Types of Hard Drives
This type of external hard
drive usually costs the least per GB (about $100 for 3 TB of storage) and offers
the biggest capacities. They typically require an AC connection for their power
supplies, and they're meant to stay on your desktop.
If you need to take your
files with you from place to place, a portable hard drive is the way to go.
They're compact and able to run off your computer's battery via a USB
connection. Portable hard drives range from inexpensive spinning-hard-disk
models (about $100 for 4 TB of storage) to extremely fast but relatively
expensive solid state portable drives (around $130 for 250 GB).
Wireless hard drives are
truly cordless. There's no power cord (they're rechargeable) and no USB cord
(you send files from your computer or mobile device to the drive by Wi-Fi).
However, they're pricey -- about $150 for 1 TB of storage.
External hard drives do more than safeguard your
An external hard drive can
provide a place to back up your files so they won't be lost if your computer's
internal hard drive crashes, but that's not one's only role. It can also expand
your computer's storage capacity, giving you more room for large files such as
digital video, high-resolution photos and music collections. In addition, these
drives offer a simple way of sharing data between computers by simply
unplugging the drive from one machine and plugging it into another.
External hard drives can use
two different types of technology. Hard-disk drives (HDD) are mechanical,
writing to and reading from spinning platters. This type of drive offers the
advantage of higher storage capacity at a relatively low cost per gigabyte
(GB). Solid-state drives (SSD), by contrast, use flash memory in place of
spinning disks. SSDs are significantly faster than HDDs, as well as quieter and
more compact. In addition, their lack of moving parts makes them less
vulnerable to physical damage. On the downside, they're also considerably pricier.
Desktop external hard drives: 'Cavernous' Seagate
Backup Plus Desktop Drive safeguards all of
We all know we
should be backing up our data -- but nowadays, that's a massive task. Experts
say the (Est. $90 and up) makes it easy, quick and
affordable. Inside this unassuming little paperback-sized slab lurks vast
storage: 3 TB (Est. $90) or 4 TB (Est. $120), or you can opt for the Seagate
Backup Plus Hub version that adds two front USB ports in 4 TB (Est. $100), 6 TB
(Est. $145) or a "cavernous" 8 TB (Est. $180) that's
ComputerShopper.com's Editors' Choice.
Other experts as
well as owners like it as well. "It's an easy recommendation," CNET's
Dong Ngo says. It's also the top desktop drive according to both PCMag.com and
TheWirecutter.com, and it earns rave reviews from owners at BestBuy.com,
Amazon.com and BHPhotoVideo.com.
It's easy to see
why. This drive absolutely slays its rivals in tests. It's very fast via USB
3.0 (and backwards compatible with USB 2.0), so backups won't drag on forever.
It works with PC, Mac, iOS, and Android, and is supplied with Seagate Dashboard
software that makes saving content posted on social networking sites (Facebook,
Flickr and YouTube) a snap. It even throws in 200 GB of cloud storage for free.
And it costs just pennies per gigabyte of storage.
Seagate backs the
drive with a two-year warranty, but that doesn't include data recovery. "Just
be sure your most crucial data is backed up somewhere else, too -- 8 terabytes
of memories is a lot to lose," ComputerShopper.com's Matt Safford warns.
The (Est. $95 and up) is also worth considering,
especially if you need a larger (8 TB) drive. It's priced similarly to the
Seagate ($95 for the 3 TB version, for example, and $200 for 8 GB) and boasts
reviews from thousands of satisfied customers at retail websites. It carries a
longer three-year warranty than the Seagate, though data recovery still isn't
included. TheWirecutter.com's Justin Krajeski specifically likes the 8 TB My
Book, which proves faster than the 8 TB Seagate in his tesing. However, he
finds that the smaller-capacity My Books are much slower, and Krajeski doesn't
Portable hard drives: Take your data
hard drives, the (Est. $105 and up) looks like a top
choice. It garners thousands of largely positive reviews at Amazon.com and
BestBuy.com, and earns 4 out of 5 stars at CNET.
speed tests at PCMag.com and TheWirecutter.com, the Seagate Backup Plus
Portable Drive outruns its rivals -- and it costs less per gigabyte, too, at $100
for 4 TB of capacity (there's also a 5 TB version for about $140). On top of
that, Seagate throws in 200 GB of free cloud storage. Those factors combine to
earn the Seagate its Best Reviewed status.
performance in a slimmer package, the (Est. $60 and up) and (Est. $65 and up) earn equally high marks from experts and owners, and again get
feedback from thousands of mostly happy users at Amazon.com and BestBuy.com.
They're 12.1 and 9.6 mm thick, respectively (compared with 20.35 mm for the
regular Seagate Backup Plus Portable). Capacities range from 500 GB to 2 TB for
the Slim, and from 1 to 2 TB for the Ultra Slim.
If your need for
speed (and miniaturization) trumps any budget concerns, you should also consider
the (Est. $130 and up). This tiny drive is the same size and
weight as a stack of 10 credit cards. It's rugged, too. Samsung says its
aluminum-cased drive can survive repeated 6.6-foot drops onto concrete.
expert that has reviewed the tiny drive comes away mostly to completely
impressed. As for speed, the T5 proves three times faster than our Best
Reviewed Seagate Backup Plus Portable Drive in PCMag.com's drag-and-drop test,
using USB 3.0 -- and four times faster using USB-C (which the Samsung has, but
the Seagate doesn't). The Samsung includes both USB-C and USB-C-to-USB 3.0
little wafer, you can store up to 2 TB of data, but you'll pay dearly for the
privilege: Where the Best Reviewed Seagate drive will run around $100 for 4 TB
of capacity, the highest capacity (2 TB) Samsung T5 will cost you around $800.
If that doesn't faze you, or if you only need modest storage (the 250 GB
version costs a more modest $130), it's worth noting that Amazon.com customers
love this tiny SSD and its predecessors. The discontinued (but still available
at retail) (Est. $120 and up) earns
4.6 out of 5 stars with more than 900 reviews posted, and while user feedback
is much, much slimmer for the new T5, which was released this past summer, it
looks to be moving in the same direction. The drive is covered by a three-year
Wireless drive to back up all your
hard drives are connected directly to your computer by a USB cable. Wireless
external hard drives use Wi-Fi instead, and they can be accessed from a
computer, smartphone or tablet. Because there's no cord, wireless drives are
more convenient to use with laptops and tablets than a desktop drive (which
keeps you tethered to a desk or table) or even a wired portable hard drive. Wireless
drives are also small enough to carry with you on the go.
the major target audience here. Wireless hard drives allow photographers to
quickly and easily back up all of their photos while they're on the road,
without lugging a laptop around. The (Est. $160 and up) makes
this task even easier: It includes an SD card reader, so you can just insert
your SD card right into the drive and voila -- all of the photos on it are
think wireless portable hard drives are useful for most people at this point,"
TheWirecutter.com says, "but we recommend the WD My Passport Wireless Pro 2
TB for professional photographers on the move." This drive is available in
1 TB (Est. $160), 2 TB (Est. $170), 3 TB (Est. $185) and 4 TB (Est. $220)
versions. It works with PC, Mac, iOS and Android devices.
The WD My
Passport Wireless Pro not only allows you to wirelessly back up your files
(including photos and videos from your smartphone or tablet), but can also act
as a Wi-Fi hub (so you can share a Wi-Fi connection with up to eight devices)
and video streamer (using Plex media server software, you can stream up
to eight stored HD videos to multiple devices simultaneously, including your smartphone
or smart TV). The drive syncs with common cloud storage services, including Dropbox,
Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, WD MyCloud and Adobe Creative Cloud.
Dale Baskin put it to a real-world test: He hit the road toward Canada's
Northwest Territories with his iPad, the WD My Passport Wireless Pro and a slew
of DSLRs, to photograph the northern lights. "With each camera capturing
hundreds, or even thousands, of photos per night while capturing time-lapse
sequences ... I would have to recycle my cards and needed a foolproof, reliable
way to back up all the images," Baskin says.
Bottom line? It
worked. "I quickly came to appreciate the ease-of-use of the My Passport
Wireless Pro," Baskin says. "Upon returning to the hotel every
morning, I simply turned it on and began inserting cards to back up while I
focused on re-organizing my gear and charging batteries ... All I had to do was
insert a card and go about my business."
automatically organizes the files logically. The only real drawback: RAW files
can't be viewed as thumbnails at all; you have to shoot RAW + JPEG. And it
doesn't have a CF card reader, so you'll have to use Wi-Fi or USB to back up CF
cards. (At the time of Baskin's review, the WD used USB 2.0, but it has since
upgraded to the faster USB 3.0).
overwhelmingly praise the WD My Passport Wireless Pro at BHPhotoVideo.com and
BestBuy.com. However, about one in four Amazon.com reviewers downgrade it to
the lowest 1-star rating. We saw many complaints that it's buggy and not
intuitive to use -- a complaint echoed by Melissa J. Perenson at
ComputerShopper.com, who says the WD's "usability hiccups gave us
Expert & User Review Sources
To identify the best hard drives in
each category, we studied reviews from a variety of tech publications and websites,
such as PCMag.com, CNET, ComputerShopper.com, DigitalTrends.com, DPReview.com and TheWirecutter.com. These sources conduct
detailed, in-house tests of external hard drives to determine how fast they are
at reading and writing various types of files. Reviewers also talk in detail
about usability, evaluating the setup process, the software that comes with the
drive, and the ease of using it with various types of third-party software. In
addition, they offer comparisons of value, noting how a particular hard drive
compares to others in its price range. The one factor that professionals can't
always evaluate is long-term durability. To fill in that gap, we turned to the
hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of individual user reviews posted at retail
sites such as Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and BHPhotoVideo.com.