Best external hard drives 2021: store your data with ease

The best external hard drives are right here, so you can get the extra digital storage space you need

Included in this guide:

External hard drive sitting on a desk
(Image credit: Western Digital)

Looking for the best external hard drive? Our essential guide will help you navigate the maze of options out there, explaining what you need to be looking for in terms of capacity, specs, extra features and brand name. Don't part with any money before you've consulted this carefully curated list, and others we've put together like the best external hard drive for Mac guide.

Getting the right hard drive in place can solve your digital storage problems for years: you'll finally have enough room for all those movies, music files, photos, documents, and everything else you've managed to amass – and if you buy one of the best external hard drives, you'll be able to trust it with your data.

Like when you shop for one of the best laptops, best SSDs, or best keyboards, there are a few things to consider before making a purchase, and that's what this best external hard drive guide is designed to help with. Not only do we list what we consider the best drives, but we also provide buying advice and top tips to make sure you end up with the right drive for your needs and budget.

Don't forget to check out the best Black Friday deals this year. External drives are a Black Friday regular, with decent discounts usually available from all the usual suspects. If you've been considering a high performance or high capacity external drive – or both – then Black Friday can be a very good time to buy.

The best external drives you can buy today

Seagate Backup Plus 4TBT3 Best Buy Award badge

1. Seagate Backup Plus 4TB

The best external hard drive for most people

Specifications
Capacity: 1TB-5TB
Drive: HDD
Connector: USB
Portable: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Affordable+Plenty of capacity choice+Ultra reliable
Reasons to avoid
-Standard models not as fast as some

You can pick up Seagate's portable drives in a host of capacities, colours, and dimensions, so head to the Seagate site for a comprehensive breakdown, but across the board you're looking at USB 3.0 speeds, Windows and Mac support, and 120 MB/s or higher transfers.

There are some differences: opt for the chunkier, 4TB "Fast" model and you get 220 MB/s transfer rates in return for a little extra bulk on the drive itself. If you just want simple, affordable, reliable backups (software is included), then these are great portable options.

T3's Seagate Backup Plus 4TB vs WD Black D10 comparison feature is worth checking out for even more information about this top-rated drive.

WD Black D10T3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Western Digital)

The best premium external hard drive

Specifications
Capacity: 8TB
Drive: HDD
Connector: USB
Portable: No
Reasons to buy
+Eye-catching, rugged design+Lots of space+Speedy and quiet in operation
Reasons to avoid
-Not particularly cheap-Needs its own power supply

If you're happy to leave your drive powered up on the desktop and don't need it to be portable, then the Western Digital Black D10 has the performance and the looks that you need. There's only one storage option – 8TB – but that should be enough for you, whether you're using this with a computer or a video games console.

And that wide compatibility is only part of the story here. It's speedy and quiet even under pressure, it's designed to be placed either horizontally or vertically, and you can even charge your other gadgets off it. If you're looking for one of the best external hard drives for a desktop setup, then you can't do much better than this.

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The best cheap external hard drive? That's the Western Digital My Passport.

(Image credit: Western Digital)

3. WD My Passport

The best budget external hard drive

Specifications
Capacity: 1TB-5TB
Drive: HDD
Connector: USB 3.2
Portable: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Very affordable+Slim design+Hardware encryption
Reasons to avoid
-Fast but not the fastest

You can always rely on Western Digital for your external hard drive needs, and the updated My Passport line gives you a pile of additional storage at a good price, and in a compact form factor. You can even pick from black, blue and red as the outer casing colour.

With an eye-catching design and USB 3.2 support, the drive comes with 256-bit AES hardware encryption is included and backup software, if you need it. You can easily connect the drive to your favourite cloud services too – simple, effective, reliable hard drive storage.

See how this external hard drive compares to our number one choice in T3's WD My Passport vs Seagate Backup Plus comparison feature.

Lacie Mobile SSDT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Lacie)

4. Lacie Mobile SSD

Wireless streaming to multiple devices

Specifications
Capacity: 500GB-2TB
Drive: SSD
Connector: USB 3.1 / Thunderbolt 3
Portable: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Up to 540 MB/s speeds+Sleek, tidy design+A month of Adobe CC free
Reasons to avoid
-Premium price point

The Lacie Mobile SSD wraps up 500GB, 1TB or 2TB of SSD capacity in an impressively slim design. It's ready to go on Windows or Mac right out of the box (no formatting needed), and can reach super-fast read speeds of 540 MB/s (though your actual rate may be less).

Go for the very top capacity and you can store up to 200,000 high resolution photos and up to 65 hours of video, so this isn't a drive that you're going to need to replace anytime soon. It comes with a reversible USB-C cable that'll work with USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3 devices.

Seagate Backup Plus DesktopT3 Approved badge

5. Seagate Backup Plus Desktop

A superb all-round choice

Specifications
Capacity: 3TB-8TB
Drive: HDD
Connector: USB
Portable: No
Reasons to buy
+Fast transfer speeds+Plenty of choice+Compact case design
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most portable design

We're also big fans of the Seagate Backup Plus models (see below) but these are the higher capacity, non-portable versions: you still get the speed and reliability that Seagate's known for, but you have to find an extra power socket to plug into as well.

That extra power means more capacity and faster speeds of course, so it's not all bad: transfer rates go up to 160 MB/s on Windows or Mac and you can get up to 8TB of capacity here. The optional two-port USB hub on the front is handy for charging gadgets too.

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6. Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC

The magic of NFC

Specifications
Capacity: 1TB-2TB
Drive: HDD
Connector: USB
Portable: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Integrated cable+Shock protection+NFC built-in
Reasons to avoid
-Only 3 capacities to choose from

The main party trick of this compact, portable, stylish drive from Buffalo is the NFC (Near Field Communication) technology built in, which means you can unlock the contents of the drive with the swipe of the supplied smart card, with no passwords required.

On top of that encryption and protection, you also get USB 3.0 connectivity (with integrated cable), shock protection, resistance from water and dust and capacities up to 2TB in size, so if you're looking for a portable drive with a little bit extra, this could be it.

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7. SanDisk Extreme 510

Well protected and high speed

Specifications
Capacity: 120GB-1TB
Drive: SSD
Connector: USB
Portable: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Shock resistance+Fast transfers+Data encryption
Reasons to avoid
-1TB maximum capacity

The SanDisk Extreme 510 is an unusual-looking portable option if you want the speed of a solid-state drive and don't mind paying for the privilege - note that although the label on the front says SanDisk, the company is in fact now owned and run by Western Digital.

That strange casing makes the drive resistant to drops, shocks, vibrations and extreme temperatures, and the manufacturer is promising up to four times faster transfer speeds than a comparable HDD drive. Integrated data encryption is provided as standard too.

WD Black P10T3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Western Digital)

A compact and cool external hard drive

Specifications
Capacity: 2GB / 4GB / 5GB
Drive: HDD
Connector: USB-A
Portable: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Looks rather cool+Excellent value for money+Durable exterior
Reasons to avoid
-Not as fast as SSD

The WD Black P10 is a fine choice for your next external hard drive if you're prioritising value for money over raw speed: it's a 2.5-inch HDD running at a speed of 5,400 rpm, so don't expect blistering SSD performance, and it's priced accordingly. It'll transfer your files quickly enough, but we wouldn't recommend trying to actually run games from this.

As with the rest of the WD Black series, the industrial looks of the drive really catch the eye: all ridged black plastic that gives an extra sense of style and durability. Some people won't care what their external hard drive looks like, and perhaps they're right not to, but we're very much fans of the aesthetic on show here.

Capacities go all the way up to 5TB but it's the slimline 2TB that's the real star of the range: it's very slim and very light, and it won't get noisy or hot during use, as it transfers data over its USB 3.2 Gen 1 connection (with a USB-A plug). If you want to take a lot of storage around with you anywhere, give it a look.

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(Image credit: Samsung)

9. Samsung 860 EVO

Small, sleek and super-Speedy

Specifications
Capacity: 250GB-4TB
Drive: SSD
Connector: USB
Portable: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Exceptionally fast+Reasonable price+Embrace the SSD future
Reasons to avoid
-Do you need SSD speeds?

Samsung has always been ahead of the game with SSDs and the 860 EVO is a very good example of that – now available in storage sizes up to a colossal 4TB. This huge capacity means if your pockets are deep enough, then mechanical drives are no longer needed.

For this drive Samsung has switched to using V-NAND 3-bit MLC technology for storage, which is very reliable and as a result the 860 EVO comes with a 5-year warranty, which is a great longevity. Add sequential read speeds of up to 550 MBS per second and sequential write speeds of up to 520 MBS per second and you’ve got a fast, reliable and reasonably priced option. We approve.

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10. WD My Book Duo

Two drives are better than one

Specifications
Capacity: 4GB-16TB
Drive: HDD
Connector: USB
Portable: No
Reasons to buy
+Massive choice+Two drive bays+Mirroring capability
Reasons to avoid
-Serious money

The third WD drive in our rundown is for those who really need a lot of capacity and are happy to pay for it - as the name suggests, the My Book Duo has two drive bays, so you can slot in two hard disks for a total capacity of anywhere between 4TB and a huge 16TB.

Even with the two bays, the drive isn't difficult to configure, and with the standard WD backup software supplied you can be up and running in minutes. If you prefer, you can have the two drives mirror each other, so you've always got two copies of your data.

Lacie RuggedT3 Approved badge

11. Lacie Rugged

The drive you can take anywhere

Specifications
Capacity: 500GB-4TB
Drive: HDD
Connector: USB-C
Portable: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Portable+Ruggedised+Various connectivity options
Reasons to avoid
-Do you need that level of protection?

If you're looking for an external hard drive to cope with the stresses and strains of modern-day life then you can't do much better than the bright, padded Rugged model from Lacie, shock and drop resistant to a height of 1.2 metres when not running.

It's also pressure-resistant, and comes with automatic backup software and encryption to keep your data as safe as possible. A variety of connection options are included, from USB 3.0 Type-C to Thunderbolt and Firewire, and it's Mac and Windows compatible as well.

How to choose the best external hard drive for you

The good news is choosing an external hard drive needn’t be particularly time-consuming task – it's mainly a question of capacity, which boils down to how much room you need for all your stuff, now and in the future.

After capacity, consider if you want a portable drive (powered via USB), or a fixed desktop drive (with its own power socket). Portable drives are ultra convenient but cost more, whereas the desktop drives are cheaper and often have higher capacities.

As prices fall, SSD (solid-state drives) are becoming more popular: they're ultra-fast – much quicker than conventional mechanical drives – but you will pay extra for that speed, and can't usually get as much in terms of capacity.

So, which is the best external hard drive? We like all of the drives we've mentioned below, so it really depends on how much storage space you need and how much you're willing to spend to get it.

David Nield
David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.