Most people believe an external hard drive (HDD) can only store movies, music, and photos. But when shopping for an external hard drive, there are many other features to consider: ability to back up your computer, portability, compatibility, file sharing, etc.
It’s also important to double check whether your Mac, PC, PS4 and other devices are compatible with the external hard drive (Notebook- or Desktop-class) that you are going to buy. In this article, we will review top features to look for, and list the best external hard drives on the market.
How to Choose an External Hard Drive – Buying Guide
Let’s take a quick dive into some of the key features found on external hard drives in the market today.
Choose Functions and Performance That Match Your Needs
External HDD is typically used just to save data. But nowadays, with people starting to use external hard drives for so much more, it’s important to find one that meets your needs. Let’s take a look at some key items to check off the list when shopping.
If You Have a Home Network Set Up, You Can Share Data with Multiple Devices
If you have a home network set up for sharing on your Wi-Fi’s router, you can grant access to the hard drive’s contents to any smartphone, tablet, or laptop. This feature is called NAS, and as it’s becoming more popular, it’s becoming increasingly more standard.
If you would like to access your hard drive from multiple devices, then NAS compatibility is an essential function to check for.
For Backups, See If It Can Do Mirroring
For those who are looking for an external HDD to back up data, it’s recommended that you prepare two identical HDDs and keep the content in both backups the same at all times. It’s of course twice as expensive to buy two hard drives, but it is twice as reliable and twice as easy to recover. Mirroring can be set up with free software, so you don’t need to be an expert to start making sure your data is never lost.
There are even some external hard drives that have two hard drives inside of them and are set up for mirroring from the start. Definitely useful for those who are considering using external hard drives to backup data.
Be Sure to Check the Operating System of Your Personal Computer
When choosing an external hard drive, it’s vital to double check what operating system and what version of that system you’re running on your computer. If it’s not compatible, the hard drive will not be recognized, and you’ll have to return it.
Most of the external HDDs on the market today run on either Windows 7 or later, Mac OS X Snow Leopard or later. So if you’re using an older OS or even something different, you’ll need to pay special attention to the operating systems that an external hard drive is compatible with.
For a Good Deal on Price and Specifications, There is the Desktop-Class Drive
A desktop-class drive is meant to stay at home. They typically have several USB ports and need to be plugged into a power outlet. They are usually much bigger then the notebook-class (portable, or pocket) external hard drives, and tend to weight a bit more as well. This lack of mobility tends to make these hard drives a bit cheaper.
The Notebook-class external hard drives are made for people on the go, and don’t always have access to a power outlet. These run on a USB power cord instead and are often much smaller and lighter. If you don’t plan to carry your data around, you should choose a desktop-class external HDD for the time being.
For Ultimate Mobility, There is the USB Powered Portable Hard Drive
Notebook-class external hard drives are made for mobility. The body is lighter and smaller–and only requires a USB port for power. And for the fumblers out there, these HDDs are typically solid, sturdy. Which is one of the reasons why it tends to cost a bit more than the Desktop-class external hard drives.
When portable external hard drives were first coming onto the market, they suffered from limited disk space, but nowadays you can find many that have specs comparable to the stationary kind. Some people also prefer a portable hard drive if they are working with limited desktop space, or simply want a cleaner look for their workspace.
Calculate the Size of the Disk Space That You Will Need Based on Your Daily Usage
Think about how much disk space you’ll need for your external hard drive–then triple it. For example, if you usually have about 300 GB in files on your computer, a 1 TB (1,000 GB) drive is ideal. Although this is a rough estimate, it definitely is a good rule of thumb.
The problem that most people have when choosing an external hard drive is that they start to use it for things other than just storing their photos, music, and movies. They might start to do network sharing and backup mirroring. And when you get started, even the tripling rule might be too scant.
For example, if you save TV shows in high definition, you are looking at about 160 hours per TB. For those who love to binge-watch, this might be enough. But if you’re constantly working–and also have a family using the same service–all of a sudden, your options are limited. In this case, 3 TB might be best. So it’s crucial to know how much data you’re consuming now and how much you plan to consume in the future.
USB 3.0 is the Best Wired Connection
The speed at which an external hard drive transfers data to your computer is limited by the type of port on the computer. If it’s USB 2.0 (the former standard) you may find transferring data takes some time, and HD video files are not even streaming. USB 3.0 is 3 to 4 times faster than USB 2.0 and will have no problem streaming content.
If you have an Apple computer (Mac), you will need to find the equivalent of a USB 3.0 for Apple products, called Thunderbolt.
Also, simply because your external hard drive has a USB 3.0 port, it doesn’t mean it will run at high speeds if your computer only has a USB 2.0 port. It will actually downgrade its speed and run only as fast as USB 2.0 will permit. See if you have any USB 3.0 ports on your computer. They typically are blue on the inside.
Top 10 Best External Hard Drives to Buy Online
So here are some recommendations based on popularity and the features that were discussed above. Keep your operating system and your needs in mind as you scroll through.
10. Western Digital Elements Portable External Hard Drive
An Industry Best Seller for Many Years and Still Going Strong
Western Digital has been one of the standards in the hard drive industry for quite some time. This hard drive is portable, light, has storage capacities running from 1 TB – 4 TB, and comes at a very good price.
It also sports a USB 3.0 port, PC / Mac compatibility. When plugged into a router that’s been configured for network sharing, it’ll share files on the network. Word of warning: yes, it’s cheap, but you are sacrificing some shock resistant technology. So don’t drop it.
9. Seagate Expansion 8 TB Desktop External Hard Drive
One of the Best Sellers in Desktop-Class External Hard Drives
Seagate is another juggernaut in the hard drive community, and this hard drive is one of the best among desktop-class external hard drives. Sporting 8 TB of space, you will never find an excuse not to save something forever.
This model also sports USB 3.0, is capable of network sharing, and supports Windows 7 and above, as well as Mac OS X and above. Some reformatting may be required if you want to use it on Mac OS X.
8. Toshiba Canvio Basics Pocket Drive
Toshiba’s Take on a Portable External Hard Drive at a Competitive Price
Toshiba has been making a lot of strives lately in the portable hard drive field. This is one of their best sellers and comes equipped with 500 GB to 3 TB of disk space. With that price tag, it’s an excellent alternative to Seagate and Western Digital.
This also uses a 3.0 USB port, but unlike the other drives listed above, this one comes with a built-in shock resistant sensor. It’s still very light and boasts a smudge-free finish.
7. Seagate Backup Plus Slim
Offering Support for both Mac and PC, This is Ideal for the Working Professional
We’ve already featured Seagate’s desktop-class drive, but here’s their best portable netbook-class drive. Ranging in sizes from 1 TB to 5 TB, it is compatible with PC and Macs–and even PlayStation 4s.
It’s USB powered and uses USB 3.0 technology for very fast data transfers. Unlike the others, it doesn’t need to be reformatted for a Mac. You will only need to install NTFS drivers on your Mac for it to work. Very convenient.
6. Silicon Power Armor A60 External Hard Drive
This Rugged Portable Drive Can Handle Anything You Throw at It
If you are looking for a portable external hard drive that can take a beating, then Silicon Power’s offering is for you. It’s military-grade shockproof, water-resistant, and rocks USB 3.0 technology.
This one is also ideal for the video game enthusiast, as it works with the last two generations of XBOXs and Playstations. Not to mention your Windows 7, Mac OS X, and above.
5. G-Technology G-Drive 10 TB External Hard Drive
For Mac Enthusiasts, This is One of the Best Desktop-Class External Hard Drives
The price is hefty, but you are paying for a beautiful aluminum case that is plug and play for Macs, along with an insane 10 TB of space. With that kind of space, you can mirror 5 TB of disk space for backups.
Unlike the other drives, you will need to reformat this if you want to use it on a Windows. It’s Mac focused out of the box. It comes with USB 3.0 technology as well.
4. Western Digital My Book Desktop External Hard Drive
With a Dual Drive Option, This Makes Backup Mirroring Easier Than Ever Before
Coming in with a dual drive option and sporting a storage capacity from 3 TB all the way to 20 TB, this is an excellent desktop-class external hard drive. Features include USB 3.0 tech, and it’s compatible with Windows 7 and later.
Other operating systems may require reformatting. However, this one comes with software for backing up on PC and Mac. Saves you the trouble of having to search for a third party program.
3. Buffalo Ministation Extreme NFC
More Than Just a Password to Protect Your Files
For those who want an extra layer of security over their external HDD’s files, there’s Buffalo’s Ministation. What makes this drive special is that it’s not protected by a hackable password; instead, you use a special NFC enabled smart card to unlock and access your files on your mobile devices.
This also has USB 3.0 wired technology and comes with either a 1 TB or 2 TB option. It is dust and water resistant.
2. LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 Portable USB Drive
When You Need Both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0, with Military Spec Shock Resistance
If you love products that stand out from the crowd–in terms of both look and quality–you’ll love LaCie. It has a bright orange exterior and comes in storage capacities ranging from 250 GB to 5 TB.
Upon initial setup, you can choose to have two drives, one for PC and one for Mac–or take advantage of the full size of the drive for just one OS. It supports both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0, so you can freely transition between the fastest ports around. It is also shock, water, and even dust resistant. This is one solid netbook-class drive.
1. WD Wireless Pro Portable
Instantly Store Your Files Wirelessly on a Physical Drive
For those wanting the comfort of a solid brand name, along with the latest technology, look no further than Western Digital’s Wireless Pro Portable. With a USB 3.0, SD card reader, and self-creating Wi-Fi network, it’s ideal for anyone on the go.
It also has 10 hours of battery life, super fast wireless technology (802.11ac), and can act as a power bank for your mobile devices. So you never have to worry about your phone running out of juice, and you have physical back up at all times–it’s a whole lot of peace of mind.
External hard drives vary drastically in features and price. You have ones with shock resistance, huge storage capacity, portability, home sharing, and so on. Many of these products also come with multi-year warranties, so you can rest easy.
Have you found the hard drive that is perfect for you? Once you’ve discovered the one, your life will be not only be easier, but also carefree.