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Best external solid-state drives 2022

Samsung T5 Portable SSD
(Image credit: Samsung)

External solid-state drives can make life a lot easier for anyone who needs to store and transfer files rapidly. You can move and open files with practically zero wait time and offload games to free up space on your console or PC. Having an external SSD is a game-changer, so we've rounded up the best in various categories.

Best overall: Samsung T7

Samsung T7

(Image credit: Richard Devine | Windows Central)

Samsung T7 portable external SSD

Up to 2TB of lightweight storage in your pocket.

Reasons to buy

+
Choices of 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB
+
USB 3.2 Gen 2 reads up to 1,050MB/s
+
Super lightweight at 58g

Reasons to avoid

-
Underperforms without USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports

The Samsung T7 portable external SSD is the best choice for storing your files with rapid transfer speeds, thanks to its USB 3.2 Gen 2 interface. It impressed Rich Devine in his review, with the T7 and security-conscious T7 Touch providing fantastic test results. The regular model suits most users perfectly fine if you'd prefer to save a bit of cash, with sizes ranging from 500GB to 2TB. Plus, there's a choice between gray, blue, and red for a little personalized touch.

Measuring almost precisely the size of a business card at 85mm by 57mm, the Samsung T7 is slim, too, with a width of only 8mm. These dimensions pair with its lightweight 58g build and two USB cables, one USB-A and the other USB-C. It makes an ultra-portable drive perfect for students or creators who always need their work with them. Naturally, Samsung made sure the T7 is shock-resistant, as most solid-state drives are since there are no moving parts, but the solid frame adds to its protection. An internal thermal guard also protects against extreme heat during warmer weather.

Compatible with Windows, Linux, and Mac, the T7 can also be connected to Android devices and games consoles. The Xbox Series X supports USB 3.2 Gen 1, so it won't quite hit the maximum potential speeds, but the T7 is backward compatible, so it's still a decent choice for storing games. The PlayStation 5, on the other hand, supports USB 3.2 Gen 2, so if you've been looking for an external drive for Sony's console, then Samsung has the perfect pairing here.

Best value: Sabrent Rocket Pro

Sabrent Rocket Pro SSD

(Image credit: Rich Edmonds | Windows Central)

Sabrent Rocket Pro SSD

Thrifty portability with fast speeds.

Reasons to buy

+
Amazing value
+
USB-A and USB-C cables included

Reasons to avoid

-
No pouch or case
-
No instructions

Available in various sizes from 256GB up to 4TB, the Sabrent Rocket Pro keeps the price down at every step and doesn't skimp on performance. It's an NVMe PCIe M.2 2280 drive housed in a sturdy aluminum case, which is small enough to be ultra-portable but unfortunately doesn't have options for attaching to a lanyard or keychain. There's no carry case included either, likely a part of its cost-saving mission, so you'll have to be mindful of where you store this dinky drive.

It counters its minimalist exterior by offering speeds up to 1,000MB/s with its USB 3.2 standard, including a cable adapter covering USB-A and USB-C ports. Sabrent designed the internals to dissipate heat during use, so even this tiny solid-state drive can perform at high speeds without issue. It's an ideal drive for discreet transport, saving space for a larger laptop or perhaps a digital camera, though its hefty 425g weight might surprise you.

Transferring high-resolution videos or uncompressed photos is a breeze with the Rocket Pro if you're comfortable with how external drives work. Sabrent doesn't include any instruction manual in the box, so you're on your own with troubleshooting and firmware updates. Check their official website if you're stuck, but for the most part, external drives are plug-and-play, and this one is a huge bargain.

Best for Thunderbolt: Plugable Thunderbolt 3

Plugable Thunderbolt 3 NVMe SSD

(Image credit: Brendan Lowry | Windows Central)

Plugable Thunderbolt 3 NVMe 1TB SSD

Thunderous performance in your pocket.

Reasons to buy

+
Tremendous 2,400MB/s read and 1,800MB/s write speeds
+
Pocket-sized and lightweight
+
Formatted for exFAT

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
Short cable
-
No backward compatibility for Thunderbolt 1 or 2

USB speeds are improving with every generation, but they're usually playing catch-up to Thunderbolt. Suppose you're using something like the Microsoft Surface Pro 8 with Thunderbolt 4 support or the Dell XPS 15 (9560) with Thunderbolt 3. If so, you'll enjoy some of the fastest data transfer speeds possible with this external drive from Plugable. Hitting up to 2,400MB/s for reading and 1,800MB/s for writing means transferring files is quick as thunder.

It impressed Brendan Lowry in their Plugable Thunderbolt 3 SSD review, with the only negative points coming in the way of its shorter cable and expensive price tag. Unfortunately, it's not backward compatible with Thunderbolt 1 or 2, so double-check you have the proper hardware to support the standard. It's not the cheapest drive on this list, but Thunderbolt offers unparalleled transfer speeds, and this portable drive is a pocket-sized powerhouse. 

For compatibility, this drive is formatted in the exFAT file system directly from the manufacturer, meaning you can start using it immediately with Windows, Linux, and others. There is a 2TB alternative, with the price growing ever higher, so you'll have to consider your options with storage. With the performance gains on offer with Thunderbolt over USB, it's not too farfetched to suggest you could swap out files to a desktop or laptop in a pinch if you needed extra space.

Best premium: CalDigit Tuff Nano Plus

CalDigit Tuff Nano Plus

(Image credit: CalDigit)

CalDigit Tuff Nano Plus

High-speed transfers in a durable case.

Reasons to buy

+
Compact and portable
+
IPX7 water-resistant
+
Up to 1,800MB/s read speed

Reasons to avoid

-
It comes formatted for macOS

Not the first time we have recommended this brand, with the previous CalDigit Tuff Nano scoring well in our review, and the Plus revision only makes improvements. It's larger than its last iteration, measuring 4.01 x 2.14 x 0.57 inches but weighing just under 100g, so portability hasn't been affected significantly. USB-C powers the Nano Plus with Thunderbolt 3 for reading speeds up to 1,800MB/s and writing up to 900MB/s.

Like the original Nano, the Nano Plus includes a removable, protective sleeve defending against accidental drops up to 3 meters. It's IPX7 rated against submersion in water and IP6X against dust particles, keeping the ports clear should you plan to travel in the great outdoors with your backups.

Another returning theme from the original Tuff Nano is the file system, with the Nano Plus initially formatted for use with macOS. It's not too great of a downside, but inexperienced users might struggle if they're not used to formatting external drives on Windows. Bear this in mind if you're unsure or buying it as a gift for novice users. Otherwise, it's a fantastic external drive with rugged construction and 2TB storage space.

Best durability: ADATA SD600Q

ADATA SD600Q

(Image credit: ADATA)

ADATA SD600Q External SSD

Military-grade protective casing.

Reasons to buy

+
Military-grade protection
+
Multiple OS support

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive

Available in three bold colors, the ADATA SD600Q External SSD measures 3.1 x 3.1 x 0.6 inches and weighs an impressive 60g considering its heavy-duty form, making it the perfect SSD for use on the go as it can fit easily into your pocket or bag. The exterior of the SD600Q is covered in a protective and shock-absorbing silicone casing, so you never have to worry about damage due to accidental drops as it can withstand falls from up to 1.22 meters high, claiming military-grade protection.

Equipped with a USB 3.1 interface using a USB-A to proprietary connection, the SD600Q can deliver read-write speeds of up to 440MB/s. It's also compatible with Windows, macOS, Android, and modern consoles if you expect any accidents around your gaming space, whether from pets or perhaps overly energetic kids.

It's the top choice for anyone looking to get rough and ready on their adventures but needs their data stored safely. The durable construction houses an impressive feature set, with a choice of 240GB, 480GB, or 960GB paired with decent transfer speeds. The ADATA SD600Q is rugged and lighter than it looks, so check it out if you're looking for something to endure some bumps and knocks without weighing you down.

Best portability: Sabrent Rocket Nano

Sabrent Rocket Nano

(Image credit: Sabrent)

Sabrent Rocket Nano 1TB

Tiny and efficient SSD.

Reasons to buy

+
As portable as it gets
+
USB-A and USB-C cables included

Reasons to avoid

-
Runs hot

If you're looking to save space with an external drive, it doesn't get much smaller than this. Sabrent has packed a USB-C solid-state drive into dimensions of ‎2.71 x 1.1 x 0.47 inches and sold in various color options. For its form factor, Sabrent hasn't included any method for attaching the Rocket Nano to a keychain or lanyard, so you'll need to be cautious not to misplace this tiny drive.

You get two cables with the Rocket Pro Nano, one for USB-C and the other for USB-A, which is excellent, but you'll have to carry them around since there's no pouch included. The tiny size doesn't come without its trade-off either, with heat dissipation becoming more of an issue, and the advertised transfer speeds of 1,000MB/s are going to become less likely with increased temperatures.

Still, there's a choice of 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB models. Pretty generous for such a tiny drive with a modern USB standard, and it'll undoubtedly come in handy in a pinch. Just try to keep it safe, Sabrent has pushed the limits of compact storage, and you'd likely be forgiven for losing this microscopic flash drive.

Best aesthetics: Western Digital My Passport

WD My Passport

(Image credit: Western Digital)

WD 512GB My Passport SSD

Visually appealing performance.

Reasons to buy

+
Plug-and-play
+
WD Backup software included

Reasons to avoid

-
Hot swapping can cause issues

Western Digital has been manufacturing hard drives and storage solutions for years, and they know how to make them look stylish when needed. WD's My Passport range has also ranked highly for external drives for a while, and nothing much has changed with this two-tone aesthetic choice. It adds a little chic to your backups without sacrificing performance in the process if you'd rather have a sleek drive in your bag than something that looks like it came from a military surplus.

It measures 3.5 x 1.8 x 0.39 inches and weighs just over 40g, making it a lightweight pleasure to transport around, fitting in most pockets or side pouches of bags. It's powered by a USB-C cable with the USB 3.1 Gen 2 standard, hitting speeds up to 540MB/s. Plug-and-play, the My Passport is ready for use with Windows, macOS, and anything else supporting its potential transfer speeds, using the exFAT file system by default.

Available in various sizes, from 512GB to 2TB, it's a reasonably priced external drive with a little more style than most. A 3-year manufacturer's warranty should give you peace of mind for storing your files, made even easier with Western Digital's first-party backup software. Should the worst somehow happen, this My Passport drive is built to withstand drops from up to 6.5 feet, but we naturally wouldn't recommend throwing it around for fun.

Bottom line

There are many reasons that an external solid-state drive can make your digital life a lot easier, including faster transfer speeds, flexible storage, easy installation, and low energy consumption. Forget about wasting time waiting around while your files transfer. Instead, increase your productivity through the use of an external SSD. We recommend the Samsung T7 portable external SSD as it offers a little bit of everything in that it is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Android while providing up to 2TB of storage and read speeds of 1,050MB/s per second.

Since most portable storage is simply a 2.5-inch solid-state drive inside an enclosure, you might already have some older laptop drives lying around. You can pair an old hard drive with one of the best hard drive enclosures and have a similar experience. It's not as likely to see high-end transfer speeds as with this external solid-state selection, and picking up a ready-made drive is much easier, but it's worth remembering. Double-check your devices and ports to get the best performance out of your external drive, matching the USB standard as closely as possible for the highest transfer speeds you can manage.

Ben Wilson
Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson is a freelance writer working for Windows Central with technical expertise and a background in electronics retail. Fueling a technology and video game obsession with coffee, you can usually find him behind one screen or another.

With contributions from