While cloud storage continues to grow in popularity, portable external hard drives remain a solid alternative for simple, local backups. They allow you to easily store large multimedia files, increase your computer’s storage capacity and share files between computers. Additionally, external hard drives are typically a cheaper and more secure backup option than cloud storage.
External hard drives come in all sizes and storage capacities, but those on our lineup are compact, portable drives with storage capacities that range from 500GB to 1TB. With simple plug-and-play operation, external hard drives such as the Western Digital My Passport, Transcend StoreJet 25M3, and Clickfree C2 are ideal for on-the-go or multi-computer access to important data. For more information on the best portable hard drives, peruse our articles on external hard drives.
External USB hard drives are less expensive, more reliable and easier to use than ever, which means the market is saturated with dozens of drives to choose from. With a focus on performance, design and functionality, the following criteria can help you choose the best portable hard drive for your needs.
Performance entails the specifications that determine the overall operation of an external hard drive, including its storage capacity and transfer speed. The best portable hard drives come in different storage capacities ranging from 500GB to 1TB, offering plenty of space for all your photos, media and documents.
Transfer speed refers to the rate at which files are transferred between the external drive and a computer's internal drive. Transfer speed is measured in megabits per second (Mb/s) or gigabits per second (Gb/s). Look for a drive that boasts a high maximum transfer speed (up to 5120Mb/s), but be aware that actual transfer speeds can fluctuate depending on the size of the files you are transferring.
Another important performance factor is the interface connectivity of each USB external hard drive. Interface connectivity is defined as the method or specification used to establish communication between peripheral devices and a computer. The external hard drives on our lineup have either a 2.0 or 3.0 USB interface and connect to a computer via a USB cable. USB 3.0 supersedes the 2.0 interface, boasting faster transfer speeds and backwards compatibility with USB 2.0 ports.
For some people, the physical design of an external hard drive is just as important as its performance. Built for portability and convenience, external hard drives should be durable yet compact and lightweight. Assess the weight, dimensions and casing material of each drive you are considering. Portable hard drives should also be bus-powered, which means they are powered through the same USB cable that provides data transfer and do not require a supplementary power supply.
While performance and design may be top priorities, available features are still something to consider. Perhaps most important are any security features the drive boasts; mobile drives are inherently more susceptible to theft and loss than desktop drives are. Therefore, if the security of your stored files is paramount, look for portable drives with data encryption and password protection. Additional features can enhance the usability of a drive, including backup software and plug-and-play operation.
Help & Support
The best external hard drives come with beneficial, comprehensive help and support options through the manufacturer. Most important is the warranty on each drive; a lengthy warranty (two years or more) that protects against manufacturing defects is ideal. Additionally, each drive manufacturer should offer online product resources such as user guides and multiple methods to contact customer service.
The search for the right portable drive may seem arduous, but our side-by-side comparison and exhaustive external hard drive reviews can help simplify the buying process. Our top 10 portable external hard drives make transferring and storing information a cinch with their reliable performance, innovative features and creative, durable design.