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What is an external hard drive, and which are the best?

Saving your files and content on your computer can be risky in case your computer crashes. The best external hard drives can securely store your files at an affordable price.
Written by Lena Borrelli, Contributing Writer on

As much as we try to prevent it, it happens. Our computers crash (knock on wood), and we lose our files. Of course, things are much different now than they were a few years ago. Now there are external hard drives that can protect all of your files and content in another place, so you do not risk losing your most important files. 

First, though, you need to know which external hard drives are the best --and that's where we can help. We conduct in-depth research and scour the market for the best external hard drives for your home and office computer, so that you can save time and money.

Also: The best Black Friday storage and SSD deals

Pros & Cons
pros
  • Warranty included
  • Large capacity
  • Great backup utility
cons
  • Not much security
  • Could be faster
More Details

Tech Specs: Capacity: 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 5TB | Connectivity: USB | Type: Portable | Hard disk form factor: 3.5 inches

For our pick, the Seagate Backup Plus wins the best external hard drive overall. The device is ultra portable for easy carry, and it offers a straightforward design that works with both Windows and Mac. The USB 3.0 drive gives easy access to your files, and you also have the ability to set up automatic backups, whether it is daily, weekly, monthly, or on-demand. As a bonus, with your purchase, you'll receive a two-month membership to the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan, plus a two-year warranty.

Read the review: Seagate Backup Plus Review

Pros & Cons
pros
  • Incredibly durable
  • Very fast
  • USB support
cons
  • Pricey
  • Cumbersome set up
More Details

Tech Specs: Capacity: 2TB, 4TB, 5TB, 8TB | Connectivity: Thunderbolt, USB-C | Type: Portable 

As the name suggests, the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt is the best rugged external hard drive for its tough design -- but it's fast, too. The incorporated Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C offers lightning-fast speeds of up to 130MB/s, giving you high-speed file transfers. Of course, the best part about this external hard drive is its durability. The tough, rugged design is built for life on the road, so it can outlast normal wear and tear. This unit is drop-, dust-, and water-resistant, so you can maintain peace of mind during every adventure.

Pros & Cons
pros
  • Tons of options for storage
  • USB-3 hub included
  • Simple to use
cons
  • Pricey
  • Shorter warranty
More Details

Tech Specs: Capacity: 4TB, 6TB, 8TB, 12TB, 14TB, 16TB, 18TB, 20TB, 24TB, 28TB, 36TB | Connectivity: USB | Type: Desktop | Hard disk form factor: 3.5 inches

There is no shortage of capacities for the WD My Book Duo. Its storage ranges from 4TB all the way to 36TB, offering the largest capacity of all the best external hard drives. However, you have to pay for all that storage with a higher price tag. It uses USB connectivity and offers a hard disk form factor of 3.5 inches, which is larger than other models. As a desktop unit, we also recommend this unit for gaming. 

Pros & Cons
pros
  • Compact design
  • 3-year warranty
  • AES-256 hardware encryption
cons
  • Unstable
  • Must purchase largest version for highest speeds
More Details

Tech Specs: Capacity: 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 5TB | Connectivity: USB | Type: Hard Drive | Hard disk form factor: 2.5 inches

If you don't have a lot to spend, the WD My Passport is a dialed-down version of the external hard drive. It is compatible with desktops and gaming consoles, making it a versatile pick. However, you will have to deal with a lower hard disk form factor of 3.5 inches. It stores a maximum of 5TB, making it suitable if you have fewer files. 

Pros & Cons
pros
  • Durable
  • Super fast
  • Easy to grip
cons
  • Dated connection
  • No SSD
More Details

Tech Specs: Capacity: 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, 4TB, 5TB | Connectivity: USB 3.0 | Type: Portable, Desktop, Gaming Console | Hard disk form factor: 2.5 inches

We recommend the WD Black P10 Game Drive as the best external hard drive for gaming. You get up to 5TB of storage, which can hold up to 125 games, plus USB 3.0 connectivity, albeit with a lower hard disk form factor of 2.5 inches. It uses USB Type-A compatibility, coupled with a Micro-B cable and SuperSpeed interface. You will also find that it's compatible with certain Xbox and PlayStation systems.

What is the best external hard drive?

The Seagate Backup Plus combines affordability with a portable design and a high hard disk form factor. This chart can help you see how it compares to the other best external hard drives.

Best external hard drive

Price

Capacity

Type

Hard Disk Form Factor

Seagate Backup Plus

$108

1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 5TB

Portable

3.5 inches

LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt

$300

2TB, 4TB, 5TB, 8TB

Portable

3.5 inches

WD My Book Duo

$440

4TB, 6TB, 8TB, 12TB, 14TB, 16TB, 18TB, 20TB, 24TB, 28TB, 36TB

Desktop

3.5 inches

WD My Passport

$52

1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 5TB

Portable

2.5 inches

WD Black P10 Game Drive

$79

1TB, 2TB, 3TB, 4TB, 5TB

Desktop / Gaming console

2.5 inches

Which is the right external hard drive for you?

Our expert recommendations can help you find the best external hard drive for your needs.

Choose this best external hard drive...

If you want...

Seagate Backup Plus

A hard drive for both your PC and Mac

LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt

A durable unit that can handle heavy travel

WD My Book Duo

As much storage as possble

WD My Passport

The best budget option

WD Black P10 Game Drive

A hard drive that can cover your gaming needs

Include a "Which is the right [topic keyword] for you?" section formatted in a listicle item shortcode.

In this section, break down a buying tree for readers based on their use cases. Make a two-column chart (see live example here or see below) to visually lay out the use cases. 

How did we choose these external hard drives?

To find the best external hard drives, we consider several factors.

  • Type: A traditional hard drive may move slower and limit the ability to access your system remotely.
  • Storage: The best external hard drives are available with different capacities for storage, ranging from 1TB to 36TB.
  • Ports: Most external hard drives allow for USB connections, but some offer USB-C connections for your more modern devices.
  • Price: We always keep price at the forefront, so you can find an external hard drive that matches your budget.

Is an SSD better than an internal hard drive?

A solid-state drive (SSD) offers portability in its design, so you can take it on the go with you. An internal hard drive not only chains you to a specific device, but it also provides a greater amount of memory than SSDs. 

How long do external hard drives last?

An SSD typically lasts around ten years, which is far more than traditional hard drives, which usually last between three and five years.

How much does an external hard drive cost?

While the exact cost can vary, the best external hard drives range from $52 to more than $425 in price.

Are there alternative external hard drives worth considering?

While searching for the best external hard drives, we found these runner-up options that may be right for you

For other ideas, check out our expert picks for the best computers, the best all-in-one computers, and the best gaming PCs.

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