External hard drives are an excellent method for backing up your computer. If you are prejudiced against storing your content “in the cloud”, the best alternative is making a physical copy of your computer files. That process can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you are not familiar with all bells and whistles of the modern technologies. The market is oversaturated with different hard drives that greatly vary in terms of functionalities. These are the main questions you should ask yourself before you consider a purchase:
- Why do you need such an external hard drive
- How much space do you need
- Are you going to store confidential information
- Are you planning to carry it around with you (keep in mind that lighter devices are more expensive than the heavier ones)
Features to Consider Before Making a Purchase
Here is a brief overview of the most important factors that should determine your choice of an external hard drive.
Types of External Hard Drives
There are two types of external hard drives – hard disk drives (HDD) and solid-state drives (SSD). SSD hard drives are faster at reading and writing data than their HDD counterparts. They are practically noiseless and have longer lifespans. The SSDs require less power draw, which extends the battery life of your laptop. On the downside, they are more expensive and have smaller data capacities than the HDDs. The lack of moving parts also makes them safer. Still, you should be fine with an HDD hard drive as long as you treat it carefully when transferring files. In case you are looking for a durable device that can withstand the wear and tear during transportation, pay attention to the “ruggedness” and the availability of a reinforced exterior.
The storage capacity of the most widespread HDD drives is in the range between 2GB and 4TB. Some companies offer devices with a storage capacity of 4TB to 8TB, which is more than enough for the average customer. The question is how much is enough to meet your individual needs? Do you need a mini external HDD (the so-called flash drives) to pin on your keychain store and documents and or you’d be better off with a device capable of storing all your music and video files? If you are looking for the happy medium between a compact design and sufficient storage, you should narrow down your choice to devices with a storage capacity of up to 4TB.
When you decide on the storage capacity, you need to pay attention to the physical size of your external hard drive. That’s probably the least difficult decision as you have to choose between 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch data drives. Desktop HDDs are usually 3.5 inches and feature a maximum capacity of 4TB. Laptop HDDs tend to be 2.5 inches and their maximum capacity is no more than 2TB. As for the SSDs they don’t require any movable parts and therefore they fit the 2.5-inch form factor. However, you will need an adapter if you want to fit an SSD into a 3.5-inch connector. Speaking of connectors, most HDD and SSD external hard drives use SATA connectors. The older HDDs have IDE connectors. External hard drives are usually connected to your system via a USB port.
If you are going to back up your computer on a regular basis, most external hard drives will get the job done. However, if you plan to store videos and large files, you have to look for a device that takes in data from your laptop/ computer faster. In this case, you should search for an external hard drive with a USB 3.0 interface. However, you have to keep in mind a small, yet important detail. You have to check in advance if your computer has a USB 3.0 port. The older models usually have a USB 1.1 or USB 2.0 connection, so make sure you buy an external hard drive with corresponding connectivity. The USB 3.0 is the fastest way for file transfers, but the eSATA and FireWire are also worth checking out.
Thunderbolt is a product of the joined efforts of Intel and Apple and it is the fastest of all ports, but as you can expect, it is a bit pricey. The eSATA devices are faster than the USB 2.0 but they come with one major setback. eSATAs require an external power source so practically, you have to plug the external drive into an outlet and into your computer at the same time. That is quite inconvenient especially if you need to transfer large files. The Fire Wire connectors are a decent choice for Mac users.
Portability and Durability
Portability is an essential factor that should determine your choice of an external hard drive. If you are going to carry your device from home to the office on a regular basis, do your best to find a compact model. If your external hard drive will be intended for home use, you can go with a heavier one and save some money at the same time. Another thing you have to consider is the enhanced data protection feature. It is essential to make sure the device provides adequate protection of your data if you happen to drop it. Pay attention to the materials your external hard drive is made of. Refrain yourself from purchasing a product containing flimsy components. Look out for an external hard drive made of solid materials such as aluminum or high-quality plastic.
Although the desktop-style drives are technically portable, they require an external power source. Choosing an external hard drive with an in-built fan is recommended if you are going to use it for heavy file transfers. Plus, built-in fans help you prolong the lifespan of your HDD.
If you are going to use your device for storing highly sensitive information, you’d better make sure it comes with a hardware-based encryption. The latter is considered more dependable than the software-based one. The security should be among your paramount priorities, as carrying an external hard drive around makes increases the risk of a loss or theft. The most basic external hard drives simply work as ‘boxes” for data storage. The more advanced ones have automatic backup or file retrieval options. Keep in mind that these features add to the price, though.
Ease of Use and Compatibility
If you don’t have the time or the skills to configure the software, you’d better choose an external hard drive with included software. Most external hard drives are compatible either with Mac or PCs. If you mess up and purchase a PC external hard drive for a Mac, you will have to reformat it.
Why You Need an External Hard Drive?
Owning an external hard drive comes with a number of advantages, the most important of which is the security they ensure. Neglecting to back up your content not only slows down the computer but also increases the risk of information loss in an event of a hard-drive crash. If you are a business owner and you have several computers, it is a good idea to look out for a network-attached storage device (NAS). In brief, NAS are external hard drives with a huge storage capacity. They allow the user to back up the information stored on several computers. Depending on the storage and the number of computers you want to back up, purchasing NAS devices can be a considerable investment. Still, it is unquestionable that they are invaluable assistants of small business owners or customers who have multiple computers at home.
The Best External Hard Drives
Now, when you are familiar with the main features a decent external hard drive is comprised of, let’s proceed to introduce some of the best products available on the market. No matter if you need a device to back up the files at your home or office computer, or you are looking for a gift for a tech geek, the following drives will do a good job.
Seagate Expansion is an affordable external hard drive you can easily tuck in your purse or pocket. If you are looking for large storage space and a fast performance at a reasonable price, there is no need to spend an arm and a leg on an external hard drive. The Expansion brags about its well-thought-out design and compatibility with non-computer host including media players and game consoles such as Xbox One and PS4. It is a 2.5-inch hard drive that spins at 5,400 rotations per minute. Therefore, you should be prepared for a slower performance, but on the other hand, the slower spin speed means lower power consumption. The Seagate Expansion requires just one cable for data and power and comes with a USB 3.0 cable. It works best on Windows 7 and 8 OS, although you can reformat the NTFS into HFS+ if you are planning to use it with your Mac. That’s a pretty awesome feature given the high price of external hard drives, designated especially for Macs.
The device not suitable for storing non-sensitive information only as it does not have a backup software or encryption support. This means that anyone can access the information you store, so be careful if you store confidential information. The Expansion can work as a backup drive, though. If you have a Mac, the drive works with Time Machine. Of course, that would not be possible unless you reformat it into HFS+. If you have a Windows machine, it works well with any third party backup software. The presence of a low-power internal drive somehow compensates for the lack of advanced features and makes customers define the product as a good value for money. The other setback they report is the relatively short warranty period.
- Great storage capacity
- Comes with installed software
- Runs on Windows 8, Windows 7 and Mac after reformatting
- Compact size
- Compatible with computers and game consoles
- Short warranty period
- No backup software
- No security features
The Western Digital My Book is a desktop-class external hard drive that enables you to keep video, photo and music files at one place. The device does not have a bunch of esoteric connectors or exclusive throughput rates, but its utilitarian storage makes it a good choice for everyone who wants to store millions media files. My Book has a compact design, so you can simply keep it near at hand at your desk and connect it to your laptop when needed. It does not require active fan cooling and it is practically noiseless. My Book is more suitable for casual use rather than heavy transfer files.
My Book was reported to perform well in the drag-and-drop copy tests. It is quick in transferring files and users can expect it to be quick in making backups and file copies. Yet, it is not designed to withstand daily exploitation. Overall, users define the product as a solid, capacious external hard drive, that is perfect for manual or automatic backups as well as file transfers. The level of security it ensures is also sufficient.
- 4TB capacity
- WD backup software
- Compatible with Windows-run computers
- USB 3.0 included
- Uses hardware encryption
- Makes speedy copies
- Great capacity
- No capacity indicator
The red Seagate Backup Plus Slim portable external hard drive is a great solution for everyone looking for fast, automatic backup of digital files, stored on a computer, mobile device or in the cloud. The spindle speed of the device is 5400 rotations per minute, which is sufficient for the average customer. The Seagate Dashboard has a function that allows each user to schedule automatic local backups. The Seagate Dashboard automatically backups the content you post on the social networks. You can also take advantage of the Share feature that enables you to upload simultaneously multiple files from your computer to the social networks. If you want to backup files from your Android or iOS mobile device and have them stored to the drive or the cloud, you just need to download the Seagate Mobile Backup app. You need to install the pre-loaded NTFS driver for Mac and freely switch between Windows and Mac computers.
The drive also works with PS4 and overall, customers say it is a great product ensuring sufficient storage space at a reasonable price. They appreciate the high-quality materials the device is made of as well as the fast file transfers. Users also speak well of the availability of a LED light that indicates file transfers. The fact that the device is practically noiseless is yet another bonus. On the downside, they outline that the cable is a bit short and the product does not come with rubber feet on its bottom side. Last but not least, they emphasize on the lack of a security option to protect sensitive information stored on the drive.
- White LED activity indicator
- USB 3.0 connectivity
- 5400 rpm disk speed
- Looks and feels sturdy
- Seagate Dashboard software for automatic backups
- You can backup files from your computer, smartphone or the cloud
- Seagate Mobile Backup app available
- No rubber feet
- No protection against unauthorized access
Silicon Power 2TB Rugged Armor A60 Shockproof / Water-Resistant 2.5-Inch USB 3.0 Military Grade Portable External Hard Drive
The Armor A60 is a slightly larger external hard drive as compared to its counterparts, but that’s not a designers’ overlook. The bigger size is due to the availability of a layer of protection. The edges of the device are covered with a soft rubber material that ensures adequate protection against damages. The special lid keeps the USB port safe from dust and moisture. The Armor A60 is designed to endure severe conditions and keep your data safe for at least several minutes when exposed to water splashes. However, it is essential to note that the drive is not waterproof. It does not provide sufficient protection when submerged into water, but it still does a good job when you leave it out in the rain. The A60 comes with a USB 3.0 connectivity feature. There is also a groove that holds the cable when you don’t use it.
Unlike the majority of USB devices, this external hard drive uses a male-A-to-male-A USB cable. This is not an actual disadvantage, as you will not have to figure out which end goes to the drive and which goes to the host device. You don’t have to make any settings to use your device. The drive is preformatted using the FAT32 file system, which means you can plug it into your Mac or Windows as soon as you take it out of the box. However, you need to be informed that the FAT32 is not suitable for storing large files. If you are going to transfer files larger than 4TB, you have to reformat the drive into NFS+, NTFS, or exFAT, respectively. The issue with A60 is that it does not have backup software included. It works with USB 3.0 but if you have a USB 2.0 port, it will do the trick. Overall, the product is perfect for people working in harsh weather environment, although the comparatively larger size and the non-traditional USB cable can cause some inconveniences.
- Cable storage design
- Uses USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 cables
- Works with Windows and Mac
- Water resistant protection
- Anti-slip and anti-scratch features
- No backup software
- Does not use a traditional USB 3.0 cable
- Bulkier than most external hard drives
Transcend StoreJet M3 is an external hard drive built with durability in mind. The availability of a triple-layer chassis makes it suitable for a heavy everyday use. It works best with USB 3.0. It is also compatible with the USB 2.0 technology, but as you can expect, the transfer speed is lower. The 2TB is the maximum storage capacity. As for the software user interface, it is user-friendly when it comes to performing simple tasks, but things get more complex when you want to take advantage of some more in-depth functions. You can schedule hourly, daily and monthly backups. However, you don’t have a password protection option, which is a serious setback, if you want to use your external hard drive for storing sensitive information. Nevertheless, the model is unbeatable in terms of durability. The inner components are designed to withstand 5-foot drops without being damaged. The product itself is known for meeting the U.S military-grade compliance standards. However, this is one of the heaviest external hard drives in our list. The product weights 8.1 ounces.
Transcend StoreJet M3 comes with a single USB cable used for delivering power and transferring files. The LED indicator illuminates in blue or red when data transfer is in progress. The One Touch Auto-Backup is an unusual feature, but it proves useful when it comes to simplifying the data backing up process. In order to use it, you need to install the Transcend Elite software. Once the installation is complete, you have to create a backup task. Then, you have to enable the One Touch Button feature. For the purpose, you have to click on the small grey icon under a column headed OTB. Keep in mind that you need to connect a StoreJet drive to run the Transcend software. Users appreciate that the drive is silent, but point out that it comes only with software-based encryption. The backup software might require a bit of a learning curve for newbies.
- 2TB capacity
- SuperSpeed USB 3.0
- 3-stage shock protection system
- One Touch Auto Backup button
- Transcend Elite data management software
- Rubberized exterior
- Shock resistant
- Complex data backup software
Seagate Backup Plus 4TB Portable External Hard Drive is known as the first SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) drive. In addition, it comes with a Lyve app compatibility, OneDrive access, and backup social media features. The best of all is that it has a NTFS driver for Mac, so you don’t have to reformat.
The Lyve app is intended to remedy the situation with the memory of users’mobile devices. It enables you to view your pictures and videos via your iOS, Android or Windows device at any time. If you, for one reason or another, are unwilling to use the Lyve app, you can download the Seagate Mobile Backup app. You also get a free two-year 200GB subscription to OneDrive when you register a new Backup Plus drive. The latter is the first backup device that enables users to backup media files from the social media channels via the Seagate Dashboard. The model works with Dropbox and GoogleDrive, too. The Backup Plus boasts about its small design, the 4TB capacity enables you to hold music, videos, photos, and movies. The availability of a USB 3.0 interface eliminates the need for an additional power supply. Seagate Backup Plus is a good value for money, although users find it difficult to point any features that make it outshine its rivals.
- 4TB storage capacity
- Windows and Mac compatible
- Seagate Mobile Backup App
- Lyve app compatibility
- USB 3.0 interface
- Compact size
- OneDrive Access
- You can backup your social media files
- Performance could be better
If you are looking for an easy to use external hard drive that provides you with automatic backups for your digital life, the Seagate Backup Plus portable drive is an excellent solution. All you need to do to backup your photos, videos, and movies, including the files you share on social networks, is to use the Seagate Dashboard software. You can schedule automatic backups as well. The Seagate Backup Plus debuted in 2015 in two editions – Backup Plus Slim and Seagate Backup Plus. The maximum capacity of the device is 4TB. Given the fact that it is a compact, portable external hard drive, this storage capacity is pretty impressive. It is ideal for everyone who wants to carry his or her favorite music, videos,2-year and pictures everywhere. However, the device comes with a few disadvantages the greatest of which is the lack of a security option. In other words, storing highly sensitive information is not recommended.
This is a bus-powered external hard drive, which means it does not require an additional power source. It only needs a Micro USB 3.0 port and comes with an included cable. The device looks and feels sturdy, but in reality, it is pretty lightweight. You can connect it to your Windows computer right away, as it is formatted in the NTFS file system. You can also install an NTFS for Mac. If you want to reformat it into HFS+, you can use the HFS+ driver for Windows. The drive comes with a downloadable Seagate Dashboard software and you have three functions at your disposal – PC backup, Mobile Backup and Social, respectively. Apart from backup software, it comes with a 2-year 200GB subscription to OneDrive that normally costs around $100. On the downside, the Seagate Backup Plus does not provide an option for securing the content of the drive, so technically, everyone can access your files.
- 4TB capacity
- 3.0 USB powered
- Comes with pre-loaded NTFS for Mac
- Seagate Dashboard pre-loaded on drive
- 200GB cloud storage in OneDrive
- High storage capacity
- Made of durable materials
- Lightweight and easy to carry
- Short warranty
- No security option
The Seagate Backup Plus (Fast) is currently the fastest and the highest-capacity portable external hard drive that uses USB 3.0 connectivity. What makes it different from the above-mentioned Seagate devices is the combination of two internal hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration, that offers a total capacity of 4TB and enhances its performance. The only setback is that the device is thicker (0.8 inches) than the others and the RAID 0 hides higher data loss risk because if one of the internal drives fails, the data you stored on both drives is lost. That’s why customers are advised to use it for storing copies of their original files. Still, it is the best solution for users who want to have all their media files near at hand. Although it is thicker than most external hard drives, it is still quite compact. The Fast is bus-powered despite the presence of two internal drives. It includes two USB cables – a USB 3.0 cable and a Y-shaped cable that can draw power from two USB ports of a computer. You might not even need the Y-shaped cable, but it may come in handy if you use an older laptop.
The drive comes formatted in the NTFS file system meaning you can immediately use it with your Windows- run device. If you are planning to use it on a Mac, you either have to reformat it into NFS+ or use the Paragon driver that makes Windows able to read and write to the Mac file system. The Fast is preloaded with the Seagate Dashboard backup software. Similarly to the other Seagate models, you have PC backup, Social, and Mobile backup features at your disposal. As you have presumed, the Social feature enables you to back up the files you upload in social media. The Mobile backup allows you to back up the files available on your smartphone or tablet, while the PC backup allows you to customize real time local backups or set automatic backups to take place at certain intervals.
- 4TB storage capacity
- USB – powered
- Compatible with Windows and Mac
- Customizable backups
- You get 200GB free OneDrive cloud storage for 2 years
- The RAID 0 hides higher risk of data loss
- If one of the internal drives fails, you lose the data stored on both drives
As its name suggests, the LaCie Mini portable hard drive is designed to protect your information against everyday hazards. The drive can take a fall from almost 50” without being severely damaged. The distinctive orange trim must have already hinted at the pressure-resistant and rain-resistant properties of the drive. The LaCie is the best performer in its class. It features a USB 3.0 interface but it is also compatible with USB 2.0 and functions at 5400rpm. LaCie is focused not only on durability but also on security. You have a Private-Public software at your disposal, so you can protect your private files against unauthorized access. Apart from that, the drive features an Automatic Backup option as well as a 10GB free storage on Wuala’s Online Storage.
The shock, water, and drop-resistant features are attributed to the Rugged exterior. It is a great investment for everyone looking for a reliable on-the-go-data transport. You can use the device on almost any computer and use the LaCie Mac USB 3.0 driver to enhance the data transfer speed of your Macbook. This external hard drive is not a basic “box” for storing backup files. Apart from storing your media files, it also protects them against external forces and intrusion. In case of a loss or a theft, you may rest assured your private files will not be accessed. The Genie Backup Assistant and the Memeo Backup Premium enable you to schedule backups. Users like the durability and fast transfer rates, and find it difficult to point any serious disadvantages of such a sophisticated product. Yet, some of them say it would be nice if there were a wireless version. Others emphasize on the high price of using third-party online storage services.
- 2TB storage capacity
- Requires reformatting for Mac compatibility
- Uses USB 3.0
- Speedy performance
- Shock, drop and water-resistant
- Password protection feature available
- Ruggedized protection
- Pricey third-party online storage
The Seagate Backup Plus 8TB external hard drive is perfect for users looking for a product with extremely large storage capabilities. The device is intended for customers who want to back up the entire contents of their computers as well as the files they post in social media.
The drive uses the Seagate Dashboard for user management. It is an easy to use backup software that enables you to schedule backups or perform them manually. You can also adjust the power-save feature and the LED settings in accordance with your preferences.
Overall, users consider the Seagate Backup Plus an effective tool for storing and protecting large amounts of data. Social media enthusiasts particularly appreciate the easy, worry-free back up options for storing images and videos. It is an attractive storage solution, indeed, but before you consider a purchase, you need to be aware of the main pitfalls customers outline. The first of them is related to the fact that the drive does not allow keeping multiple versions of data. Some users are resentful towards the short warranty period given the large storage capacities of the product.
- 8TB storage
- Easy mobile backups
- Social media backup features
- SuperSpeed USB 3.0
- Easy to use
- Comes with invaluable backup software
- Mac compatibility
- Fast and capacious
- Does not work with non-Seagate drives
- Short warranty period
Backing up is important not only for professionals who make a living creating digital media files but also for home users who want to prevent the loss of essential documents, family pictures, bank records, pieces of music and any other information that has a Sentimental or market value. In order to avoid disappointments with the external hard drive you choose, take into account the following:
- Keep in mind that as the time passes, the volume of your files will increase. Therefore, you’d better purchase an external hard drive with a larger capacity than what you currently need
- Make sure the drive is compatible with your operating system and computer hardware
- Settle for a product manufactured by a reputable brand with solid experience in the industry