Five Best In Class External Hard Drives

Category: Hard-Drives

What's the best external hard drive? That depends on how and where you want to use it. They're great for backups, for freeing up space on your computer's internal drive, or for adding portable storage to a laptop, tablet or smartphone. If you're looking for the biggest, the fastest, the most durable, the most secure, or just the best value in an external hard drive, read on…

Which External Hard Drive Should I Buy?

I love the convenience of external hard drives for doing backups on a PC or Mac. Just plug in the drive, and you're ready to safeguard your desktop or laptop's data from loss. Some external drives even come with backup software already installed.

(See my related article Five Easy Backup Drives.)

For some, today’s mobile lifestyle (and the generally small storage capacity of mobile gadgets) demands a portable hard drive to carry music and video collections. Others may want to carry important files in a device that's small enough to fit in a pocket. So popular are external drives that the genre has evolved multiple outstanding products to meet every criterion a user might want.

Before I get down to recommending specific hard drives, let me mention the subtle difference between "portable external hard drives" and "desktop external hard drives". The portable variety is generally smaller, but more important is the fact that it doesn't need a wall plug for power. Portable drives draw power the device they're plugged into, via the USB or Firewire cable. That's a big plus, especially if you and your laptop, tablet, or smartphone are miles away from the nearest electrical outlet.
Best External Hard Drives

Here are five examples of external hard drives that are very good at their best functions:

Very Big: 4 terabytes should be enough storage for anyone, right? But just in case, you can get the 8 terabyte LaCie 4big Quadra External Hard Drive. Yes, that's 8,000 gigabytes of storage space in a cube that measures 7 x 7 x 8.7 inches. This one won't fit in your pocket or purse, but it spins at 7200 rpm and moves data in and out via USB 3.0 or Firewire 800 interfaces. The theoretical maximum USB throughput rate is 3.0 Gbps (300 MBps), so filling up 8 TB will take at least 7.4 hours. Only $779 at

Very Fast: But “theoretical maximum” speeds are not reached in the real world. The actual throughput of different models of hard drive varies according to the OEM’s design. In some real-world tests, Western Digital’s My Passport Ultra drive blows away competitors. In several different lab tests, the Ultra posted very impressive speeds of over 100MB/sec for both sequential read and write. For large file transfers, speeds of 70MB/sec were observed. The 2 TB My Passport Ultra model sells for about $119.

Best Value: The best value in a portable drive may be the Toshiba 2TB Canvio Basics USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive which sells for about $99 online. Of course, the crown of “lowest cost per gigabyte” keeps moving from head to head as vendors change prices to meet competition and clear out surplus stock.

Tough Guy: If you work or play rough, you need a ruggedized external hard drive. The LaCie Rugged Triple USB 3.0 drive is drop-resistant up to two meters, features fast USB 3.0 and Firewire 800 interfaces. Lacie spells out what it means to be rugged: Start with a shock-resistant hard drive that can withstand physical shocks up to 1000 units of gravitation force; add internal anti-shock rubber bumpers; surround that with a scratch-proof aluminum shell that absorbs and dissipates heat from inside the drive; then wrap it all up in a rubber shock-absorbing sleeve that's also pressure, dust, and rain resistant.

I don't recommend dropping it 26 times, or running it over with a one-ton sedan. But that's only because LaCie has already done all that and more, to ensure that their Rugged products meet US DoD standards for durability under a wide variety of environmental stresses. The 1TB model sells for around $169, and also comes with encryption built in, to protect data against thieves as well as hard knocks.

Very Secure:If theft worries you more than falls, the Datalocker DL3 may give you peace of mind. Its hardware-based encryption technology is unlocked by a passcode entered on a built-in keypad. There is no encryption software on a PC or other device to be hacked; the key is kept in your head. There is no way to connect to the built-in encryption engine to hack it. This ultra-secure device starts at $279 for a 500 GB drive.

When buying an external hard drive, consider your needs for portability, capacity, speed, durability and security. You might not need multiple terabytes of storage, or the fastest external drive. For example, I recently bought a discontinued Western Digital 500GB portable drive for $49. I use it to run overnight backups on a PC that only has about 100GB of files, so it's perfect for that.

Do you have something to say about external or portable hard drives? Post your comment below...

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Most recent comments on "Five Best In Class External Hard Drives"

(See all 22 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

25 Feb 2014

Very good article. I have WD My Book 2TB with USB 3.0. It's very fast, reliable and not expensive. About $120. I think that Western Digital is expanding on this area of external HD.

Posted by:

25 Feb 2014

There is a company named OyenDigital ( that has been getting my attention with their 2.5" 1TB USB3.0 SSD drive.
The U32 Shadow™ is an ultra-compact size drive w/a street price of under $100. What makes it even more attractive is that this aluminum-housed SSD comes with its own USB3.0 cable, backup software and a 3year warranty. The bonus is that they also provide a lifetime encrypted 10GB SpiderOak cloud storage. Both the company and the cloud storage is US based!

Posted by:

25 Feb 2014

Bob ... It took me several years, to get onto the Backup Hard Drive "bandwagon", but, I did, last year. I went ahead and purchased a Seagate 3TB External Hard Drive, for around $129. It was priced better than my absolute favorite hard drive, the Western Digital. I got 1TB more, for $10 less.

Okay ... That may not be the way to purchase an important "Back Up" piece of equipment, but, I do know that both WD and Seagate have good track records. What surprised me was, that this Seagate External is basically smaller than the WD Books. I almost, never hear any platters running, much like I don't hear the platters running a lot in my PC, which has a WD SATA 1TB Hard Drive.

I do not have a lot of important files, on my PC, like those who use their PCs for Business, either at Home or Work. It is paramount, that Business Files be protected, from Hard Drive Failure. Also, equally important are the smaller "business" files, on all of our Home PCs ... I am thinking of Tax Returns, Bill Payment Confirmations, Mortgage Payment Confirmations and so on. It really is so much better, to keep these things on your PC, than to have paper files, all over the place, in your home.

What floored me, was literally signing my lease, on the house that Hubby and I are renting, digitally!!! No one had to go into any office or met anyplace, to get the lease signed. Yes, the agreements, to the financial arrangements were made in person, but, it was after the owners accepted the arrangements, that the lease was signed. Hubby and I signed the lease, 70 miles away from the house, we were renting. Awesome, to me ... simply awesome. You just gotta love computers and digital signatures!!!

Why was that important? I have a computer copy of that lease, on my Back Up Hard Drive, as well. I can print it out, anytime I have need to. I really like that, once again, I am in control of what I do or don't do. :)

Thank goodness Bob, that you did this article. I haven't been updating my Seagate Dashboard and realized, that I needed to ... Finished updating. :)

Posted by:

25 Feb 2014

I have 3 2TB & 4 3TB Seagate Desktop Drives and 10 1 TB USB Seagate Portable Drives. All 3.0 USB. With 2 WD 2 port each 3.0 USB cards in computer. Gave up on all other brand drives as too much trouble with them failing (Especially WD Drives).
Only problem ever had with the seagtes are with the Desktop models that lie flat...stay away from those.

Posted by:

25 Feb 2014

forgot to mention you can regularly find the 3TB Desktop Seagate drives for under $120 each.

Posted by:

25 Feb 2014

I have 2 - External hdd, that are 2.0 UBS. Recently I purchased a new 3.0 UBS, but I wondered it would work with 2.0 driver. The article I read indicated it would work at 2.0 speed. Is this correct?

I have found that I like Seagate hardware.

Posted by:

25 Feb 2014

Hi Bob: Yet another option not mentioned above is to purchase a good hard drive enclosure with an eSATA interface to take advantage of higher SATA transfer speeds.

The ones that I purchased cost about $20 and even come with a cooling fan and an eSATA bracket to hook up to an internal SATA connector on older motherboards.

These enclosures provide the flexibility of using older, smaller SATA drives for backup purposes or going with new high capacity units for serious archiving. The only drawback to this approach would be the need for an external power source for the enclosure power supply!

Posted by:

25 Feb 2014

I have at least four external hard drive setups and they are all made using external enclosures bought on Newegg and then putting in spare 2.5 and 3.5 drives I had laying around. They are definitely a bit easier to reuse than the OEM external drives that may be glued in place and may not work if cracked open after a drive dies.

Posted by:

25 Feb 2014

and of course if you want a super fast rugged external drive and are willing to pay extra $$$ you could get an external enclosure and pop a Solid State Drive in it.

Posted by:

25 Feb 2014

Be aware that many if not all WD external HDs encrypt your data on the fly, whether you ask it to or not. The encryption is hardware-based and if, for example, the usb connector breaks off the PCB while connecting or disconnecting the drive, you cannot take the drive out and pop it into another external enclosure. Well, you can, but you won't be able to get your data off the drive; all you can do is reformat it.

Posted by:

25 Feb 2014


Thanks A Million to the link you provided:

I have been in the market for a reliable SSD external hard drive since my laptop is ALL SSD and has been very reliable for the past 4 years and has shown absolutely NO sign of wear at all based on its internal diagnostics!

RandiO - - Again, My Thanks!


Posted by:

Bob Stromberg
26 Feb 2014

I think it's worth looking at this article on Tom's Hardware about hard drive reliability, admittedly from August 2011 info from Russian data recovery firm StoreLab. Tom's Hardware's conclusion is that based on the data Hitachi is the best manufacturer. Don't take my word for it! This article makes for interesting reading.,2681.html

Does anyone know of a more recent similar report?


Posted by:

26 Feb 2014

This article came at a perfect time. I'm using a Seagate Backup Plus external hard drive for backup. I think it has somehow gone rogue. A program called "NB Core" keeps opening and hogging so much memory that my computer slows to a crawl or hangs up entirely until that program closes. Task Manager says that it is a Seagate program. I found advice on a blog from someone having the same problem, to open Seagate Dashboard and change the settings. Now Seagate Dashboard won't open. Unless someone has a good suggestion, I think it's time to get rid of the Seagate drive and replace it with something else. So your article came at a perfect time.

Posted by:

26 Feb 2014

I'd like to second Pete's suggestion for an eSata external drive and raise it to a 'Dock'.
A SATA3 motherboard and eSATA3 HD has a theoretical 6 Gbps transfer rate. Even using old SATA2 parts, that's 3 Gbps; slightly less than USB3, but supported on much older and more hardware. Any eSATA connection, even the obsolete SATA1 (1.5 Gbps) blows standard 'Hi Speed' USB2 away (0.5 Gbps.)
An inexpensive dock ( Lastly, eSATA is hot-swapable like USB. One needs to be more careful than swapping USB devices, but with some precautions it works well.

Posted by:

26 Feb 2014

I've read reviews and seen posts on forums that Mircosoft Windows 7 PC's cannot access more than 2 Terabytes of external drive space. That is, if you buy a 3 Terabyte external hard drive you are wasting 1 Terabyte because it can't be used. I've forgotten why but I seemed to recall it has something to do with the blocks Microsoft uses to store the data on your PC. I was all set to buy a 3 Terabyte drive recently until I discovered this limitation. Bob or anyone, do you know if this is true or am I wrong? There are work-arounds that I saw but they seem quite complicated for the average (me) user.

Posted by:

James M
26 Feb 2014

I have 3 Western Digital external My Book drives. One is a 1 TB, the second a 2 TB, and the latest one a 4 TB. I love them.
The 1 TB is full with Acronis True Image backups, my wife's and my extensive genealogy files, audiobooks, music and photos.
Besides these externals, I also use 2 Cloud storage areas for my desktop and my wife's laptop.
I became anal about backups after the failure of 2 Maxtor externals. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve everything with Stellar Phoenix software.

Posted by:

26 Feb 2014

@Pop ... My PC operating system is Windows 7 Professional - 64Bit ... I have a 3TB Seagate External Hard Drive and my PC recognizes the 3TBs. Now, Windows has a tendency to not recognize what looks like the "full" amount, but, due to how computer software handles the algorisms ... The "total" count does look less. In reality ... The count is the same and my PC recognizes the full 3TBs.

It is highly possible, that with all of the Security Updates and Windows 7 Updates, that this issue has been "fixed." We must remember, that Hard Drives going "off the charts, in size", has only been going on for the past couple of years or so.

Windows 7 has been on the market, since, October 22, 2009. I don't believe that Hard Drives were being manufactured over 1 or 2 TBs, at that time. Most people were dealing with 80GB, 120GB, 160GB, 250GB, 320GB, 500GB and 750GB, since these were more reasonably priced. In checking, 2TB Hard Drives came on the market during 2009, so in all honesty, this makes sense, that originally Windows 7 may have not recognized anything over 2TBs.

Posted by:

28 Feb 2014

Bought a 1-terabyte WD MyBook external HD some while back to take backups from 2 XP laptops and a desktop, little enough used that FAT32 was adequate. In the fullness of time my usual clumsy mode appeared, and I knocked the drive off a meter-high shelf onto a hardwood floor. Expecting the worst I plugged it back in and used it and everything was fine. I was so impressed I went out and bought a 2-terabyte MyBook when we got our Win7 computers. (That lives on a carpeted floor) Guess what? I was moving stuff around a few days back and managed to do an encore drop on the 1-terabyte drive. It sill works.
I figure the WD drives are a good buy - but in future won't crowd my luck with inadvertent impromptu shock testing.

Posted by:

09 Mar 2014

Interesting. I should have probably looked up more reviews before buying mine...

What do you make of the brand WD (Western Digital)? Have you had much experience with them?

Posted by:

06 Jan 2024

Hi Bob,
You provide very useful information, I appreciate it!
But why do you recommend My Passport external drive, if there are so many complaints about its quality? Many people complain that it stops working soon after warranty expires (I read comments on the sale page). The same happened to my WD disc - one day it just stopped transferring data... It's such a huge disappointment, considering how much important information was stored there!

There's more reader feedback... See all 22 comments for this article.

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