If you are running If you need to save space on your laptop, or back up your data and store video footage that you can edit one day (I swear), an external hard drive can solve your problem. The problem is, there are hundreds of driving options out there ranging from dirt cheap to insanely expensive – which one suits your needs? I’ve tested dozens of different use cases to find the best portable storage drives for your workflow.
Check out our other guides, including how to back up and move your photos between services, how to back up your digital life, and how to back up your iPhone.
Updated March 2023: We’ve added the Crucial X8 removable SSD and the Western Digital SN 850X internal drive.
details of the situation
Special offer for Gear readers: Get a 1 year subscription b Wired For $5 ($25 off). This includes unlimited access Wiredcom and our print magazine (if desired). Subscriptions help fund the work we do every day.
I know this is a guide Portable Hard drives, and this isn’t portable per se, but bear with me. For more backups, we recommend, portability is not your top priority. And typically, your backup software will run overnight, so speed isn’t a big factor either. That’s why the first drive I recommend is this Western Digital Elements.
I’ve been using some variation of the WD Elements desktop hard drive to back up my data for more than a decade now. They are large and require external power, but these are some of the cheapest and most reliable drives I’ve used. Storage options go up to 20 terabytes. Just be sure to check the prices; Sometimes you can get a 10 or 12 terabyte drive for less.
Other best backup drives
- Seagate Portable 8-TB HDD for $166: Seagate is another reliable drive maker. It never hurts to have more backups, and if you need multiple backups, use vehicles from different brands, as this will reduce the chance of both crashing at the same time. This 8 terabyte model usually sells for $150.
- Western Digital Elements 5-TB Portable HDD for $110: You can also find a much less portable version of the Western Digital Drive, and like our top pick, it doesn’t require external power.
These critical drives are my favorite portable drives. They are affordable (for a portable SSD) and fast. The only drive I tested with faster read speeds was the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD (see below). These are lightweight, which means they are ideal when working away from home. I use one to save video clips, and it’s very fast to edit them from disk. The only downside is the plastic construction. Don’t expect it to survive many drops. If you’re worried about it going into your bag, carry a sealed container. I haven’t tried it, but there are plenty like this for $15.
- Critical X8 2-TB SSD for $130: Crucial’s X8 uses an NVMe flash drive, making it significantly faster than the X6. It also has an all-metal casing that offers more protection than the X6’s plastic one. This drive is better than the X6 in every way except weight (it’s about twice as heavy) and price, but considering it’s frequently down to $130 for the 2-TB model, it might be worth picking up over the X6.
This portable drive from SanDisk beats everything I’ve tried. It’s lightweight, with IP22-rated enclosures so it can withstand life on the go. It’s not the cheapest drive, but if you’re backing up in the field and want it to run as fast as possible, it’s your best bet. It’s less compact than some of these drives, but I like it because it makes keeping track of my bag easier.
Other fast drivers
If you need a drive that can withstand life in a backpack or camera bag, get wet or take drops on hard surfaces, OWC drives are your best choice. It’s hard to pick a winner here because there are so many solid options, but OWC’s Elektron Drive narrowly beat out the others in benchmark tests. You can also replace the drive in the aluminum case (it’s easy to unscrew), which means after two years you can take a fast empty SSD and throw it in the Electron.
If you need a large drive, both physically and in terms of storage capacity, OWC Messenger Pro FX ($245 for 1 TB) He also makes great choices. It’s even faster and up to 4TB in size, though the latter will set you back a staggering $900. For most, the 2-TB model is plenty, though it’s still priced at $400. It’s IP67-rated and reasonably waterproof. (Take all the “military grade” claims with a grain of salt—no one actually does independent testing, which is not to pick OWC, as every “brutal” rider says such things.) What surprised me the most? This drive, though, remains surprisingly cool even under heavy load (like editing 4K video footage directly from the drive).
Other messy options
- Saber Rocket Nano 1-TB SSD for $120: I like this a lot. It’s smaller and slightly faster than OWC, but has two drawbacks. The first one can be very hot. If you are trying to work with him in your lap, it can be very uncomfortable. Another issue is sometimes slow detection by my PC. I couldn’t find any pattern for this; Sometimes it pops up right away, and other times it takes a couple of minutes. If those things don’t bother you, this drive is small, cheap and comes with a padded rubber case.
The above Anywhere drives are a solid solution for people who want to make backups in the field, such as photographers and videographers. But if you want an extra level of comfort, this padded drive from Lacy is a favorite of long-distance travelers. LaCie makes both an SSD version and a traditional spinning drive version. If speed isn’t an issue, like nightly backups, then a cheaper spinning drive makes more sense. If you’re backing up in the middle of a photo shoot or in a similar situation that needs to happen quickly, you’ll want the SSD version.
Other packaged options
- Samsung T7 Shield 2-TB SSD for $138: It’s not as packed as LaCie’s rugged drives, but it’s cheaper and just as fast. It has an IP65 rating, which means it is good in rain and protected from dust and sand. The T7 line is popular for its built-in security features like hardware-based encryption, but unlike the Touch model, the Shield doesn’t have a fingerprint reader. Still, if you don’t need LaCie’s all-enclosed protection and want to save a little money, the T7 Shield is a good option.
Take this category with a grain of salt. Most of the drivers here work fine for gaming (just keep them as fast as you can). That said, Western Digital’s new P40 has some cool RGB lighting underneath if that’s your jam. In my testing, that doesn’t seem to have any effect on power consumption.
As for speed, my tests were inconsistent. This drive can handle speeds that handily beat both the Invoic Pro and the Samsung T7, but it seems to fall apart at other times (at least in benchmarks). In real-world use, the one bottleneck I hit consistently was a bit of lag when transferring large amounts of data. That might be a deal breaker for some, but for the price, this is a very solid choice.
If you want to put a large SSD in your laptop, all you need is a blank drive, which is generally cheaper than the drives with enclosures listed above. The first thing you need to know is which drive your computer uses. Consult your manufacturer’s documentation to find out. In my experience, the most common form factor is the M.2 2280, which is the long thin drive in the image above. More compact laptops may use a similar, but shorter, M.2 2242 design. Before buying again, check your PC to confirm the drive it needs. There are a ton of these on the market and I haven’t had the time to test them yet, but so far, of the half dozen I’ve tried, the Western Digital WD Black series has stood out for speed, and they’re not. Run very hot.
In my tests, the SN 770 M.2 2280 achieved speeds of 5,100 MB/s, which is blazing fast. If you’re doing a lot of drive-intensive work, like video or game editing, this drive is worth the money. The biggest version you can get now is 2 TB, but the price is reasonable considering the increase in speed. I’ve been using it as my primary drive for several months now and find it fast enough for everything I do, including shooting 5.2K video and compiling software. My favorite part? It generates very little heat. My older Dell XPS 13 was getting too hot to use with nothing between it and my lap. Now when I start trying to export the video it won’t heat up, but once it’s done it cools down quickly.
- Western Digital SN850X 2-TB SSD for $100: This drive screams so fast, I had to run my tests twice because I didn’t believe the first result. Western Digital claims read speeds of up to 7,300 MB per second, and in benchmark tests, the results of this drive are presented. You’ll need a system that supports the PCIe 4.0 SSD standard to take full advantage of the speeds here, but this is a great drive if you’re looking to upgrade a gaming system, whether it’s a desktop PC or your PlayStation.
Choosing the right hard drive is a balance of three things. Speed, SizeAnd Price. If you’re doing nightly backups, speed doesn’t matter. Go for the cheapest drive you can find – up to a point. Drivers don’t last forever, but some definitely last longer than others. I suggest you stick with popular brands like Seagate, Western Digital, Samsung, and others featured here. This is based partly on experience and partly on drive failure data that Backblaze has been publishing for years. Backblaze goes through a large number of hard drives backing up customers’ data, and the report is worth a read. The takeaway is simple: stick with familiar names.
If speed adds value, you’ll want to check out the solid-state drives we’ve listed here. SSDs don’t just have a speed advantage. They also lack moving parts, meaning they handle the bumps and drops of life in a bag on the road better than a rolling car. The downside is that they can cry quickly. Every write operation to an SSD – that is, when you put something on it – degrades the NAND cells a little bit, which wears out the drive at a certain speed. It depends on how fast you use it. That said, I have several SSDs that are over 5 years old, and I’ve used them for daily backups over that time. None of them had any problems.
Need an SSD over a spinning drive? The answer is always yes – if you can afford it. But they’re especially useful for any drive you work with regularly: your primary boot drive, an external drive you use to edit documents, and backups if you want them done quickly.