Almost nothing is worse than realizing you don’t have enough space on your PC to store your latest files. External drives can be a great solution to that problem, as well as a good backup source to keep your most precious data protected. You want one that’s fast, easy to use, and won’t break the bank. Our current top pick is the Samsung T5, a compact, affordable, high-speed storage solution.
In addition to our top pick, we list other drives you should consider for durability, wireless connectivity, tight budgets, and more. Which one will you choose in 2020?
The best external hard drives at a glance
Drawing inspiration from its predecessor, the Samsung T5 is a compact, affordable, high-speed storage drive that looks and feels like a top-tier portable storage solution. Utilizing the latest generation of Samsung’s 3D V-NAND technology, it packs up to 2TB of storage space in a tiny design, though it comes in a variety of storage sizes at different prices.
In our Samsung T5 review, the solid-state drive dominated the competition (and its T3 predecessor) in read and write tests, while maintaining the same physical footprint. Encased in a solid, aluminum shell, Samsung claims this external drive can withstand a drop from as high as six feet without difficulty. Although we would hardly suggest you put such claims to the test, it’s important that external drives — which are not protected by the shell of a desktop or laptop — are sturdy enough to withstand a little punishment.
Thanks to its speed, compact sizing, and additional features like compatible encryption software, there is no other drive we can recommend as highly as the Samsung T5. It can be expensive when you get toward the top-end of the storage space spectrum — the 2TB configuration will cost several hundred dollars — but it’s much cheaper than it was a couple of years ago. If you can afford it, this is the external drive for you.
If you’re looking for something portable that’s also reasonably priced, the Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim Portable will likely fit the bill. It weighs a paltry 4.8 ounces and measures just 9.65 millimeters (0.38 inches) thick. The enclosure is primarily made of black plastic complemented by a Platinum or Gold aluminum top.
The speeds aren’t going to rival that of a solid-state drive, but our benchmarks show it can compete with any mechanical external unit on the market despite its extremely portable footprint. You can get this drive in 1TB and 2TB capacities.
Searching for an extra-durable SSD drive with super-fast speeds? Look no further than Adata’s latest external SSD, the SE800. It boasts read and write speeds up to 1,000MBps whether you’re using the 512GB or 1TB model. It connects via a USB-C port and supports USB 3.2 Gen2 (10Gbps), though it’s backward compatible with USB 2.0.
This drive features a durable enclosure complemented by a black or blue hairline-brushed surface. The company claims this drive meets the MIL-STD-810G 516.6 impact resistance standard, completely resists dust, and can remain submerged in six feet of water for one hour — but only with the USB port cover firmly closed.
Western Digital’s My Passport Ultra isn’t the lightest drive on the market, but it does come with a three-year warranty and the company’s reputation for speed. Best of all, the drive doesn’t require external power and showcases a sleek, stylish build, which is likely why it’s the first choice for many on a budget.
At this price, you can’t expect fast read and write speeds, but it does include a free WD Backup tool, password protection, and 256-AES hardware encryption capabilities. It’s available in 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, and 5TB capacities along with Blue or Silver finishes. Unlike other drives on this list, it connects via USB-C.
If you want a more robust, long-term external drive, Western Digital’s MyBook Duo is a great choice. This massive enclosure comes with up to 28TB of storage for $1,000, or as little as 4TB of storage for $259 — and five other configurations in between. You can configure the two drives inside this enclosure in RAID, for file redundancy or speed, or take advantage of every byte of storage. Either way, you get a lot of storage space and a two-year warranty from a reliable brand.
Supporting USB 3.1 for high-speed data transfer, the MyBook Duo’s case is also user-serviceable, meaning you can replace broken drives yourself, and use the enclosure long after the drives break down. And with full support for 256-bit AES hardware encryption, you can make sure nobody can read your data but you.
For busy people — particularly those in the outdoors — physically connecting an external drive to a PC can be a pain. Western Digital’s wireless version of My Passport SSD alleviates this issue by providing a built-in WiFi 5 access point so you can connect directly to the device without using a cable. It lasts for 10 hours of 720p streaming but can handle up to 4K video if necessary.
The drive includes a one-touch button that transfers files from the built-in SD card reader (up to 65MBps read), or from any drive connected to its integrated USB-A port. If needed, you can use the same port to connect this drive to a PC for faster read speeds up to 390MBps. It even has an integrated 6,700 mAh power bank for charging devices.
As you can imagine, it’s an excellent pick for photographers on the go.