Our team of tech experts researched over 40 of the best external hard drives available today before purchasing 13 of the best. During our comparative tests, we tested speeds across a Mac and Windows system with different USB outlets and a host of pressure settings. We manually dragged and dropped files of differing sizes to see which moved quickly and extensively tested durability. The result is a well-researched and tested review with an array of recommendations designed to help you find exactly what you need.
$119.99 at Amazon
$125.54 at Amazon
$129.99 at Amazon
$69.99 at Amazon
$102.75 at Amazon
|Pros||Phenomenal transfer rates, very portable, convenient hoop, rubber coated||Incredibly durable, fast transfer rates, travel friendly size||Extremely fast, very portable, compact, super compatible||Military MIL-STD-810G impact resistance, fantastic performance, very portable and compact, IP68 waterproof rating||Fast read and write speed for its type, massive storage capacity options, good gig to dollar ratio|
|Cons||Expensive, limited capacity||Expensive, heavier than other travel-focused options||Pricey, no waterproof or shockproof certifications||Pricey, limited memory capacity options||Requires an AC wall outlet, not meant to be portable|
|Bottom Line||A high-performance SSD that's durable, boasts exceptional transfer rates, looks good, and travels well||A durable, travel-sized SSD that doesn't compromise on performance in the name of portability||A high-performance external SDD that's widely compatible and fits in the palm of your hand||The ultimate external hard drive when it comes to durability, as it's waterproof and shockproof||A great hard drive for space and speed, but at the sacrifice of portability|
|Rating Categories||SanDisk Extreme Por...||Samsung T7 Shield||Samsung T7 Portable||Adata SE800||Western Digital My...|
|Read/Write Performance (60%)|
|Specs||SanDisk Extreme Por...||Samsung T7 Shield||Samsung T7 Portable||Adata SE800||Western Digital My...|
|Measured Max Speed in MB/sec||1066.51 MB/s||1063.64 MB/s||1063.64 MB/s||1009.29 MB/s||193.28 MB/s|
|Measured Max Drag and Drop||1000.00 MB/s||625.00 MB/s||625.00 MB/s||714.30 MB/s||166.67 MB/s|
|Compatibility||Windows and MacOS. Bonus: Works with Android (tested on Note 10+)||Windows and MacOS. Bonus: Playstation 4/4Pro & 5. Xbox One & Series X|S. Works with Android (tested on Note 10+)||Windows and MacOS. Bonus: Playstation 4/4Pro & 5. Xbox One & Series X|S. Works with Android (tested on Note 10+)||Windows and MacOS. Bonus: Playstation 4/4Pro & 5. Xbox One & Series X|S. Works with Android (tested on Note 10+)||Windows and MacOS. Bonus: Works with Android (tested on Note 10+)|
|Size||3.96" x 2.06" x 0.36"||2.3" x 3.5" x .5"||3.34" x 2.24" x 0.32"||2.86" x 1.73" x 0.48"||6.70" x 5.47" x 1.93"|
|Volume||2.94 cu.in.||4.02 cu. in.||2.39 cu.in.||2.37 cu.in.||70.73 cu.in.|
|Weight||2.02 oz||3.49 oz||2.19 oz||1.38 oz||29.94 oz|
|Storage Size Tested||2 TB||1 TB||2 TB||1 TB||4 TB|
|Storage Options||250GB, 500GB, 1TB, 2TB||1TB, 2TB, 4TB||500GB, 1TB, 2TB||512GB, 1TB||4TB, 6TB, 8TB, 12TB, 14TB, 16TB, 18TB|
Best Overall External SSD
SanDisk Extreme Portable V2
The SanDisk Extreme Portable V2 stands on top of the podium in the realm of external SSDs. During our speed assessment, this device showed superior results to any other model in our review. If you're looking for a hard drive that you can travel with or throw in a laptop bag, the V2 is a solid option — it's one of the most compact and lightest versions we've seen. This model even has an integrated hoop on the device's body to attach a carabiner or clip. The rubber coating on the device's casing adds a degree of shock protection while helping to keep the drive from slipping around during use.
Although we didn't find many flaws while testing the SanDisk Extreme Portable V2, we must mention that it's very pricey. A one-terabyte model will already dent your bank account, but if you're looking at a two or four-terabyte version, be prepared to drop extra funds for the added memory capacity. That said, we often find that in the tech world, if you want the best, it will cost you. This is the best external SSD that we've seen to date.
Read more: SanDisk Extreme Portable review
Best Overall External HDD
Western Digital P10
If you're looking for an external HDD, we can't say enough good things about the Western Digital P10. Wrapped up in a sleek metal-plated body, this model was about as fast as the other models of comparable physical size during our read-and-write performance assessment. We love that it's ready to go right out of the box whether you're planning to use it for Mac, Windows, or gaming. Unlike many HDDs that offer this much storage, the P10 is entirely powered by USB, freeing you from an AC adapter.
If you need the storage capacity of an HDD but want something that's also lightning-fast, there are more extensive AC-powered options that are faster than the Western Digital P10. We like the size and portability attributes of this device, but be careful with it. Although Western Digital claims that the P10 is "durable," it lacks genuine certifications, while some models offer military-grade shock protection. A burlier model is recommended if you are prone to damaging gear or often travel with your drive. Shortcomings aside, we highly recommend the P10 for anyone seeking a high-performance and user-friendly HDD that looks great.
Read more: Western Digital P10 review
Best Bang for the Buck
Western Digital Elements
Not everyone needs a top-of-the-line, high-performance external hard drive. If you're looking for a simple, easy-to-use model with many storage capacity options, look no further than the Western Digital Elements. The Elements does not use AC power as it is entirely powered by USB. Although this model is far from the fastest, it shows comparable results to most HDD models during our write and read speed assessment. Best of all, it's affordable. While some external hard drives can cost several hundred dollars, the lower memory capacity versions of the WD Elements will hardly hit your pocketbook.
Although the Western Digital Elements shows similar speeds to most of the other HDD models, it was substantially slower than the best. It's also only offered in one to five-terabyte versions. If you need a lot of memory and want to write and read your data quickly, you will need to invest in a higher-performing drive. We are slightly wary of the construction of the Elements. While several other models boast rubber coating, metal plating, or actual shockproof certifications, this device seems to be a bit susceptible to damage if dropped on a hard surface. Despite our small list of flaws, we think the Western Digital Elements is a fantastic option for those shopping for a quality external HDD on a tighter budget.
Read more: Western Digital Elements review
Rugged Design at Lightning Speed
Samsung T7 Shield
If you're searching for the best travel companion you can find in an external hard drive, look no further than the Samsung T7 Shield. With an impressive drop test rating of 9.8 feet and an IEC IP65 rating, the rubber-coated T7 Shield can handle the rigors of travel- whether that travel includes a coffee spill, some light rain, or a windy day at the beach. Where other hard drives compromise durability for performance and size, the Samsung T7 Shield has some of the faster read/write speeds in our review while still offering one of the smallest profiles of an SSD. This hard drive offers the full package with one, two, or four terabyte options and is compatible with Mac, PC, and gaming consoles.
While we were impressed with the Samsung T7 Shield's durability, there are other models that offer waterproof construction, and some can even be fully submerged for up to 30 minutes. If you know you're likely to take a dunk with your hard drive, we recommend getting a drive that is not just water-resistant but waterproof. The T7Shield does have an IP65 rating, which means it's fully dust-proof and can handle three minutes of light water spray, but if you need the toughest SSD, we'd look elsewhere. There are also options for SSDs that have slightly faster read/write speeds, though the Shield was still near the top of the pack. The Samsung T7 Shield is a true all-around champion, blending performance, convenience, and portability.
Read more: Samsung T7 Shield review
Best for Storage Capacity
Western Digital My Book Desktop
If you're seeking a backup for your desktop with automatic updates, the Western Digital My Book should be on your radar. It features consistent read and write speeds, a performance feature you'll be hard-pressed to find in the external hard drive world. Optimal rates were measured at 192 MB per second on Windows. Actual speed tests averaged 150 MB second, the fastest HDD speeds in this review. Moreover, these speeds stayed fairly consistent across all file sizes and didn't slow down with larger files. Another remarkable finding is that it has some drop resistance despite its large and seemingly fragile design. It surprisingly survived a waist height drop test onto carpeted and hard surfaces. We were impressed because it's not rated to withstand these tests.
This drive is not meant for travel. It's heavy, scratches easily, and requires an additional power source to use, so it's best when it lives attached to a desktop or stationary in your home office. Although we didn't test water resistance (it is not rated to deal with water), we suspect it wouldn't survive because the case has many ventilation holes that lead directly to the hard drive inside. However, if you want automatic backups, we recommend this one.
Read more: Western Digital My Book review
Why You Should Trust Us
To start our review process, we researched more than 40 different drives. We chose twelve highly rated hard disk drives (HDD) and solid-state drives (SSD) that offer outstanding performance. We then purchased each one and began our comprehensive testing regiment. We tested read and write speeds using both sequential and random tests. We did this on PC and Mac computers, using all USB ports. Reported optimal rates are averaged using three different GB loads. We also performed "actual" speed tests where we dropped files of three different sizes: 1 GB, 5 GB, and 10 GB. Averaging these results, we learn how different "optimal" speeds can be from "actual" speeds. This defines performance differences. For any 'rugged' drive that claimed water, dust, pressure, or drop ratings, we actually tested it to see if they'd hold up. Yes, we even drove over two of them with a car! Finally, we weighed and measured each, so you have the info you need if you're shopping for a travel drive.Our external hard drive testing is divided into three rating metrics:
- Read/Write Performance (60% of overall score weighting)
- Convenience (30% weighting)
- Portability (10% weighting)
This review is brought to you by experienced gear testers Matt Spencer, Zach Joseph Lovell, and Ross Patton. Matt has built his own computers and has been managing hard drive storage for video game play since age nine. His passion for architecture and C.A.D. (computer-aided design) has kept him juggling storage needs, and he has tested over 100 tech products in the last few years. Zach has spent all of his adult life working intensively with hard drives for storage-conscious projects from photography to web design to audio engineering. He's a true gear junkie in many realms and started working with GearLab four years ago. Ross has spearheaded many categories for GearLab, including WiFi extenders, iPhone gimbals, and jump starters. His background is in Environmental Science, so he is no stranger to the lab or the field.
Analysis and Test Results
This review features a group of Solid State Drives (SSD) and Hard Disk Drives (HDD). We chose this selection to reflect the best options on the market. After all the hands-on testing, we rated each based on three critical metrics: drive speed (including optimal and actual read and write speeds), convenience, and portability. Using these metrics, we provide recommendations to help you find the best option for your needs.
HDDs (hard disk drives) are mechanical devices with a motor and a spinning disk inside. SSDs (solid-state drives) use non-mechanical flash memory; thus, no moving parts. HDDs are generally slower, more affordable, and offer a larger memory capacity than SSDs, while the latter are pricier and substantially faster but have limited storage capacities. The mechanical parts make HDDs more fragile, while SSDs are more shock-resistant. Most tech nerds will tell you that HDDs are best for backing up large files, movies, games, and photos, while SSDs are superior when it comes to frequently used files and operating systems.
The value of an external hard drive will significantly depend on the purpose for which you intend to use the device. If you don't have a ton of files to store, you don't plan on using the device all of the time, and you aren't planning to travel with your drive, then there is no reason to spend more than the cost of the WD Elements. If you're looking for a high-performance USB-powered HDD that looks great sitting next to your console, the WD Black P10 is worth every penny. For those in the market for a large-capacity AC-powered desktop version, it's hard to beat the byte-to-dollar ratio of the WD My Book. If you're going to be using your external hard drive in the field or want the absolute ultimate in data protection, it will cost you a few extra dollars to protect your files, but the Samsung T7 Shield has you covered. Finally, our top-scoring SSD model, the Sandisk Extreme Portable V2, is undoubtedly pricey, but given the incredible performance, this is no surprise.
Backing up data or playing files right from your external drive should be fast and efficient. To test this, we measured two different things: optimal speed and actual speed. The optimal speeds were measured using AmorphousDiskMark and CrystalDiskMark speed tests for macOS and Windows systems, respectively. The actual speeds are based on manually timed drag-and-drop tests with five different file sizes. This gave us pertinent information to help us understand the real-world performance of each drive. Overall, the fastest SSDs were the SanDisk Extreme Portable V2, Samsung T7 Shield, and Samsung T7 Portable, with the Adata SE800 very close behind. The WD My Book Desktop 3.0 is the fastest and most consistent HDD.
This test shows us how fast a drive can perform when only drive performance is isolated and system functionality is limited. To test Mac systems, we used the AmorphousDiskMark. For Windows PCs, we used the CrystalDiskMark. With this CrystalDiskMark test, we gathered data from both sequential and random tests, as well as speed information on USB-C and USB-A ports. Sequential tests show how well a drive reads a file from point A to point B, while random tests show how well it can access random data points in a large database.
Unless you work off your hard drive directly, the sequential test should be more important than the random one. This tells us how fast the drive can read and write a large chunk of data and how quickly it might transfer from one place to another. The speeds are also much faster than random tests. For SSD versions, the SanDisk Extreme Portable V2 is the best model for this assessment portion, showing a phenomenal high read speed of 1066 MB per second using Windows and 774 MB per second running Mac OS. Showing a commendable 192 MB per second for Windows OS and 191 MB per second for Mac OS, the Western Digital My Book was the fastest HDD.
The random tests tell us how fast it can access random data without a sequential pattern. It dives into a database of information to find a file, read, and write it. Once again, the SanDisk Extreme Portable V2 drive achieved the best random speed results with a rate of 271 MB per second with Windows and 30 MB per second using Mac OS, making it an incredible external drive to work from directly. The Samsung T7 Shield and T7 Portable were slightly slower than the V2, with recorded rates of 20 MB per second with Mac OS and 222 MB per second with Windows.
Actual Speed Tests
While the AmorphousDiskMark and CrystalMark tests gave us significant data to see how these drives would perform in optimal conditions, the more critical test was the 'actual speed test.' For this test, we built three different file sizes of 1 GB, 5 GB, and 10 GB. We then manually timed each drive to see how long it took to drag and transfer the file from our Mac desktop to the external hard drive. Afterward, we calculated the MB per second and averaged all the different file sizes. Most external drives showed a significant decrease in speed as file size increased. The only drives that stayed relatively consistent across file sizes were the LaCie Rugged Mini and the Western Digital Elements.
For SSDs, the SanDisk Extreme Portable V2 offers the fastest actual speed while using Windows OS at 422 MB per second. While testing Mac OC, we recorded an astonishing rate of 714 MB per second for the Adata SE800. For HDDs, the fastest is, again, the Western Digital My Book with a top speed of 152 MB per second for both Windows and Mac OS. When you buy a drive, you can generally expect the actual speed to be around half the claimed speed.
With the current state of technology, we like to deal with the least amount of setup, formatting, driver installation, and overall headache possible regarding our devices. For this section of our review, we looked at the out-of-the-box state of each drive, its compatibility capabilities, storage options, and connections.
The highest scoring models for this metric are the Samsung T7 Portable and the Samsung T7 Shield. These drives work seamlessly and interchangeably with Mac OS, Windows, Android, Playstation, and Xbox consoles without any formatting.
For HDDs, the champion of this metric is the Western Digital My Book. This model is compatible with Windows, Mac OS, Android, and gaming consoles right out of the box. It offers a three-year warranty and comes with multiple USB cords. Because it is designed to be a desktop device, the lowest memory option provided by the My Book is 4 TB — the highest is a baffling 18 TB. Included with the purchase of this model is a version of Western Digital's WD Backup software, which can program your drive to automatically back up your data. It can also perform auto backups using Apple Time Machine if running a Mac.
We found the other Western Digital models, the Elements and the P10, incredibly convenient. Like their larger cousin My Book, these devices can be used with Mac OS, Windows, and phones. The P10 is also specifically compatible with game consoles. It should be noted that the Elements need to be formatted when switching between the various operating systems. Each of these models is available in up to 5 TB models and includes a three-year warranty.
The Adata SE800 is ready to work with Mac OS, Windows, and most gaming consoles out of the box but needs to be formatted to work with Android. This model only offers a maximum of 1 TB for storage space. This model includes two cords — USB C to USB C and USB C to USB A.
Finally, the LaCie Rugged Mini does not require formatting but only works with Mac OS or PC. If you're looking for a gaming or Android backup storage drive, you'll need a different model. The LaCie uses the less common Micro-B port on the drive, including a cord for USB A and a cord for USB C.
In a fast-moving world of constant traveling, remote work, and the endless quest for adventure, device portability can be critical when shopping for an external hard drive. If you aren't planning on moving your drive, there's no reason to drop extra money on a shockproof device. Conversely, if you're always on the go, you need a drive that transports easily and has added durability. For this metric, we look at the physical attributes of each model in our review.
For those taking their drive on a real-deal expedition, there is no other choice than the Adata SE800. This model is certified waterproof, military-grade shockproof, and is the size of an old-school iPod. The notion that you could accidentally go swimming with all your most precious data in your pocket and it would do no harm sounds ridiculous, but that's a reality with the SE800. The SE800 is only 2.9" x 1.7" x .5", and it weighs a mere 1.38 ounces.
If you need portability with higher performance than the SE800, look no further than the Samsung T7 Shield. This model is water-resistant, has a drop-test rating of 9.8 feet, and easily fits in a pants pocket. You could accidentally drop your hard drive down the stairs or spill coffee on it, and it would still offer some of the highest transfer speeds we've found in testing. At 2.3" x 3.5" x .5", this model is about half the size of the average modern smartphone.
The Samsung T7 Portable and SanDisk Extreme Portable V2 are incredibly compact. The V2 weighs 2.02 ounces and is 4" x 2" x 0.4". The T7 Portable is a bit smaller than the V2, but the latter has a hoop for attaching to whatever you please with a carabiner or clip. These models are SSDs, so they have an added degree of durability compared to the HDD models.
If you're looking for a portable HDD, the Seagate Ultra Touch HDD, Toshiba Canvio Basics, and Western Digital My Passport are all in the ballpark of 4.5" x 3" x 0.5" and around five ounces. To put things in perspective, we'd say these three models are about the size of a large wallet.
The market is saturated with different types of external hard drives. To help, we conducted countless objective and unbiased tests, which allowed us to determine which models outperformed the others. We recommend putting your money into a high-quality product; as such, we've noted which are the highest performing, which offer the best value for your dollar, and which fall in the niche category. We hope this review has been helpful so that you can find the perfect product for your budget and needs.
— Ross Patton, Zach Joseph, Matt Spencer, & Austin Palmer