Investing in an external hard drive is the easiest way to add extra storage to your Windows PC or Mac to back up up your important files, adding extra capacity for games and media content, or creating a complete backup of everything on your computer.
After a month of research and testing, we can tell you that the best external hard drive for most people is the Western Digital My Book(available at Western Digital), which is available in a wide range of capacities from 3 to 18 terabytes. During testing, we found that it was capable of rapid, reliable data transfers. As it ships with software that will automatically backup your important files whenever you plug it in, it’s a perfect addition to any home office.
However, not everyone works at a desk. If your lifestyle necessitates a portable hard drive, we recommend the G-Technology ArmorATD (available at Amazon), which is designed to take the beating that comes with being used on the go. Impact, water, and dust-resistant, it’s a fast external drive designed to stand up to casual abuse.
These are the best external hard drives we tested, in ranked order:
Western Digital MyBook
LaCie D2 Professional
G Drive USB-C
LaCie Mobile Drive
Seagate Portable Drive
Toshiba Canvio Flex
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Western Digital My Book (4 TB)
G-Technology ArmorATD Portable Hard Drive (1T)
How We Tested
What You Should Know About Buying an External Hard Drive
The Western Digital My Book is a high-capacity external hard drive that offers a fantastic balance of speed, storage, and features. It’s ideal for storing movies, music, and other media in a sturdy package that’ll take up minimal space on your desk.
We tested the 10 TB version of the My Book, however, it’s also available in other capacities, ranging from 3TB to 18TB. While it wasn’t the fastest hard drive tested for this guide, its read/write speeds are still significantly faster than average. During testing, it speedily copied our 2.7GB test file in just under 16.3 seconds. It comes with a USB 3.0 cable, but no USB-C cable. So, if you plan on connecting it to a MacBook Air, for example, you will need to invest in a dongle in order to do so.
While the My Book can be used without any additional software, Windows 10 users will be pleased to know that it comes with WD’s Backup Windows software, which automatically backs up selected data when you connect the drive to your computer. While no software is provided for Mac users, it is compatible with Time Machine, making backups a breeze.
You should know that, unlike the majority of the external hard drives in this guide, the Western Digital My Book is designed to remain on your desk and needs to be plugged into a power outlet in order to operate. Those interested in a bus-powered (powered by a USB port) external drive, should consider our pick for Best External Hard Drive.
The G-Technology ArmorATD is a reasonably fast external hard drive in a compact, rugged package. Available in capacities of up to 5TB, this 2.5-inch portable hard drive includes a rubber sleeve designed to protect it from being dropped from a maximum height of five feet, along with a cover that seals the USB-C port on the bottom of the drive from dust and water splashes. Its durability and compact size make it an ideal companion for anyone that does their computing on the go.
The ArmorATD has a USB-C port built into it that supports transfer rates of up to five gigabits per second. As it comes with USB-C and USB 3 cables, it can be used with pretty much any computer. The drive is powered over the same USB port, so it doesn’t need any extra power cables or adapters.
During testing, we found that the ArmorATD took just over 24 seconds to copy our 2.7GB test file to the drive. This makes it less than ideal for anyone looking to use it for gaming, editing video files or, quickly transferring large files from the drive to a computer. However, it'll get the job done if used for storing documents, photos, or as a library drive videos from your iTunes or Plex movie collection.
I'm Richard Baguley. I’ve been testing and writing about technology since connecting to the internet using a 300-baud modem. I’m a freelance writer whose work has appeared in places such as Wired, CNet, Tom's Guide, and, of course, Reviewed. I am also the former VP of Editorial Development at Reviewed, where I developed a lot of the testing that is still in use to this day. Suffice to say, I’ve tested lots of stuff and know how to put it through a torture test that identifies its true performance.
When testing hard drives, we looked at three aspects of performance: speed, portability, and build quality.
Speed is important because the faster the drive can read and write data, the quicker it backs up your data or copies your files. We looked at speed by using a series of hard drive testing programs, including the Data Drive benchmark of PC Mark 10, Crystal DiskMark, and our own drive test. This test involved timing how long it took to copy a large 2.7GB file (in this case, the installation file for the Ubuntu OS) from the fast internal SSD on my MacBook to the external hard drive being tested. This file transfer represents a good indication of how long it will take to copy a large movie file or a collection of music files to the disk.
For portability, we considered each external hard drive’s weight, cables and other features that make a drive easier, or more difficult, to carry around. Finally, we consider each drive’s build quality, paying attention to how robust the drive is, and whether it’s designed to be set up at a workstation or tough enough to handle casual abuse while being carried around.
What You Should Know About Buying an External Hard Drive
Many people use hard drive as a blanket term for computer storage. However, there are some important differences, between hard drives and solid-state drives:
Hard drives store the data on a spinning metal-coated glass disk (called the platter) with a read-write head that moves around the drive, reading the magnetic data or writing new data. The biggest advantage that hard drives have over solid-state drives is that they cost significantly less, per gigabyte. However, they're comparatively fragile: the platter of a hard drive can be damaged if the drive is bumped or moved quickly while operating. Solid-state drives do not have this issue.
Solid-state drives (SSDs) store data in a computer chip, like a camera memory card. The advantage of SSDs is that they are faster and less liable to be damaged from rough treatment because there are no moving parts. While they have been around for a number of years now, SSD storage is still expensive, in comparison to the per-gigabyte cost of a hard drive.
Know Your Ports
Currently, there's no single standard for connecting an external hard drive to a computer. These are the ones that you're most likely to run into:
USB 3.2 Gen 1: USB 3.2 devices of both generations use USB-C sockets, which are small with rounded edges. If you have an older computer with old-style rectangular USB ports, USB 3.2 devices are still compatible with an appropriate 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 such as portable hard drives. USB 3.2 devices (like many of the portable hard drives we tested here) can send or receive data at up to 10 GB/sec, twice as fast as the previous standard
Thunderbolt 3 & 4: Another standard 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 Speeds
Hard drives are complicated products, and there are a number of factors that can affect how quickly data can be read from or written to the drive. These include the type of data and the speed of the connection. It is slower, for instance, to write a lot of small files to a drive than a single large file, because the computer has to do a lot of background tasks to keep track of the small files.
The connection that the hard drive has to the computer can also make a big difference. If, for instance, you have a USB 3.2 Gen 2 drive connected to a computer that only has USB 2 ports, the data will take longer to copy because the USB 2 port will limit the speed at which data can be sent. While testing the external hard drives featured in this guide, we used a computer that supports USB 3.2 Gen 2 and Thunderbolt 3 so that we could see the best speeds that the drive is capable of. If your external hard drive is running slower than you think it should, check that it is plugged into the fastest port available, or consider upgrading your computer.
One of the most commonly mentioned features you’ll see associated with a hard drive is its revolutions per minute (rpm). This is a measure of how fast the platter that holds the hard drive’s data spins around. Some drives run at 5400rpm, others at 7200rpm. The latter can read and write data faster because of the higher speed.
2.5-Inch Hard Drives vs. 3.25-inch Hard Drives
There are two types of hard drives, indicated by the diameter of the hard drive platter that holds the data:
- 2.5-inch drives are designed for use inside laptops: they are small and don’t need much power. It’s these drives that you’ll find in most portable external hard drives. An external 2.5-inch drive can operate on 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 can’t hold as much data as a 3.25-inch drive, with their larger platters, can.
- 3.25-inch drives were designed for use inside desktop computers, They are larger and more power-hungry. External hard drives that use 3.25-inch disks, such as the WD My Home, require an external power adapter in order to operate: a USB port simply can’t deliver enough power to run them.
Other External Hard Drives We Tested
G-Technology G-Drive USB-C (4 TB)
The G-Technology G-Drive USB-C is a fast desktop-class external drive, available in capacities of up to 18TB. It comes packed into a tough aluminum case that will look great alongside a Mac or metal-clad PC. We found that the G-Drive USB-C was the fastest drive in many of our tests, taking just 11.5 seconds to copy our 2.7GB test file. We loved that its USB-C cable can also be used to power a laptop, making it just a little bit easier to keep your work area looking neat and tidy.
You should know, however, that the G-Drive USB-C can be a little noisy, making an audible whirring sound when it spins up after sitting idle for a while. Additionally, Like the other desktop-class external hard drives in this guide, it requires an external power adapter in order to be used.
The LaCie D2 Professional was the fastest portable hard drive we tested, copying our 2.7GB test file in just over 13 seconds. When you are working on tasks that involve reading and writing lots of data such as 4k video editing, the kind of speed offered by the D2 can make your workflow easier and smoother.
Available in capacities up to 14TB, the D2 is a desktop-class external hard drive that requires an external power adapter in order to use. Frequent international travelers will be pleased to know that the drive comes with six electrical plug adapters making it possible to use, no matter which continent you find yourself on. The D2 can be connected to your computer using eittheir its included USB-C or USB 3 cables.
Th D2's drive is designed to spin down when it is idle. This means that there is a slight pause when the drive starts back up, which could create a hiccup in your workflow and, in some cases can cause your computer to momentarily freeze while the drive's contents are being re-registered.
The LaCie Mobile Drive is a small, well-designed USB-C bus-powered external hard drive that offers relatively limited storage space, in a pocket-sized package.
It’s available in capacities ranging from 1TB to 5TB and isn’t much bigger than a pack of cards. Its sleek aluminum drive enclosure isn’t much larger than a pack of playing cards and comes in three colors: 2.5-inch drive is wrapped in a sleek angular aluminum case that comes in three colors: moon silver, silver, or space gray. This external hard drive comes with LaCie Toolkit, which allows users to format their drive to be used with Mac OS or Windows 10, as required.
The LaCie Mobile Drive comes with a 2-year rescue recovery service. So, if the drive fails while under warranty, LaCie will do its best to recover your data. We didn’t have the opportunity to test this service, but it is nice to know it is there, should you need it.
You should know that during use, the Mobile Drive’s case gets a little warm as it has no ventilation holes built into it. However, it never became hot to the touch. While this may not be a worry for most users, those looking for an external hard drive to use in hot environments may want to consider a different option.
The performance of the Seagate Portable Drive drive isn’t anything to write home about: it took over 26 seconds to copy our 2.7GB test file to it. That’s not much slower than the G-Technology ArmorATD. However, the ArmorATD's outstanding build quality makes it far more loveable than the Seagate. The drive's slower transfer speeds make it less than ideal for regularly shuttling large files back and forth between the drive and your computer. However, if you’re looking for an external hard drive to back up your computer, it could be an ideal device: Simply schedule your computer’s backup to start overnight and, by the time morning rolls around, the operation should be complete.
You should know that during testing we were unimpressed with the build quality of this drive’s enclosure. If your hardware is routinely subjected to casual abuse or, if you have a serious case of butterfingers, consider a more robust drive, like the G-Technology ArmorATD or Adata HD830, instead.
The Toshiba Canvio Flex is a small, portable drive that will fit easily into a pocket. The performance of this drive isn’t much to write home about, but it offers great capacity for the price. We found that it took just over 24 seconds to copy our 2.7GB test file to this drive. As with the Seagate Portable Drive, the Canvio Flex's lack of speed makes it an adequate solution for the storage of small files or slowly backing up a computer.
We were unimpressed by the fact that Canvio Flex comes equipped with an older style Micro-B USB 3 port. Micro-B USB 3 has a wider, more complicated plug than more recent connections do, which can make it more prone to breaking. This may become an issue if you frequently plug and unplug the drive from its cable. Toshiba describes the drive being as USB-C ready. This means that you can use it with its included USB-C to USB 3 Micro-B cable to connect to USB-C equipped computers. However, because of the USB 3 Micro B connection, you won’t get the fasts speeds that a native USB-C connection can provide.
Like the Western Digital My Book, the Fantom GForce 3 is a large, 3.25-inch desktop-class drive enclosed in a portable case. The case is made of aluminum and includes a clip-on stand that allows the drive to sit horizontally or vertically on a flat surface. As with the other desktop-class external drives in this guide, the GForce-3 requires power from a wall socket in order to work.
The GForce 3 was decent took roughly 14.5 seconds to copy our 2.7GB test file. That’s a little faster than our Best Overall pick. However, we thought it unfortunate that the only connection that the GForce 3 can use is USB 3.0. This means that, if you use a modern laptop that only includes USB-C ports, you are going to need an adapter.
With a tough enclosure consisting of a rubber sleeve and a robust aluminum case, the ADATA HD830 can take more of a beating than a typical external hard drive can. ADATA claims that the H830 is tough enough to stand being dropped from four feet, submerged in water for 120 minutes, and covered in dust—provided its hard drive’s platters aren’t spinning at the time. In order to ensure protection against water and dust, the plastic cover that seals the H830’s USB 3 Micro-B port has to be closed. This cover feels like a weak link, though: it is attached to the drive case by a thin piece of plastic and could be easily torn off.
Unfortunately, its ruggedness isn’t enough to make up for its performance: it took a lengthy 28.3 seconds to copy our 2.7TB test file to the drive.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.