if you’re running If you’re running out of storage space on your laptop, or need to back up your data and store a backlog of videos you plan to edit one day (I swear), an external hard drive solves the problem . The problem is there are hundreds of drive options, ranging from cheap to very expensive. Which one fits your needs? We tested dozens with different use cases in mind to find the best portable storage drive for your workflow.
Be sure to check out our other guides, including how to back up and move photos between services, how to back up your digital life, how to back up your iPhone, and more.
Updated March 2023: Added Crucial X8 portable SSD and Western Digital SN 850X internal drive.
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i think this guide portable This is obviously not portable, but bear with me. Portability is not the top priority for recommended incremental backups. Backup software usually runs overnight, so speed isn’t a big factor either. That’s why the first recommended drive is this Western Digital Elements.
I have been making incremental backups of my data for over a decade using several variations of WD Elements desktop hard drives. They’re big and require an external power supply, but these are some of the cheapest and most reliable drives I’ve used. Storage options go up to 20 terabytes. Please check the price. In some cases, you can get a 10 terabyte or even 12 terabyte drive for a fraction of the cost.
Other great backup drives
- Seagate Portable 8 TB HDD $166: Seagate is another reliable drive manufacturer. If you need multiple backups, use different brands of drives. Both are less likely to fail at the same time. This 8 terabyte model often sells for around $150.
- Western Digital Elements 5-TB Portable HDD, Now Only $110: You can also get more portable versions of Western Digital drives for much less. And unlike our top pick, it doesn’t require an external power supply.
These Crucial drives are my favorite portable drives. It’s affordable (for a portable SSD) and fast. The only drive we tested with faster read speeds was the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD (see below). These are lightweight, which makes them ideal for working away from home. I use one to store video clips and it’s fast enough to edit straight from disk. The only drawback is the plastic construction. Don’t expect it to survive many drops. Grab the padded case if you’re worried about it breaking in your bag. I haven’t tried it, but there are many like this for $15.
- Crucial X8 2TB SSD for $130: Crucial’s X8 uses NVMe flash drives, so it’s significantly faster than the X6. It also features an all-metal enclosure that offers better protection than the X6’s plastic. This drive is better than the X6 in all respects except weight (about twice the weight) and price, but considering it often drops as low as around $130 for the 2 TB model, it’s a better buy than the X6 may be worth doing.
This portable drive from SanDisk beats everything else I’ve tested. It’s lightweight and has an IP22 rated enclosure so you can use it on the go. It’s not the cheapest drive, but it’s your best bet if you want to have backups in the field and done as quickly as possible. It’s less compact than some of these drives, but I like it because it’s easier to track in my bag.
Other speedy drives
If you want a drive that can withstand being put in a backpack or camera bag, wet, or dropped on a hard surface, OWC drives are for you. With so many solid options, it’s hard to pick a winner here, but OWC’s Elektron drive marginally outperformed the rest in our benchmark tests. I also like that you can replace the drive inside the aluminum casing (it’s easy to unscrew). This means that in 2 years you can pick up a faster bare his SSD and drop it on Elektron.
If you need a larger drive, both physically and in terms of storage capacity, OWC’s Envoy Pro FX ($245 for 1 TB) Great choice as well. It’s even faster and comes in sizes up to 4 TB, though the latter is priced at a whopping $900. The 2 TB model is sufficient in most cases, but it’s still expensive at $400. It is IP67 rated and has moderate drop protection. (Think of all the “military standard” claims with a grain of salt. Because every “rugged” drive manufacturer claims things like this, who actually does independent testing? No, you shouldn’t go for OWC.) However, this drive remains incredibly cool even under heavy loads (such as editing 4K video footage straight from the drive).
Other rugged options
- $120 for Sabrent Rocket Nano 1 TB SSD: i really like this It’s smaller and slightly faster than OWC, but has two drawbacks. The first is that it can get very hot. Trying to work on your lap can be downright uncomfortable. Another problem is that recognition on PC can be slow. I couldn’t find a pattern for this. Sometimes it appeared immediately, other times it took several minutes. If those don’t bother you, this drive is small, inexpensive, and comes with a padded rubber case.
The above go-anywhere drive is a solid solution for photographers, videographers, and others who need to create backups in the field. But if you want an extra level of comfort, this padded drive from LaCie has long been a traveler’s favorite. LaCie manufactures both SSD and traditional spinning drive versions. If speed isn’t an issue, like when you’re making nightly backups, a cheap spinning drive makes more sense. If you really want to back up in similar situations where you need to back up quickly, such as in the middle of a photo shoot, then the SSD version is for you.
Other padded options
- Samsung T7 Shield 2-TB SSD for only $138 now: It’s less padded than LaCie’s heavy-duty drive, but it’s cheaper and delivers about the same speed. It’s IP65 rated, so you can take it out in the rain and protect it from dust and sand. The T7 series is famous for its built-in security features like hardware-based encryption, but unlike the Touch model, the Shield doesn’t have a fingerprint reader. Still, if you don’t need LaCie’s full padding protection and want to save a little money, the T7 Shield is the way to go.
Think of this category as a grain of salt. Most drives here will work just fine for gaming (use the fastest you can afford). That said, Western Digital’s new P40 has some cool RGB lights on the bottom. In my testing, it didn’t seem to affect power consumption.
As for speed, my tests were inconsistent. This drive can easily outperform both the Envoy Pro and the Samsung T7, but it can also be slower (at least in benchmarks). One bottleneck I consistently encountered in real-world use was latency when transferring large amounts of data. That might be a deal breaker for some, but for the price, this is still a very solid choice.
If you want a bigger SSD in your laptop, all you need is a bare drive. This is generally cheaper than drives with enclosures above. The first thing to figure out is which drive your PC uses. Refer to the manufacturer’s documentation to confirm. In my experience, the most common form factor is the M.2 2280, the elongated drive pictured above. More compact laptops may use a similar shorter M.2 2242 design. Again, check your PC to see what drives you need before you buy. There are a lot of these on the market and I haven’t had time to test many yet, but of the half-dozen I’ve tried so far, Western Digital’s WD Black series stands out for speed, and it doesn’t. run very hot.
The SN 770 M.2 2280 achieved speeds of 5,100 MB/s in my testing. This is very fast. If you’re doing drive-intensive tasks like editing videos or gaming, this drive is well worth it. The largest version available today is 2 TB, but the price is reasonable given the increased speed. I’ve had it as my main drive for a few months and have found it to be fast enough for everything from editing 5.2K video footage to compiling software. my favorite part? Very little heat is generated. My old Dell XPS 13 got too hot to use without something between my knees. It doesn’t get hot until you start exporting your video, but it cools down quickly once you’re done.
- Western Digital SN850X 2 TB SSD for $100: This drive is so fast I had to run the test twice because I couldn’t believe the first results. Western Digital claims read speeds of up to 7,300 MB per second, and in benchmark tests, this drive came close to that. To get the most out of the speed here, you’ll need a system that supports the PCIe 4.0 SSD standard, but this is a great drive if you’re looking to upgrade your gaming system, whether it’s a desktop PC or a PlayStation.
Choosing the right hard drive involves balancing three things: speed, sizeand priceSpeed is probably not an issue if you’re making nightly backups. Pick the cheapest drive you can find. Drives don’t last forever, but some definitely last longer. I recommend sticking with reputable and known brands like Seagate, Western Digital, Samsung, and the other brands mentioned here, partly based on experience and partly with his Based on drive failure data that Backblaze has published over the years. Backblaze uses tons of hard drives to back up their customers’ data, and their report is worth reading. The gist is simple. Give it a name you know.
If speed trumps price, consider the solid state drives listed here. Speed is not the only advantage of SSDs. And since it has no moving parts, it can withstand bumps and drops in your bag on the road better than spinning the drive. The downside is that it wears out quickly. Every write operation to an SSD (that is, when you store something on the SSD) slightly degrades the individual NAND cells that make up the drive. How fast it is depends on how you use it. That being said, I have several of his SSD’s that are 5+ years old and have used them for daily backups during that time. I had no problems with any of them.
Do you want an SSD in a spinning drive? In most cases the answer is yes, if you can afford it. But it’s especially useful for drives you work with on a regular basis. I use it as my main boot drive, an external drive that I use to edit documents, and backups if I need them.