If you want fast, portable storage, you need an external SSD. These devices offer fast data access in a portable package that makes it easy to take your files with you, anywhere you go.
The best external solid-state drive you can buy, right now, is the Crucial X8(available at Amazon for $219.95). It’s a 2 Terabyte (TB) drive that is fast, well priced, and simple to use. Around the same size as a computer mouse, it's capable of copying data nearly twice as fast as a hard drive and has enough space to hold hours of movies and music.
If you have a need for speed, our upgrade pick is the G-Technology G-Drive Mobile Pro (available at Amazon), which copied our large test file nearly two seconds faster than the X8. That might not sound like much of a difference, but if you are copying a lot of data or doing things like editing video, the G-Drive’s extra zip will add up over time, helping you to complete your work in no time.
If you’d also like to learn the Best External Hard Drives, we have a guide for that as well.
These are the best portable SSDs we tested ranked, in order:
G-Technology G-Drive Mobile Pro
LaCie Rugged SSD 500GB Solid State Drive
Sandisk Extreme Pro
Seagate Barracuda Fast SSD
LaCie Portable SSD
PNY Pro Elite
Samsung Portable T7
WD MyPassport Wireless SSD
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The Crucial X8 is a compact SSD that offers a great balance of price and performance. Just 0.4 inches thick, it weighs only 3 oz and has a rounded, almost river rock-like appearance, with a USB-C port on one end. It includes both USB-C and USB 3 cables, so it can be used with older and more recent computers. We tested the 2TB model but 500GB and 1TB models are also available.
The X8 had excellent performance in our tests, copying our 2.7GB test file in 6.3 seconds. That’s one of the shortest times in our tests, indicating that this drive was among the fastest at copying data. This was also backed up in our other tests, which measure different types of performance: the X8 scored highly across the board, so you’ll get faster backups, faster transfer of movies from one computer to another, and all-around faster performance.
Our one complaint is that the USB-C port isn’t covered, so it could be damaged if you stuff it into a pocket with keys, and the metal case could be easily scratched.
If you are copying your data to a drive once, speed isn’t that important. But if you are working with that data over and over again, while editing video, for example, speed matters. The quicker the drive, the quicker your work will go. So, for those who want to add portable speedy storage space to a laptop, our pick is the G-Technology G Drive Mobile Pro.
The Mobile Pro was the fastest drive in all of our tests by a considerable margin. It was able to copy a single 2.7TB file in just 4.6 seconds—a full second and about 20 percent faster than any other drive in this guide. Although this will vary depending on what you are doing, if it involves a lot of reading and writing to the disk, it will be faster with this SSD. That is at least partly down to this being the only drive we tested to use the speedy Thunderbolt 3 interface, which offers a lot of bandwidth for data. It isn’t compatible with older USB connections, though: if your computer doesn’t have a Thunderbolt 3 connection, this drive won’t work. The same is true of those with USB-C ports: although USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports are physically identical, this drive won’t work unless Thunderbolt 3 is supported.
The drive is encased in a tough, well-ventilated aluminum enclosure, as the SSD gets rather hot when in use. That said, with so many perforations in the enclosure, there’s a good chance that it's going to pick up a lot of dust and gunk if you don’t carry it in a case. Additionally, you should know that G-Technology hardware is made for professionals and typically sell at a premium. Expect to pay more for this external SSD than you would for drives from other brands.
When testing portable SSDs, we looked at three aspects of their performance: speed, portability, and build quality.
Speed is important because the faster the SSD 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 benchmarks produced by PC Mark 10, Crystal DiskMark, and our own drive test, which involves timing how long it takes to copy a large 2.7GB file (the install disc for the Ubuntu OS) from a fast internal SSD onto the external drive being tested. This 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.
When considering the portability of the external SSDs in this guide, we looked at the weight, size, cables, and other features that make an external drive easier to transport. Finally, we consider each external SSD’s build quality, as this provides a window into how well a drive may stand up to rough treatment.
I am 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’ve written guides for hard drives, WiFi routers, USB batteries, and many many other devices.
What You Should Know About Portable Hard Drives
If you’re shopping for a new external SSD, or want to understand more about what we discuss in this guide, there are a few terms that you should know:
USB-A: The classic USB port. These ports are rectangular and have several metal contacts visible inside them. The more modern USB 3 type of ports are usually blue, with more metal contacts inside them which means they can carry more data
USB-C: The more modern types, USB-C ports are small with rounded ends. They contain fourteen connections in tidal, mostly hidden from sight inside the ports. USB-C ports are identical to Thunderbolt 3 & 4 ports, and the two connections can be used on the same port. However, a computer with USB-C connections is not automatically compatible with Thunderbolt devices: they will only work if the computer supports Thunderbolt.
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 - 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 the 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.
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.
GBps: Gigabits per second. The speed at which a connection between a drive and a computer can send and receive data. A USB 3.1 connection can transfer data at about 5 Gbps, while USB 3.2 Gen 1 ups this to 10 Gbps. The latest USB 3.2 Gen 2 standard increases this again to 20 Gbps.
What’s The Difference Between a Hard Drive and a Solid State Drive?
Both types of drive do the same thing: store your data and send it to the computer when requested. How the data is stored is different, though: hard drives store the data on a spinning metal-coated glass disk (called the platen) with a read-write head that moves around the drive, reading the magnetic data, or writing new data. Such drives are typically larger in capacity than a solid State Drive and, typically, less expensive.
Solid-state drives (SSDs) store data in a computer chip, like a camera memory card. The advantage of SSDs is that they are faster because there are no moving parts. Hard drives, however, are cheaper and can hold more data: modern 3.25-inch drives can hold 18 Terabytes (TB) of data, and 20 to 25TB models are coming this year.
Other Portable SSDs We Tested
LaCie Rugged SSD (STHR500800)
Planning to go somewhere off the beaten track? The LaCie Rugged can handle it. This soap-bar-sized (3.9 inches long, and 0.7 inches thick) external SSD is wrapped in a tough plastic cover that the manufacturer claims is water-resistant, can stand drops from up to ten feet, and can even shrug off being run over by a two-ton truck. We didn’t test these ambitious claims, but the bright orange plastic case certainly feels pretty tough.
We found that this SSD offers strong performance to back up its rugged good looks: our 2.7GB test file copied to the drive in just 6.1 seconds—1.5 seconds slower than the fastest SSD we tested.
LaCie is owned by Seagate now, so this drive comes with their Seagate Secure software, available for Mac and Windows, which can password protect some or all of the drive. And, should the road prove too rough, you also get one included use of Seagate’s data recovery service which will attempt to recover data from a damaged drive.
Our only two minor complaints about the hardware are the lack of a cover over the USB-C port and the ridiculously short USB-C cable it comes with: only 5.5 inches from port to port. That’s too short to put the drive behind your laptop, so it usually ends up hanging off the laptop, held in place by the tension of the cable. That’s not a great idea if you happen to be hanging halfway off a mountain at the time.
The Sandisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD, just 0.4 inches thick and 4.3 inches long, is one tough little drive. It has an IP55 rating, meaning you can cover it in dirt and dust and then rinse it off under a running tap, for up to three minutes, to no ill effect. Its case is made using a rubberized coating over an aluminum body that’s designed to dissipate heat when the drive is in use. It comes with a USB-C cable and a USB-C to USB 3 adapter, making it suitable for use with most modern computers.
During testing, our 2.7GB test file copied to this SSD over its included USB-C cable in just over 5.1 seconds. This, along with our other tests, showed that it was one of the faster drives in this guide.
The Extreme Pro is a neat little drive with a carabiner clip on one side, but it isn’t particularly fast: we found its speed to be average. One thing to note here: many sites are selling an older version of this drive under the same name, which is cheaper, but significantly slower. Look for the 2nd generation name and the access speed of up to 2000 Mb/s.
At just 0.4 inches thick and 3.1 by 3.7 inches wide and tall, The Seagate BarraCuda is a compact external SSD that offers a lot of performance. There's a single USB-C port on the side of its enclosure and a recessed green LED on the top of the drive that blinks when it’s in use. To make use of the BarraCuda’s USB-Connection, Seagate ships the drive with both USB-C and USB 3 cables.
Unfortunately, the BarraCuda doesn’t quite live up to its speedy fish moniker when it comes to data access: we found that it took 8.2 seconds to copy our 2.7GB test file onto the drive. That’s nearly twice as long as the transfer speed of the fastest external SSD in this guide.
The LaCie Portable SSD, so far as we can tell, is a rebranded Seagate BarraCuda SSD, being sold, at the time that this guide was written, at a higher price point—a common practice for products from two brands that are owned by the same parent company. The two drives are identical in form and function.
This being the case, unless you prefer to own the LaCie iteration for the prestige associated with the brand, we suggest buying whichever of the two drives can be found for less money.
The prize for the smallest SSD drive on our roundup goes to the AData SE800. This matchbook-sized drive weighs just 1.4oz and is only 2.8 inches long. It’s also pretty tough: AData claims it is water, dust, and shockproof, with an IP68 rating that means it can survive 30 minutes immersion in water 10 feet deep and against dust and drops from a few feet. This requires that the plastic cover over the USB-C port is in place, though, and that cover could be easily torn off from the single piece of plastic that holds it in place. Cables for both USB-C and USB 3 are both included.
In our performance tests, we found that it was a decent performer, copying our 2.7GB test file in 5.5 seconds. That’s average, and means it should be fairly quick to copy files to or from the drive, which is important when it can hold up to 2TB of data. The drive does get a little warm to the touch when in use as the heat is dissipated through the aluminum case.
Stack three credit cards together, and you’ll get an idea of the size of the Samsung T7. It’s a sleek little drive with an aluminum case that’s available in a grey, red or blue finish. We tested the 500GB version of the drive. It can also be had in 1TB and 2TB capacities. A version with a fingerprint sensor is also available. The T7 sports a single USB-C port and comes with cables for both USB-C and USB 3, as well as security and administration software compatible with both Windows and Mac systems.
Sadly, the T7’s performance disappointed us. Our 2.7GB test file took just under six seconds to copy to the drive. This lack of speed won’t make much difference if you’re shuttling around small files, but if you want to back up a complete PC, expect things to move a little slow.
PNY Pro Elite USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C Portable SSD (250 GB)
At just 2.5 inches tall, 2.25 inches wide, and just under a half-inch thick, the PNY Pro Elite can easily fit into a pocket or small bag. It is available in capacities of up to 1TB, which is the version we tested.
This small drive comes equipped with a USB-C port and ships with both USB-C and USB 3 cables. During our tests, we were underwhelmed: it took 9.3 seconds to copy our 2.7GB test file.. That might not be a problem if you are only carrying a few files around with you, but you may as well leave it to transfer files from your computer overnight if you plan on filling it to its 1TB capacity.
Most of the SSDs that we tested for this roundup are designed to connect to desktop or laptop computers. The My Passport Wireless SSD, as the name implies, goes a bit further. This battery-powered SSD can act as a wireless access point, allowing any wireless device in range to read or write data to it. For photographers, it also offers another neat feature: insert an SD Card and press a button, and it will automatically copy the photos from the card to the SSD.
Both of these features worked very well in our tests: we could copy data to and from the device with laptops and smartphones, and the process of copying photos from SD Cards was simple: just plug in, press the button and go. The device itself is also tough: a robust rubber sleeve around the drive makes it proof against drops and bumps.
However, the downside is that the SSD inside the device is slow. When plugged into a PC with the included USB 3 cable, we found that it took 9.7 seconds to copy our 2.7GB test file to the drive: the longest time in our tests. The same thing was true in our other tests of reading data from the drive and writing to it: it was much slower than the other SSDs.
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