External hard drives make more sense than internal drives these days. You can connect it to any device, hook it up to your router for access on any gadget, and always carry your data with you.
There’s a small distinction between external or desktop hard drives and portable hard drives. It’s mainly about the size and the need for a power supply. Portable hard drives use 2.5-inch hard disk drives and run off the power of the USB cable. External hard drives use 3.5-inch hard disk drives and require a separate power supply.
Generally speaking, a portable hard drive makes much more sense than an external hard drive, unless you need massive amounts of storage (8TB and more).
So what’s the best portable hard drive you can buy right now? Well, it depends on a few factors, so we have answers for each.
Best Budget and Overall: 2TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim
If you want to buy the best portable hard drive without thinking about it, then the 2TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim is the unanimous choice. Several tech publications picked it as the best value for your money, after detailed reviews and comparisons. And if CNET’s Dong Ngo loves it, that’s a good enough certification for anyone.
There is nothing fancy about the Seagate Backup Plus Slim, apart from its sleek profile. It is definitely thinner (12.1 millimeters) than most portable hard drives you will find. Tests showed that the 2TB version was among the fastest drives to copy and move files.
Fastest / Best SSD: Samsung T3 Portable SSD
There’s a new breed of portable hard drives that have shaken up the market. Solid State Drives (SSD) are better than hard drives in speed and reliability. And they’re now available as portable hard drives.
Among them, the Samsung T3 Portable SSD is easily the fastest. All benchmark tests put it at a read speed of about 350 MB/s, and a write speed of 300 MB/s. That’s insane!
The T3 also has other things going for it. It uses the new USB Type-C standard port, and it is pre-formatted in exFAT to use with Windows and Mac. And boy, is it tiny.
Since this article was published, Samsung has released a new version of the SSD, the Samsung T5 Portable SSD.
Best Rugged: ADATA SE730 250GB
Rugged portable drives are designed to take some hits and drops. Not all are waterproof, but the two we picked are.
The ADATA SE730 250GB is a portable SSD like the Samsung T3. SSDs don’t have moving parts, so even if they drop, the drive inside isn’t damaged. Nonetheless, the SE730 has a military-grade shockproof certification, and is IP68 water-resistant .
The ADATA HD720 1TB houses a hard disk drive, but has a silicone case as armor to protect it. It has been tested by dropping it from 1.8 meters, and submerging it in 2 meters of water for two hours. If you want more capacity than the SE730 for an affordable price, this is available in 1TB and 2TB versions.
Best Wireless: Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro 1TB
The MPWP offers up to 10 hours of usage on a single charge, and connects wirelessly to your Wi-Fi router. It can also act as an extender for the router, and the built-in battery can double up as a power bank for your phone. There’s even an SD card reader where you can pop in a card and have all its contents copied to the hard drive without ever opening any computer or phone app.
If you’re looking for a drive that acts as your personal media center, then the MPWP is perfect. It comes preloaded with Plex, the best media center software . Load up your media on the drive and access it through any device.
High Capacity: Seagate Backup Plus 5TB
Like we said earlier, portable drives don’t offer as much storage as external hard drives. The most you will get is 5TB, and the Seagate Backup Plus is a reliable option for that.
There is nothing special about this drive, and if you find another portable drive with similar capacity, it should be comparable. These 5TB drives are difficult to find, so look around if you want.
Seagate does the small things right, like working with PlayStation 4 and supporting both Windows and Mac computers. It’s a reliable brand with reliable after-sales support.
Convenient and Secure: Buffalo Ministation Extreme NFC 1TB
The Buffalo Ministation Extreme is the hard drive for anyone who wants a portable drive that they don’t need to worry about. It is loaded with convenient features.
The most convenient of them all is the integrated USB cable. The Buffalo Ministation Extreme’s cable snaps into the case when not in use, so you never forget it when you’re in a hurry. The drive also has military-spec rugged features, and is water and dust resistant.
The Ministation Extreme is one of the few drives to come with NFC security . The drive is locked unless you swipe over it with the custom smart card. Since only you have this card, only you can access the contents of the drive.
Mac / Thunderbolt: LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt 2TB
The Thunderbolt 3 device cable is awesome , and if you use Macs exclusively, then it makes sense to get a portable drive with Thunderbolt. The LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt is everyone’s favorite choice.
Like the Buffalo Ministation Extreme, the LaCie Rugged has an integrated cable for the Thunderbolt connector. It’s a single cable though, so this means the LaCie will only work at the end of a Thunderbolt daisy-chain .
There’s a USB 3.0 port as well to connect it to computers via a regular USB cable. As advertised, this is a rugged drive that survives drops up to 5 feet, and has basic dust and water resistance.
USB-C Ready: Glyph Blackbox Plus 1TB
The USB Type-C standard cable and port is the future (and present) of how mobile devices will talk with each other. So if you want to be future-proof, grab a USB-C portable drive. And if Dong Ngo says this is the best USB-C portable drive, who are we to argue?
It has an all-aluminum chassis, rugged rubber bumpers for extra protection from drops, and passive cooling so the drive doesn’t get too hot while in use. It’s also one of the few USB Type-C drives that comes with a USB-C to USB-C cable along with a USB-C to USB 3.0 cable.
Ngo warns that the 2TB version of this model uses a slower hard drive.
Which Portable Drive Do You Use?
This isn’t an exhaustive list of portable drives — not by a long shot. And even experienced tech journalists can only review a limited number of devices. So it’s always good to hear from users of drives about their experiences.
Tell us, which portable drive do you use, and how long have you had it? Would you recommend it to others?
Updated June 2017. Originally published in November of 2013.