9 best external hard drives to supercharge your storage

Remember when the cloud sounded like it’d fix all your storage problems forever? Bin your flash drives, frisbee your CDs into a skip, build a bonfire of your floppy disks – the cloud is here.

Nope. Sorry. A physical place to put all your photos, your videos or your music collection, or to store hefty folders of work that need protecting from both accidental wiping or possible hacking, remains a very good idea. And, if you want to know for a fact that the digital bits and pieces you want to preserve will still be here in years to come, an external hard drive is your safest bet.

That’s not the only reason you ought to be looking at an extra hard drive either. Noticed that your laptop’s started running slower and slower? Investing in a decent external hard drive is a cheaper alternative to renewing your machine – farming out some of the data and files you want to keep but don’t dip into all the time helps give an older machine a new lease on life.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the external hard drive landscape is dotted with roughly identical and entirely anonymous black boxes, and that the only differences between them are in the number of LEDs they have. But there’s a fair amount more to it than that.

Most pressingly, you need to decide whether you’re after a hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid state drive (SSD). If you’re serious about laying down data for the next few decades, an SSD is a better bet. They’re still more expensive per gigabyte of storage than HDDs, but as they’re not reliant on mechanical parts to write data (HDDs puts your data on a spinning disc, which means it’s more likely to fail or degrade sooner than an SSD which holds data on flash memory chips), SDDs tend to be more stable and way quicker to read and write data. That comes with a hefty price bump, though.

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How your drive connects to your computer matters, too: USB 2 is slowish; USB 3 is fast; Thunderbolt is the fastest. Other than that, the only thing that really matters is that the hard drive you pick is solid and reliable. Nobody wants anything particularly exciting from their storage options – the more boringly efficient and stable, the better.

And one last thing – Mac users will have to reformat the majority of external drives to make them work with macOS, but it’s a pretty pain-free process that should only take a few minutes.

How we tested

During several hours of usage we checked over the hard drives for ease of use, build quality and to what extent any handy extra features improved the experience of using the unit. The speed of writing a variety of data to the device was also compared with what was promised by each unit, as was the overall look and feel of each hard drive.

The best external hard drives for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – Sabrent rocket XTRM-Q: £214.99, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for ease of use – Western Digital elements portable: £40.99, Westerndigital.com
  • Best on a budget – Western Digital my passport: £64.99, Argos.co.uk
  • Best for portability – SanDisk extreme portable SSD: £119.99, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best build quality – G-Technology armorATD: £75.31, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for extreme conditions – Adata HD710 pro: £49.14, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for professional data shifters – Samsung X5 thunderbolt 3: £164, Samsung.com
  • Best for style and substance – LaCie STHG1000400 USB type-c mobile portable: £64.99, Currys.co.uk
  • Best for next level security – Samsung T7 touch external SSD: £95.99, Currys.co.uk

Sabrent rocket XTRM-Q

Best: Overall

Rating: 9/10

  • Type: Solid state disk
  • Dimensions: ‎133mm x 98.5mm x 26.7mm
  • System compatibility: Windows 7 and later, Mac OS X 10
  • Data capacities available: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 8TB
  • Connectivity: Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.2

Yes, it’s towards the top end of what you can expect to pay for an external hard drive, but what you get for your slightly wince-inducing price point is an exercise in quietly impressive competence.

You don’t need any extra drivers to get going, and the solid aluminium construction helps keep the internal temperature down while protecting the innards properly. Data transfer speeds are, for a drive named “rocket”, appropriately stratospheric.

Western Digital elements portable

Best: For ease of use

Rating: 8/10

  • Type: Hard disk drive
  • Dimensions: 111mm x 82mm x 15mm
  • System compatibility: Windows 10, 8.1 and 7
  • Data capacities available: 500GB, 750GB, 1TB, 1.5TB, 2TB, 3TB, 4TB, 5TB
  • Connectivity: USB 2.0 and 3.0

The little brother of Western Digital’s beefy elements SSD is a straight-down-the-line, no-frills model, which packs in a hefty pound-for-pound storage to price ratio.

Slightly irritatingly, you’ll have to subscribe to WD’s automated back-up service to keep it after your 30-day trial, and there’s no encryption or password protection here. Nevertheless, if you want a cost-effective way to whack a load of photos and videos away safely, this is a solid option.

Western Digital my passport

Best: On a budget

Rating: 8/10

  • Type: Hard disk drive
  • Dimensions: 110mm x 81.5mm x 21.5mm
  • System compatibility: Windows 10, 8.1 and 7
  • Data capacities available: 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, 4TB
  • Connectivity: USB 2.0 and 3.0

Western Digital’s my passport is just a little broader than a passport and available in sizes as thin as 13.8mm, so it’s one to bear in mind if you’re after something to take with you when you head for a work-from-café day.

Worried about what happens if you leave it lying around? It’s password-protected, so should anyone plug your my passport into their machine, they’ll be greeted with instructions on what to do to return it to you. Plus, it comes in an array of six colours – and that’s about as exciting as external hard drives get. Mac users will need to get the dedicated my passport for Mac models, though.

SanDisk extreme portable SSD

Best: For portability

Rating: 9/10

  • Type: Solid state drive
  • Dimensions: ‎96.3mm x 49.5mm x 89mm
  • System compatibility: Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 10 and Mac OS
  • Data capacities available: 250GB, 500GB, 1TB
  • Connectivity: USB-C

If you’re after something truly titchy, SanDisk’s extreme portable is a little longer than a credit card and clocks in at a shade over 40g. Pop a carabiner through its loop, hook it to your belt, and you’re away.

The rubberised cover is reassuringly tactile and prevents most minor bumps, and you’ll struggle to find a more straightforward piece of kit. Just plug in, install the security kit – which includes the ability to password protect your data – and drag and drop.

G-Technology armorATD

Best: Build quality

Rating: 9/10

  • Type: Hard disk drive
  • Dimensions: ‎130mm x 87mm x 21mm
  • System compatibility: Windows 10, 8.1 and 7, Mac OS
  • Data capacities available: 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 5TB
  • Connectivity: USB 3.0

The “ATD” here stands for “all-terrain drive”, which makes it sound much more like it could compete in the Paris-Dakar Rally than seems likely. But the point is that this is an HDD that can take a battering.

It isn’t the fastest out there, but with three layers of shock resistance – an outer rubber bumper, aluminium casing that can withstand 1,000lb of crushing force, and internal shock mounts – it should stand up to the efforts of even the most hopelessly butterfingered digital archivist. Upload speeds are reliably swift, too.

Adata HD710 pro

Best: For extreme conditions

Rating: 8/10

  • Type: Hard disk drive
  • Dimensions: ‎133mm x 98.5mm x 26.7mm
  • System compatibility: Windows 7 and later, Mac OS X 10
  • Data capacities available: 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 5TB
  • Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 1

Proving again that external hard drives needn’t be totally soulless, inscrutable bits of greyish metal, this is a gnarly-looking bit of kit with a performance to match.

Beyond its good looks, it can withstand a tumble to the floor from 1.5m, and can deal with an hour under 2m of water. More than that, shock sensors inside the HD710 pro will stop any activity inside the hard drive if there’s a severe enough jolt. That means no damaged data and a longer life span for the mechanical parts. The cable holder that runs round the outside is neat, too.

Samsung SSD X5 thunderbolt 3

Best: For professional data shifters

Rating: 9/10

  • Type: Solid state disk
  • Dimensions: ‎119mm x 62mm x 19.7mm
  • System compatibility: Windows 7 and later, Mac OS X 10
  • Data capacities available: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB
  • Connectivity: Thunderbolt 3

If it’s speed and writing capacity that you’re after to render out high-res video and images, the X5 Thunderbolt 3 is capable of handling most loads you can throw at it. It promises to transfer a 20GB 4K UHD video in 12 seconds flat – and you can get optional password protection, too.

The one drawback is the lack of higher-capacity models, but for straight speed and versatility, the X5 is up there.

LaCie STHG1000400 USB type-c portable

Best: For style and substance

Rating: 9/10

  • Type: Hard disk drive
  • Dimensions: ‎9.9mm x 88mm x 121.7mm
  • System compatibility: Windows 10, 8.1 and 7, Mac OS
  • Data capacities available: 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 5TB
  • Connectivity: USB 3.0 and USB-C

External hard drives can be much of a muchness visually, but French-American company LaCie’s models have rather more chicness to them than most. Slim, sleek and possessed of art deco-inspired good looks, this portable also automatically backs up your stuff with the included LaCie toolkit, and doesn’t need separately calibrating to work with Windows and Macs.

The USB-C port means you can plug straight into an iPad and boost its capacity immediately. It’s ready to roll straight out of the box.

Samsung T7 touch external SSD

Best: For next level security

Rating: 8/10

  • Type: Solid state drive
  • Dimensions: 57mm x 85mm x 8mm
  • System compatibility: Windows 7 and higher, Mac OS X 10 and higher
  • Data capacities available: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB
  • Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 2

You can never be too careful with your data, and as much as you might hope that a hard drive wouldn’t be of much interest to your common or garden thief, businesses and freelancers will feel a lot more secure knowing they’ve got something more substantial than crossed fingers keeping their secrets secret.

The T7 touch features both fingerprint-recognition security and AES 256-bit encryption, and it’s slim enough to slip into a trouser pocket.

The verdict: External hard drives

The key thing to weigh up is exactly what ratio of pounds to storage space you’re prepared to pay for. If you’re on a budget and just want to stick stuff away for safekeeping, a hard disk drive like the Western Digital elements portable will serve your needs ably, with good build quality and solid functionality at a very handy price point. Need more access more often? The Western Digital my passport and LaCie mobile drive are good everyday options.

However, if you’re prepared to spend a little more, the difference in performance compared with Samsung’s T7 touch or SSD thunderbolt 3 is noticeable, and you’re less likely to need to back-up all over again in a few years’ time.

If price makes no odds to you, though, and you’re after a serious piece of kit that will hang onto your data for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to see past the Sabrent rocket – fast, simple to use, solidly made and unfussy.

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Douglas Mateo

Douglas holds a position as a content writer at Neptune Pine. His academic qualifications in journalism and home science have offered her a wide base from which to line various topics. He has a proficiency in scripting articles related to the Health industry, including new findings, disease-related, or epidemic-related news. Apart from this, Douglas writes an independent blog and assists people in living healthy life.