The best external hard drives in 2024

Best external hard drives
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The best external hard drives are essential devices for all PC users. That's because an external hard drive makes it easy to quickly and seamlessly transfer large files between your machines, especially if you have a slow local connection. This not only saves you time, but potentially money as well.

Whether working from home or at the office, carrying an external hard drive in your backpack or pocket gives you continuous access to your files.

The same is true if you need to back up your computer regularly. A large HDD-based external hard drive will do the trick, but if you need to create a second backup for peace of mind and keep that in a separate location, an SSD-based drive will suit you. Thankfully, these aren't the slow, heavy external drives of the past.

Every model listed below uses at least the USB 3.0 standard, which offers read and write speeds many times faster than the old USB 2.0 drives. Many use the even faster USB 3.1 and 3.2 standards, and one even sports the super-speedy Thunderbolt 3 standard. Some of these drives, especially the smaller SSD ones, have eye-catching designs and colors that could almost be considered fashionable.


Editor's note: We're in the process of reviewing several new hard drives so be sure to return to this page soon to see which current models are worth picking up.

The best external hard drives you can buy today

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Best external hard drives: WD My Book (4TB)Top Pick

(Image credit: Matthew Murray/Tom's Guide)

1. WD My Book (WDBBGB, USB 3.0, 4TB)

The best external hard drive overall


Capacity: 3TB to 18TB
Interface: USB 3.0
Size: 6.7 x 5.5 x 1.9 inches
Weight: 2.2 pounds
Cost per gigabyte: $0.03
BlackMagic Disk Speed Test: 177.3 MBps write, 171.5 MBps read
PCMark 10 Data Drive Benchmark: 520
Future File Transfer Test: 3 minutes, 31 seconds

Reasons to buy

Fast for hard drive
Includes backup software
Encryption functionality

Reasons to avoid

Requires power outlet

It may be shaped like a monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but our tests found that the WD My Book is the best external hard drive for the money. It offers hardware-based 256-bit AES encryption and WD Backup software, and it gives you 4TB of HDD space for about $100. Plus, capacities up to 18TB are available.

The My Book might not be the latest and greatest in terms of drive technology, but it makes the absolute most of tried-and-true methods — and will only cost you pennies per gigabyte. Sure, it’s on the bulky side, and it has to be plugged into a power outlet. But if speed and portability aren’t of utmost importance, this is storage peace of mind you can’t afford not to have.

This product has been reviewed 243 times on Newegg and received an average of 4 out of 5 eggs. "The casing is attractive and gives the product a feeling of higher quality than a standard enclosure," says one reviewer.

2. G-Technology ArmorATD (0G10435, USB 3.1, 2TB and 4TB)

A great portable hard drive that can take a beating


Capacity: 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 5TB
Interface: USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C
Size: 2TB: 5.1x 3.4 x 0.8 inches; 4TB: 5.2 x 3.5 x 1.2 inches
Weight: 2TB: 8 ounces; 4TB: 12.8 ounces
Cost per gigabyte: 2TB: $0.05; 4TB: $0.04
BlackMagic Disk Speed Test: 2TB: 124.3 MBps write, 124.5 MBps read
PCMark 10 Data Drive Benchmark: 2TB: 601; 4TB: 504
Future File Transfer Test: 2TB: 4 minutes, 14 seconds; 4TB: 4 minutes, 32 seconds

Reasons to buy

Protection against water, dust, and pressure
Attractively priced

Reasons to avoid

Sluggish performance
Includes no bundled software

Designed to be rugged, the G-Technology ArmorATD portable hard drive (HDD, not SSD) boasts three-tier shock resistance, with internal shock mounts, an aluminum enclosure, and a removable rubber bumper for additional drop protection; it’s also resistant to rain, dust, and crushing (up to 1,000 pounds).

The 2TB and 4TB models are both sized to be easily portable and include a USB Type-A adapter for use with their USB Type-C interface, so they should work with nearly every computer.

We tested the 2TB and 4TB capacities; neither was notably fast (though the 2TB is rated for marginally higher speeds), and the drive comes with no file management software. But factor in the price and one of these drives could be a reasonable choice if you and your data into unpredictable territory.

3. Adata SE800 External SSD Ultra Fast (USB 3.2, 1TB)

Great SSD speeds for an affordable price


Capacity: 512GB, 1TB
Interface: USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C
Size: 2.8 x 1.7 x 0.4 inches
Weight: 1.4 ounces
Cost per gigabyte: $0.13
BlackMagic Disk Speed Test: 865.5 MBps write, 769.3 MBps read
PCMark 10 Data Drive Benchmark: 824
Future File Transfer Test: 47.5 seconds

Reasons to buy

Impressively fast
Excellent value for the price
Rugged feature set

Reasons to avoid

Limited capacity selection
Includes no file management software

The Adata SE800 External SSD Ultra Fast measures just 2.8 x 1.7 x 0.4 inches and weighs 1.4 ounces and is rated for IP68 protection against dust and 30 minutes of submersion in 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) of water.

It meets the MIL-STD-810G 516.6 standard for impact resistance when dropped from 4 feet (1.22 meters). You can use either a USB Type-A or a Type-C cable to connect this Type-C drive to your computer.

We didn’t quite see the drive’s 1,000MBps-rated speeds in our tests, but the drive proved fast anyway. It’s also pretty affordable, with the 1TB version we tested available online for under $130, and the 512GB version findable for about $80. 

Those two capacities are your only options, and there’s no pre-installed software, but the SE800 is otherwise an outstanding value that lives up to the promise of its name, whether compared with the noticeably slower Adata SC685 or many other smaller drives on the market.

4. WD My Passport SSD (WDBAGF, USB 3.2, 1TB)

A speedy and colorful portable drive


Capacity: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB
Interface: USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C
Size: 3.9 x 2.2 x 0.4 inches
Weight: 1.6 ounces
Cost per gigabyte: $0.19
BlackMagic Disk Speed Test: 855.3MBps write, 855.9MBps read
PCMark 10 Data Drive Benchmark: 1,153
Future File Transfer Test: 52 seconds

Reasons to buy

Terrific performance
Small size with many color options
Useful applications

Reasons to avoid

Somewhat expensive
Short USB Type-C cable

The WD My Passport SSD with USB 3.2 doesn’t look like its travel-enabling namesake, the My Passport Go, but it’s all ready to go places. It’s small (3.9x 2.2x 0.4 inches) and attractive, with its shiny ridged surface and choice of five snazzy colors (blue, gold, gray, red, and silver).

The My Passport SSD's software application gives you access to My Cloud Home Storage and lets you download other WD utilities. Best of all, it’s fast: The My Passport zoomed through all of our performance tests, invariably showing up somewhere in the winner’s circle for each.

With a price per gigabyte of $0.19, the 1TB model is one of the most expensive drives we tested. And its included USB Type-C cable is exceedingly short: 6.5 inches, which makes using this drive a bit of a hassle on either laptop or desktop computers. (A Type-A adapter comes in the package to ensure the drive will work with a wide variety of systems.) But these are small nitpicks that don’t detract from one of the best external hard drives around.

5. Samsung Portable SSD T7 (MU-PC, USB 3.2, 1TB)

Sleek meets speedy with this portable SSD


Capacity: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB
Interface: USB 3.2 Gen 2
Size: 3.4 x 2.2 x 0.3 inches
Weight: 2.1 ounces
Cost per gigabyte: $0.23
BlackMagic Disk Speed Test: 848.2 MBps write, 838.7 MBps read
PCMark 10 Data Drive Benchmark: 810
Future File Transfer Test: 53.5 seconds

Reasons to buy

Software allows basic password, encryption functionality

Reasons to avoid

Expensive on a cost-per-gigabyte basis

The Samsung Portable SSD T7 looks like the T5, with its rectangular figure adorned by rounded corners, though it’s a little bigger and heavier and its software is identical. It comes in somewhat more exciting color choices, with Indigo Blue, Titan Gray, and Metallic Red variations available for its 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB capacities. 

The biggest difference is that Samsung rates the drive at 1,050 MBps, and we saw much higher results in our tests. It completed our file copy test 20 seconds faster, for example.

But with a cost of $0.23 per gigabyte, this is one of the most expensive drives we’ve seen (though you may be able to find it online for cheaper). If you care more about the Samsung name, the drive’s design, and the speed than you do about value, the T7 delivers more than enough to appreciate and justify itself.

How to choose the best external hard drive for you

Do you care more about speed, capacity, or price? If it’s the first, SSDs store data in flash memory rather than on spinning platters the way traditional hard drives do and thus operate a whole lot faster. The interface can also make a difference; Thunderbolt 3 will be a lot faster than USB, for example.

For capacity, traditional hard drives (HDDs) offer a lot more options, but SSDs are generally able to house the same amount of storage in a smaller amount of space.

As for price, it’s possible to find huge hard drives (think 4TB) for $100 or less. SSDs are nowhere near that inexpensive, but smaller drives (1-2TB) can be found from just over $100 to $200 or more.

If a drive’s looks matter to you, you’ll definitely have choices. Manufacturers these days frequently market portable drives as fashion accessories, selling them in various sizes, shapes, and colors.

How we test external hard drives

We hooked up each external hard drive to a current-generation Dell XPS 17 laptop, using the best connection interface available to that drive, always in the same port, to minimize performance differentials.

Then we ran the same series of synthetic and real-world tests on the drives in the same order, so every drive would function as much as the others as possible. Our test suite comprised:

  • BlackMagic Disk Speed Test 3.2.1 (5GB stress loads)
  • CrystalDiskMark 7.0.0 (8GB workloads, single-thread sequential read and write, queue depths of 1 and 8)
  • PCMark 10 Data Drive Benchmark
  • Future File Transfer Test (25GB)

Finally, we delve into the drives’ technology, features, aesthetics, cables and adapters, and other characteristics to get a broader picture of what the drives offer. Where necessary, we run other tests on the drives’ unique features to see how well they worked under real-life conditions and whether they’re likely to benefit you.

Matthew Murray

Matthew Murray is the head of testing for Future, coordinating and conducting product testing at Tom’s Guide and other Future publications. He has previously covered technology and performance arts for multiple publications, edited numerous books, and worked as a theatre critic for more than 16 years.