External hard drives make more sense than internal drives these days. You can connect one to any device, hook it up to your router for access on any gadget, and always carry your data with you without having to lug your whole laptop around.
It’s been a while since we told you about some of the best external hard drives to buy and a lot has changed since then. 2.5-inch portable drives have reached the sweet spot between storage and price, and most of them are capacious enough that you won’t have to consider large 3.5-inch external drives. New technologies such as wireless support have also be introduced, so portable drives can wirelessly connect to an iPad or other device without cables. Apple rolled out the Thunderbolt connector and USB 3.0 has become the defacto standard — if you haven’t already, here’s why you should upgrade to USB 3.0.
So if you are in the market for a new portable hard drive — and you’ll usually get some of them for rock-bottom prices in the upcoming holiday sales — then here’s what you should look for.
Budget: Protronix ETQ Series 80GB ($26.75) & Toshiba Canvio 500GB ($48.45)
The absolute lowest amount of money you can spend to get yourself an external hard drive is $27, which buys you the Protronix ETQ with an 80 GB hard drive. Now, 80 GB might not be a lot of space, and you’re spending $0.33 per gigabyte.
Instead, if you can afford it, it makes more sense to buy the Toshiba Canvio 500 GB hard drive for $49, since it gets you one gigabye for $0.098. Plus, Toshiba’s a more reputable brand, not to mention it has a built-in shock sensor to protect against drops.
The best value for your money, though, are 1 TB drives — prices start from $60. Toshiba Canvio has a 1 TB version for that price, but I’d say the Seagate Backup Plus (which is our choice for the most convenient portable hard drive) is better value for your money.
Rugged: Silicon Power Armor A80 1 TB ($82.98)
If you asked me which hard drive I would buy, it would definitely be the Silicon Power Armor A80. This hard drive has gone through stringent military-grade tests and survived. Along with being dust-proof and pressure-proof, the Armor A80 can stay submerged for 30 minutes in one metre of water, and takes rain and splashes in its stride. Even if you were to drop it on a concrete floor from a height of 4 feet, the Armor A80 would laugh it off. The cool part about the USB 3.0 drive is that it has a slot on the side to house its USB cable, so you never forget or misplace it. Silicon Power has bundled some software with the Armor A80, but that’s best ignored. To me, a portable hard drive is about not having to worry about another fragile gadget that I am carrying around. For $83, it’s a steal.
Stylish: LaCie Porsche Design P’9220 1 TB ($99.11)
What do you get when two names renowned for a premium design get together? Meet the LaCie Porsche Design P’9220, the sleekest, sexiest hard drive you will ever see. Sharp edges, brushed aluminium, a flat clean look and that single cut for the LED — this thing is gorgeous. But it’s not just about looks. The 3 mm aluminium casing is strong enough to protect the enclosed drive, and LaCie has included its usual software suite that lets you password-protect the drive, set automatic backups locally and to the cloud, and lowers battery consumption with the Automatic Eco Mode. The 1 TB drive is best for space, but if you want to reduce the weight further and make it run faster, there’s an SSD variant available too. Mac users would want to check out the LaCie Porsche Design P’9223.
Wireless: Seagate Wireless Plus 1TB ($182.83)
In the quest to go cable-free, hard drive makers aren’t too far behind. The Seagate Wireless Plus is a portable hard drive with a built-in Wi-Fi chip that lets you connect up to eight devices to the hard drive without any cable — no internet or data plan needed, nor does it require an existing Wi-Fi network as it can create its own. You can also use it to pass-through Internet connectivity, so your iPad can connect to the Seagate Wireless Plus to access the Internet as well as the media stored on it, which can be up to 500 movies or thousands of songs and photos. The handy Seagate mobile app for iOS and Android makes it a breeze to set up the device.
Lightweight: U32 Shadow 120GB SSD ($135)
Sometimes, all you want is sheer portability and nothing else. You want a portable hard drive that is sleek enough to slip into your pocket at any time, and light enough that you don’t think of it as an added burden. And that’s the entire aim of the U32 Shadow. Since it packs an SSD, it’s lighter and more durable than most HDDs (able to withstand drops and shocks), garnering itself a 3-year warranty. The aluminium body looks premium and works to dissipate heat efficiently. And the solid state drive claims speeds of up to 400 MB/s over USB 3.0. It’s also available in 240 GB and 480 GB versions, as well as for Mac.
High Capacity: Western Digital My Passport Ultra 2 TB ($114.99)
What do you need most out of an external hard drive? Speed. Portability. Reliability. Good build quality. The Western Digital (WD) My Passport Ultra checks all the right boxes. It’s the fastest of the USB 3.0 drives around, and is packaged in a compact plastic shell that will take the bumps of daily life (but it’s not rugged, so don’t throw too much at it). Western Digital has also thrown in some cool software, include SmartWare which you can set up to automatically back up data to your My Passport Ultra or Dropbox on a schedule. There are other ways to back up your files, but this is a nice addition for free. And WD Security even lets you set a password to protect your data. At approximately $0.057 to a gigabyte, this is a great deal.
Convenient: Seagate Backup Plus 1 TB ($59.99) & Buffalo MiniStation Extreme 500 GB ($78.24)
The point of a portable hard drive is that you are going to use it with different computers. That might be a Mac with a Thunderbolt, a PC with USB 3.0 or an older machine that still has Firewire. You want the best possible speed and plug-and-play connectivity at all times and that’s what the Seagate Backup Plus offers. It has a custom adapter at the back that can be swapped out to attach connectors for USB 3.0, Firewire or Thunderbolt—and it comes with a pre-loaded NTFS driver for Mac to use it between PC and Mac without reformatting. The robust backup software that Seagate packages with the drive, including one-click custom backups and saving files from cloud services like Flickr, is just the cherry on top.
If you often forget to carry your cable with you, or simply hate to take one along, then check out the Buffalo MiniStation Extreme. It comes with an integrated cable that wraps around the case and can be undocked when you want to use it. But it’s a tad expensive, whether for 500 GB or 1 TB.
Mac OS X/Thunderbolt Ready: Buffalo MiniStation ($144.08)
Mac users will obviously want to take advantage of the Thunderbolt port for twice the speeds of USB 3.0, but you also don’t want to be left helpless when you take your portable hard drive to a Windows machine. The Buffalo MiniStation is the best of both worlds — a drive made for Mac with a Thunderbolt port, but also housing an additional USB 3.0 port. Pre-formatted for a Mac, it is compatible with Time Machine to schedule automatic data backups. And the sleek aluminium casing makes it look like the right companion to your MacBook.
Cloud vs. Physical
Physical storage is still far cheaper than cloud storage, but it’s definitely more convenient to use an online drive like Dropbox. Would you rather buy a portable hard drive or get yourself 1 TB of storage on Dropbox or Google Drive? Why?