With any luck, our gaming laptops and gaming PCs are cruising along at high speeds thanks to zippy solid-state drives. Even the latest generation of consoles, like the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, are built around solid-state storage. But, where those drives excel in speeds, they tend to lack in capacity and are a bit more challenging to install. External storage drives provide an easy, effective alternative to make up for a lack of space on your devices.
You'll find external storage comes in all shapes and sizes. You can get massive capacity with external hard drives, or you can even go for high speeds with external SSDs. Using more recent USB and Thunderbolt connections, you even see external drives offering well over 2GB/s transfer speeds. And, one big perk external drives have over internal ones is the ability for you to use them to transfer data easily between different devices. So, if you're ready to add an external hard drive to your setup, we've picked out some great options.
TL;DR – These are the Best External Hard Drives:
- Western Digital My Passport 4TB
- Seagate Storage Expansion Card for Xbox 1TB SSD
- WD_Black P40 Game Drive
- WD_Black P10 Game Drive
- LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt 2TB
- Western Digital 16TB My Book Duo
- SanDisk G-Drive Professional 4TB
- iStorage diskAshur 2TB
- WD My Cloud Home
- Sabrent Dual Bay External Hard Drive Docking Station
Western Digital My Passport 4TB
Best External Hard Drive
Western Digital checks off just about every box with the WD My Passport 4TB drive. This external hard drive provides a ton of storage space at an affordable $100 price, letting you get effectively 1TB per $25. Sure, you don't get the high speeds of an SSD, but for general use, you often don't miss that. And, the USB 3.0 connectivity still gives the device decent transfer rates, so you won’t be waiting all day just to transfer a few gigabytes of content between your computer and your drive.
Portability is a big perk of the WD My Passport 4TB drive, and you can easily slide it into your bag to have data available for work or school. It’s less than an inch thick, weighs less than half a pound, and only requires one cable. Many high-capacity drives might connect over a USB that then requires an auxiliary power source, but this drive connects and is powered using the same USB connection. And, if you're worried about the safety of your data, there is built-in 256-bit AES hardware encryption and WD Backup software to make sure important files won't get lost.
Seagate Storage Expansion Card for Xbox 1TB SSD
Best Xbox Series X/S External Hard Drive
Yes, you can plug any old USB-based external hard drive into your Xbox Series X/S, but those only let you store games from previous Xbox generations. The latest games require faster storage, and the only option for that is the Seagate Storage Expansion Card for Xbox Series X/S. You get plenty fast data transfer speeds at 2,400MB/s, making it easy to get back to your game in no time.
This Seagate drive doesn't use USB or suffer from its limited bandwidth. Instead, it gets a direct PCI Express connection with the Xbox, which gives it bandwidth that can match the Xbox Series X/S's own internal storage. Don't worry, you won't be sacrificing graphics, latency, load times, or framerates when using it. Best of all is the fact that it adds 1TB of extra storage to the console. Sure, it might come at a high price, but it'll effectively double your Xbox Series X storage or almost triple your Xbox Series S storage. Plus, it's the most compact drive on this list by far.
WD_Black P40 Game Drive
Best PS5 External Hard Drive
To add more storage to your PS5, using the console's additional M.2 slot for an internal SSD is the best option. But if you're still on the hunt for more space, transferring some PS5 games along with your backward-compatible PS4 games to an external drive is a great option. While you won't be able to play PS5 games stored on your external HDD, you can at least save yourself the trouble of redownloading 100GB of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare all over again.
The best external drive for your PS5 is the WD_Black P40 Game Drive, a slightly more durable and compact version of our previous favorite, the WD_Black P50 Game Drive. You get 1TB of storage to house a sizeable gaming library with blistering 2,000MB/s read speeds, as it's actually an external SSD rather than a traditional hard drive. With a USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 connection, you'll be able to use the drive's speeds to full capacity for quickly transferring your PS5 library between the internal and external storage. If you’re a new console owner setting up your PS5, this drive will help speed up transferring data from the PS4 to PS5. And it isn’t exclusively for PlayStation, so the drive will work great with your gaming PC or Xbox. There’s even some customizable RGB lighting to amp up the gamer aesthetic.
WD_Black P10 Game Drive
Best External Hard Drive for Gaming
While you might not be able to play the latest generation of console games from an external hard drive, there’s still a big benefit to having extra space. WD_Black P10 Game Drive drive offers a ton of storage at an affordable price, giving you lots of room for a big game library without the high price of an SSD. We're talking a hefty 5TB for $150. Now, that's a steal. It's also a great drive to use with your gaming PC.
The WD_Black P10 Game Drive connects over a modest USB 3.0 connection, but that won’t be an issue as the drive only offers 140MB/s read and write speeds anyways. You may be able to play some games directly off the hard drive (like backward-compatible titles), but even when you can’t, you’re not completely out of luck. With that impressive 5TB of storage, you can slot in a bunch of games and quickly transfer them back over to your game console’s internal storage to play. This eliminates worry about your internet bandwidth or data caps that comes with always re-downloading them.
LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt 2TB
Best Rugged External Hard Drive
If you’re hauling your external drive around "in the wild," hackers and thieves aren’t all you need to worry about. There’s also the age-old problem of just straight up having butterfingers and watching your device packed with precious data turn into a broken brick. Thankfully, there are tough external drives like the LaCie Rugged. Built to withstand falls of over five feet, the bright orange removable cover is also IP54-level resistant to dust and water. Now, don't go throwing this drive in a lake anytime soon, but it should hold up against some rain.
Under its tough exterior, the LaCie Rugged manages decent transfer speeds via Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 connections. Therefore, you should be good to use this drive with any computer on the market. The Thunderbolt cable is even designed to tuck neatly into the perimeter of the casing, so you don't have to worry about losing it. And, with a 2TB storage capacity, you have ample space for all your important files.
Western Digital 16TB My Book Duo
Best High-Capacity External Hard Drive
Not all external drives are portable, and if you're looking to backup your desktop computer, there are some cavernous options. One of the biggest—and best—hard drives is Western Digital’s My Book Duo. With two 8TB HDDs, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a higher-capacity storage option (other than, you know, the bonkers 24TB version). It does weigh over 5 pounds, so you won't be toting this drive around in your bag like most of the others on our list.
The Western Digital My Book Duo's two high-capacity HDDs can be set up in a RAID 1 array, so you can get a huge backup of your huge backup. It's even possible to set up WD’s automatic backup software on your computer and forget worrying over whether your data is backed up or not. And, it uses a USB 3.1 Gen 1 interface, so it can easily handle the 360MB/s read speeds. For more peace of mind, a 256-bit AES hardware encryption with password protection is on board for added security.
SanDisk G-Drive Professional 4TB
Best External Hard Drive for MacBooks
Now, if you want to throw down some serious dough, you can buy a MacBook with tons of storage, but otherwise, 256GB or 512GB that comes standard in most just isn’t going to cut it, especially if you do a ton of editing or design work. That’s where an external hard drive like the SanDisk G-Drive Professional comes in handy. This drive is configured for Macs and supports Apple Time Machine, so you’ll be good to go right out of the box, giving you a whopping 4TB of extra storage for just over $200. It delivers 250 MB/s read and write speeds using a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C. It's not the fastest drive out there, though it’s plenty speedy for backing up documents and photos.
The SanDisk G-Drive Professional is a classy and durable option with its stackable, anodized aluminum enclosure. You even get some adjustable LED lighting to let you know it’s working. However, this machine is powerful and therefore requires a power source to utilize the 7200RPM Ultrastar enterprise-class hard drive. That also means this drive is slightly less portable than some of the others on our list, but you aren’t going to find a better option to work alongside your Mac.
iStorage diskAshur 2TB
Best Encrypted External Hard Drive
Some data is so precious you can’t trust just any old external drive to handle the job. Behold, the iStorage diskAshur, which features 256-bit AES encryption and a physical numpad. So, not only do you get military-grade encryption, but you can lock your data behind a 7-to-15-digit pin that you physically punch in on the device's face. It’s even possible to set up the diskAshur to destroy all of its data if someone tries to crack their way in—how 007. But in all seriousness, government organizations use these iStorage drives for a reason, and if you’re serious about security, so should you.
Not only is the diskAshur secure, but also durable. It carries an IP56 rating, so it can handle an accidental spill without the worry of your priceless data being lost. The keys are even designed to resist showing signs of usage that might otherwise help someone guess the numbers in your pin. Somehow, the hard drive still manages a compact size and neatly built-in USB cable. And, with a 2TB capacity plus 160MB/s read speeds and 143MB/s write speeds, you can store a good chunk of your data quickly and safely behind the military-grade security of this device.
WD My Cloud Home
Best Cloud-Connected External Hard Drive
The WD My Cloud Home is a capable and yet delightfully simple hard drive that connects to any device on your network. Once hooked up to your home Wi-Fi setup, any device can upload files to this drive whether it be a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. You can even import data from USB flash drives or external hard drives by slotting them into the USB port. And further adding to the convenience, while you're outside of your home, you can also access this storage similar to the cloud.
The WD My Cloud Home comes in a wide range of capacities, letting you pick out the size that best fits your needs. We've found 4TB seems to be the sweet spot, and you can snag it for $200. If you need to ensure the safety of your data, you can even grab a model with two drives to keep a duplicate copy of each file. With that said, it isn't a true NAS, if you're looking for a robust, expandable Network-Attached Storage solution.
Sabrent Dual Bay External Hard Drive Docking Station
Best External Hard Drive Dock
If you want to have external storage but already have your own drives, the Sabrent Dual Bay External Hard Drive Docking Station can help you out. This SATA-based dock lets you plug in a pair of drives, and they don’t need to be identical. You can plug in 3.5-inch hard drives, 2.5-inch SSDs, or one of each. The bay supports up to two 10TB drives, so you can really build out your external storage.
Sabrent’s docking station uses USB 3.0 to support up to 5Gb/s transfer speeds, letting you quickly access files you have stored on your external drives. Most hard drives don't even offer that type of speed. If you want to secure your data, the docking station also provides a convenient way of backing up your drives. Simply connecting one drive to slot A and a second drive to slot B will set you up to use the docking station’s Offline Cloning feature to copy the first drive’s content onto the second drive.
What to Look for in an External Hard Drive
Buying an external hard drive might seem like a simple matter of finding the capacity you want at the lowest price possible, but that's a sure-fire way of getting a lemon and losing your data forever.
If you're already in the market for a portable HDD over an external solid-state drive, you're probably more interested in capacity than speed. Definitely don't expect to get wickedly fast data transfer speeds out of these drives, but some are starting to get up there in speed. However, external SSDs are amping up their capacity, making them perfect for those looking to quickly access an entire gaming library.
Although they might spin at the same 5,400 to 7,200 RPM (revolutions per minute) as the desktop drives in your PC, the USB 3.0 bus limits transfer speeds to about 100 or 200MB/s. Comparatively, the fastest Thunderbolt-enabled or PCI Express-connected external SSDs hit speeds up to 2,800MB/s.
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Kevin Lee is IGN's Hardware and Roundups Editor. Follow him on Twitter @baggingspam.
Danielle Abraham is a freelance writer and unpaid music historian.