The 6 Best External Hard Drives of 2021

Western Digital against multi-colored backdrop
Western Digital against multi-colored backdrop
Western Digital

Sometimes we want to take our files on the go or back them up in case of an emergency. Cloud storage is great, but it’s not always convenient to rely on an internet connection. That’s why external drives are so useful, and we’ve found plenty of great ones for you today.

What to Look for in an External Hard Drive

Hard drives are more complicated than how much data they can store. There’s a lot to consider about a drive before buying one, from how fast it can transfer data to the tech it uses to save that data in the first place.

  • Drive Type: There are three main types of hard drives to pick from: Hard Disk Drives (or HDDs), Solid-State Drives (or SSDs), and Non-Volatile Memory Express SSDs (or NVMes for short). HDDs use physical, analog discs to read and write data and are the slowest of the lot for it, but they’re also significantly more affordable. SSDs have no moving parts and can transfer data much quicker, and NVMe’s even more so. Both types of SSDs are more expensive than HDDs for their increased speed, but there are other benefits—for example, HDDs can make a small amount of noise due to the spinning disc, while SSDs are quiet.
  • Speed: To go along with the previous section, just getting an SSD isn’t enough: You’ll also want to keep an eye on the read and write speeds (which is how fast the drive can retrieve data from a device and send it back, respectively). Just because it’s an SSD doesn’t mean it will be a particularly fast one, so we’ll make sure to let you know the speeds of all the drives on this list.
  • Size: External drives are extremely popular for their portability, but that doesn’t mean every drive is pocket-sized. Some are, sure, but others are so large you’ll barely ever remove them from your desk. Different sizes have different use cases, basically, so you’ll want to consider how the drive’s size affects what you want to do with it.
  • Storage: How much storage do you really need in an external drive? 500GB? 1TB? 5TB? 36TB? There are drives on this list that can offer all of those capacities and more. It probably won’t surprise you to learn the price goes up with how much storage a drive has. But something you should be aware of is that what it says on the store page isn’t necessarily how much storage you’ll have access to. Drives have to reserve a certain amount of space for formatting and other important processes—for example, a 1TB drive may only make 920~GB available to you.
  • Security: Your data is important, so a drive offering simple password encryption and other security features is a major bonus. You don’t have to use these of course, but if you’re transferring something private and want to make sure if you lose the drive people can’t access it, then these are extremely useful.
  • Durability: If you’re taking a drive out of the house, then you want to make sure it can survive the outside world. Simple drop-resistance and maybe even some waterproofing go a long way towards protecting your data from physical threats. Water and dust protection, in particular, are usually measured with the Ingress Protection scale (or IP rating) which tells you exactly how protected the device is from those elements.

Best Overall: Western Digital My Passport

Western Digital My Passport
Western Digital

Pros

  • Durable
  • Secure
  • Compact
  • Stylish (five different color options)

Let’s start with something that covers all the bases. Western Digital is already well respected for its hard drives in all forms, but this highly portable NVMe SSD has plenty of finer touches. It features read and write speeds of 1050MB/s and 1000MB/s, respectively, as well as drop resistance up to 6.5 feet and password encryption to keep your files safe.

The sleek body has some subtle style to it as well, so if you like your gadgets to look good, you’re covered here. It’s available in gray, gold, silver, red, and blue with four storage size capacities ranging from 500GB up to 4TB. If you just want a fast drive that can fit in your pocket, the My Passport is it.

Best for Portability: SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD

SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD
SanDisk

Pros

  • Super small
  • Secure
  • Fast NVMe Storage
  • Shock- and water-resistant

If you’re looking for something really compact, then SanDisk’s SSD is the one you’ll want to go with. Measuring just 3.97 x 2.07 x 0.38 inches (10 x 5 cm), this drive is built to fit onto a keychain without issue. Despite the small size, it still reads and writes at 1050MB/s and 1000MB/s, respectively. And you can rest easy knowing that it can survive two-meter drops and is rated IP55 against dust and water.

You can get this drive with 500GB to 4TB of storage and it includes optional password encryption to make sure that data is safe.

Best for Portability

Best for a Budget: Seagate Portable External Hard Drive

Seagate Portable External Hard Drive
Seagate

Pros

  • Affordable
  • A lot of storage
  • Sleek

Cons

  • No security features
  • Slower

The first HDD of this list and it’s perfect if you’re looking to save a lot of files while also saving money. This straightforward drive doesn’t feature anything fancy, but that allows even the 5TB model to charge less than most of the other drives here. It only runs at 140MB/s both read and write, which isn’t that fast, but if you’re in the market for budget storage that’s a trade-off you’ll need to make.

You can get this drive with 1 to 5TB of storage and in either black or silver.

Best for Bulk Storage: Western Digital My Book

Western Digital My Book
Western Digital

Pros

  • Loads of storage
  • Made for back-ups
  • Secure

If a few terabytes aren’t going to cut it for you, then this HDD from Western Digital should provide you with the massive amount of storage you’re after. The My Book is a drive built for backing up data, but you can use it as a normal external drive as well—the main difference between it and most external drives is it’s built for desk use. The My Book is relatively big in the world of hard drives, and that only becomes more true as you increase its capacity. You can pick up a model of the My Book with anywhere from 3 to 36TB of storage. More than enough for whatever crazy storage needs you may have.

It hovers around 150MB/s for both read and write speeds. It does require an external power source, unfortunately; when you’re dealing with this much data, that’s just something you have to accept. The My Book also features password-enabled encryption for security which is especially crucial when you have some much data in one place.

Best for Durability: LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive
LaCie

Pros

  • Extremely durable against shocks, dust, and water
  • Has both a HDD and SSD model
  • Secure

Cons

  • Strange physical design
  • More expensive than standard drives

While many of the drives we’ve discussed have featured durable designs, LaCie’s really takes the cake. The thick bumpers on each side of the drive can handle all sorts of bumps and falls, and the drive is rain-resistant as well. There are actually two versions of this drive: an HDD with read/write speeds of 130MB/s, and an NVMe SSD with 1050MB/s read/write speeds. The SSD model is actually a Seagate Firecuda drive in disguise—an SSD well-renowned for its quick transfer speed, especially in the gaming community.

Either way, these drives are excellent if you’re concerned about physical threats just as much as digital ones, as it also includes password-enabled encryption for security. The SSD is available with three storage size options—500GB, 1TB, or 2TB—while the HDD has four options ranging from 1TB up to 5TB, for those who need a little more space.

Best for Durability

Best for Mac Users: Samsung X5 Portable SSD

Samsung X5 Portable SSD
Samsung

Pros

  • Thunderbolt 3
  • Fast NVMe storage
  • Metal body
  • Secure

While you can make a USB drive work with your Mac, that doesn’t mean it’s preferable. If you’re a Mac user, you likely want something with Thunderbolt 3 ports that’ll make your life easier, which is exactly what the X5 has. This NVMe drive delivers lightning-fast read and write speeds (2800MB/s and 2300MB/s) through Thunderbolt. The metal body can survive drops of two meters and features a slick red stripe for some style. You can also enable password encryption for security and get a model with 500GB, 1TB, or 2TB.

This drive is more expensive than everything else on this list, but the high speeds and premium build quality make that an easier pill to swallow. For Mac users after the fastest speeds possible, this is definitely the drive you’ll want to pick up.