Best External Hard Drives Windows Central 2021
Having an external hard drive around can come in handy if you need to add a little (or a lot) of extra storage space to your PC setup with little hassle. Navigating the sea of external drives can, however, be quite daunting. Our top pick for most people, Western Digital's My Passport, is an affordable, compact hard-disk drive (HDD) with up to 5TB of storage space and compatibility with USB 3.0 or 2.0 ports. It also comes with a three-year warranty to help protect your investment.
- Best For Most People: Western Digital My Passport
- Best Durable SSD: CalDigit Tuff nano
- Best Secure SSD: Samsung T7 Touch
- Best Thunderbolt 3 SSD: Plugable Thunderbolt 3 SSD
- Best Bulk Storage: Western Digital My Book
Best For Most People: Western Digital My Passport
Not everyone needs to invest in a more expensive solid-state drive (SSD) to reap the rewards of an external hard drive. As long as you're not dealing with specialized work involving large files you want to transfer quickly, the WD My Passport should make for a great choice. You can expect read and write speeds somewhere around the 130MB/s range, which is enough for casual use. The fact that it's available in 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, and 5TB sizes also makes it easy to get exactly what you want.
This is a compact drive, with 1TB and 2TB models measuring just 0.44 inches (11mm) thick and the 4TB and 5TB models measuring 0.75 inches (19mm). You should be able to slip this drive into a pocket without much trouble, and the host cable can be removed to save space. This also means, should the cable be damaged, you won't have to replace the drive. WD likewise offers a three-year warranty to protect your purchase.
The drive has built-in 256-bit AES encryption to help protect your data should you misplace the drive. All you have to do is install some software on your PC, and it will take care of the rest. To connect to your PC, the included USB-A 3.2 to Micro USB-B cable will work, as will any USB-C adapter.
- Up to 5TB of storage
- Affordable price
- 256-bit AES encryption
- Relatively compact
- Removable host cable
- Slow compared to SSD
Best For Most People
Compact, affordable, and much storage
It won't measure up to SSDs in terms of speed and size, but the WD My Passport should make an excellent option for a lot of people.
Best Durable SSD: CalDigit Tuff nano
The life of an external hard drive isn't always easy, especially if you travel often and can't live without it. In that case, spending more money on a solid-state drive (SSD) without internal moving parts is no doubt a better idea. And if you'd really like to protect your data, get something like CalDigit's Tuff nano. It's built into a compact aluminum chassis that has about the same footprint as a credit card, and it comes with an optional silicone cover that protects against drops.
The drive is IP67 certified, meaning it can sit in about three feet (one meter) of water for 30 minutes. It can withstand small particles or dust and dirt, and it's been drop-tested for about 10 feet (three meters). It uses the USB-C 3.2 (Gen 2) standard to deliver read speeds around 1,050MB/s and write speeds around 950MB/s, half that if you connect with the included USB-A cable.
Grab the CalDigit Tuff nano in four different colors, and choose from 500GB or 1TB sizes. You also get a two-year warranty to protect your investment. If you're looking for an external drive that can keep up with large file sizes and withstand a rather rigorous schedule, this should make a great option.
- Small, durable build
- Tested against water, dust, drops
- Fast transfer speeds
- Host cable is removable
- Only available up to 1TB
Best Durable SSD
Performance and durability
The Tuff nano is a great USB-C SSD with sizes up to 1TB. It's durable, it's portable, and it's fast.
Best Secure SSD: Samsung T7 Touch
The Samsung T5 was a great little SSD, and it's been improved on in many ways for the T7 version. While there is a standard T7, the Touch version really makes things interesting for anyone with security on their mind. It offers 256-bit AES encryption that can be unlocked with just your fingerprint, as long as you have the proper software installed on your PC.
Sizes range from 500GB up to 2TB, and there are a couple of different colors to choose from. When connected with a USB-C cable (the package also includes a USB-A cable), you should expect read and write speeds somewhere around the 1,000MB/s mark. That's fast enough to make short work of even large files used with specialized work.
Samsung T7 Touch external SSDs come with a three-year warranty and are relatively well-priced when compared to other compact, portable SSDs on the market. If you want to add that additional layer of security to your data, this should be a solid selection.
- Attractive, durable design
- Built-in fingerprint reader
- NVMe drive with better performance
- Sizes up to 2TB available
- Host cable is removable
- Security feature might be overkill
Best Secure SSD
Security and fast performance
This speedy external SSD adds an extra layer of security for your data in the form of a fingerprint reader.
Best Thunderbolt SSD: Plugable Thunderbolt 3 SSD
External SSDs that rely on Thunderbolt 3 to connect to your PC have been coming down in price over the last few years, putting them more in the range of the casual user who doesn't want to wait around at all for their data to transfer. Plugable's Thunderbolt 3 SSD fits the criteria here, offering read speeds surpassing 2,400MB/s and write speeds more than 1,800MB/s. Those are some impressive numbers, and while there might be drives out there with faster performance still, the price here is far more competitive.
The drives are available at respectable prices for this type of performance, and you get a three-year warranty to make the purchase a bit more comfortable. That's a good thing since the non-removable host cable could cause issues if it becomes damaged.
This drive is compact and lightweight, meaning it shouldn't be much of a burden if you need to take it with you wherever you're going. Anyone who needs a high-performance external SSD is going to love this drive, but just make sure your PC has Thunderbolt 3.
- Unreal transfer speeds
- Up to 2TB of storage
- Relatively small
- Reasonable price compared to alternatives
- Non-removable host cable
Best Thunderbolt 3 SSD
Thanks to competitive pricing and strong performance, this drive should be ideal for anyone who hates waiting for files to transfer.
Best Bulk Storage: Western Digital My Book
Sometimes the best storage is the most storage, no matter whether the hardware is portable or particularly compact. That's where the WD My Book fits in. It is a desktop-class storage solution, meaning it requires AC power to operate. The tradeoff is absolutely massive space, starting at 3TB and going up to 14TB from a single drive.
Transfer speeds aren't particularly fast due to it being an HDD rather than an SSD -- you're going to see read and write speeds both around 200MB/s -- but the tradeoff is a rather attractive price that's far more affordable than SSD equivalents. All drives come with a three-year warranty.
The drive includes 256-bit AES encryption to help protect your data, and it can be connected back to your PC with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 standards. If you need a ton of space for your data and don't mind leaving this drive on your desk, it should make a great choice.
- 14TB of storage from a single drive
- Relatively compact design
- Great price
- Built-in 256-bit AES encryption
- Not very portable
- Slow speeds compared to SSD
Best Bulk Storage
The WD My Book might not be particularly fast or compact, but it does deliver a ton of storage at a great price.
External hard drives are extremely convenient when you need to offload some data for safekeeping, and any of the above options will ultimately fulfill its intended purpose. However, for most people we recommend checking out the WD My Passport available in 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, and 5TB sizes.
This external HDD isn't nearly as fast as an external SSD, but it does deliver performance suitable for most casual use with small file sizes. It's also relatively affordable, and 256-bit AES encryption helps keep your data safe. The drive is small enough to carry around with you, its host cable is removable, and it will work with USB-A or USB-C ports. A three-year warranty is included.
If you're more interested in taking the plunge with network-attached storage (NAS), be sure to have a look at our collection of the best NAS for the home.
Cale Hunt is a staff writer at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on PC, laptop, and accessory coverage, as well as the emerging world of VR. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.
Rich Edmonds is a staff reviewer at Windows Central, which means he tests out more software and hardware than he cares to remember. Joining Mobile Nations in 2010, you can usually find him inside a PC case tinkering around when not at a screen fighting with Grammarly to use British words. Hit him up on Twitter: @RichEdmonds.
We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.