Best External Hard Drive of 2020
It's hard to gush too much about the Samsung Portable SSD. This lightweight hard drive (1.75 ounces) fits into the palm of your hand, making it an excellent option for travel. It features AES 265-bit encryption with password protection and a metal housing that is drop-resistant up to two meters. Read and write speeds are lightning fast! While the manufacturer claims a speed up to 540 MB/S, we clocked it up to 506 MB/S (Blackmagic Speed Test, MacOS) and 462 MB/S (CrystalMark Test, Windows). The drag and drop speeds average 237 MB/S when averaging timed tests of moving files 2, 6, 10, and 100 GB in size. Overall, it proves to be 3X faster than other external hard drives and comes in an ultra-packable size that we love. Not to mention cool colors!
It's hard to find many drawbacks to the Samsung Portable SSD. The price is a bit high, at roughly five cents per GB. As you go up in storage, however, the value improves (we calculated costs using a 500GB model). Aside from that, this is the SSD we recommend for the folks who can afford it.
Armored in a protective shell, the Adata Durable Hard Drive is an HDD (Hard Disk Drive) built to take the biggest of beatings. We immersed it in water for two hours, drove over it with a half-ton truck, and dropped it six feet onto concrete. In every case, it came roaring back to life, with all data stored intact and easily accessible. No other hard drive we tested could take this kind of abuse, making it our favorite rugged hard drive. It comes set-up for both Mac and Windows platforms and is compatible with both PS4 and Xbox gaming systems. If you want a reliable and armored external hard drive, this is it. Throw it in the sand, accidentally drop it in the water; your data will still be protected. It's a solid value that works out to roughly five cents per GB (based on a 2TB model).
While intrepid durability is its stand-out feature, it has some drawbacks. First, it's far from the fastest. During our drag and drop tests, it averaged 64 MB/S, which is slow-ish. During optimized testing (where we see the highest possible speeds), it clocked read and write times on MacOS of 119 and 116 MB/S, respectively. For Windows, the fastest time recorded was 135 MB/S (read) & 127 MB/S (write) using the USB-A port. Expect this drive to be slower than other top performers. It's also bulky and heavy but it still stows nicely inside the pocket of any backpack. If you're seeking a seriously durable drive that'll protect your data, this is the one to buy.
The WD Black GameDrive is a favorite among our gamer testers for its compatibility with multiple platforms, and fast read/write speeds. As games get larger in size, the need for additional storage is becoming paramount. This external hard drive features a durable exterior that can survive a six-foot drop onto carpet or concrete. It's the fastest when used with PCs and a Windows platform where we clocked its read and write times at 237 and 128 MB/S, respectively. On our Mac, it only clocked a speed of 121 and 118 MB/S (read and write, respectively). What's more is its random read/write speed is higher than other products, meaning it'll perform seamlessly when running games or movies directly off the drive. We also like its 'gamer-focused' look. At the cost of only two cents per GB (2TB model), it's a great value too.
While it does offer exceptional performance, many customer reviews complained about the soft humming that the internal disk emits when it's running. Also, during our 'actual drag and drop tests', the speed of the drive decreased to 68 MB/S with slower performance as file size increases. Still, if you're a gamer and need extra storage, this is our top recommendation.
The LaCie Rugged Raid Shuttle stands out for its rugged design and super-fast processing speeds. This HDD is wrapped in a shock-proof package that can withstand drops from 1.2 meters. We even drove over it with a Subaru Outback, and it survived! It has the potential for very fast processing speeds (clocked at 272 MB/S), including a high random read/write speed, which means it can quickly access data even with a large pool of information. That said, during our drag and drop tests, it averaged 81 MB/s, putting it behind the top tier for fast speeds. It features an encrypted security system with different levels of security. While the sticker price might seem high, it works out to about six cents per GB, which is a reasonable value.
To be honest, we were excited to test all the claims made by LaCie and its durability and see success, but we were let down. Out of the package, the USB-C to USB-C cord kept disconnecting the drive when plugged in. It is supposed to be rated to IP54 for water, which means that it can withstand a stream of water from any direction. After we sprayed it with the hose, however, it never worked again, failing our test. This is probably because of the exposed USB-C port, which seems like a fatal design flaw for this 'rugged' and 'water-resistant' drive. Furthermore, data transfer speeds decreased by almost 85% when the drive wasn't plugged into its external power source. Be aware of potential durability issues and false company claims with this product. However, if you're seeking a fast and high storage drive (and you don't expect it to be sprayed by water), this is a good option.
If you're seeking a lightweight yet durable Hard Disk Drive (HDD), the Silicon Power Rugged drive is our pick. Most HDDs are bulky and heavy, but this one slides easily into a small pocket or purse. It features an average read and write speed and works with multiple systems. The durable exterior is wrapped in silicon, while the hard drive is suspended inside to make it drop and water-resistant. While you shouldn't immerse this drive in water, if you accidentally spill a glass of water on it, it will probably survive. We dropped it from six feet on both carpet and concrete, and it still performed flawlessly. If a durable, lightweight HDD is what you seek, you should check out this lightweight contender. It costs about four cents per GB, which is a solid value (based off a 2TB drive).
Unfortunately, while the optimized tests on both Mac and Windows show read and write speeds to be about average, this drive proved to be one of the slowest in our actual drag and drop tests. When dropping files of different sizes (2, 6, 10, 100 GB) on a macOS disk to the drive, it averaged about 62 MB/S (lowest of all drives tested). The speeds seriously decreased with larger file sizes, slowing to a snail's pace of 32.6 MB/S while moving a 100 GB file. In addition, the cord that comes with the drive is poorly anchored to the drive and is quite easy to lose. Aside from these caveats, it's a functional and durable drive that works for most uses.
The Toshiba Canvio Basics 2TB is a standard SDD that offers benchmark reliability, storage, and speed. Its lightweight and portable design seem more durable than other options in its price category, and at roughly two cents per GB, the value is hard to beat. It doesn't have any super fancy features but proved to be a fairly durable, surviving a five ft drop test on both carpet and concrete. Its read and write times are sufficient for data back up and storage, but not the fastest. If you're in the market for a simple and affordable hard drive, this is a great choice.
While the timed speed tests reflect speeds in "optimized conditions," we saw this drive transfer data at a rate of 66 MB/s during our drag and drop tests, with significantly slower times read when moving larger files. For example, when dropping a 2GB file, it read at a rate of 90MB/s while a 100GB file offered a speed of only 30MB/s. These speeds are about average for this price point. If the drive fails, there are no data recovery services, nor are there any included security features. If low cost and simplicity are what you seek, this is the one to pick.
The Seagate Portable 2TB is another low-priced and lightweight SSD with easy plug and play capabilities. There are many storage options, and it's pretty inexpensive, costing only two cents per GB. It doesn't boast any fancy features or come with any additional software. Simply plug it in, and start uploading your games, pictures, or files. If you're a gamer, you're in luck because it's compatible with both Xbox and PS4. Many online users verify that you can play the hard drive right into your system. Overall, we appreciate this drive's high value and versatility across all platforms.
Unfortunately, the low price is a reflection of its slower read and write speeds on both Mac and PC platforms. We clocked its max read and write speed at 160 and 124 MB/s, respectively (PC, Windows, USB-A port) in optimized conditions, but the speeds decreased significantly during real-world file transfers. It tied for the last place, moving along at just 62 MB/s. Speeds also declined significantly with file size. File sizes ranging from 2 to 10 GB averaged around 70 MB/s while a 100GB drop took almost 45 minutes, with a measly speed of 40 MB/S. Overall, don't believe the speed claims that Seagate advertises. If you don't need for speed, however, this high-value contender might do the trick.
If you're seeking a backup for your desktop that'll update automatically, the WB My Book Desktop 3.0 3TB 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 speeds were measured at 210 MB/s on Windows. Actual speed tests averaged 148 MB/s, the second-fastest in this review. What's more, these speeds stayed pretty consistent across all file sizes and didn't slow down with larger files. In terms of cost, it's just three cents per GB (based on the 2TB drive we tested). Another cool finding is that it has some drop resistance despite its large and seemingly fragile design. We dropped it (cringing the whole time) on both carpeted and hard surfaces from waist height, and it survived! This impressed us because it's not rated to withstand these tests.
This drive is not meant for travel. It scratches easily and is heavy. It requires an additional power source to use, so it's the best when it lives attached to a desktop. Although we didn't test water resistance (it's not rated to deal with water), we suspect it wouldn't survive because the case is littered with lots of holes for ventilation, which leads directly to the hard drive inside. A desktop should be home for this device, and if you want automatic back-ups, it's the one we recommend.
We were intrigued by the security features and seemingly durable design of the Buffalo Mini Station Extreme NFC 2TB. It boasts 256-bit AES Full Data Encryption with passcard/password access and is one of the most secure drives we've tested so far. The rugged design intrigued us with its claimed IPX3 water and IP5X dust resistance. We clocked read and write speeds at 135 and 128 MB/s, respectively, during optimal conditions. During our actual drag and drop speed tests, it averaged 77 MB/s, performing near the middle of the pack for all hard drives tested. At first glance, and with just a few day's use, we were sure this would be an award winner. The construction seems solid, while the security is impressive. Plus, at roughly four cents per GB, it's pretty affordable.
During our first durability test, however, this external hard drive stopped operating. This test was a waist-high drop onto a carpeted surface, after which we tested it on a computer to see if it still worked. It did not. Every other drive passed this test. This is rather concerning, especially with its alleged mil-spec shock protection. When looking online, we didn't find any other issues like this, so this defect may lay with this specific hard drive. However, it is still a disappointment and an experience worth mentioning. Another caveat is that setting it up takes research. Initially, when reformatting for use with a Mac, many of the security features didn't appear. We had to actually set up security on the PC platform, which then transferred when using the Mac. Had it survived our drop tests, this external drive would easily be an award winner for its durable design and excellent security features.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by experienced gear tester Amber King and software engineer Edward Kemper. Amber has been testing gear for TechGearLab's sister site, OutdoorGearLab, for over six years, writing over 25 different categories. She has a history of writing in-depth testing plans to truly understand the limits of all products. This review is no exception. Eddie is a software engineer that's been at it for over six years. He currently works for Story Blocks and provided consultation for the testing procedures in this review.
To start our testing process, we researched more than 20 different drives. We chose nine highly rated hard disk drives (HDD) and solid-state drives (SDD) that offer great performance and high popularity. We then purchased each one, unpackaged them, and began over 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 on each. Reported optimal speeds are averaged using three different GB loads. We also performed "actual" speed tests where we dropped files of four different sizes, 2 GB, 6GB, 10GB, and 100GB. Averaging these results, we learn how different "optimal" speeds can be from "actual" speeds. This really 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.
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 five important metrics; drive speed (including optimal and actual read and write speeds), weight and profile, ease of use, durability, and features. Using these metrics, we provide our recommendations to help you find the best option for your needs.
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 BlackMagic and CrystalMark 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 SSD was Samsung SSD T5 500GB, while the WB My Book Desktop 3.0 3TB was 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 BlackMagic Speed Test. For Windows PCs, we used the CrystalMark Test. With this CrystalMark 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.
The sequential test should be more important than the random test unless you will be working off your hard drive directly. This tells us how fast the drive can read and write a large chunk of data and how fast it might transfer from one place to another. The speeds are also much faster than random tests. The Samsung Portable crushed the competition in all tests, showing a high read speed of 462 MB/S with some variation in write speeds based on the USB port used. The LaCie Rugged Raid proved to have a very fast optimal speed as well.
The random tests tell us how fast it can access random data that lacks a sequential pattern. Basically, it dives into a database of information to find a file, read, and write it. Once again, the Samsung Portable drive achieved the best random speed results, making it a great external drive to work from directly.
Actual Speed Tests
While the BlackMagic and CrystalMark tests gave us great data to see how these drives would perform in optimal conditions, perhaps the more important test was the 'actual speed test'. For this test, we built four different file sizes of 2GB, 5GB, 10GB, and 100GB. 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/s and averaged it 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 files sizes were the WD Easy Store and LaCie Rugged Disk.
Of all the drives, the Samsung Portable T5 offers the fastest actual speed (237MB/s), followed by the WD Easy Store Desktop (148 MB/s). Of the rugged drives, the LaCie Rugged Drive provides the fastest actual speeds at 81 MB/s. The average speed amongst all competitors sat around 96 MB/s. Know that when you buy a drive, you can expect the actual speed to be around half the claimed speeds.
Weight and Profile
Weight and portability have grown in importance as jobs have become remote and workers travel more. Some heavier drives are designed to simply sit at your desk while others, like the Samsung Portable T5, fit in the palm of your hand. Solid State Drives provide optimal portability with light, compact designs. Hard Disk Drives are typically bulkier and heavy, but some companies are bucking this characterization, making HDDs more portable for travel. We weighed and measured each drive to get a clear comparison of transport performance.
It's not surprising that the Samsung Portable T5 (1.75oz) crushes in this category. Its dimensions (3X2.25X1/8 inches) fit easily into a pant pocket, purse, or the smallest pockets on a backpack. It's by far the smallest drive with the largest capacity that we've tested. The Seagate Portable 2TB (5.4oz) and the Toshiba Canvio Basics TB (5.9oz) are two other lightweight drives. The Toshiba Canvio is a little smaller in size (3X4.25X0.5 inches) in comparison to the Seagate Portable (4.5X3X0.5 inches). Of the durable HDD drives, the Silicon Power 2TB is the most lightweight (8.70oz) and rugged drive we've tested. This HDD features a slim profile (5.5X3.25X0.25 inches), similar to the Seagate Portable and Toshiba Canvio Basics.
Ease of Use
Drives with simple plug n' play capabilities that didn't need reformatting when changing systems did the best in this metric. Navigating a complex software system can be a royal pain in the butt. To test this, we noted which drives are the easiest to set-up and which took extra research to start using. We also looked at the hardware to see which can get their power from the USB cord versus those that need an additional power source.
The drives that perform the best in this metric are the simplest to use. The ADATA Rugged Drive doesn't need to be reformatted for Mac computer. It plugs into any system and starts working. There's no need to install software like the WD My Book Desktop Drive or even punch in a password like the Samsung Portable SSD. Most external hard drives prove to be relatively easy to use. The hard disks formatted for both Mac and Windows include the LaCie Portable storage, Buffalo Mini Station Extreme, and the Samsung Portable T5. All others come formatted for Windows, so they need to be reformatted for macOS (which is pretty easy).
We also appreciate that the ADATA Rugged Drive doesn't need an additional power source like other HDD's, such as the LaCie Rugged Raid and WD My Book Desktop Drive. All smaller drives were powered right from their USB cords.
This metric inspired surprising glee during testing. For this category, we put any claims made by companies about durability or ruggedness and put them to the test.
Several of the drives in this selection claim to have a rating against water, dirt, shock, or pressure. One simple durability test we subjected all hard drives to was a drop test. We started with a hip-height drop, then a shoulder-height drop. We performed both first on the carpet, then on concrete. Between each test, we checked to see if the drive was still working. Luckily, most drives survived, suggesting they could keep your data safe if you accidentally drop one off the table.
The Adata HD830 2 TB proved to be the most rugged drive and completely wowed us. We immersed it in water for two hours, drove over it with our Toyota Tacoma pick-up, mashed it in the dirt, and even dropped it from six feet overhead. In all tests, it immediately kept working, with all of our files intact. The LaCie Rugged Raid is another heavy-duty drive that didn't do quite as well in our tests. While it did survive our drop tests and being driven over by a Subaru, its life was ended when we soaked it with water. The fatal flaw, we suspect, is an exposed USB-C port that definitely couldn't take the continuous spray of water (from any direction) that LaCie claimed it was rated for.
The Silicon Power Rugged Portable Drive is another we are impressed with. While it's advertised to be super durable, it's only rated to withstand a small spray of water (not continuous), which is akin to accidentally spilling a glass of water over the top of it. It's not pressure rated like the Adata or LaCie storage. It can, however, take on dusty conditions.
All the drives we tested were able to withstand our standing drop tests, except for the Buffalo MiniStaation Extreme despite its tough-looking exterior. Of the drives that aren't advertised as "super-durable", the WD Black seems to be the toughest. The case is shock resistant, and we suspect it'd hold up to a few drops of water on its surface.
We love features! Software that provides excellent security and data recovery equates to better reliability. Drives that come with several cords or adaptors earn higher points in this category. Of the competition, we are most impressed by the LaCie Rugged Raid shuttle because it features several encryption and storage options. It includes specific software and even comes with a one-month free trial of Adobe products.
We also love the Buffalo Miniworks that comes with two different adaptor cords, one of which is actually attached to one of the drives. It features AES 265 automatic data encryption and a great security system that uses a card or password for harddisk access. It stands out as one of the most secure hard drives we tested. Plus, despite its failure in our drop tests, it does have a fairly rugged exterior that seems to be water and dust resistant. Both the LaCie Rugged Raid and Buffalo Miniworks drives come with data recovery services.
There are a plethora of different external hard drives out there. Luckily, we did all the hard work for you and designed unbiased and objective tests to find which models outperform the others. Be sure you're putting your money into a high-quality product. We hope this review has been helpful so you can find exactly what you're looking for.
— Amber King