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Best external hard drive 2021: Black Friday savings on the ultimate portable hard drives and SSDs

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Whether you’re stuck for space or looking for higher speeds, these are the best USB hard drives and SSDs

Laptops and PCs keep getting smaller and lighter, but storage space has never seemed so tight – which is why you need the best external hard drive you can afford. High-res audio files, 4K videos and 20-megapixel photos can quickly fill the average laptop’s 256GB SSD, and if you’re working on a project or holding on to your music files and photos, you’ll soon run out of space. Gamers get it even harder – we’re seeing some big titles demanding more than 100GB, with some getting closer to 200GB. This isn’t just hitting PC gamers, but also the console crowd.

External HDDs and SSDs are the answer. They’re cheap, capacious and increasingly speedy – and all you need to do is plug them in. Even a basic USB 3.0 or 3.2 Gen 1 drive will be fast enough for most purposes, while you can pair the latest USB 3.2 Gen 2 and Thunderbolt 3 and 4 SSDs with a laptop that supports them and get enough speed for 4K video editing or gaming. We’ve picked out some of the best external drives – both SSD and HDD – to cover all requirements, including desktop models, slimline portables and matchbox-sized SSDs. Whatever your needs, whatever your budget, we’ve got the right external storage for you.

Save £50 on the Samsung T7 Touch 1TB this Black Friday

With AES 256-bit encryption and a built-in fingerprint reader, the Samsung T7 Touch is our top SSD pick when it comes to security. While the 1TB model usually retails for around £154, this Black Friday it's down to its lowest-ever price at just £104.
Amazon
Was £154
Now £104

Our External Storage of the Year Award winner is on sale for Black Friday

Combing a compact, rugged build with blisteringly fast transfer speeds, the SanDisk Extreme Pro recently picked up our External Storage of the Year Award. While the 1TB model usually retails for £188, in Amazon's Black Friday sales event it's been reduced to just £148 - its lowest-ever price.
Amazon
Was £188
Now £148

Black Friday sale on G-Technology 1TB

The Armor ATD is a rugged, shock-proof external hard drive for those who are on the go and require something that can take a hit. Its previous price has also taken a hit down to an all time low of £60.
Amazon
Was £85
Now £60

READ NEXT: The best external hard drives for PS4 | The best external hard drives for Xbox One

How to choose the best external hard drive for you

What type of drive should I buy?

Today, external drives come in three basic forms, the biggest and most popular category of which is the portable HDD. These feature 2.5in, 5,400rpm drives of the sort we used to see in laptops, housed in a toughened casing and using a single USB connection for both power and data transfer. Just plug one in and you’re ready to go. The latest USB standards deliver transfer speeds that are plenty fast enough for most, so the biggest bottleneck will be the performance of the HDD contained within the housing. You can easily pick up a 1TB drive for under £50 and a 2TB drive for around £20 more. You can even find 5TB drives for less than £100.

If you need more space, you’ll need to look at desktop drives. These use larger 3.5in hard disks and require a dedicated power supply, which makes them less convenient. To make up for this, you’ll often get better performance with drives that spin at speeds of up to 7,200rpm and a larger cache to make file transfers smoother. You can easily find 6TB drives for under £100 and 10TB for around £200.

Should I buy an SSD?

External SSDs used to be prohibitively expensive but a highly competitive market is now bringing the price right down. You still won’t get a whole lot of storage without spending major money but if you want something that can hold, say, 500GB of video or photos, you can find something fast and relatively affordable for a reasonable amount of money these days.

SSDs are small and extremely robust, which makes them great for moving media libraries or big projects between PCs or transferring Steam games from your PC to your laptop. And with read speeds anywhere between 500MB/sec and a staggering 2.4GB/sec (with the right connectivity - see below), you’ll be amazed how fast these things can go. Transfers that used to take ten or 20 minutes suddenly happen in a minute or less.

What kind of connectivity should I look for?

This is a more complicated question than it should be, thanks in the main to the USB standards body's inability to stick to a single, simple naming scheme.

It was all so simple once upon a time. USB 3 was your baseline. It offered a theoretical transfer rate of up to 5Gbits/sec (with real-world speeds closer to 300MB/sec). Then you had USB 3.1, offering speeds up to 10Gbits/sec and USB 3.2 delivering speeds up to 20Gbits/sec.

Then, all the names changed: not once, but twice. And, just in case this was all too easy for you, the USB standards body has also dreamt up the term "SuperSpeed" and added that into the mix, too.

The result is that there are now 12 names for the three main USB connection standards. You'll see a mixture of these printed on packaging and used in descriptions of these products online. To help mitigate the confusion, here's a breakdown of all those terms and what they mean:

Original termFirst name changeNew nameAlso known as...Speed
USB 3USB 3.1 Gen 1USB 3.2 Gen 1SuperSpeed USBUp to 5Gbits/sec
USB 3.1USB 3.1 Gen 2USB 3.2 Gen 2SuperSpeed USB 10GbpsUp to 10Gbits/sec
USB 3.2-USB 3.2 Gen 2x2SuperSpeed USB 20GbpsUp to 20Gbits/sec

Certain professional portable HDDs support Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 connections, with maximum speeds of 40Gbits/sec (4.8GB/sec).

Remember, though, that no matter how fast the connection speed is, if the hard disk or SSD within can't make the most of it or your laptop/desktop computer doesn't support that kind of USB connection, you won't be able to make the most of it.

For mechanical hard disks, the very fastest drives max out at 2Gbits/sec so USB 3 will be fine. So you only need to start thinking about the faster speeds if you're buying an external SSD.

Are there any extra features worth having?

While Windows 10 has its own backup tools (System Image and File History), many users still prefer a good old-fashioned daily backup tool, and many manufacturers include software to help you do just that. Otherwise, some drives will come with management tools, and some with built-in password protection or file encryption, with the drive’s contents protected by codes and physical number pads or by locks activated and deactivated using a smartphone app.

READ NEXT: Best SSD: Give your computer a speed boost

The best external hard drives to buy

1. Seagate Backup Plus: The best external hard drive

Price: £52 (1TB), £75 (2TB), £93 (4TB), £99 (5TB) | Buy now from Amazon

If you’re looking for maximum capacity for the lowest price, but you still want respectable performance, the Seagate Backup Plus is still our go-to USB drive. This compact USB-powered unit comes in 1TB to 5TB capacities, with the 1TB and 2TB versions now available in an impressively svelte Slim version, while the 4TB and 5TB versions retain the older, slightly chunky form factor.

You can’t argue with the value for money, and speeds aren’t bad by HDD standards, with sequential read speeds of 151MB/sec and write speeds of 134MB/sec. It’s a barebones drive, with nothing bundled in except a USB-A cable and some drive utilities, but the coloured fabric covers look great on the desk and you get either two months or four months of Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography plan thrown in. If you’re happy to work without SSD speeds, these solid, reliable units have you covered.

Key specs – Type: Portable HDD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 1 (max 5Gbits/sec); Spindle speed: 5,400rpm

2. WD My PassPort Ultra: The best low-cost drive with USB-C

Price: £65 (1TB), £76 (2TB), £109 (4TB), £155 (5TB) | Buy now from Amazon

While it’s more expensive than the Seagate Backup Plus and the old WD MyPassport, the revamped Ultra has a couple of points in its favour. Measuring 82 x 110mm, it’s still a very compact unit (if a little chunky if you buy the 4TB or 5TB drives), and like the cheaper My Passport it does its job quietly and unobtrusively without any major noise or fuss.

There’s one good reason to get this drive over the Seagate Backup Plus, and that’s USB-C support; it comes with the required cable plus a USB-C to USB-A adaptor for laptops and PCs that don’t have the newer, smaller socket. Read and write times still aren’t spectacular, peaking at 134MB/sec and 126MB/sec respectively, but they’re perfectly adequate for mainstream users. The LaCie Mobile Drive is worth paying a little extra, but this is a fine and very affordable external HDD.

Key specs – Type: Portable HDD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 1 (max 5Gbits/sec), USB-C; Spindle speed: 5,400rpm

3. LaCie Mobile Drive USB-C + USB 3.0: The best portable external hard drive

Price: £60 (1TB), £78 (2TB), £123 (4TB), £140 (5TB) | Buy now from Amazon

You can trust LaCie to bring a little style to storage, and its latest Mobile Drive is another distinctive effort, with an angular, all-aluminium design enhanced by diamond-cut edges and a choice of space grey and moon silver MacBook-matching finishes. But while the looks are important, they’re not all this drive has to rely on.

It’s one of the few mobile drives to offer capacities above 4TB without a desktop format, thanks to a 5TB model, and performance is impressive by HDD standards, with read speeds topping out at 152MB/sec and sequential write speeds of 138MB/sec. Unless you’re editing 30-plus megapixel full-frame photos or 4K videos, you’re not going to find it slow.

LaCie throws in its own software toolkit for one-click manual and scheduled backups and folder mirroring across different PCs or laptops, and you even get a month’s free Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. It’s the obvious choice for Mac users, but a great one for Windows creatives too.

Key specs – Type: Portable HDD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 1 (max 5Gbits/sec), USB-C; Spindle speed: 5,400rpm

4. G-Technology Armor ATD: The best durable external hard drive

Price: £85 (1TB), £120 (2TB), £150 (4TB), £172 (5TB) | Buy now from Amazon

ATD stands for all-terrain drive and G-Technology’s USB hard disk lives up to the name. Combining a solid aluminium enclosure with internal shock mounts and a chunky rubber bumper, the Armor ATD looks and feels like a piece of sci-fi military hardware – and it can handle rain, dust and pressures of up to 1,000lbs. The USB port supports both USB-C connections and Type-A through a bundled adaptor, and when not in use it’s protected by a thick flap with a beefy rubber plug.

The ATD isn’t the fastest drive out there: it gave us sequential read/write speeds of 119MB/sec and 141MB/sec in tests, although in random read/write benchmarks it proved faster than many rival conventional HDDs. Most of us will be better off with a faster drive that doesn’t offer quite such extreme levels of protection. But if you’re working with big digital image or video files and need a drive that can take some serious punishment, the Armor ATD won’t let you down.

Key specs – Type: Portable HDD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 1 (max 5Gbits/sec), USB-C; Spindle speed: 5,400rpm

5. Seagate Backup Plus Hub: The best high-capacity external hard drive

Price: £90 (6TB), £110 (8TB) | Buy now from Amazon

Our previous go-to for high-capacity desktop drives was the Seagate Expansion series, which is still available in 2TB to 6TB capacities at very reasonable prices. However, the Expansion has now been pipped by its stablemate, the Backup Plus Hub. For a few quid more, you get a slicker, angular case design with a single USB 3 connector at the back – plus two USB 3 ports at the front. These don’t actually do anything for storage but transform the drive into a convenient USB hub. The drive comes with some other extra features, including backup software and support for Seagate’s mobile app.

The backup app allows you to backup files and photos from your iOS or Android phone to the drive over your home Wi-Fi network (provided your PC is switched on). And if you’re looking for a whopping desktop drive to match your white Xbox One S, you’re in luck: Seagate makes an 8GB special Game Drive Hub edition specifically to do that job. The icing on the cake is that the Backup Plus Hub is reasonably fast, with sequential read/write speeds of 188MB/sec and 153MB/sec, with random read/write speeds of 2.1MB/sec and 7.6MB/sec. It’s also reasonably quiet by desktop HDD standards, with no internal cooling fan.

Key specs – Type: Desktop HDD; Connectivity: USB 3 upstream, 2 x USB 3 downstream; Spindle speed: 5,400rpm


The best external SSDs to buy

6. Samsung T7 Touch 1TB: Best external SSD with encryption

Price: £109 (500GB), £170 (1TB), £310 (2TB) | Buy now from Amazon

If data security is important to you, Samsung's T7 is the drive to choose. It comes with built-in AES 256-bit encryption and can be unlocked super quickly with the dab of a finger, plus with the ability to store four fingers you can share the drive with important family members.

It's a speedy performer, too, offering USB 3.2 Gen 2 speeds of a maximum 10Gbits/sec and performed brilliantly in the AS SSD speed tests. We saw sustained read and write speeds of 894MB/sec and 678MB/sec, both very impressive results. It’s great value considering the speed and features, and if you’re not fussed with the fingerprint security, you can find the regular Samsung T7 at even lower prices, with the same super-slim aluminium build and identical performance. Either way, it’s a fantastic drive.

Key specs – Type: Portable SSD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 2 (max 10Gbits/sec), USB-C; Spindle speed: N/A


7. Samsung Portable SSD T5: The best-value external SSD

Price: £89 (500GB), £107 (1TB), £285 (2TB) | Buy now from Amazon

The Portable SSD T5 brings USB 3.2 Gen 2 speeds to Samsung’s external SSDs, doubling the 5GB/sec maximum bandwidth and dramatically improving speeds with compatible devices. You need a device with a USB 3.2 Gen 2 port. Samsung provides both a USB-C cable and a USB-C to Type-A adapter, so you’re covered for either connection type, and the unit’s tiny, measuring 74 x 57mm with a thickness of just 11mm.

The drive also has built-in 256-bit AES encryption with password protection, making it a good option if you’re transporting sensitive data or important files. The performance is certainly impressive. On a USB 3.2 Gen 2-equipped PC, you can expect sequential read/write speeds of up to 554MB/sec and 519MB/sec, and even in the random 4K read/write tests that trip up lesser drives, we saw read/write speeds of 298.4MB/sec and 204.1MB/sec. The SanDisk Extreme Pro beats it on sequential speeds, but this is still an incredibly fast external drive.

Key specs – Type: Portable SSD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 2 (max 10Gbits/sec), USB C; Spindle speed: N/A

8. Seagate Barracuda Fast SSD: A great value SSD that covers you against data loss

Price: £71 (500GB), £121 (1TB), £262 (2TB) | Buy now from Amazon

Despite the name, the Seagate Barracuda isn't the fastest external SSD out there. It's only rated up to 540MB/sec for reads and writes and in our testing it returned speeds on a par with most other USB 3.2 Gen 2 USB-C drives we've tested, averaging 498MB/sec and 465MB/sec for sequential reads and writes.

It's an attractive drive for a number of other reasons, though. It's small (79 x 93 x 9mm, WDH) and light (140g), with an attractive stepped design and green strip LED that lights up when the drive is active. It comes with the usual Seagate Toolkit with backup and mirroring software for Windows PCs, and you get two cales in the box: one USB-C to USB-C cable and one USB-C to USB-A cable.

Also included is a four-month trial to the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan and - perhaps most valuable - a three-year warranty that gives access to Seagate's Rescue Data Recovery Services if something goes wrong with the drive, and it all comes at a very reasonable price per gigabyte (for the 1TB model) of as little as 12p.

Key specs – Type: Portable SSD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 2 (max 10Gbits/sec), USB C; Spindle speed: N/A

9. Seagate Firecuda Gaming SSD: The best external SSD for PC gaming

Price: £140 (500GB), £209 (1TB), £343 (2TB) | Buy now from Amazon

The Firecuda Gaming SSD takes advantage of the fastest USB standards available to offer stunning transfer speeds across the board. It supports connections up to USB 3.2 Gen 2x2, which means speeds of up to a searing 20,000Gbits/sec; the only drawback is that not many laptops or PCs support the new 2x2 transfer speed as yet, so most will be limited to 10Gbits/sec. That's fast enough for now, however, and the Firecuda put in a flaming fast performance in our benchmark tests, returning read and write sequential transfer rates of 950MB/sec and 912MB/sec over the slower USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbits/sec) standard.

Other than stunning performance, the Firecuda is also a bit of a looker. Housed in a sharply tailored slab of dark grey aluminium, the drive is trimmed with coloured LEDs that you can adjust to suit your mood or the decor of your room. The drive also comes with Seagate's toolkit software, which gives you automated backups, encryption and quick memory card imports.

All in all, it’s a stunner of an external SSD and the only catch is the price. Only PC gamers with a high-end laptop or the latest motherboards will see the full performance, but the extra could be worth it if you’re after the fastest and most future-proof drive.

Key specs – Type: Portable SSD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (max 20Gbits/sec), USB C; Spindle speed: N/A

10. Verbatim Vx500: The best ultra-compact external SSD

Price: £52 (120GB), £87 (240GB), £108 (480GB) | Buy now from Amazon

The Verbatim Vx500 packs a lot of performance and a fair amount of storage into an absolutely tiny package, measuring 92mm long, 29mm wide and 9mm thick. It comes with two cables in the box – one USB-C to USB-C and one USB-C to USB-A – and its aluminium housing is clad in a handsome silver finish with a USB-C port at one end and a single status LED next to it.

The drive is rated at up to 500GB/sec for read speeds and 440MB/sec for writes but, in our tests, these claims proved fairly conservative. Our results returned sequential read and write speeds of 521MB/sec and 473MB/sec respectively, which isn’t far behind the Samsung T5. (We tested the 480GB model but it's also available in 120GB and 240GB variants.)

Otherwise, it's a fairly simple thing. There's no built-in encryption and the only software included is Nero Backup; however, for such a tiny drive, the Vx500 packs a hell of a punch.

Key specs – Type: Portable SSD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 2 (max 10Gbits/sec), USB C; Spindle speed: N/A

11. SanDisk Extreme Pro (2020): The best high-performance SSD

Price: £245 (1TB), £423 (2TB) | Buy now from Amazon

The SanDisk Extreme Pro has long been one of our favourite high-performance drives, combining the lightweight but ruggedized design of the SanDisk Extreme with a USB 3.2 Gen 2 interface and faster flash memory. The latest version upgrades the connectivity to USB 3.2 Gen 2 2x2 and increases the speed even further, making this one of the fastest external SSDs we’ve ever tested.

Provided you have a USB 3.2 Gen 2 2x2 PC or laptop you can expect read speeds in excess of 1700MB/sec, with write speeds around 30MB/sec slower. Over a straight USB 3.2 Gen 2 connection, both read and write speeds stabilise at around 965MB/sec, which isn’t a massive improvement over last year’s 1050MB/sec model, which is still available at a slightly lower cost. Random read/write speeds are impressive, though, at between 165MB/sec and 226MB/sec, making this a good drive for apps as well as media. Looking for maximum performance for your most demanding applications? This is the best USB drive around.

Key specs – Type: Portable SSD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 2 2x2 (max 20Gbits/sec), USB-C; Spindle speed: N/A

12. G-Technology G-Drive Mobile Pro Thunderbolt 3 SSD: The best external SSD for Thunderbolt 3 support

Price: £229 (500GB), £459 (1TB), £1056 (2TB) | Buy now from Amazon

USB-C SSDs might seem speedy, but they feel tortoise-slow when pitted against G-Tech’s mighty Thunderbolt 3 drive, which effortlessly reached sequential read speeds of 2,695MB/sec and write speeds of 2,289MB/sec in our tests. Even random read/write speeds are close to what we’d expect from an internal SSD, not one connecting via an external cable, so if you’re a creative professional looking to expand your storage space, look no further.

The tough, rubberized, shock-resistant case should keep your data safe, and there are really only three reasons not to buy this. One is the price – this kind of power doesn’t come cheap. Second, you need a Mac or high-performance workstation or laptop to get the Thunderbolt 3 connection to run it.

Finally, some users have complained about occasional disconnects, particularly on Macs, although we didn’t experience this on our Windows laptop during testing. This is a pricey SSD, which costs more for 1TB than most 2TB rivals, but if you need that speed for 4K video editing or the most demanding creative applications, this is the one to buy.

Key specs – Type: Portable SSD; Connectivity: Thunderbolt 3; Spindle speed: N/A