Product Reviews

Hit The Road: The 5 Best Budget Portable Hard Drives

Matt Smith 10-12-2013

Traveling with large amounts of data is something that recent advancements in technology may have hindered instead of helped. Solid state drives 101 Guide To Solid State Drives Solid State Drives (SSDs) have really taken the mid-range to high end computing world by storm. But what are they? Read More are fast, but they can’t store much, and many people who own an ultrabook or MacBook run out of space. That means a portable hard drive is necessary to carry what’s left over.


Thankfully, portable hard drives The 8 Best Portable Hard Drives You Can Buy Right Now Read More are as inexpensive as they’ve ever been, and can now pack a terabyte of data (or more) into a box as thin as a smartphone and barely larger than a credit card. Here are the five top options for travelers who need to store data on a tight budget.

Western Digital My Passport Ultra 1TB ($90)

Western Digital’s My Passport Ultra 1TB is currently the best-selling external hard drive on, and a glance at its features make the reason for its popularity clear. Though it offers one terabyte of storage, the drive is barely more than 15 millimeters thick and 110 millimeters wide, making it very easy to carry. USB 3.0 Why You Should Upgrade To USB 3.0 It’s been quite a while since USB 3.0 has been included in motherboards, but now we've come to the point where most devices and computers come with the new and improved ports. We all know... Read More and 2.0 are supported and the 5,400 RPM drive offers reasonable, if not outstanding, transfer speeds.


And that’s not all. Western Digital sweetens the deal with automatic backup software Top 10 Backup Software Apps For Your PC Read More that is compatible with cloud services like Dropbox, optional hard drive encryption 5 Ways to Securely Encrypt Your Files in the Cloud Your files may be encrypted in transit and on the cloud provider’s servers, but the cloud storage company can decrypt them -- and anyone that gets access to your account can view the files. Client-side... Read More , and handy storage pouch that can keep the drive free of dust and scratches. The wide range of features would seem to indicate a premium price, but in fact the WD My Passport Ultra 1TB is only $90.

This is really the best overall value available right now. There are less expensive drives, and smaller ones, but the Ultra’s combination of price, features and portability hits the sweet spot.


Samsung P3 500GB ($60)


As nice as the My Passport Ultra is, the drive’s features and capacity do raise the price, and not everyone needs what the Ultra offers. Shoppers who’d prefer a barebones drive might instead like the Samsung P3 500GB, which sells for just $60.

For your money, you receive a hard drive that is USB 3.0/2.0 compatible, has a 5,400 RPM Spindle speed, and is just 15 millimeters thick. The casing looks a bit cheap, and the only software feature is SafetyKey, which apparently is used to create encrypted, password-protected backups. The lack of flair or features won’t matter to buyers who just want function, however, and the P3’s price is hard to beat.

Seagate Slim 500GB ($60)

If you want a small drive, Seagate’s appropriately named Slim has you covered. The case is just 10 millimeters thick, a third thinner than most other portable drives, and the drive weighs in at a trivial 5.3 ounces.



Otherwise, the drive is fairly simple. It offers USB 3.0/2.0 compatibility, includes backup software, and spins at a speed of 5,400 RPM. PC and Mac versions are available, and apparently are not cross-compatible (from the factory, at least), so make sure you buy the right version.

Going thin usually inflates a gadget’s price, but the Slim sells for just $60, which is just $10 more than the Samsung P3. Travelers who want to minimize their burden will find the extra money well spent.

Seagate Backup Plus 1TB ($70)

Shoppers who need more space than the Slim provides will have to upgrade to Seagate’s Backup Plus. As the name implies, this drive is designed with data backup in mind, which means it come with backup software. Besides saving files on your desktop or laptop’s drive, the software can also back up files on social networks like Facebook and Flickr.



Another benefit of the Backup Plus is compatibility. Though it comes standard with support for USB 3.0/2.0, Seagate sells adapters that can make the drive compatible with Thunderbolt or Firewire. These adapters are unique because they don’t convert from USB to the other format, but instead plug directly into the drive, which means there is no reduction in performance and no potential for compatibility problems. Backup Plus is also compatible with both Windows and Mac.

Pricing starts at $70, which is very fair considering this drive doubles the Slim’s storage capacity while also adding features.

Silicon Power Rugged Armor 1TB ($86)

While all of the drives listed are portable, none of them are rugged. Drives meant to withstand extreme use are usually priced at well over $100. There is one affordable option, however; the Silicon Power Rugged Armor A80.



This 1 terabyte, 5,400 RPM drive is USB 3.0/2.0 compatible and, more importantly, meets military certification standards for protection against water, shock (as in drops) and dust. This means the drive can withstand immersion in up to one meter of water for up to thirty minutes. The drive’s clever design also included a small notch into which a short USB cable can be inserted, which can help you keep track of it and protects it from damage.

Bulking up on protection does require a bit more mass, so the A80 almost 18 millimeters thick and 140 millimeters wide. The drive is also heavy, weighing in at 9.6 ounces, or almost twice the weight of the Seagate Slim. Still, the drive is reasonably easy to carry, and its durability could save your data. Expect to pay $85 for one terabyte of storage.

A Note About Reliability

Some readers might wonder if any of these drives is particularly reliable. There’s no definitive answer to that question, but the most likely guess is a simple no. Mechanical drives tend to have an annual failure rate of around 5%, and while there may be some deviation between vendors, not enough research has been done to say with certainty that one brand is drastically more reliable than another. What is certain is that all drives eventually fail, so you should make sure to backup any data How To Back Up PCs To Each Other Via The Internet Using Crash Plan Personal Backing up the data on your computer is vital. Yet not everyone does something about it. Why? Because backing up a computer remains a bit of a pain. If you own more than one computer,... Read More on your external drive which is not already stored elsewhere.

Related topics: Buying Tips, Hard Drive, Travel.

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  1. penny
    December 12, 2013 at 12:40 am

    I loved my Seagate 1tb but niw now power cable . Suggestions ?

  2. Rajiv Vishwa
    December 11, 2013 at 8:00 am

    You should do a review on budget wireless NAS as well. We are better off using a NAS for backup/media streaming and high capacity pen drive for portable and mobile data. Portable harddisks are getting outdated

  3. Kenson
    December 10, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    I use a less-portable drive, but I can carry it around, if needed. It's a Seagate Expansion Desktop drive. It has 3Tb of storage, and got it as a gift when it was on sale on Newegg. Since it's so huge, it requires 2 power sources to run though, USB and Wall outlet.

    • Matt S
      December 11, 2013 at 4:48 am

      That's the nice thing about portable drives, you can power them off USB. I'll buy portable drives these days because even through I don't usually move them, I have way more USB ports than I do power outlets / strips.

    December 10, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    No Buffalo in the list?! Disgusting!!
    Otherwise WD is always a heavy performer and Transcend offers ruggedness!!

    • Matt S
      December 11, 2013 at 4:47 am

      I had a buffalo burger once but I didn't much care for it.

      Wait...its a hard drive company?

      Yes, I kid.

  5. eu
    December 10, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    5400 rpm is a reasonable speed? lol?

    • Matt S
      December 11, 2013 at 4:48 am

      It is for a portable hard drive. You don't see 7,200 RPM very often.

    • eu
      December 11, 2013 at 9:04 am

      ok, just noticed the key word in the title : budget
      In this case I agree, 5400 is reasonable :)
      At the same time though, provided one already has the enclosure, a 7200 drive can be bought for about the same price and get better performance.