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The best external hard drives you can buy: Expert tested

I've rigorously evaluated the top external hard drives available today, to guide you toward the most reliable and cost-effective backup storage solution.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
Reviewed by Kayla Solino
WD My Passport Ultra | Best external hard drive overall
WD My Passport Ultra
Best external hard drive overall
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Western Digital Elements | Best external hard drive for data hogs
Western Digital Elements
Best external hard drive for data hogs
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SanDisk Professional G-Drive ArmorATD | Best external hard drive for adventurers
SanDisk Professional G-Drive ArmorATD
Best external hard drive for adventurers
View now View at Amazon
Toshiba Canvio Basics | Best external hard drive for minimalists
Toshiba Canvio Basics
Best external hard drive for minimalists
View now View at Amazon
WD My Book Duo | Best external hard drive for those paranoid about losing data
WD My Book Duo
Best external hard drive for those paranoid about losing data
View now View at Amazon

Whether you're looking to secure vital data or tackle the challenge of limited free space on your computer, an external hard drive offers a quick and easy solution to expand your storage capacity. With just a free USB port and a bit of desk space, you can add anywhere from a few hundred gigabytes to an astounding 44 terabytes. This makes external hard drives incredibly versatile and cost-effective for enhancing your storage capabilities.

Need a modest boost for essential files? Or perhaps a massive expansion to store, well, everything? An external hard drive can accommodate your needs with minimal fuss and maximum convenience. It's the ultimate storage upgrade that fits right into your digital life!

Also: Best cloud storage services of 2024

What's the best external hard drive right now?

After dedicating many hours to hands-on testing and scouring online reviews, I've made my pick for the best external hard drive on the market -- the WD My Passport Ultra. This drive stands out for its user-friendly design, built-in encryption, and compact form factor. However, if your priorities include different storage capacities or a drive capable of withstanding rain and dust, don't worry. This list caters to those needs as well

The best external hard drive of 2024

Pros & Cons
  • Backup software included
  • Price is good
  • Small enough to carry about
  • Needs to be reformatted to work with Mac
More Details

A common mistake I often see is people purchasing the largest, bulkiest external hard drive they can find, under the impression that it's the best solution for their needs. Later, they find themselves with a huge, noisy device that occupies too much desk space and is inconvenient to carry to the office or on the road.

This is why I recommend the WD My Passport Ultra to those who need a compact, easy-to-use hard drive for a few critical files, or for moving data between systems, or for travel.

Over the years, I've recommended this drive to dozens of people, ranging from home users in need of a backup solution to amateur photographers and videographers facing disk space limitations. Everyone who has purchased one has reported back that they've been satisfied with their choice.

What sets this drive apart are two key features: It includes WD Backup software for PCs, which simplifies and optimizes the backup process, and it offers built-in 256-bit AES hardware encryption, ensuring that data on the drive is secure.

Given the solid reputation of the WD brand and the quality of their hard drives, I have little concerns about premature data loss.

WD My Passport Ultra features: USB-C and USB 3.1 interface | 1TB to 5TB capacities | 256-bit AES hardware encryption | 2.5-inch form factor | 3-year limited warranty

Pros & Cons
  • Massive capacity
  • Reliable data storage
  • Backup software included
  • AC adapter powered, so needs a free outlet
  • Quite noisy
More Details

This is the go-to choice for those who require an enormous amount of storage but want to avoid the extra hardware and setup complexities of an NAS (Network Attached Storage) system. With capacities ranging from 4 to 22 terabytes, the WD Digital Elements is perfect for even the most demanding data hogs.

However, don't assume that high capacity translates to a high price tag. The cost of the 22TB version breaks down to a reasonable $18 per terabyte. This makes it an ideal solution for individuals who manage or work with large media files, especially videos. It's a popular choice among drone pilots who do extensive filming.

Also: The best NAS devices

I personally relied on similar drives for many years before my storage needs grew and I transitioned to a NAS system. Throughout all those years, these drives never failed me; they consistently performed well until I required even more storage capacity.

The only downside I've noticed is that the drive can be rather noisy. Partly in my case this was due to me operating several drives on my desk simultaneously, but even a single drive can be far from silent on its own.

WD Digital Elements features: USB 2.0/3.0 interface | 4TB to 22TB capacities | 3.5-inch form factor | 2-year limited warranty 

Pros & Cons
  • IP54 rain/dust rating
  • Designed for Mac
  • Crush resistance up to 1000lbs
  • Needs to be reformatted for Windows use
  • Chunky enclosure
More Details

While most external hard drives are destined for a sedentary life on a desk at home or in the office, this particular model is engineered for adventure. With its IP54 rain and dust rating, along with crush resistance up to 1000 pounds, this drive is ideally suited to endure the toughest environments.

Considering the inevitable drops onto hard surfaces that occur during outdoor activities, the drive is equipped with rubber bumpers and internal shock absorbers. These features offer added protection to the drive's delicate components.

However, it's important to note that this is still a hard disk drive, with spinning platters that store data. Despite the robust protection, any device with moving parts is inherently susceptible to damage from drops and vibrations. Therefore, exercising caution is advisable when handling this drive.

I have owned several ArmorATD drives and have found them to be exceptionally durable. They have been particularly useful for backing up data. I usually carry multiple drives with me, ensuring that important photos and videos are duplicated across several units for added security.

SanDisk Professional G-Drive ArmorATD features: USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt 3 interface | 1TB to 5TB capacities | 3.5-inch form factor | 3-year limited warranty 

Pros & Cons
  • Small
  • Budget option
  • Durable, smudge-resistant shell
  • Short warranty period
  • No frills, no software, no encryption
More Details

This is the ideal budget-friendly choice for those seeking simplicity without the high cost or complexity. It's a straightforward drive that can be easily connected to a system as needed. Remarkably compact, it's only slightly larger than the 2.5-inch hard drives found in laptops, making it one of the smallest and lightest external drives available.

This drive is perfectly suited for individuals who manage small amounts of data, such as students or home users looking to back up essential files.

Furthermore, this drive comes from Toshiba, a manufacturer known for its excellent track record. Toshiba's drives are renowned for their reliability, and you can expect years of dependable service from this model.

Toshiba Canvio Basics features: USB 2.0/3.0 interface | 1TB to 4TB capacities | 2.5-inch form factor | 1-year limited warranty 

Pros & Cons
  • Huge capacity
  • Drive redundancy protects against data loss
  • Pro-grade features and performancde
  • Big box
  • Noisy
  • Expensive
More Details

If you're worried about data loss, then this is the external hard drive for you. Why? Because it takes a regular external hard drive and adds a second drive. This second drive can be used in one of two ways:

  • It can be used alongside the first drive, doubling the capacity of the unit.
  • It can be used as a redundant backup of the first drive in what is called a RAID array. This way, if one drive fails or the data is somehow corrupted, the data remains safe on the other.

And I need to say this clearly: Drive failure is rare, but it happens, especially when you're transferring a lot of data (the kind of thing you might do if you are processing high-definition video, for example). If you have irreplaceable data, then an external hard drive like this is an important part of the solution when it comes to preventing data loss.

WD My Book Duo features: USB 3.2 interface | 8TB to 44TB capacities | 3.5-inch form factor | 3-year limited warranty 

What is the best external hard drive?

Recognizing that your external hard drive requirements might vary from mine, my aim is to guide you toward options that cater to a broad spectrum of needs and preferences.

Accordingly, my top selection is the WD My Passport Ultra. In my experience dealing with a wide range of users, this drive meets the needs of a good 90-95% of users. It stands out for delivering excellent value and reliability, comes with useful backup software, and includes the added benefit of built-in hardware encryption.

However, if you're among the 10% seeking something a bit different, I've compiled a comprehensive list of external drives. This resource is designed to help you effortlessly compare their specifications and find the one that best matches your unique circumstances.

External hard drive


Capacity (TB)


Form Factor

Hardware Encryption


WD My Passport Ultra



USB-C and USB 3.1 



3-year limited

Western Digital Elements



USB 2.0/3.0



2-year limited

SanDisk Professional G-Drive ArmorATD



USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt 3



3-year limited

Toshiba Canvio Basics



USB 2.0/3.0



1-year limited

WD My Book Duo


Starting at 8, up to 44 

USB 3.2



3-year limited

Which is the right external hard drive for you?

Choose this external hard drive

If you want…

WD My Passport Ultra

A drive for most people who want an inexpensive yet reliable drive with the added protection of hardware encryption. This drive is perfect for most users wanting a backup drive or a way to store files when their computer starts running out of space.

Western Digital Elements

A drive for data hogs who keep everything. Yes, it's bigger and noisier -- and more expensive -- but this is a solid, reliable performer. 

SanDisk Professional G-Drive ArmorATD

To your external hard drive out with you on adventures. Water and dust-resistant, and built to survive bumps and drops, this drive is perfect for adventure.

Toshiba Canvio Basics

A minimalist, no-frills drive. This one is perfect for those who know they need to backup their data, but think it's going to need a lot of expensive hardware.

WD My Book Duo

To never get paranoid about losing data. This drive offers masses of capacity or the ability to have the data copies across two drives for added security.

Factors to consider when choosing an external hard drive

External hard drives may not be the most exciting pieces of technology, but it's amazing how quickly people become interested in them after experiencing data loss. The following are things to consider when trying to choose the right external hard drive for your needs, and what I considered in creating this guide:

  • Reliability: I've selected external hard drives from top-name brands to ensure the highest reliability. Hard drives are inherently reliable, and the products chosen are expected to offer about 5 to 7 years of effective life, after which it is advisable to replace them.
  • Features: The selection includes basic drives for those with modest requirements, as well as models equipped with advanced features such as hardware encryption, water and dust resistance, and drive redundancy for added data protection.
  • Capacity: The products come in a variety of capacities, allowing users to select a size that meets their needs without paying for unused storage space.
  • Desktop or portable: Some want an external hard drive for use on a desk, others will want to take it with them. Generally, those with a 2.5-inch form factor are portable units, while 3.5-inch units are best forstatic desktop use.
  • Price: I've ensured there is a range of prices to accommodate all budgets. Everyone deserves the opportunity to back up their data securely and affordably.

How we test external hard drives

Having worked with technology for nearly three decades, and been a pro-am photographer and videographer for much of that time (so I've been testing and using backup solutions for many years), I've handled and tested a wide array of external hard drives from various manufacturers. With the exception of the SanDisk Professional G-Drive ArmorATD -- which is new to me, though I've owned an earlier version -- I have personally used all the drives listed in this guide. This gives me a practical understanding of what they offer in terms of features, performance, and long-term reliability.

Additionally, I've considered user reviews to identify and exclude products that may have design flaws or reliability issues.

What is the difference between an SSD and an HDD external hard drive?

SSD (Solid State Drive) and HDD (Hard Disk Drive) are two types of storage technologies used in external hard drives. SSDs are faster, more durable, and use less power because they have no moving parts, making them ideal for frequent transport and high-speed data transfer. 

HDDs, on the other hand, offer larger storage capacities at a lower cost per gigabyte but are generally slower and more susceptible to damage from physical shocks due to their moving parts.

Also: The best SSDs

How do I choose the right capacity for my external hard drive?

The appropriate capacity for your external hard drive largely hinges on your individual storage requirements. It's important to consider the types of files you intend to store, such as documents, photos, videos, or software, and their respective sizes.

As a general guideline, a drive ranging from 500GB to 2TB ought to suffice for most users. However, for those dealing with significant volumes of high-resolution media files or needing backups for multiple devices, opting for a drive with a capacity of 4TB or more may be necessary.

To make an informed decision, assess both your current and future storage needs. My recommendation is to estimate your present data volume and then double that storage capacity; this approach should adequately serve you for at least the next year or so.

Can I use one external hard drive for both Windows and Mac computers?

Yes, you can use one external hard drive with both Windows and Mac computers, but it will require formatting the drive in a file system that is compatible with both operating systems. 

The exFAT format is widely recommended for this purpose because it is supported by both Windows and Mac without the file size limitations of FAT32. However, formatting the drive will erase all data on it, so be sure to back up your files before proceeding, otherwise you could be in a world of hurt.

Note that many external hard drives come pre-formatted for one operating system, but can be reformatted for use with another.

Other external hard drives to consider 

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