Best External Hard Drive

Last Updated on by Nicholas Frost

When it comes to data storage, many ideas will cross your mind. But for a few years now, hard drives have been the most popular. With the right one, your backup will be enhanced, both in entertainment and professional work.

Given the market saturation, you may wonder, how do you choose?

All hard drives fail at some point. It’s normal to buy a new hard drive after about five years.

BackBlaze, an online data backing company, studied the breakdown rates of their 25,000 working hard drives. 90% of those hard drives lived for three years, and 80% made it the fourth year. The crashing rate, of course, varies with brands.

It is usually a great idea to backup your files. There are moments you may want to have specific media files at arms reach. Cloud storage might be a good idea, but you may lose your internet when you need a file urgently.

Factors to Consider

1. Storage Space

Most of the time, a sudden need for additional space forces the hunt for a new hard drive. While there are other storage options like USB flash drives, HDDs offer the best combination of cost and storage. Maybe you want an additional 1 TB? That is an equivalent of 200 blank DVDs!

Perhaps you only need some little extra space for simple backups in office, or songs or pictures. We recommend that you go for a bigger space than you need. Save and even go twice as large as your internal disk. That will come in handy when you need a backup in the future.

Bear in mind adding internal storage in desktop PCs is easy. With the PC’s, you add a hard drive to the case, and you are good. You can stack several HDDs to your desktop case. The typical desktop case will let you add as many as 4.

When it comes to laptops, you can’t use several internal HDDs. If you want to expand internal drive in a laptop account for that and buy bigger storage space. Remember, you also have to replace the other one manually or take it to a technician.

External hard drives will be the better alternative, at least for laptops.

2. Size

It makes sense to go for a bulky external hard drive if you do not move it most of the time. A portable one of the same price will have lesser storage capacity. However, the technology is catching up, and soon you will buy a portable drive with the same space as the internal HDD at the same price, if not less.

3. Durability

Most HDDs have a short life span, which isn’t great if you are planning long-term. The market may be saturated with hard disks, but it is possible to find a durable and steadfast one. HDDs from reliable brands are bound to stay with you for three to five years. And a few last more than six. So, if you are going to buy, remember those are the years of service you are going to get.

Do you want longevity? It is challenging to predict durability by looking at an external drive. The best suggestion is to choose one based on the brand.

4. Transferring speed

Transferring speed is another major factor buyers consider. A hard drive with a USB 3.0 will be faster than one with a USB 2.0. Assuming that your computer also has a USB 3.0, the hard drive will be compatible, and your storage process will be faster.

The USB 3.0 may matter less for smaller files like documents or maybe pictures. But why not still buy it? Just in case.

5. Security

Maybe you think all I will backup is a few movies or a video game, so why bother with protection? But safety should also be a priority. Find a hard drive with hardware-enabled encryption and keep your files safe. We always recommend hardware over software encryption, but if you have both, the better.

When you back up sensitive data, the security system is necessary to keep them from prying eyes. Even if you don’t hold ‘top secrets,’ someone may decide to steal your drive. At least it will be worthless to the thief, or they will have to use more resources to use it.

6. Rotational Speed

Most hard disks are equal, but some are more equal than others when it comes to rotational speed. External hard drives have different RPM (Revolutions per Minute). And the faster the RPM, the faster the transfer speed. The categories of RPM include 4200, 5400, 7200, 10,000 up to massive 15000 RPM. Naturally, the higher the RPM, the more money you will spend.

Most manufacturers focus on the 5400 RPM since it is cheaper to produce while giving you fantastic graphics, great processors, among other fabulous specs.

              I. 5400 vs. 7200 RPM

Undoubtedly you will encounter these two the most. Traditional HDDs with 7200 RPM will provide a more rapid read and write speed, higher performance, and faster program processing.

If you think an extra 20% -33% speed increase will be useful to you, 7200 RPM is the way to go. Most 7200 RPM drives give you a 120 MB/s read-and-write speed while 5400 RPM drives offer 100 MB/s of read-and-write speed.

The downside with 7200 RPM disks is the noise, heat, and the shorter lifespan than the 5400 RPM.

In comparison, the 5400 RPMs tend to offer slower transfer speeds. But they use less power, which means the noise and heat won’t bother you. Another merit that many may find useful is that they are suitable for storing larger files.

           II. 7200 vs. 10,000 RPM

The advantages and disadvantages we discussed above will also apply here. The 10,000 RPM will perform a bit faster than 7200 but will produce more heat and consume more power.

How are you planning to use the HDDs? Because the 7200 RPM drives will be just right for lighter duties. Let the 10,000 RPM drives to do the heavy lifting with gaming and editing where users will enjoy the edge.

7. Added Software Offer

Some HDDs come with preinstalled software offers. The software not only elevates user performance, but it also enhances your experience. First-rate hard drives will also manage and encrypt the data when you are retrieving or inputting data.

8. Should you use PATA (IDE) or SATA?

When it comes to connectivity, IDE and SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) are the two available types of connectors in the market. For many years IDE, also called Parallel ATA (PATA), were the major players. But the past decade or so has seen SATA replace them rapidly and for good reasons.

SATA being the newer version has quicker drives than PATA. The SATA cable is smaller and longer than the PATA cables making it more convenient. Apart from speed, SATA connectors also allow better air cooling in your system. In retrospect, IDE ones used to block air from entering the computer.

If you are looking to connect two hard drives to your motherboard, the IDE will be a great choice. SATA will not be suitable since they can only connect one external hard drive to the motherboard at a time.

Are you a newbie to computers? SATA is the way to go because SATA cables will be easier to install.

9. Internal vs. External HDDs

Do you move around a lot? Are you looking to carry your work home? Do you want to share movies or games with friends? External hard drives are designed to offer you the perks of convenience and portability. You also won’t have a hard time installing them. You can use the USB, wireless tech, or FireWire, and you are ready to use the files.

External hard drives also offer you excellent data backup if you ever lose your laptop. Did you know you can use the external hard drive to boot your computer and store more programs?

Whatever the internal drives lack in portability and security, they make up for in constant connection and upgradeability. Have you ever misplaced your USB cable, or it suddenly doesn’t work? Maybe you usually use your external HDD to boot your PC, or you have to retrieve data fast. Such a problem can be a nightmare. And that is where the internal hard drive comes in handy. Your info will always be within your reach as long as your PC is working, also, as we said earlier, with a desktop you can have extensive storage. You will also find internal drives to be more affordable.

The good thing is that this isn’t the do or die scenario where you have to choose. You can use both. You can always add as many external hard drives as your laptop can handle. It will be more fantastic for desktops because the storage space at your disposal will be almost unlimited.

10. Cost

Cost like durability always gives buyers a headache. Most of the hard drives you see in the market have similar appearances and specs. Do not rush. First, you have to understand the specs you need then go hunting. The brand will also factor in. There are cheaper brands to avoid that will not give you a year’s worth of service.

Another way some experts propose is checking the disk’s price-per-gigabyte. Divide the cost of the drive with the storage capacity to get the price-per-GB. But this may be a halfway trick since two unequal manufacturers may have the same price for the same disk capacity. You may find yourself with the subpar hard disk.

Stick with brands such as Seagate, Western Digital, Toshiba, and Hitachi, where you have a higher chance.

11. Warranty

Often overlooked, the warranty is a good measure of reliability. While most brands give a one or two-year warranty, others such as Seagate had enough belief to offer a five-year warranty! But remember always to read the fine print. Some companies may have some trick up their sleeves.

The bottom line is that if the manufacturer trusts the product, that should at least give some form reprieve. Remember, the warranty will most likely not cover for data recovery.

12. Online Reviews

Online reviews from past customers can be a good source of information. If you find a reliable forum that deals with the tech you can get almost any info you need.

We can’t keep saying HDDs are great if you haven’t seen the alternatives. Here are the types of drives, their pros, and cons.

Types of Drives

From the three types of drives, the most dramatic difference is between HDD (what our article is covering) and SSDs.

  • Traditional Hard Drives (HDD)
  • Solid State Drives (SSD)
  • Solid State Hybrid Drives (SSHD)

                              I. Traditional Hard Drives

You will hear some people calling them scratch disks. Currently, most computers rely heavily on hard disks. Your HDDs is the hub for the operating system, your data, and several programs. The hard drives rely on magnetic tech to receive and transfer data. The magnetically coated platter(s) spin at very high speed, and that is how your info is relayed.

Laptops will typically have a 2.5-inch HDD. In the past, most of the desktops were made with a 3.5-inch hard drive. Now the trend has changed, and manufacturers are adopting the 2.5-inch in desktops to make them more energy-efficient.

Pros:

  • They are relatively cheap.
  • They have massive storage space.
  • Availability.
  • The read-and-write speed may be slower than SSDs, but the HDD lasts longer. SSDs don’t use the rotation tech.

Cons:

  • The SSDs are faster.
  • There is noise caused by the rotation of the platter.
  • The others save more power than the HDD.

                           II. Solid State Drives

SSDs are gaining popularity, and some laptops and tablets have started adopting them. You will see some personalized desktops with them too. What draws buyers to them is their lack of moving parts. They have better tech where they use flash memory chips.

The caveat is you will have to part with more than the cost of HDDs.

Pros

  • The read-and-write speed is incredible.
  • They are more energy-efficient.
  • They improve the computer boot time.
  • Less noise.

Cons

  • Very high price-per-gigabyte.
  • A continuous read/write cycle wears them faster.
  • Limited space.
  • It is almost impossible to recover lost data from them. The magnetic tech of HDD quickens data recovery.

                        III. Solid State Hybrid Drives

The SSHD offers you a larger storage space of HDDs while retaining the high speed of SSDs. They work by adding cache on your most frequented files, and with time your access time shortens dramatically.

Pros

  • Fast speed.
  • Great storage space.
  • Cheaper than SSDs.
  • You access your recent visits faster due to the cache.

Cons

  • You have to visit a file repeatedly for its cache to pick up speed. The more you access a file, the more speed you pick.
  • Their lifespan is shorter than SSDs and HDDs

Which kind of gaming consoles are upgradeable or support HDDs. In the next section, I will give you an overview.

External HDDs for Gamers: PC, PS4, Xbox

Your gaming will largely be improved by SSDs when it comes to speed and loading time. However, the SSD will not give better framerates.

But HDDs offer is longevity and space for more games. A win-win situation, mainly if you are an enthusiastic gamer, is to get a smaller SSD and a larger HDD. You get the fast system boot of the SSD and the ample storage of the HDD.

Whether HDD or SSD, make sure the rig will support them before you make a purchase.

  • PC: Any HDD is suitable for a gaming PC. Note the size of the disk drive before you head out to buy. Is it a 2.5-inch or a 3.5-inch disk? And which connectors will you use on the motherboard? The common one is SATA.
  • Xbox 360: The first ones to be released used a 2.5-inch drive installed in personalized cases. Will you have the cash to upgrade or replace? You need to purchase expensive Microsoft replacements. Third-party replacements need Xbox-friendly firmware.
  • Xbox 360 S and Xbox 360 E: X box E and S have completely different disks that are not supported by the Xbox 360. You will not be able to do much with the 4 GB model. The internal memory is irreplaceable. Use Microsoft’s expensive replacements if you need to upgrade the 250 GB model to 500 GB.
  • Xbox One: It has a USB 3.0 port to connect to any external drive. If the drive is USB 3.0, the connection becomes faster. You will expend too much energy, time, and money, replacing the internal drive. Leave it as it is.
  • Xbox One X: It also has a USB 3.0 port for any external disks. Like Xbox One mess with the internal disk, and you can’t lay to your warranty.
  • PlayStation 3: Upgrading PS 3 will be no problem because they all have a replaceable 2.5″ SATA drive.
  • PlayStation 4: The SATA drive is also replaceable. External disks can be used on the 3.0 port, adding a more fabulous option for hardcore gamers.

From gamers let’s shift to Mac users and see how to reformat HDDs to support Mac.

External Hard Drives and Internal Replacement for Mac

When you buy a drive if you are on MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, iMac, you have extra things to remember.

  1. Replacing Internal Drives

Mac hard drives are user-friendly as far as hard drive replacement goes. Take apart the device, remove the old drive, and replace it. Then piece the machine back together. It may take about 60 minutes to do this, and remember your warranty is void after any tampering.

All Mac models after 2012 have a 2.5-inch form factor. But no worries 3.5-to-2.5-inch adapters are available and can solve the connection difference. One exception here is the 27-inch iMac model, which has an internal 3.5-inch form factor.

The problem sets in when it comes to SATA, AHCI, NVMe, and PCIe expansion cards. For instance, if you buy a 21.5-inch iMac (2017) that was initially fitted with Fusion, it will only have a PCIe expansion card. Don’t forget to do more research on the individual device to know which connection it has before buying a replacement.

  1. External Hard Drives

There is no lack of options when it comes to external drives. From fastest to slowest, you have Thunderbolt (USB Type-C), Thunderbolt 2, USB 3.1, USB 3.0, and USB 2.0. For speed, choose at least USB 3.0 or higher.

You will have to configure the external hard drives in HFS+ or APFS to fit the Apple system. Remember, other non-Apple operating systems won’t read either HFS+ or APFS. So interchanging the device may be hard. You may get ways to fuse HFS+ with Windows, but APFS being relatively new, your Windows system may not support it at all.

FAT32 can be used for both Windows and Mac, but its old tech won’t help you much.

Have a basic understanding of HDD’s components so that you won’t have to say, “the part that is near the part that fits the part that is round.”

The Four Major Components of the HDD

HDDs have four major components: platters, spindles, the read-write arm, and the actuator. If you do not know IT, do not open or work on anything because this is just a general overview.

1. The Platter

It is the circular disc where binary (1s and 0s) data is stored. The magnetic surface on the platter is where this info is stored or retrieved. The old CDs usually stored data in tracks and sectors. In our case, it is stored in cylinders, tracks, and sectors for organization and quick retrieval.

As is always the case, bigger drives will have more than one platter.

2. The Spindle

Spindles keep the platter in place and help to spin it. As we saw, the RPM decides the speed of the read/write cycle. The spindle also prevents the platters from colliding as while the read-write arm gains access.

3. The Read/Write Arm

These arms control the movement of the even more critical read-write heads. The read-and-write head converts the magnetic surface on the platter into an electric current. And that is how the read-and-write head does the reading. The arm’s work is to place the head on the actual place where data needs to be removed or written. Every platter side should have its read-write head.

4. The Actuator

It is also known as the actuator head. When you enter a command, the instructions are transferred to this small motor, which guides the read-write arm on the place to retrieve or input data.

5. Other Components

The other components include the casing cover, the ports, the input and output devices connected to the circuit board. In every HDD out there, you will find one port for data transfer and another for power input.

Next, we will briefly cover 4 steps that you can take to safeguard your external hard drive.

How to Protect and Prolong your External Hard Drive

It is easy to blame the manufacturers, but at times the HDDs fail because of our neglect. No hard disk should break down prematurely when adequately protected. It may seem hard or even trivial, but how do you prolong its lifespan?

1. Physical Damage

Be gentle. At least find a padded bag to put the external disk in when not in use or when you are on the move.

2. Excessive Heat

The HDDs, like many electronics, operate at a certain favorable temperature. The optimum temperature is different in various models, but as long as you maintain the normal, there is no problem.

If you neglect proper airflow, heat can build up quickly even when you feel the room temperature is normal. So what should you do? The major cause of heat build-up is dust.

Dust insulates the heat, preventing it from moving out. A can of compressed air may come in handy for removing the dust from time to time.

3. Loss of Files

We are all culprits of unplugging drives without ejecting because it worked last time. But you risk losing files, which may be important. Take those few seconds and eject the HDDs.

4. Power Surges

Power surges occur from time to time, but one unfortunate surge may fry your electronics. Use surge protectors to prevent these surges. Will the protectors always work? It depends on the quality you find.

The crème de la crème of the HDDs is always known even before release. Here is our compiled list of tested drives you can buy or use a yardstick.

Best External Hard Drives.

1. iStorage diskAshur 2TB HDD

The iStorage hard disks offer the most tamperproof tech in the HDD world. That is the reason most governments and multinational institutions prefer to use them. Like something out of a movie, you can set it to self-destruct if someone tries to gain unauthorized access. When you factor in the extra encryption, you will feel it is worth the price.

The drive may seem a little too much if all you are planning to store are movies and photos. But if you have sensitive info such as patient records, you might want to consider it. Small businesses may benefit from the addition of an Admin feature. You will have an admin account and ten user pin codes.

The case, like the encryption, is also military-grade with a robust cover.

The diskAshur may be almost four times expensive than others in its 2TB category, but the sophistication gives value for money. Remember, it will also lock you out if you forget the password, and regaining access will be almost impossible.

Pros

  • Physical and virtual security.
  • Military like appearance

Cons

  • Expensive.

2. Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro External HDD

My Passport predecessors of the Pro may not have been entirely accepted. But this one shows why Western Digital had been the craze. With the design alone, they have adopted a very sleek feel. The SD card slot will be quite crucial to photographers.

The in-built 6400mAh battery adds a new feel to those who have been used to wired HDDs. The battery enables this disk drive to operate wirelessly on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies.

On top, you will find six status indicators for battery status, Wi-Fi status, and to show if the drive is working. There is also the removable sticker with the SSID number and the default password. Look at the bottom you will see the rubber soles and another removable sticker that has more info on the My Passport Wireless Pro.

You also have a flat USB 3.0 connector alongside the USB 2.0 connector. The 15 mm tall, 2.5 inch My Passport Pro has a 3 TB capacity with a 64 MB cache. It runs at 5400 RPM.

The drive is compatible with pass-through, and you can access the internet via Wi-Fi. Plex, an open-source media server, is another tremendous extra to allow to improve your stored media.

Pros

  • Wireless.
  • USB 3.0 compatible.
  • Long battery life.

Cons

  • Does not support USB-C
  • More costly due to Wi-Fi features.

3. Seagate Backup Plus Desktop Drive

Seagate is a renowned company in the HDD world, and this series combines fast performance and a fantastic storage capacity of up to 8 GB. The HDDs are also durable so that you can use them without worries.

How did Seagate give us the largest capacity up to now? They used SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) tech that allows the addition of more data.

It has a black brick-like appearance with a gleaming top. Apart from the top and front, the rest of the sides have at least four triangular ventilators.

They use the micro-USB 3.0, and the power supply is the universal 12V 1.5 A model. An indicator at the top will show you when the drivers are in action.

The Backup has six platters and 12 read-and-write heads that will give you around 5900 RPM. The working capacity limit is placed at 180 TB every 12 months.

The dashboard app gives you the option of uploading your phone’s files into the disk. Other than the phone data, you can choose to backup cloud content and your social media content. Remember that the app is optional.

Pros

  • Impressive data transfer speed.
  • Durable.
  • Large storage capacity.

Cons

  • They offer separate price tags for the Mac-formatted models.

4. Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC External Hard Drive

The Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC is the best hard drive for you if you are looking for full speed and excellent performance. It is a very flexible drive compatible with both Mac and Windows.

The drive is not only fast but has protection against shock and knocks. Using a secure data encryption feature in the disk, you can use near-field communication (NFC) enabled device such as a smartphone to unlock it.

This drive is significantly large compared to a typical portable drive measuring 3.51×5.04×0.71 inches. You will not comfortably carry it in your pocket, but it is a portable drive. It is also a bit bulky because it has layers of protection, including a shock-resistant casing. According to Buffalo, the Ministation Extreme is made with US military-grade protection against shock, which includes a rugged chassis and shock absorbers to absorb and transfer shock in the inside. With these particular features, it can withstand drops of up to 2 meters.

The MiniStation is a USB 3.0 hard drive, and when using a USB 3.0 port, the disk’s data transfer speed around 85.75MB/s write and 94.87MB/s read. It comes with permanently attached USB 3.0 cable that you can neatly tie around the drive when not in use.

With this drive, you can be assured that your data is safe from unauthorized access as it supports 256-bit AES Full Disk Encryption (FDE) in a secure mode. You will be able to create your password, and you will need to enter when you plug the drive to a computer.

Pros

  • NFC enabled
  • Remarkably fast

Cons

  • Bulky
  • Expensive
  • The software does not work with some older Windows computers

5. Western Digital My Passport Ultra 4TB

Western Digital has a wide range of impressive hard drives such as Western Digital My Passport Essential, and the Western Digital My Passport Ultra is their new drives successor to the My Passport Edge.

The Western Digital retails at $100 for the 500GB and $130 for the 1TB. With its good looks, large capacity and fast performance, this drive can easily be one of the best portable hard drives in the market.

The drive is light and compact and comes in red, blue, and black. It comes with a USB cable for its Micro-USB 3.0 port and the cable functions for both power and data transfer. You can use the Ultra with both USB 3.0 and USB 2.0, but for full efficiency, it is recommended that you use it with USB 3.0. Though the drive is preformatted for Windows, it can be reformatted for Mac computers easily.

The My Passport Ultra has the WD SmartWare backup program, WD Security and WD Utilities. With WD Utilities, you can be able to check the status of the drive and reformat it when need be. WD Security, on the other hand, enables you to secure your data with a password. With this drive comes secure encryption such that once you set your password, the drive cannot be opened without the set password.

Pros

  • Fast Performance
  • Helpful data protection software

Cons

  • Slightly expensive

6. Samsung T5 SSD

The Samsung T5 is a uniquely small drive that you can comfortably and unnoticeably carry in your pocket. But with such a small, powerful drive comes a high price, and the Samsung T5 is proof with its retail price of $510 for the 1TB.

Measuring 74x57x10.5 and weighing 51g, the drive is remarkably small, and you can carry it in your jeans or shirt pocket with ease. The disk is made of metal, which helps keep the inside chips well cooled. It comes in a range of sizes, from 250GG to 2TB. To improve the functionality of the drive when transferring files, you must format the drive to NFTS. The external drive is also compatible with Android devices.

The Samsung T5 performs at very remarkable speeds with 433MB/s read and 323MB/s write, and if you use a compatible USB Type-C connector, you will get even a much higher transfer rate. With this drive, you will get USB Type-C to Type-C and Type-C to Type-A cables compatible with Windows, Mac, and Android.

Pros

  • Compact
  • Excellently fast

Cons 

  • Expensive

CLOSING REMARKS

If you’ve identified the factors and type of external hard drive you want then the rest of the process streamlines itself. From the sea of HDDs, you will be able to pinpoint the right one that can push you for the next half-decade or more.

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