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best external hard drive

The Best External Hard Drives in 2021

Author: Robert Wilson

Electronics & Peripherals Expert

Your PC is overflowing with vacation photos, your extensive music collection and important documents that you don’t want to part with? Still, is it time to rid your PC of huge amounts of data and make space again? Then you should take a closer look at external hard drives.

How to improve the speed of your PC, what storage capacity you can count on with an external hard drive and why the external hard drive has numerous advantages over USB sticks and cloud storage is explained in the External Hard Drive Test.

We will give you useful recommendations on the different types of external hard drives and explain why performance and mobility are important criteria that you should deal with before buying.

  • An external hard drive is a storage medium that is usually in its own housing and can be connected directly to a computer via an interface.
  • External hard disks are available as SSD or HDD, although HDD hard disks currently have a better price-storage capacity ratio.
  • When buying, in addition to the memory size and the connections, you should especially pay attention to the compatibility with operating systems and the performance.

Best External Hard Drives

WD 1TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive

WD 1TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive
  • USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 Compatibility
  • Fast data transfers
  • Improve PC Performance
  • High Capacity; Compatibility Formatted NTFS for Windows 10,…
  • 2 year manufacturer’s limited warranty

The storage capacity of this external memory is located in a light and portable housing. The hard disk has a weight of 132g and a size of 11 x 8.2 x 1.5 cm.

You have the choice between 7 different memory sizes, starting with 1TB and with 4TB as the largest possible memory.

The USB port is compatible with both a USB 3.0 and a USB 2.0. This allows your data to be transferred quickly and easily to the device.

Toshiba Canvio Basics 1TB Portable External Hard Drive

 Our Pick
Toshiba (HDTB410XK3AA) Canvio Basics 1TB Portable External Hard Drive
  • Sleek profile design with a matte, smudge resistance finish
  • Plug & play; Easy to use with no software to install
  • Quickly add more storage capacity to your PC and other…
  • USB 2.0 compatible with no external AC power cord needed….
  • Includes Toshiba 1 year standard limited warranty. Ready to…

This external hard drive from Toshiba impresses with its matt design and the choice between five different storage sizes. With a weight of 150g and 2.5 inches, it is one of the slightly larger products on the market.

There is the option of purchasing a storage bag, a protective cover or a USB 3.0 cable in combination with this external hard drive.

Seagate Portable 1TB External Hard Drive HDD

Seagate Portable 1TB External Hard Drive HDD
  • Easily store and access 1TB to content on the go with the…
  • Designed to work with Windows or Mac computers, this…
  • To get set up, connect the portable hard drive to a computer…
  • This USB drive provides plug and play simplicity with the…
  • Enjoy long-term peace of mind with the included one-year…

This Seagate external hard drive measures 2.5 inches and offers a choice of six different storage capacities. In addition, it does not require any configuration or software installation and is therefore immediately ready for use.

The hard drive is characterized by its minimalist, yet modern design, which is very popular with customers. The two-year guarantee for the product also hits the nerve of the customers.

Maxone 500GB Ultra Slim Portable External Hard Drive HDD

 Our Pick
Maxone 500GB Ultra Slim Portable External Hard Drive HDD
  • ✔ Ultra Slim and Sturdy Metal Design: Merely 0.4 inch…
  • ✔ A Reliable Game Drive: This PS4 external hard drive…
  • ✔ Improve PC Performance: Powered by USB 3.0 technology,…
  • ✔ Plug and Play: This external drive is ready to use…
  • ✔ What’s Included: Portable external hard drive,…

The external hard drive from Maxone is characterized by its low thickness and slim design with a fancy color palette. The aluminum housing also promises a light weight.

As usual, it measures 2.5 inches and is compatible with a large number of operating systems. It also has five storage sizes and impresses customers with its fast data transfer and robustness.

Frequently Asked Questions: External Hard Drive

Why is a external hard drive useful?

An external hard drive helps clear out the internal hard drive of the PC, creates space and enables large files and amounts of data to be taken with you anywhere, quickly and easily.

In order to achieve speed in a PC, SSD hard drives are often installed internally, but their memory is quickly full with the music collection from Spotify, the last vacation photos and the data from other programs. However, the operating system also needs its space. So where do you put all the data?

In addition, there is usually no longer just a computer in a household, but also tablets, cell phones and other media. But always send emails for every exchange of data, use Dropbox or have umpteen USB sticks lying around?

A hard drive makes this easier and offers enough space for everything. A folder with photos, in another film and, last but not least, the backup that can be found here. Everything in one place and usually smaller than an A5 notepad or a modern cell phone.

What and for whom is a external hard drive suitable?

As diverse as a PC can be used, as diverse are the users and possible uses of an external hard drive. From the record sky to the photo album to the filing cabinet, everything is included.

External hard drives can be used for making copies of files on a computer for data backup, but also as a storage location for the operating system backup of the same PC. At the same time, they also offer space to save vacation photos and to create music collections.

In the meantime, there are also special multimedia hard drives that are equipped with an HDMI output so that they can be connected directly to the television or a corresponding monitor to play back photos and films.

Whether you as a user are specifically looking for a backup medium or a simple way to take your extensive collections of photos and music with you everywhere, an external hard drive offers you the storage space for both. Not least for another operating system or the data of your computer games.

Whether you are a computer geek, artist, everyday hero or technology hater, you can make whatever you want and need from a hard drive.

External Hard Drive Alternatives

Cloud storage and USB sticks are definitely alternatives, but mobility of large amounts of data offline is only possible with an external hard drive.

Of course, an external hard drive is not the only way to store data outside of your computer, tablet or mobile phone and take it with you. Of course, there are also cloud storage devices, USB sticks and the like. However, it depends on what exactly you are looking for.

Cloud storage
There are online providers of cloud storage who offer you storage space equivalent to a hard drive. If you want to share a few files with many people, cloud storage or sending the files directly by email will probably help you more specifically than a hard disk could.

USB sticks
Do you want to save large amounts of data that you would also like to take with you easily and independently of the device and also want to have it available offline? For the time being, USB sticks, which are now several hundred gigabytes in size, or hard drives are the best offline solution.

How much storage capacity does an external hard drive have?

The manufacturers offer hard drives in all possible sizes between 128 gigabytes and 8 terabytes.

It depends on whether you are looking for an SSD hard drive or an HDD. As described above, their structure means that they have different properties and also a relatively different spectrum of storage capacity with which they are offered.

Did you know that 1 TB (terabyte) is the equivalent of 1 million MB (megabyte)?
An SLR photo is around 8MB. So if you buy an 8 TB external hard drive, you can store around 1 million images.

Seagate presented an SSD hard drive with 60 terabytes of storage in 2016, but the usual sizes are still far from this volume. A storage capacity of 128 gigabytes and 1 terabyte is common for SSD hard drives.

In contrast, HDD hard drives are usually offered with 500 gigabytes up to 8 terabytes. In this area there are also hard disks with a larger storage capacity, but these then already consist of several hard disks that are combined in one housing.

How important is the performance of external hard drives?

Performance is about the speed of reading and writing to a hard disk. It can be a helpful selection criterion when comparing different hard drives.

Performance stands for the writing and reading speed of a hard disk and thus for its operating speed. This takes into account the amount of data per second that a device such as a computer can write to the hard disk or read from it.

Basically, an SSD hard drive performs better than an HDD and that reading is faster than writing. However, manufacturers often only specify the highest achievable value, i.e. that of reading.

With small test programs and benchmark programs – benchmark refers to the results of a standardized performance test – hard drives can be tested on any computer.

Over a certain period of use, the performance of HDD hard disks in particular can deteriorate, since data is scattered over all parts of the hard disk and thus the search process for related chunks slows down work.

Personal treasures such as photos or music are often entrusted to an external hard drive and it is also important to know how long they are safe for documents and records.

On average, both SSD and HDD hard drives have a lifespan of 10 years. However, both have certain risks that can drastically shorten this lifespan.

This is where the characteristics of the structure of the two types come into play again: HDD hard drives are more susceptible to physical influences such as shocks, moisture, but also strong magnetism. SSD hard drives, on the other hand, minimize their age through their limited write cycles, i.e. the more data is moved back and forth.

But be careful: even if the hard drives are written to once and then not used for years, i.e. used as a time capsule or safe, the quality of the data deteriorates and the potential for errors increases noticeably.

As a rule, times of around 10 years under ideal storage conditions are assumed as the starting point for the data decay.

With the right care and favorable storage conditions, the lifespan of a hard drive can be extended. In addition, additional protection is recommended, as most devices do not tolerate shocks or falls particularly well, especially when switched on.

Types of external hard drives

There are hard drives like a dime a dozen. The selection of important features seems to be similarly large. Not really true, because ultimately there are two characteristics in which they differ:

  • the mechanical structure
  • type of connection

In the end, it is true that size often counts, i.e. how much storage space the hard drive offers you. However, the structure and the connection decide which options for using the hard drive you ultimately have. In the following section we would like to help you to find the best combination for you and your needs.

Does this all seem a bit technical to you when all you want is a hard drive? In the following we want to explain to you what is behind the two features and show what advantages and disadvantages they have.

Fast SSD or classic HDD?

SSD and HDD describe the physical structure of a hard drive, in particular how the memory itself is structured.

This different structure has consequences for the working speed of the hard disks as well as their shock resistance and memory size. In the following we will introduce you to the characteristics of the two types.

HDD: Advantages & Disadvantages

The classic hard drive has a large capacity of storage space, but is more prone to damage.

In the classic sense, hard disks are thin disks with a magnetic coating. In an HDD hard disk drive – which stands for Hard Disk Drive – several such disks are combined.

For reading and writing processes, the respective disks are set in rotation and read out by scanning heads. The whole thing is similar to an old record player, but based on magnetism.

Advantages

  • large storage capacity
  • good value for money

Disadvantages

  • Sensitive to shock
  • somewhat slower due to mechanics
  • needs more care

This technology has been used since 1958 and has continued to develop since then. Accordingly, hard drives up to a size of 8 terabytes are also sold in retail today.

However, it is precisely the combination of discs and scanning heads that allows their space potential to be a shortcoming under certain conditions.

When the hard drive is turned off, all parts are in a hibernation state, so it doesn’t mind a fall. However, when the device is switched on, the shock can scratch the write heads and thus damage the data.

SSD: Advantages & Disadvantages

Due to the lack of mechanics, it is faster and more stable, but it also has far less storage capacity than an HDD for the same price.

While mechanically rotatable disks and scanning heads are installed in an HDD hard disk, an SSD – Solid State Drive – consists of flash memories. Here, memory cells are scanned by voltage, i.e. current flow. This principle is also used for USB sticks and SD cards.

Advantages

  • fast access rate
  • very low shock sensitivity

Disadvantages

  • finite number of memory cycles
  • small memory size
  • relative expensive

The built-in flash memory enables data to be processed quickly. In addition, the structure without mechanics ensures fewer risks should the hard drive actually fall.

However, this design also has disadvantages. Because it is based on individual cells that can store electrical charge, SSD hard drives have a finite number of storage cycles.

Connections

Here, too, the manufacturers offer some options between which you as a buyer can choose. To help you choose the right connection for you, you will find brief explanations of the connections below.

Ultimately, the question is whether you want to use your hard drive wirelessly or whether a cable connection is enough.

USB 2.0 and USB 3.0

USB is the standard interface for almost all expanding devices on a computer. Not only storage media, but also mouse, keyboard and printer are connected over here. If you just want direct access to your hard drive, this is a good option.

While USB 2.0 is still the old standard, many new laptops have at least one USB 3.0 input. But what is the difference?

First in speed. While it was up to 500MBit / s with USB 2.0, the successor has up to ten times that, i.e. several gigabits per second. In addition, USB 3.0 can transmit data streams in parallel in both directions, whereas the predecessor could only work as a one-way street.

However, since USB 3.0 is downward compatible, i.e. it is recognized by a USB 2.0 port without any problems, but then runs with less power, USB 3.0 is already being built into new hard drives by the manufacturers as a standard.

Advantages

  • Standard connection on most devices
  • direct data transfer
  • no additional battery

Disadvantages

  • only one device can be connected at a time

WiFi

In addition to the classic USB connection, a WLAN module and a battery are built into the hard drive housing. This combination offers mobility plus data storage space.

As a basis, the hard drives need a power connection or regular charging of the integrated battery.

However, they then offer wireless access to all stored data, so that no direct internet access is necessary. In addition, these hard drives can be controlled by multiple devices at the same time, including mobile devices such as smartphones.

Another feature built into WiFi hard drives is an SD card reader, so this type of hard drive is of interest to photographers and travelers as it is also designed as a streaming platform for films and music.

However, as with many similar wireless devices, fundamental questions about your own position regarding data security must be answered.

Advantages

  • Usable wirelessly
  • Access with multiple devices at the same time
  • no internet connection required
  • Models with an integrated power bank

Disadvantages

  • Electricity or battery tied
  • Question of network security and virus protection

Firewire (IEEE 1394)

Similar to USB, Firewire is an interface on computers. It was introduced by Apple and is now widely used in audio and video technology. However, this type of connection has not found widespread use.

Compared to USB 2.0, Firewire is even more interesting because it is faster and allows parallel data traffic in both directions. Some computer manufacturers still use Firewire, but the primary segment is no longer connecting hard drives.

Firewire can only be interesting in combination with some Apple devices, unless USB 3.0 is available.

Advantages

  • still interesting with some Apple products

Disadvantages

  • unusual interface
  • as soon as USB 3.0 is available unprofitable

External Hard Drives: Purchase Criteria

Hard drives look very similar at first glance, but there are a few small things that you can use to compare and rate mobile hard drives. We would like to introduce these to you in the following, which will make it easier for you to decide which of the devices is suitable for you.

In summary, this is about these factors:

  • Type of Drive
  • Portability
  • Physical Height & Weight
  • Memory Size
  • Connections
  • Operating System Compatibility
  • Performance
  • Extra Equipment & Functions
  • Noise
  • Design & Housing

The following paragraphs deal with the individual factors, what they are all about and how you can classify them.

Type of Drive

We have already dealt with the two drive types, i.e. HDD and SSD, above. Nevertheless, we would like to point out to you again that this criterion forms the basis for your hard drive and significantly influences some of the other criteria.

The question here is what is more important to you and what more you will need in a hard drive.

HDD
If you want to store mountains of photos or music, you should definitely choose an HDD hard drive. Due to their mechanical structure, these are available with higher storage capacities.

SDD
If it has to be fast, for example because you want to outsource the installation of computer games, an SSD hard drive is an option. Its physical structure gives it the required working speed.

Portability

We’re talking about external hard drives all the time, which of course are mobile due to the fact that they are not built into a computer. But before you decide on a device, you should ask yourself whether you want to be able to take your hard drive with you everywhere or whether it will be next to your computer.

There are still hard disks which, due to their size, need an additional power supply and are therefore relatively inflexible.

The complete opposite of current-bound hard drives is offered by WiFi hard drives, with them you can even access your data without a USB cable.

Finally, there are the portable hard drives, whose power supply is ensured via the end device via USB cable. They are the ideal middle ground if you want to be mobile but can do without WiFi.

Physical Height & Weight

The more memory, the larger the hard disk becomes. However, from a certain point on, size and weight can also limit the mobility of the devices. Even if you know that you will be carrying your hard drive around with you a lot in the future, this point should play a role for you.

As a lightweight, the SSD hard drives are in their own category on this point. In terms of their construction, they are also very flat and extremely compact. The only thing that becomes smaller is a USB stick.

With HDD hard drives, the weights can vary from a few hundred grams to one kilo. The same applies to the external dimensions of the hard drives, which range from passports to A5 paperbacks.

Memory Size

A hard drive with 8 terabytes is tempting because it doesn’t fill up so quickly. However, the question that should be in the foreground here is how much memory is really required and whether several hard drives are useful.

If it is already clear that you want to compile and save your film collection, in which the amount of data quickly increases into the gigabyte range per film, large storage volumes are a good option.

However, if it is intended as a data storage or backup hard drive, it is advisable to choose a smaller hard drive on the one hand, but also to separate categories such as photos and backup on the other.

Not so that there are more devices lying around, but to split data and thus, for example, separate particularly sensitive data or data that is not often used from others.

Connections

In the meantime, every hard drive should have USB 3.0, which is also downward compatible with USB 2.0. WiFi is ideal for more mobility.

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As already mentioned above, USB 3.0 is now standard, especially for external hard drives. Even if the end device does not yet have a USB 3.0 port, it will still recognize the hard disk and work with it.

WLAN hard disks also have this connection. However, they also have a WiFi module installed and a LAN connection in some models.

WiFi is the perfect solution when many people want to access data at the same time, but they should not be stored on any common cloud platform.

WiFi is also suitable for smartphones and tablets and is an ideal companion if you work a lot with such devices.

Another interesting interface that was not discussed further above is an HDMI output. For a photo or general media hard drive, this connection is the direct connection to the television or PC monitor, so that the detour via cloud or computer is saved. The content can be controlled here directly with a remote control.

Operating System Compatibility

With the growing size of smartphone screens and the increase in tablets, one operating system is becoming increasingly important, Android.

If you are one of those people who like to work with the light, mobile devices, then the only way to get data from your smartphone to an external hard drive is probably via a cloud service or the computer.

With the WLAN hard drives, alternatives are coming onto the market that offer personal cloud storage and operate it through an app.

But you should also take a look at the manufacturer’s information about which operating systems they support. This is especially true if, for example, manufacturers use their own software to encrypt the hard drive.

Performance

This criterion for a decision-making process describes the speed with which a hard disk reads and writes data. Here, too, what you want to save on the hard drive later, but also which drive type you choose, play a role in the decision.

As already mentioned with the drive types, an SSD, especially when connected via USB 3.0, is the fastest external hard drive that is currently available as standard.

For HHD hard drives, these values ​​can fluctuate within a product with different storage sizes. If you want particularly fast hard disks, you are looking for high transfer rates for reading and writing – 100 Mb / s is a good value here – as well as the lowest possible access times for both.

Tests on the performance of individual hard drives are published by specialist portals and online magazines in this field. As soon as a hard drive interests you, a comparison of the exact values ​​of your product and its memory size can help you further with your choice.

Extra Equipment & Functions

Most external hard drives come without any additional functions or features, but the newer WiFi-enabled models in particular have one or two trump cards up their sleeves.

While the WiFi function itself is an expansion of the traditional hard drive worth considering, especially if it is to be accessed with various mobile devices, these hard drives often have an integrated SD card reader.

Ethernet, i.e. a direct LAN connection, is also partially available, so that only the end device can access the data via radio.

However, there are also conventional models that have special safety measures, such as a touch-controlled autobackup function or fall and shock protection according to military standards. Additional encryption systems that can be supplied by the manufacturer also fall into this area.

The latter group from the security area in particular should be considered if the hard disk is to be used for backups and data backups.

Noise

Since most external hard disks are ultimately HDD hard disks and thus have rotating parts, the volume can also be observed.

Compared to a laptop or even a desktop PC, hard drives remain comparatively quiet, but they also generate a rotating noise while working.

On the one hand, SSD hard drives are noiseless here and, on the other hand, protective covers can reduce the noise. However, it was worth taking a closer look, especially with large hard drives.

Design & Housing

Classic black plastic housings determine the external appearance of the hard drives. Elegant, simple design that fits everywhere. Basically, you can easily spice up the design, be it with stickers or a practical protective cover.

But precisely because of their susceptibility to impact, it is not necessarily the ideal material, especially for HDD hard drives.

Although bags or special covers can protect a hard drive, there are also manufacturers who use silicone directly, which makes the hard drives more resistant.

If plastic is not for you, there are also some premium and special models that are made of metal.

Facts about External Hard Drives

Formatting and defragmenting

In order to enjoy your hard drive for a long time, we recommend a few little things before the first mountains of data land on your hard drive. Small tricks also help to keep the hard drive in the best possible condition over the course of its usage time.

A first check of the memory as well as a planning of the folder structure helps to keep the hard drive clear and fit. Regular checks and maintenance help keep the data secure and improve performance.

There are various tools to check hard drives for their integrity, i.e. for the functionality of every single bit. This is recommended once directly with the empty hard disk, but also later at regular intervals.

Incorrect bits cannot be written to. This is not a problem at first, but it can become a problem if the written bits flip and are therefore no longer readable. This can cause files to disappear or become unusable without being noticed.

Tools for monitoring the memory integrity are partly supplied by the manufacturers, can be found on their website or are offered by alternative software companies on the Internet. The common large IT portals are good contact points here.

The longer a hard drive is in use, the more often data is moved, deleted and added. A hard drive is like a Rubik’s cube in which something arises everywhere and gaps keep forming and closing again.

The consequence of this, however, is that writing and reading processes find gaps or have to look for distributed elements of a file. This slows down a hard drive over time.

ATTENTION – this tip ONLY applies to HDD hard disks: Due to their mechanical structure, it helps to defragment HDD hard disks at intervals.

In the end, defragmentation means that a hard disk tidies itself up and tries to write as closely as possible all sub-elements of a file or free space together in order to increase performance. Tools for this are available in the operating systems or can be found on the pages of relevant IT portals.

There are different formats, i.e. structures of how something is stored on the hard drive. Especially in conjunction with the Mac OS and Linux operating systems, it may be necessary to reformatting the system before using it for the first time in order to avoid problems.

Partition hard drive

Hard disks are mostly intended for large amounts of data and in order to keep an overview, it helps to plan a folder structure at the beginning. Another little trick is dividing the hard disk into several partitions.

By default, hard drives are viewed as one large unit and are sold as such by manufacturers. Partitions give the computer the impression that instead of one large hard drive, for example, three small ones are connected.

These can then be provided with their own folder structure and, for example, deleted or formatted completely separately from each other.

Unfortunately, programs for partitioning are usually not included as standard from manufacturers or operating systems, but can be obtained from the usual IT portals.

How can I protect data on external hard drive?

Data is an expensive commodity. Antivirus software is running on PCs, cell phones and laptops, and firewalls and passwords have also been set up. At least that’s the ideal case. Now, however, there is a lot of data on an external hard drive, actually an oversized USB stick.

This data can also be protected. On the one hand there is software for encrypting individual files but also entire hard drives.

Programs are available from IT portals or from manufacturers. Some have specialized and supply their hard drives with a data backup program and security software for setting up a password.

Last product update on 2021-01-16 | Source: Amazon Affiliate