Traveling with large amounts of data is something that recent advancements in technology may have hindered instead of helped. Solid state drives 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 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’s My Passport Ultra 1TB is currently the best-selling external hard drive on Amazon.com, 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 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 that is compatible with cloud services like Dropbox, optional hard drive encryption , 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.
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 on your external drive which is not already stored elsewhere.