Which external storage is best?

With the rise in digital content like photos, videos, documents, and more, finding the right external or portable storage device is key. But with so many options available, how do you determine which external storage is the best for your needs? We’ll examine some of the most popular portable storage devices, looking at factors like storage capacity, transfer speeds, durability, portability, and price to help you decide.

Key Factors in Choosing External Storage

When deciding which external or portable storage to buy, there are a few key factors to consider:

  • Storage capacity – How much storage space do you need? Will you be storing documents, photos, videos, or a mix? This will determine if you need a device with a terabyte (TB) or more of space or if 500GB to 1TB is sufficient.
  • Transfer speed – Faster transfer speeds allow you to move files on and off the device more quickly. Look for USB 3.0 or USB-C connectors for faster speeds.
  • Durability – If you’ll be traveling with the device or taking it out in the field, durability is key. Look for rugged, shockproof options.
  • Portability – Consider the size and weight if you’ll be carrying the drive with you. Standard external HDDs are portable but larger while flash drives are very small and light.
  • Price – How much are you willing to spend? Prices range from $50 to $150 for standard portable HDDs while high-speed SSDs cost closer to $200 to $600 for 1TB to 2TB.

Keep these factors in mind as we compare some of the top contenders for best external storage device.

Standard External Hard Disk Drives

One of the most common and affordable options for external storage is the traditional external hard disk drive (HDD). External HDDs use the same magnetic disk storage technology as internal hard drives in computers, but come in a portable external casing with connectivity via USB, Firewire, or WiFi.

Compared to flash drives and SSDs, external HDDs offer more storage capacity for less money. Storage sizes typically range from 500GB to 10TB. The downside is external HDDs are mechanical drives so they are bulkier than flash storage and more prone to damage from drops or shocks. Transfer speeds are also slower compared to SSDs.

Some of the top portable external HDDs include:

  • Western Digital My Passport – One of the most popular portable HDDs, available from 1TB to 5TB. Offers good speeds and various color options.
  • Seagate Backup Plus Slim – Compact and lightweight with 1TB to 2TB capacities. Provides handy backup software.
  • Seagate Backup Plus Portable – Up to 5TB capacity and fast transfer speeds via USB 3.0.
  • LaCie Rugged Mini – Durability features like shock, rain, and drop resistance making this a good choice for on-the-go use.

Pros of External HDDs:

  • Large capacities – Up to 10TB for storing lots of content
  • Lower cost per TB compared to SSDs
  • Typically smaller and portable form factors

Cons of External HDDs

  • Slower transfer speeds than SSDs
  • More prone to damage from drops, shocks, vibration, etc
  • Require external power for larger high capacity models

External Solid State Drives (SSDs)

For those needing very fast data transfer speeds and rugged reliability, an external SSD (solid state drive) is a great option. SSDs store data on flash memory chips rather than magnetic disks, with no moving parts. This allows for much faster read/write speeds.

While more expensive per gigabyte than HDDs, external SSD prices have dropped significantly in recent years with advances in flash memory manufacturing. External SSDs are now closing in on the speeds of internal SSDs connected via SATA or NVMe interfaces. Portable external SSDs typically offer anywhere from 250GB up to 2TB capacities currently.

Here are some top external SSD models:

  • Samsung T5 – One of the fastest portable SSDs, available in capacities up to 2TB with read speeds up to 540 MB/s.
  • Western Digital My Passport SSD – Speedy USB 3.1 Gen 2 drive providing read speeds up to 515MB/s and up to 1TB capacity.
  • SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD – Rugged, IP55 rated water and dust resistance with fast USB-C connection.
  • ADATA SE760 External SSD – Affordable option with excellent performance up to 1000MB/s read/write via USB 3.2 Gen 2.

Pros of External SSDs:

  • Very fast data transfer speeds, even faster than many internal HDDs
  • No moving parts make SSDs more durable and shockproof
  • Small form factors for excellent portability

Cons of External SSDs:

  • More expensive per gigabyte than HDDs
  • Lower capacities, with most models up to 2TB
  • Performance impacted during heavy write activity

Flash Drives

Also known as thumb drives, flash drives are extremely compact and lightweight external storage devices, using flash memory chips. Models with capacities up to 256GB are widely available for under $50, with high-end models offering up to 2TB.

The main advantages of flash drives are their tiny size for maximum portability, and generally low cost. Their small physical size does limit their speeds compared to bulkier SSDs or spinning HDDs. But modern USB 3.2 or USB-C flash drives offer decent speeds for basic file transfers and backups.

Some popular flash drive options include:

  • SanDisk Extreme Go – USB 3.1 flash drive offering write speeds up to 200MB/s.
  • Samsung FIT Plus – Low profile USB 3.1 stick with high read/write speeds and durable metal casing.
  • Kingston DataTraveler Max – 1TB capacity and USB 3.2 speeds up to 200MB/s read.
  • PNY Pro Elite – Up to 2TB capacity and 400MB/s read/write speeds via USB 3.1.

Pros of Flash Drives:

  • Tiny, ultraportable size
  • Low cost for smaller capacities
  • No need for external power

Cons of Flash Drives:

  • Smaller maximum capacities than HDDs and SSDs
  • Slower transfer speeds than bulkier SSDs
  • Easy to lose due to small size

Network Attached Storage (NAS)

External storage doesn’t have to mean tiny portable devices. Network attached storage (NAS) devices provide centralized storage accessible to all devices on your local network. A NAS is essentially an external hard drive with an Ethernet port, allowing multiple devices to connect to it via WiFi or wired connections.

Key benefits of a NAS include:

  • Centralized storage for all your household devices and users
  • Can be accessed by all devices on your local network
  • Allows storage expansion by adding additional internal drives
  • Can provide redundant storage via RAID
  • External access possible via internet

Some popular home and small office NAS models include:

  • Synology DS220+ – Provides 2 drive bays for up to 32TB storage. Offers excellent speeds and user friendly OS.
  • QNAP TS-251D – Also has 2 bays for up to 32TB. Includes HDMI for direct media playback.
  • TerraMaster F2-221 – More compact 2 bay NAS with noise-dampening for quiet operation.
  • WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra – From a trusted brand, this 2 bay NAS has fast processors and easy UI.

Pros of NAS Devices:

  • Centralized storage for entire network
  • Redundant, backup storage possible via RAID
  • Remote access from anywhere with internet connection
  • User and access control for shared storage

Cons of NAS Devices:

  • Initial purchase cost higher than portable storage
  • Learning curve to set up and manage
  • Access limited to devices on your network

How Much Storage Capacity Do You Need?

One of the most important considerations when selecting any external storage device is determining how much storage capacity you’ll require. Digital storage needs have grown rapidly in recent years with higher resolution photos, videos, and large multimedia files.

To determine the right storage capacity, consider:

  • What you will be storing – photos, videos, documents, backups, etc
  • Resolution and size of files like photos and video
  • How many files you need to store currently
  • Expected growth in storage needs in the next 3-5 years

For photos, a good rule of thumb is:

  • Small JPG files at 5MB each
  • RAW files around 25MB each
  • 8K video at 25-100MB per minute

For general users, 1-2TB is usually sufficient. Photographers and content creators may want 4TB or more. Offloading less accessed data to optical discs, cloud backups, or a NAS can help minimize how much portable storage you need.

Thunderbolt vs USB-C vs USB 3.0/3.1 Transfers

The interface used to connect your external storage device has a big impact on transfer speeds. Modern options include:

  • USB 2.0 – Up to 60 MB/s; outdated standard
  • USB 3.0/USB 3.1 Gen 1 – Up to 625 MB/s; common currently
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2 – Up to 10 Gbps or 1000 MB/s; latest standard
  • USB-C – Supports USB 3.2 and Thunderbolt protocols
  • Thunderbolt 3 – Up to 40 Gbps or 5000 MB/s; for high performance storage

For quick file copies and backups, USB 3.2 Gen 2, Thunderbolt 3, or USB-C connections are strongly recommended. Compare interface support when choosing an external SSD or HDD.

Security Considerations

When storing sensitive personal or business files and documents, it’s important to consider security of your external storage device. Here are some top tips to keep your data secure:

  • Use password protection or encryption on devices that support it
  • Leverage firewall software to control network access to NAS devices
  • Enable remote wipe capabilities in case a portable device is lost or stolen
  • Physically secure devices when not in use in a locked drawer or safe
  • Avoid openly sharing external storage devices between untrusted users

Implementing appropriate security measures will help ensure your external storage keeps your data protected from unauthorized access.

Our Top External Storage Recommendations

Based on our analysis of performance, features, and value, here are our top picks in popular external storage categories:

Category Recommendation
Portable External HDD Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB
Portable External SSD Samsung T5 1TB
Flash drive SanDisk Extreme Pro 256GB
Network Attached Storage Synology DS220+


Choosing the right external storage often comes down to your specific usage needs and budget. For lots of high resolution photos and videos, larger capacity HDDs or SSDs are likely the best fit. If you just need basic documents and file transfers, a 256GB to 1TB flash drive should suffice.

Match your interface and speeds to how you use the device – Thunderbolt or USB 3.2 Gen 2 for quick mass storage data transfers, or USB 2.0 for printers and peripherals. And don’t skimp on security like encryption and passwords to keep your data safe, especially for network attached storage that’s always accessible.

Carefully weighing factors like capacity, speed, mobility, security, and cost will ensure you select the ideal external storage device for your needs and get the most value from your purchase. And with our top recommendations across categories, picking the best portable or home NAS storage for your situation should be much easier.