Which hard disk is best for external use?

When selecting an external hard drive, there are several key factors to consider: storage capacity, transfer speed, portability, durability, security, and cost. The best external hard drive for your needs will depend on your budget, how much data you need to store, and how you plan to use the drive.

How much storage capacity do you need?

The first question to ask yourself is how much storage capacity you require. External hard drives come in a wide range of capacities, typically from 500GB to 10TB or more. Consider both your current storage needs and how much your storage demands might grow in the future.

Here are some typical storage capacity requirements:

  • Light use (documents, photos, music): 500GB to 2TB
  • Medium use (documents, photos, music, videos): 2TB to 4TB
  • Heavy use (documents, photos, music, video editing files or collections): 4TB to 10TB+

It’s better to get more storage than you need currently so you have room to grow into. You can get an 8TB or 10TB drive without paying too much more than lower capacities.

What transfer speed do you require?

Transfer speed determines how quickly you can write data to the drive or access data already stored there. Most external drives connect via USB, with faster USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 Gen 2 interfaces replacing the older USB 2.0 standard. USB 3.0 provides transfer speeds up to 5 Gbps while USB 3.1 Gen 2 boosts this to 10 Gbps.

There are also external SSDs (solid state drives) that deliver much faster data transfer speeds. SSDs can reach sustained read/write speeds of up to 550 MBps. However, SSDs are more expensive per gigabyte compared to traditional HDDs.

Here are the typical speeds associated with different external drive interfaces:

Interface Transfer Speed
USB 2.0 Up to 480 Mbps
USB 3.0/3.1 Gen 1 Up to 5 Gbps
USB 3.1 Gen 2 Up to 10 Gbps
USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Up to 20 Gbps
Thunderbolt 3 Up to 40 Gbps
External SSD Up to 550 MBps

For simple backup or basic storage needs, a drive with USB 3.0 is sufficient. For regularly accessing or editing media files, an external SSD or RAID array will provide better performance.

How portable does the drive need to be?

If you only plan to use your external drive for backups or archiving data at home, a larger desktop drive is a cost-effective option. Desktop external hard drives come in sizes up to 10TB, but they require an external power source and aren’t very portable.

For frequent travel or mobile use, pocket or portable external hard drives are much more convenient. These bus-powered 2.5-inch hard drives are small enough to slip into a bag or even a coat pocket. Capacities typically max out at 5TB.

Another portable option is an external SSD. These firmware-based drives are very compact and sturdy because they don’t have moving parts. Capacities are lower than portable HDDs, with most models topping out at 2TB.

How durable does it need to be?

If your external hard drive is going to live on your desk, durability may not be a major concern. But if you plan to take it with you, choose a drive with solid protection against bumps, dust, moisture, and drops.

Look for external hard drives with casings made of metal or rigid plastic. Rubber bumpers around the edges help absorb shock. Drives that are water resistant or even fully waterproof are wise if there’s a chance of getting splashed or caught in the rain.

SSDs are generally more durable than HDDs because they don’t have moving parts. But they can still sustain damage from drops or shocks when not protected in a solid enclosure.

Do you need security features?

External hard drives with built-in security provide an extra layer of protection in case your drive gets lost or stolen. An encrypted drive requires a password to access the files stored on it. This prevents unauthorized users from accessing your data.

Some drives use software encryption that you enable using a password set up in the client software that’s included with the drive. Others come with hardware-based encryption built directly into the controller board of the drive.

Encrypted SSDs typically offer the best blend of security and performance. But encrypted HDDs meet most users’ security needs as well.

How much are you willing to spend?

In general, the main factors that affect cost per gigabyte for external hard drives are:

  • Storage interface (USB, Thunderbolt, etc.)
  • Hard drive type (HDD or SSD)
  • Drive speed (5400 RPM, 7200 RPM, SSD read/write speed)
  • Brand name vs generic
  • Physical size and form factor
  • Warranty length
  • Advanced features like encryption

Small portable HDDs start around $50 for 1TB models. Larger desktop HDDs with up to 10TB of storage run from $150 to $300. External SSDs are more expensive, typically starting around $100 for 500GB to 1TB of capacity.

Top external hard drive recommendations

With so many external drive options out there, which models are worth considering? Here are some top picks in various categories:

Overall best external HDD

  • Western Digital My Passport 4TB
  • Affordable, compact, and fast USB 3.0 performance
  • Automatic backup software included

Overall best external SSD

  • Samsung T5 1TB
  • Blazing speeds up to 550 MB/s read and write
  • Sleek and durable metal casing
  • Hardware encryption support

Most affordable external HDD

  • Toshiba Canvio Basics 1TB
  • Barebones portable hard drive
  • Low cost per gigabyte

Most portable external HDD

  • Seagate Backup Plus Slim 1TB
  • Thin and compact size
  • Metal design for durability

Best rugged external HDD

  • Silicon Power Rugged Armor A60 2TB
  • Shockproof casing up to 1.22m drop
  • IPX4 water resistance rating

Best external HDD for Xbox One

  • WD_Black 5TB P10 Game Drive
  • Massive 5TB capacity for 100+ games
  • Sleek compact size

Best external HDD for PS4

  • Seagate Game Drive 4TB
  • Officially licensed PS4 drive
  • Plug and play setup


When shopping for an external hard drive, be sure to consider your capacity requirements, speed needs, desired portability, and any extra features like encryption or durability. Looking at professional reviews like the ones on Wirecutter and PCMag can help narrow down your options.

For a balance of affordability, reliability, and performance, the WD My Passport line is a great choice for an all-around external HDD. For very fast transfer speeds, the Samsung T5 SSD is ideal. And for Xbox One or PS4 gaming storage, Seagate and WD offer specialized drives to seamlessly expand your console storage.

With the wide range of models available from trusted brands like Western Digital, Seagate, Samsung, and more, you’re sure to find the perfect external hard drive to fit your needs and budget.