 4TB drive to store the bulk of their media library and other infrequently used data. But for photographers, video editors, and other professionals who require tons of space to store their creative projects, the WD My Book 12TB is more suitable as a high-capacity external hard drive. Like most of the drives on this list, it features the USB 3.0 (5gbps) interface.
WD offers capacities up to 22TB, but the 12TB model offers one of the highest “GB per dollar” figures and should be more than enough to last even the most ardent professionals for more than a few years. Being a full-fledged desktop hard drive, it needs an external power source, but the capacity and features, like hardware-based encryption, make it worth your while.
The WD My Book is far from being portable or lightweight (it weighs over two pounds) but serves a very different purpose. One of the best external hard drives for photographers and creative professionals, it provides massive storage on the cheap and is one of the most robust and feature-rich options available.
- Incredible value for the price
- Variety of sizes
- AES-256 encryption
- Backup software
- 3-year warranty
- Heavy and bulky
- Requires a power outlet
3. Best Budget: Seagate Portable 2TB
If you aren’t looking for a capacious drive and don’t need every single feature available, the Seagate Portable 2TB is a great budget external hard drive to consider. It features Seagate’s stamp of reliability and software, gives you more than enough storage, and comes at a price that doesn’t hurt.
The drive comes in a smooth, sleek, albeit outdated, design, and is extremely portable. The USB 3.0 connectivity will give you transfer speeds similar to other drives, but Seagate’s one-year data recovery service is what sets it apart. Although you can reformat an external hard drive without losing your data, if things go downhill, it’s still good to have a brand-approved service as a backup.
Seagate has been a long-standing player in the storage space, and the Seagate Portable series of drives is one of its most affordable and reliable. You can grab one without thinking twice. Plus, it often drops to $60 and even lower during sale events.
- Great balance of capacity and price
- Seagate’s Rescue Data Recovery service
- 3-year warranty
- Sleek and portable
- No AES hardware encryption
Tip: can’t access your external drive? Fix the external hard drive access denied error on Windows.
4. Best for Outdoors: Adata HD710 Pro 2TB
There are portable drives, and then there are really portable drives — the ones you can drop, splash, bang against a desk, and generally be more careless with. If this sounds like what you need, the Adata HD710 Pro 2TB is one of the most rugged external hard drives you can find. As an added bonus, it has USB 3.1 connectivity, providing faster transfer speeds.
The HD710 Pro comes in many different colors and sizes to suit different tastes. Each of them, though, is IP68 waterproof (60 minutes in 2m of water) and shockproof certified. You also get IP6X dustproof protection to have no worries while using the drive on your travels or on beach days. Despite being extremely durable, the HD710 Pro manages to remain quite lightweight and looks great.
I’ve been using one of these myself for the past year and have had a great experience, both with the transfer speeds and the occasional drop. For the price, the HD710 Pro even throws in hardware-based encryption.
- Waterproof, shockproof, and dustproof
- Wraparound USB cable
- USB 3.1 transfer speeds
- Fantastic value for money
- USB cable is too short
- Tends to get dirty quickly, even indoors
5. Best for Mac Users: Seagate Professional G-DRIVE ArmorATD 2TB
If you’re a Mac user and need a ready-to-go external hard drive for your MacBook or iMac, the SanDisk Professional G-Drive ArmorATD 2TB may be made for you. It’s preformatted in the HFS+ file system for out-of-the-box support with any Mac system. It’s also rugged, due to its aluminum enclosure and internal shock mounts. It can easily survive accidental drops.
The Mac-supported file system isn’t the only perk. The drive also supports USB-C, enabling Thunderbolt 3 connectivity for speeds of up to 40Gbps. There’s even an included USB-C to USB-A adapter if you want to connect to USB 3.0 ports. You can easily set things up by partitioning the drive on macOS, or choose to reformat to NTFS if you have a Windows system.
The IP54 certification offers some sand and rain protection as well. the G-Drive ArmorATD is small and stylish enough to be proudly sported alongside your Mac or Windows laptop when on the go. Plus, the 2TB model gives you decent GBs per dollar, further making this one of the best external hard drives for Mac users.
- Formatted in Mac-supported HFS+ file system
- Thunderbolt 3 support for fast transfer speeds
- Shockproof, dustproof, and splashproof
- Capacities up to 5TB
- No hardware-based encryption
- Requires reformatting for use with Windows
6. Best High Security: Apricorn Aegis Desktop 4TB
If security is of the utmost importance to you, whether to secure your organization’s sensitive data or for use in scenarios where software-based encryption isn’t viable, the Apricorn Aegis Desktop 4TB stands unparalleled in terms of sheer hardware-level protection features. Based on your needs, choose from various capacities, up to 22TB.
The Aegis Desktop has a padlock button panel for secure access to the drive. Its aluminum enclosure hides the hardware responsible for the military-grade AES-XTS 256-bit encryption, protecting it from physical attacks, and will make the drive self-destruct in case of a breach. It also features FIPS 140-2 Level 2 protection and a separate admin mode.
If that’s not enough, the drive will auto-lock if left unattended or the USB connection is severed. If you lose the 7 -or 16-digit PIN, there’s no way to access the drive. But rest assured that even if someone removes the internal drive and tries to read it on another system, the encrypted contents would be unreadable.
- Military-grade AES-XTS and FIPS 140-2 protection
- Padlock PIN-protected
- Software-free setup
- Aluminum enclosure for durability
- Various capacities
- 3-year warranty
- Requires a power outlet
- Not the fastest external hard drive
7. Best for Gamers: WD Black P10 Game Drive 2TB
For gamers, loading times and access speeds are paramount; hence, only the best gaming SSDs are preferred. But, if you’re looking for a place to store a vast game library that you don’t access every day, the WD Black P10 Game Drive offers an impressive combination of affordable storage and killer looks. It also comes in capacities of up to 5TB if you need more storage.
In terms of read/write speeds, you’re not getting anything out of the ordinary. But the aesthetic benefits here would appeal to gamers, as the drive looks like a fancy shipping crate. Plus, it’s compact enough to take it with you when switching between PC, PlayStation, and Xbox.
WD’s reputation in the storage space, especially with its WD_BLACK drives, certainly helps the P10 stand apart from the competition. You can sometimes find it going for as low as $60, so look for sales.
- Decent value for money
- Impressive gamer aesthetic
- Extremely light and portable
- Varying capacities
- Ordinary transfer speeds
- No included USB-C adapter
Good to know: Short on patience? Learn how to enable the quick removal of USB drives on Windows.
With the costs of fast NVMe SSDs at an all-time low, manufacturers of hard drives have had to offer increasingly greater storage for the price to stay relevant. Whether you’re a gamer, content creator, creative professional, or enterprise owner, there’s a great external hard drive for you to store your data and keep it portable. If you’re interested in the performance of SSHDs vs SSDs, you can explore whether hybrid drives could be a third option.
Image credit: Unsplash
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