The 7 Best External Hard Drives of 2021
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External hard drives offer expandable storage options for computers with limited memory, or for transferring files between computers. They're also often small and lightweight, making them easy to place in a laptop bag or backpack for travel. There are options for external hard drives that feature traditional hard disc technology for reliable file access or newer solid-state drives for faster transfers.
Many external hard drives are equipped with password protection, while others feature integrated recovery and backup software. From basic external hard drives for backing up work files to ones with plenty of extra storage for large projects, here are the best external hard drives for every need.
Best Overall: WD My Passport 4TB
The WD My Passport external hard drive combines great performance with portability and plenty of storage. It's optimized for use with Windows 10 and features password protection and 256-bit AES encryption to keep your information safe. With 4TB of storage, you'll have enough space for all of your documents, raw photos and videos, graphic design projects, and other important files.
The hard drive has USB-C and USB 3.0 connectivity for compatibility with various types of laptops and desktops. The sleek, all-metal casing provides an extra layer of protection from minor bumps and shocks. The hard drive also includes WD Backup services to help you recover files if your data gets lost or corrupted.
Best for Creatives: WD My Passport Wireless Pro
Ideal for traveling creators, photographers, and graphic designers, the WD My Passport Wireless Pro has a built-in SD card reader slot for easy off-loading of photos and videos from DSLR cameras. Plus, it can double as a Wi-Fi hotspot or mobile media server; you can stream up to eight HD videos simultaneously or stream 4K video without any lagging.
In addition to a built-in power bank for charging mobile devices, the external hard drive has a battery life of up to 10 hours. It also has password protection and DriveLock support to prevent your work from being accessed by unauthorized users. The hard drive offers storage sizes from 1 to 4TB and compatibility with both Windows and macOS computers.
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Best Budget: WD My Passport Ultra 1TB
The WD My Passport Ultra 1TB is a budget-friendly external hard drive that still delivers reliability and sufficient storage space. It offers high-speed file transfers via USB-C or USB 3.0 connectivity, as well as both WD Discovery and WD Backup software, allowing you to recover and back up your files and data to cloud storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive.
The hard drive measures just 4.3 x 3.2 x 0.5 inches and weighs just over 4 ounces, making it the perfect size to slip into a laptop bag, tote, or backpack. With password protection and 256-bit AES encryption, your data will stay safe from unauthorized access. The hard drive is also optimized for use with Windows 10.
Best High Capacity: WD My Book Duo
If you regularly handle large files or multiple projects, the WD My Book Duo is an excellent high-capacity external hard drive. With up to 24TB of storage space, there's enough room for raw photos, 4K video, and more. Although it's set on RAID-0 mode for optimum speed and storage capacity, the hard drive can be reconfigured in RAID-1 to enable data mirroring and redundancy, keeping your data safe from loss or corruption.
Both USB-C and USB 3.1 connections are available to take advantage of fast data transfer speeds up to 360MB/s. There are also two USB 3.0 ports on the hard drive to connect accessories like cameras, mobile devices, and card readers. Even more, the 256-bit AES encryption keeps your personal and work data safe.
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Best for Mac Users: LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt
The LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt external hard drive is designed specifically with Mac users in mind. It uses a Thunderbolt 3 cable for ultra-fast file transfers and is compatible with Time Machine to help recover lost or corrupted data. It also comes with USB-C and USB 3.0 cables to connect to Windows-based computers. Better yet, the hard drive includes three years of data recovery services as well as a complimentary one-month subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud All Apps plan.
Both water- and dust-resistant, the hard drive can withstand a 5-foot drop and can even be run over by a 1-ton car. It also has integrated cable management channels to help keep your cords neat and organized when not in use. This hard drive comes with 4TB of storage capacity.
Best for Portability: Seagate Backup Plus 4TB
Professionals who travel a lot for business should consider the Seagate Backup Plus Portable external hard drive. This ultra-compact hard drive measures just 4.54 x 3.15 x 0.82 inches and weighs 7 ounces, while the polished aluminum case helps protect against minor bumps and shocks while traveling. With the Seagate Toolkit included, you'll get a simple, one-click backup of all your files and documents as well as the ability to schedule hourly, daily, or weekly file backups.
It's compatible with both Windows- and macOS-based computers and uses both USB-C and USB 3.0 connectivity for fast file transfers. With this external hard drive, you'll get a one-year Mylio Create subscription to organize, edit, and share photos and videos as well as two months of Adobe Creative Cloud's Photography plan.
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Best SSD: Samsung T5
Unlike traditional hard drives, solid-state drives store data on an integrated circuit and don't use moving parts—meaning there's less risk of losing data due to mechanical failure or damage to individual parts. The Samsung T5 external SSD is a great option, and it comes in a range of sizes from 250GB to 2TB.
Featuring an all-metal construction, the body of the SSD is rated to withstand drops and falls from as high as 6.6 feet. The included USB-C cable gives you transfer speeds up to 540MB per second (4.9 times faster than traditional hard disk drives), allowing you to quickly and easily move large projects from your computer to the drive or vice versa. With the companion app for smartphones and tablets, you can set a password to access the drive and manage firmware updates. The SSD is also protected by 256-bit AES encryption.
Meet the Expert
Taylor Clemons has over three years of experience writing about games and consumer technology. She has written for IndieHangover, GameSkinny, TechRadar, and her own publication, Steam Shovelers.