5 Best Portable External Hard Drives

Best Portable External Hard Drive
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Updated July 2019

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Image Hard Drive Summary Check Price
Western Digital My Passport Portable USB 3.0 External Hard Drive Western Digital My Passport Ultra This drive is our top choice overall for its winning combination of performance, security, color options, and price, all from a very reliable brand. WD got it right with this one. Best of the Best Amazon
Seagate Backup Plus Slim Portable External Hard Drive Seagate Backup Plus Slim A close second place finish, this Seagate drive is the sleekest of the bunch. We lament the lack of security option, but otherwise this drive is well-built, speedy, and super thin. Amazon
LaCie Rugged USB 3.0 Portable External Hard Drive LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt Pricier than the others, yet offers something the others don't - protection from bumps, spills, drops, and dust. If you're a road warrior and take your data integrity seriously, the LaCie is the one for you. Amazon
Seagate Expansion Portable External Hard Drive Seagate Expansion Portable Drive The most budget-friendly portable drive on this list, we love the simplicity of the Seagate Expansion. Perfect for use with PS4 and Xbox One consoles. No bloated software to deal with, but you sacrifice a security option and longer warranty. Best Bang for Your Buck Amazon
Samsung Portable SSD T1 USB 3.0 1TB Black Samsung Portable SSD T1 The choice for power users, the only SSD on our list offers supremely fast transfer rates. It's also extremely small and sleek. This is everything a portable drive should be… if it wasn't for the very hefty price tag! Amazon

There are hundreds of portable external hard drives on the market, with new ones coming out each month. Narrowing it down to just the single best one is a tough job… but we're here to help! In the chart above, we laid out our 5 favorites so you can get right down to it if you don't feel like reading our in depth reviews.

We named the Western Digital My Passport our Best of the Best pick because it quite simply gets everything right - performance, looks, portability, security - all for an exceptional price. We also named the Seagate Expansion Portable External Drive our Best Bang for Your Buck pick, since we love how no-frills it is, it carries the lowest price of any drive on our list, and has lighting fast speed. The other three on our list are there because they are very solid contenders, and are the best options for more specific use-cases; remember, this is a Best Of list, so we don't recommend anything we wouldn't honestly buy and use ourselves.

Everything You Need to Know

If you are a power user and external storage is mission-critical, you need to know the specs of what you're getting inside and out. However even if you know nothing about storage and are a casual or hobbyist user, it will make your selection much easier if you get to know the basics. Here's everything you need to know and look for:

Hard Disk Drive (HDD) vs. Solid State Drive (SSD): We'll keep it relatively simple - HDDs are the "traditional" hard drives that have been around for a while. They are less expensive, and the internals have moving parts like spinning magnetic platters and a read/write head. SSDs are a newer technology, foregoing moving parts and instead storing data on interconnected flash memory chips. They are significantly pricier, but also more reliable, since fewer moving parts = less chances of failure. Most notably, SSDs are quite a bit faster. All things equal, an SSD might be a better choice since it's more future-proof. That said, the more casual user looking for a portable external drive at a good price with good performance will be just as well served by a HDD from a respected brand.

Reliability: Hard drives have a tendency to, well, fail. Unfortunately, it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. Hard drives have relatively delicate components - especially HDDs with their moving mechanical components. Regardless of what type of hard drive you have, none are resistant to extreme cold/heat, being dropped, submerged, etc. While there is no hard and fast rule, the general consensus is that hard drive failure rates increase after the 4th year you've used the drive. All the external drives we recommend have been rated high for reliability.

Size & Weight: This is a no brainer. After all, we're talking about portable external hard drives! We want to make sure to only recommend a hard drive that is light and relatively thin, so you can easily throw it in your bag or backpack and not have it take up too much room.

Speed: A hard drive's speed comes into play when you transfer files back and forth from it. The faster it is, the less time you have to waste waiting for files to finish reading and writing to the drive. Speed can be measured by looking at the number of Megabytes per second the hard drives are able to write, or simply timing them against each other when transferring the same size file(s).

Capacity: Capacity is simply the storage space available on the hard drive. Lucky for everyone, storage has become much cheaper as time passes, so you can get pretty massive hard drives for reasonable prices. Capacity is commonly measured in Gigabytes (GB). One thousand GBs is a Terabyte (TB). It's a good idea to buy an external hard drive with storage needs greater than what you think you need (think of it like buying a slightly larger house that your family can grow into).

USB 3.0 vs Thunderbolt: These are the two interfaces through which your drive connects to your computer (or PS4/Xbox One). Some external portable drives support both, but the majority support only USB 3.0 (which is also compatible with USB 2.0). Thunderbolt is mostly built-in by default on Macs, though that's likely to change over time. The name of the game is speed; Thunderbolt's max speed is in theory 4 times faster than USB 3.0. So does this mean Thunderbolt is a no brainer? No! And don't be fooled by the marketing. Here's why: Your external drive has its own speed limitation, and both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt offer much faster throughput than what your hard drive can keep up with.

External Hard Drive Interface - USB 3.0 vs Firewire

Brand, Warranty, Customer Service: You want to make sure the portable external drive you get is by a notable brand, and that they offer a solid warranty, and good customer service in case something goes wrong with your product. The two big players in the hard drive game are Western Digital and Seagate. We mostly stick to recommending hard drives by brands that have made a name for themselves crafting very good hard drives.

How We Selected the Winners

When researching the best portable hard drives, we were shocked to see how many old and outdated articles were out there. An article from 2016, or worse yet 2015, misses out on all of the advances and new models that have come out in 2018. We read thousands of reviews on Amazon, analyzed best sellers, read the recommendations of other notable publications, and combined all that with our own experience (we ordered all the hard drives we recommend ourselves).

Top 5 Portable External Hard Drives for 2018

Without further ado, let's have a look at the best 5 portable hard drives we recommend.

Western Digital My Passport

Western Digital My Passport Portable USB 3.0 External Hard Drive

Connection: USB 3.0 (also USB 2.0 compatible)
Weight: 0.50 lb
Size: 3.21 x 4.33 x 0.64 inches (thickness is for 1 & 2TB models)
Warranty: 3 Years
Capacity We Recommend: 2TB
Capacities Available: 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, 4TB

Let's just get this out of the way - if you want the best of the best portable external hard drive, the Western Digital My Passport simply gets most things right, at a very good price point. Now to be fair, the Seagate Backup Plus Slim is a very close contender, at nearly an identical price. We've seen lots of trusted sites go back and forth in their recommendations between these two, so it really comes down to minutiae!

With that out of the way, let's dig in a bit. Starting with the look and feel of the drive, if you care about looks, the WD My Passport Ultra is not exactly the sexiest of the bunch... but it's reasonably sleek looking. You also have myriad colors to choose from, as well as the option of an all-metal enclosure. With the standard enclosure it feels nice to the touch. It's a tad bit heavier than the Seagate Backup Plus Slim, but we're talking about a couple of ounces - barely noticeable. It's also about 0.12 inches thicker - again, these are not differences you will feel in your everyday life (unless of course your everyday life consists of "how light & thin is your external hard drive" competitions ;-) ).

Performance wise, this drive is fast, quiet, and cool. It simply works out of the box for PC, Linux, and Mac (it's formatted with NTFS by default, so if you're using it to backup your Mac, you might need to do a quick reformat). The USB 3.0 connection ensures transfer rates will be fast. The Western Digital My Passport's speed is on par with the Seagate Backup Plus Slim. Some speed tests have one edging out the other just slightly, but not enough to be noticeable. This drive comes with Western Digital software for both PC and Mac (WD Backup, WD Security, WD Utilities, WD Quick View) which aids in making backups and running diagnostics, but truth be told you don't necessarily need it. WD Backup is pretty neat in that it lets you backup data onto your Dropbox account. And if security is a concern, it comes with software to password-protect and lock/unlock the drive.

One of the only gripes from consumers is that the USB 3.0 cable it comes packages with is too short - only about 3 ft.

PRO TIP #1: You'll see other reviews favor Western Digital over Seagate (or vice versa) because one brand's drives tend to crash or fail more than the other. Be weary of these kinds of claims. -All- Most hard drives will fail at one point or another. Sure, there may have been certain runs of specific models in specific years that were more prone to failing, thus giving one of the brands a bad rap. We think this is both unfair and inaccurate. Both WD and Seagate are best in class when it comes to hard drives, so rest assured one's hard drives do not fail more often than the other.

Bottom Line: We recommend the 2TB version of the WD My Passport for most use cases. The 2TB model offers the best Terabyte-per-dollar according to the current prices on Amazon. If you choose this drive you'll be in good company, with many positive Amazon reviews, and accolades from the writers at CNET. With good looks, plenty of storage capacity, security features, 3-year warranty, and excellent read/write speeds, recommending the WD My Passport as our top choice is a no brainer.

Check Price on Amazon

Seagate Backup Plus Slim

Seagate Backup Plus Slim Portable External Hard Drive

Connection: USB 3.0 (also USB 2.0 compatible)
Weight: 0.3 lb
Size: 4.5 x 3 x 0.5 inches
Warranty: 2 Years
Capacity We Recommend: 2TB
Capacities Available: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB

It was hard to choose an overall winner between the WD My Passport Ultra and the Seagate Backup Plus Slim. For all intents and purposes and for most users, they are nearly identical portable external hard drives. Instead of rehashing everything, we'll focus on what's different.

Aesthetically, as its name implies, the Seagate drive is very slim at about half an inch. The drive is housed in an anodized aluminum metal case, which comes in four color options - black, silver, blue, and red (we opted for the black one and it looks great). Of all the drives we recommend, the Seagate Backup Plus Slim is arguably the sleekest looking one.

With USB 3.0 connectivity, you just plug this thing in, and you're good to go (it comes packaged with a USB cable). The file system it comes formatted with by default is NTFS, so you'll need to reformat before using it with your Mac. Some users have reported that the Seagate Dashboard software that comes pre-loaded onto the drive is a bit clunky to use. This is a minor gripe, since using the software is very much optional. The one thing we're really missing with the Seagate Backup Plus Slim is the ability to password-secure the contents of the drive. Without this layer of security, if you happen to lose the drive, anyone could access the contents of it by simply plugging it in.

Speed and performance-wise, this drive performs on par with the WD My Passport Ultra.

Note: The Seagate Backup Plus Slim comes with a two-year 200GB subscription to Microsoft OneDrive online storage. We don't necessarily see this as a perk, since 1) if forces you to go with Microsoft OneDrive as opposed to something like Dropbox, and 2) after the two years, you'll have to pay to continue using the service.

Bottom Line: The 2TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim is a fantastic portable external drive worthy of your hard earned money. If you don't take our word for it, check this thing out on Amazon - it has a whopping 5000+ users reviews and a 4.5 star rating! Admittedly it's a bit lighter on features than the WD My Passport Ultra; it doesn't have security options to password protect, and the warranty is 2 years as opposed to WD's 3 years. Still, these are relatively minor complaints against an otherwise speedy, good-looking drive.

Check Price on Amazon

LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt

LaCie Rugged USB 3.0 Portable External Hard Drive

Connection: USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt (also USB 2.0 compatible)
Weight: 0.77 lb
Size: 5.5 x 3.5 x 0.9 inches
Warranty: 3 Years
Capacity We Recommend: 1TB
Capacities Available: 1TB, 2TB, 4TB

LaCie has made a name for itself in the portable external hard drive space by making very good drives that can withstand a bit of a beating! With its distinctive bright orange protective cover, the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt is rated as 6.6 ft Drop Resistant, and IP 54 Water & Dust Resistant, making it the ideal choice if you're likely to put stress on your drive, or find yourselves in environments where getting the drive wet or dropping it could compromise your precious data!

The LaCie's resistance comes at a steep price, coming in at effectively twice the price as the Western Digital and Seagate, for only half the storage. We categorize the LaCie as more of a specialty drive, and for home and office use, there's not really a need to spend the extra money for it.

Don't get us wrong - it's a fantastic drive overall, there's nothing really wrong with it. Transfer speeds are plenty fast. It has the option of being connected via Thunderbolt interface, which is theory is much faster than USB 3.0. Be careful of the marketing hype, though. The transfer speed is not all that different than USB 3.0, since the hard drive itself is the speed bottleneck, not the USB 3.0 interface. The LaCie also comes with AES 256-bit encryption, and using the included LaCie Private Public software, you can password protect your precious data.

As far as the look and feel goes, the bright orange protective cover is an acquired taste - we personally think it looks very cool. It's not a shock that it's both thicker and heavier than the Seagate and Western Digital. It makes up for that by being much more rugged and resistant to being thrown about and dropped, so rest assured your data is safe as you shove this drive in your travel bag. The ruggedness of the drive makes it the best choice for people who are frequently on the road and expose their drive to the elements. The road warrior lifestlye of famous music producers and DJs comes to mind, as can be seen in this photo posted by music producer and DJ Audien, or Russian musician Arty in this Instagram.

Bottom Line: The LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt comes at a rather steep price. Make sure the ruggedness of the drive (and the speed boost of the Thunderbolt connection) is something you truly need before putting down the cash for it. Having said that, if you need your data with you on a portable external drive at all times, often find yourself in extreme conditions like jungles and deserts, and/or much like a traveling DJ you're prone to knock around your drive and spill liquids on it, the LaCie is probably the perfect choice for you.

Check Price on Amazon

Seagate Expansion Portable External Drive

Seagate Expansion Portable External Hard Drive

Connection: USB 3.0 (also USB 2.0 compatible)
Weight: 0.4 lb
Size: 4.8 x 3.2 x 0.6 inches
Warranty: 1 Year
Capacity We Recommend: 2TB
Capacities Available: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 3TB

We wanted to make a recommendation that not only was the Best Bang for the Buck choice for external portable hard drive, but one that had killer speed and would serve as a nice alternative option to the WD and Seagate drives we recommended above. The Seagate Expansion Portable External Hard Drive fits the bill very nicely.

What we like about the Seagate Expansion is how no-frills it is. For better or worse, it doesn't come with any fancy-schmancy Seagate backup software (we tend to prefer this lean approach). One small downside is that its warranty is only 1 year. We really like the way it feels and looks - kind of a slick plastic feel. It's reasonably well-built, but it certainly can't take too much of a beating like the LaCie Rugged can.

The Seagate Expansion is very well suited not just as a portable backup drive for your laptop, but also a drive for use with your PlayStation 4 or Xbox One console, as many of the reviewers on Amazon have done. Just like the others, it comes formatted with NTFS for immediate use with a Windows computer (you'll need to do a quick reformat of it to use it with a Mac). Perhaps surprisingly, in speed tests the Seagate Expansion actually edges out the three drives we covered above. Not by a large margin, but hey, every little bit counts!

Bottom Line: Does it have fancy bundled software? No. Encryption and password protection? Nope. Is it an inexpensive, thin, sharp looking, fast, no-frills drive to fulfill your backup and/or PS4 and Xbox needs? Absolutely! If its simplicity is something you see as a plus, or you just need something to plug into your videogame console and have it just work, this is the external drive you should get.

Check Price on Amazon

Samsung T1 Portable SSD

Samsung Portable SSD T1 USB 3.0 1TB Black

Connection: USB 3.0 (also USB 2.0 compatible)
Weight: 0.07 lb (1.1 oz)
Size: 2.8 x 2.1 x 0.4 inches
Warranty: 3 Years
Capacity We Recommend: 500GB
Capacities Available: 250GB, 500GB, 1TB

We felt compelled to include a premium portable external drive on this buyer's guide, and we think there is none better than the Samsung T1 Portable SSD. This drive is seriously tiny, and seriously fast!

When you first take it out of the package you'll marvel at how sleek, tiny, and light this thing is. It's almost more in thumb drive territory. There's some glossy, black, shiny carbon-fiber stuff going on here, and it's marvelous. A small 5-inch USB cable is included, which you'll use to connect the drive to a USB 3.0 port (if all you have is USB 2.0, you shouldn't spend the money on this drive, since you'll miss out on the speed benefits). When you plug it in, a minor annoyance is Samsung sort of forces you to use their included software to format and set up the drive. The DIYers might want to look at this helpful review that details how to make this SSD work without the Samsung software.

Performance-wise, this thing screams, largely due to the fact that it's a Solid State Drive. While it's mostly agreed upon that all hard drives will sooner or later be Solid State, as of today they are still pricier than their HDD counterparts. Make sure you'll really benefit from the Samsung T1's speed for whatever your applications are. If you just need a drive to passively backup your laptop, go with our top recommendations (WD and Seagate), and not this one.

In terms of features, the T1 supports the strongest encryption standard available today, AES 256-bit. It borrows a lot of its technology from the best-selling Samsung 850 EVO Internal SSD, which is a really good thing considering how popular and extremely fast the 850 EVO is.

Bottom Line: The Samsung T1 is the only SSD we've included in this buyer's guide - this is by design, since we want you to get a great drive and not spend a ton of cash. Because of this, we strictly recommend this drive for power users on the go (or users with cash burning a hole in their pocket). If you're working with audio or video, or regularly transfer very big files, the Samsung T1 is your best choice.

Check Price on Amazon

Did we miss something? Tell us your favorite portable external hard drive in the comments below.

About the authors
Michael Pierce

Michael bought his first guitar, a Fender California Series Stratocaster in Candy Apple Red, in 1998. He likes rock of all types, from classic to punk to metal. Michael co-founded Equipboard to satisfy his curiosity around what gear his guitar heroes use. Read more

Giulio Chiarenza

Giulio co-founded Equipboard with his friend Michael. He plays the piano, guitar, drums, and had a brief stint signed to a label as an electronic music producer. Read more

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