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The best external hard drives: Top storage options compared

Which is the best external hard drive? The right one can help you meet the ever-increasing storage demands of the digital age. To help you find the ideal fit for your needs, whether it's for a Mac, PC, or gaming console, we hand-picked the best options available.

With all of the cloud storage options available today, hard drives might seem like they're on the verge of becoming a thing of the past. At least, that's the case until you look at the fees. Even a dollar or two a month adds up, especially assuming you'll only need more and more storage through the years. 

If you don't want to get caught on the hook for recurring cloud storage fees, a one-time purchase of a hard drive delivers. The trick, though, is that you need to find a reliable hard drive with enough storage to meet your needs. Plus, the ideal hard drive offers the connectivity you need, whether that's a simple hookup to your laptop or the ability to communicate with your gaming system. Fortunately, we rounded up some options that can meet your price point, compatibility, and storage capacity needs. 

Note that we're looking at external hard disk drives (HDDs) here, but you could also explore solid state drives (SSDs), which are generally faster but cost more. 

Without further ado, let's get to it. 

Seagate Ultra Touch 2TB hard drive

Best office hard drive

Seagate Ultra Touch 2TB hard drive
SanDisk

With two terabytes (TB) of storage, this compact hard drive gets it done. Plus, the look of this HDD belies its low price. It features a woven fabric exterior that lends a chicness to the design, so much so that you might not mind leaving it out on your desk. It also comes in both white and black, so you can match your workspace's specific style. 

The Ultra Touch offers password-activated hardware encryption, which means if you tote the hard drive to a coworking space, coffee shop, or somewhere else and happen to leave it behind accidentally -- or you don't particularly trust everyone who has access to your desk -- your data stays secure. 

This small and stylish hard drive comes with USB-C and USB 3.0 connectivity and works with Windows and Mac operating systems. Its maximum speed is 120 MB/s, which is slower than some other options on our list, but probably isn't a deal-breaker if you're using it at the office. 

You can also set up an automatic backup schedule, whether you want that to happen daily, weekly, or monthly, which means keeping your data backed up doesn't have to become another to-do on your list when you sit down at your desk.  

This HDD has earned 4.6 stars out of 1,600 ratings on Amazon, solidifying it as a good choice for anyone needing a nice-looking hard drive with security features.  

Pros

  • Decent price
  • Stylish design
  • Password-activated hardware encryption

Cons

  • Only compatible with computers
  • Relatively slow speeds

WD Black 5TB P10 game drive

Best hard drive for gaming

WD Black 5TB P10 game drive
Western Digital

Since the latest games eat through gigs of storage like it's a quick snack, most gamers need some extra space. This HDD designed for gaming gives users what they need, at least according to more than 22,000 5-star Amazon reviews. 

Western Digital (WD) built this hard drive specifically for gaming. It comes with 5TB of storage -- which WD says means you can store up to 125 games -- and compatibility with Xbox, PlayStation (PS), and PCs. No matter how you game, it can work for you. Connecting to your console or laptop includes a USB Type-A to Micro-B cable. That connection offers a SuperSpeed interface to give you speeds of up to 5GB/s. 

Users say it's plug-and-play. Simply connect it to your console or gaming PC, and you'll get prompted to set it up. All this said, the WD_BLACK has limited functionality when it comes to older consoles. 

Specifically, the tech specs say you can:

  • Play and store Xbox One games
  • Play, story, and archive Xbox Series X|S games
  • Play and store PS4 games
  • Play, store, and archive PS5 games

Go further back than that, and you might be out of luck. 

Gamers, in particular, may be glad to know that the WD_BLACK doesn't require an external power source, which means you only need to connect it to your gaming console. This HDD can still work for you if your gaming setup has already hogged up all of your outlets. 

Pros

  • Built for gaming with Xbox and PlayStation compatibility
  • 5TB of space

Cons

  • Price
  • Limited to no functionality with older gaming consoles

Seagate Portable 2TB external hard drive

Best budget hard drive

Seagate Portable 2TB external hard drive
LaCie

Since the main argument for hard drives over SSDs is the price, we'd be remiss if we didn't pick a relatively affordable option. With 2TB of space, this Seagate HDD is a solid choice. (They also offer a 1TB version if you're looking to save a little more.)

This portable HDD from Seagate works with Macs and PCs -- along with PlayStation and Xbox gaming consoles. It's plug-and-play and comes with a USB 3.0 cable for speeds of up to 120 MB/s. Be advised, though, that the tech specs say "up to." Some user reviews warn of slow writing, so this affordable HDD probably isn't for you if you're looking for something that can back up your data fast. 

If you're looking for a simple user interface, though, consider it. Once you connect this Seagate HDD to your device, you'll get a prompt to set it up. From there, on a computer, backing any data up is as simple as drag-and-drop. 

This Seagate product delivers solid storage alongside ease-of-use, as it evidenced by its 4.7-star average from more than 188,000 Amazon reviews. In fact, it's also earned the designation as an "Amazon's Choice" product. 

Pros

  • Low price
  • User-friendly setup 

Cons

  • Relatively slow speeds
  • No security features

SanDisk Professional 5TB G-Drive

Toughest hard drive

SanDisk Professional 5TB G-Drive
CalDigit

Maybe you're a documentarian or a nature photographer. Whatever brings you out into the field, you need it to be rugged if your hard drive comes with you. 

Enter: the G-Drive. This hard drive is built for the elements. Not only does it have an anodized aluminum enclosure and rubber bumpers along the edges, but it also boasts internal shock mounts for added drop protection. Plus, it comes with an IP54 rain/dust rating and crush resistance up to 1,000 pounds. And should anything happen, you get a three-year limited warranty with this G-Drive, too. 

As far as connectivity, this hard drive offers USB-C, USB 3.0, and Thunderbolt compatibility. It comes programmed to work with Mac computers, but you can reformat it for use with Microsoft. 

If you want the max 5TB capacity for this hard drive, you'll need to pay $169.99 on Amazon. To save some money, you can get the G-Drive with smaller capacities:

  • 1TB for $82.99
  • 2TB for $99.99
  • 4TB for $139.99

Long story short, however much storage you need, there's a rugged G-Drive for you. In fact, we liked it so much we listed it in our top HDD and SSDs for tech adventurers in 2022. 

Pros

  • Rugged design with internal shock mounts, IP54 rating, and crush resistance
  • 5TB capacity

Cons

  • Requires reformatting for Microsoft

WD 12TB Elements desktop hard drive

Best for high capacity

WD 12TB Elements desktop hard drive
Seagate

Terabyte for dollar, it's hard to beat this desktop hard drive from Western Digital. Plus, with 4.7 stars from nearly 18,000 Amazon ratings, you can rest easy knowing this WD HDD offers a high level of reliability. 

It also features USB 3.0 and 2.0 compatibility. It comes formatted with Windows compatibility, but you can reformat it to work with Mac. It also offers up to 113.5 MB/s of speeds. As we've mentioned before, that's not ultra-fast.

This 12TB WD hard drive costs $209.99 on Amazon right now. But if you're looking for even more space, you can also size up. WD offers this desktop hard drive with the following larger storage capacities:

  • 14TB for $242.95
  • 16TB for $305.99
  • 18TB for $354.95

The main drawback with this WD HDD is its physical size. If you're looking for something you can grab and go, this isn't it. All of the other hard drives we've outlined on this list are portable, but this thing is a bit of a monster, comparatively speaking, at 5.31 by 1.89 by 6.53 inches. Long story short, be prepared to clear off a little bit of space on your desk if you choose this hard drive. 

This WD product also doesn't come with password protection or encryption, but it shouldn't be much of a problem if you're not toting this HDD around with you. 

Pros

  • Lots of storage space
  • Compatibility with Mac, PC, Xbox, and PlayStation

Cons

  • Size 
  • No security measures

How did we choose these external hard drives?

To pick our top five HDDs, we looked at the main things that make a good hard drive: storage space, user-friendliness, compatibility with your device of choice, and price. Functionality-wise, we tried to cover all of the bases, from PC and Mac laptops and desktop computers to the latest gaming consoles on the market today. 

We also know that ease-of-use matters. Most of the external hard drives available today don't require a separate software download. A lot of the options on the market right now -- including picks on this list -- will prompt you to set them up, then walk you through that process when you plug them into your device of choice. That can be particularly helpful if you're trying to back up game data since navigating a game console's connectivity to external sources isn't always easy.

In an effort to pick products that won't run into issues -- a very important feature when you're relying on your HDD to backup all of your essential data -- we also chose hard drives with at least 4.6 stars. And to confirm that the sample size was large enough to be meaningful, we made sure that the star average came from at least 1,000 Amazon reviews. 

Which is the right external hard drive for you?

Selecting the right hard drive starts with choosing an HDD that's compatible with the device, creating the data you want to back up. So, first up, confirm that the hard drive you're considering will work to back up your particular device. 

From there, it's largely about the amount of storage you need and your main preference. 

  • For in-office use blending a nice-looking HDD with data encryption and password protection, choose the Seagate Ultra Touch.
  • Check out another Seagate option, their portable external hard drive, for a budget-friendly pick.
  • For durability, if you know your hard drive might be exposed to some rough-and-tumble experiences, opt for the G-Drive.
  • For backing up games from your PlayStation, Xbox, or gaming PC, choose the WD_BLACK specifically designed for your purposes. 
  • Look to the WD desktop hard drive for a lot of storage space.  

We hope these use cases help you identify which hard drive will best meet your specific needs. 

External hard drive

Price

Key features

Seagate Ultra Touch 2TB Hard Drive 

$84.99

Password protection, stylish design

WD_BLACK 5TB P10 Game Drive

$129.99

Built for gaming (Xbox, PlayStation, and PC compatibility)

Seagate Portable 2TB External Hard Drive

$59.99

Affordable price

SanDisk Professional 5TB G-DRIVE

$169.99

Aluminum and rubber enclosure, shock and crush resistance

WD 12TB Elements Desktop Hard Drive

$209.99

Big storage capacity

Will an external hard drive work with my device?

That depends. You should carefully read the tech specs from the retailer to ensure that the HDD you're considering will be able to write data from your device. 

Will an internal hard drive work?

Unless you know how to integrate the hardware into your existing computer, no. The external hard drives we've picked here are designed to work by simply plugging them into your device, which means you don't need any mechanical skills.

How much do external hard drives cost?

Prices vary depending on the capability you want and the amount of storage you need, but you should ballpark budget at least $30 for every terabyte of storage. 

Are there alternative external hard drives worth considering?

Absolutely. In fact, while all of the hard drives on this list are solid options, we would be remiss if we didn't recommend also exploring SSDs. They're faster, smaller, and -- because they have fewer moving parts -- less prone to hardware woes. We've even spotlit some of the SSD twins of products on this list.

Also, for the purposes of this list, we're looking at external hard drives. That means they're plug-and-play with your existing hardware setups. But if you're in the process of building a computer or you have the capability to add an internal hard drive yourself, you should consider internal hard drives because they're generally more affordable than an external option with the same amount of storage. We recommend checking out:


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