External drives are a vital piece of hardware for backing up your data or copying a project from your PC to take with you. Anyone who uses a desktop or laptop computer needs one.
To help you sift through the stacks of external storage options, we’ve combed through our reviews of both external hard disks and SSDs to pick the top drives we’ve tested. We’ll also walk you through what you need to know to buy the best external drive for your needs.
Updated 8/23/17 to reflect the addition of the Samsung T5, which nabs our best external performance drive pick, bumping the Sandisk Extreme 900 to runner-up in that category.
Here are our top picks:
- Best external backup drive
- Best external performance drive
- What you need to know before you buy
- How we tested
- Our external drive reviews
Best external backup drive
Our pick for best portable external backup drive for 2017 is Western Digital’s My Passport 4TB drive. Although it’s a tick or two slower than other backup drives (like our runner-up, for example) in sequential file writing (think copying movie files), it does better at writing small files (think hundreds of Word or Excel documents.) It’s not flashy or super-fast, but for most people who only whip it out once a month to run backups and then shove it back into a drawer, those things don’t matter as much as the capacity, price, and reasonable performance. (Read our full review.)
Our runner-up for this popular category is Seagate’s slightly larger and somewhat faster Backup Plus Portable. Like the WD above, it’s a USB 3.1 Gen 1 (5Gbps) drive. It tops out at 5TB in a single drive and can also be had in 1TB, 2TB, and 4TB capacities. There’s even a “fast” 4TB version that uses two hard drives in RAID for more performance.
In our tests of the 4TB version, we found the Seagate to be slightly faster with large file transfers (think movies) but worse with small file transfers (think Office documents). It’s still a worthy runner-up, though. (Read our full review.)