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Best external hard drive 2023: The best portable HDDs and SSDs for performance, capacity and value

Whether you’re running out of storage space or in need of a fast backup, these speedy HDDs and SSDs will give you what you need

While computers keep growing ever more powerful, their storage never quite maintains the same pace. In fact, the recent shift from HDDs (hard disk drives) to SSDs (solid state drives) has meant that space has never been so tight – 256GB SSDs are still common, and only high-performance laptops and gaming PCs ship with 1TB or more. That’s a problem when even budget smartphones can produce photos that take up 10 to 16MB of space, and hi-res audio files and 4K video files are even greedier. If you play games you can see 1TB go in just a handful of titles, with the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2 or Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War grabbing between 150 and 250GB on their own.

You might be tempted to use cloud storage but, while it is a great way to backup vital files, it’s not always practical when you have a lot of data or large media files that you need to safeguard.

The answer to these problems is an external drive. External SSDs are now in the mainstream, giving you high speeds at 1TB to 2TB capacities without breaking the bank. However, external HDDs still have their place, giving you 2TB to 4TB of storage (or more!) at a significantly lower price. They’re still brilliant for backups and archives, or even just storing games that you’re not planning to play right now.

Best external hard drive: At a glance

Best valueSeagate One Touch (from ~£47)Check price at Amazon
Best portableLaCie Mobile Drive (from ~£71)Check price at Amazon
Best high-capacitySeagate One Touch Hub (from ~£110)Check price at Amazon
Best for PC gamingWD Black P50 (from ~£132)Check price at Amazon
Best for high performanceSanDisk Extreme Pro (from ~£139)Check price at Amazon

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 around £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 around £100 to £120 and 10TB for £200 to £300.

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

Should I buy an SSD?

External SSDs used to be prohibitively expensive but a highly competitive market has now brought 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, 1TB of video or photos, you can find something suitably speedy for around £70 to £100 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 3.2GB/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 3.2USB 3.2 Gen 2×2SuperSpeed USB 20GbpsUp to 20Gbits/sec

Some professional portable HDDs and SSDs also support Intel’s Thunderbolt technology, with maximum speeds of 40Gbits/sec (4.8GB/sec) for Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4. USB 4 ports and drives are also starting to appear with speeds to match, though you may have to wait a while before the SSDs themselves can max them out.

Remember: no matter how fast the port is, if the hard disk or SSD within the drive can’t run fast enough, you won’t see any benefits. The same goes if your computer doesn’t support that connection speed; you’d be surprised how few desktops and laptops have even a single USB 3.2 gen 2×2 port.

For mechanical hard disks, the very fastest drives max out at 2Gbits/sec so there’s no need to go beyond USB 3.2 Gen 1.

Are there any extra features worth having?

While Windows 10 and Windows 11 have their own backup tools (through OneDrive, System Image and File History), some users still prefer old fashioned backup tools – preferably something that will copy across any new and changed files for the day at a click. Many HDD and SSD manufacturers provide backup tools that do exactly that, along with tools for drive management or security. In fact, many drives are supplied with built-in encryption tools, which encrypt the drive’s contents and only decrypt them when the correct code or password is entered, or – with some of the most security-conscious drives – when the encryption is deactivated through a smartphone app.

How we test external drives

We test external drives on a laptop and a desktop PC, running the CrystalDiskMark and AS SSD benchmarks to evaluate performance on a range of connections, including USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type A, USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type C and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2. With the faster SSDs we also run applications and games directly from the drive to see how they hold up. Finally, we run file transfer tests using a folder of still image and video files, to check that real world file transfer speeds match what we’re seeing in the benchmarks.

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

The best external hard drives you can buy in 2023

1. Seagate One Touch: The best cheap USB hard drive

Price when reviewed: £47 (1TB), £66 (2TB), £99 (4TB), £112 (5TB) | Buy now from Amazon

Now that SSDs are becoming more affordable, buying an external HDD is all about getting the maximum capacity for the lowest price without compromising on performance or reliability.

The Seagate One Touch hits just the right balance, particularly if you’re buying the 4TB to 5TB versions, which hover around the £95 to £120 price point. It comes in a smart black or space grey plastic case with a brushed aluminium panel on the top.

Like most Seagate drives, the One Touch has a good reputation for reliability, and while the read and write speeds – 145MB/sec and 136MB/sec in our benchmarks – aren’t anything to write home about, they’re good enough for basic storage and backup duties. Seagate also sweetens the deal with Mylio Create photo-management software and a four-month membership of the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan. It didn’t really need to; this drive is already fantastic value.

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

2. Toshiba Canvio Flex: The best value USB Type-A and Type-C hard drive

Price when reviewed: £57 (1TB), £74 (2TB), £97 (4TB) | Buy now from Amazon

This new drive from Toshiba has a few advantages over older favourites from Seagate And Western Digital. First, it’s relatively fast by HDD standards, with sequential read speeds of over 150MB/sec and write speeds of 160MB/sec. It’s actually a smidgen faster than the excellent Canvio Gaming. And while its random read/write speeds aren’t anything to write home about, they’re no worse than those of comparable drives, and we’d recommend an SSD these days for actively running Windows apps or games.

Second, it comes with both USB-C and USB-A cables, enabling you to use it on a wide range of PCs, laptops, convertibles and consoles, right out of the box. What’s more, there’s no significant difference in performance, whatever way you connect. Throw in a compact but robust feeling enclosure with a silver lid, and you’ve got one of the best external HDDs around but still at an affordable price. Toshiba also bundles in its own easy-to-use backup software, along with a three-year warranty.

Key specsType: 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 hard drive for Mac users

Price when reviewed: From £73 (1TB), £78 (2TB), £148 (4TB), £132 (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 comes in 1TB to 5TB capacities, and performance is impressive by HDD standards, with read speeds topping out at 152MB/sec and sequential write speeds of 138MB/sec. You’ll want an SSD for editing 30-plus megapixel full-frame photos or 4K videos, but this drive’s great for media, backups or clearing less-used files from your speedier internal storage.

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. Toshiba Canvio Gaming: The best external hard drive for PC and console gaming

Price when reviewed: £59 (1TB), £74 (2TB), £100 (4TB) | Buy now from Amazon

A relatively new entry in Toshiba’s Canvio line-up, you can guess who the Canvio Gaming is aimed at. It gives you more space to run and store games on your last-gen Xbox One or PS4 console, and makes an ideal archive drive for games you’re not currently playing on an Xbox Series console, PS5 or PC. Sequential transfer speeds – 149.79MB/sec read and 156.78MB/sec write – are well above average, while its random write speeds are surprisingly good, though its random read speeds don’t really measure up.

Connected to an Xbox Series S, it loads old Xbox One games a second or so faster than the Seagate Backup Plus we did initial testing with, and it’s also a few seconds faster when it comes to moving games on and off the internal SSD. For faster loading times of your legacy titles you’ll still want a USB 3.2 SSD – like the Samsung T5 or Crucial X8 – but where performance isn’t the be-all or end-all, the Canvio Gaming will be more than good enough.

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

5. SanDisk G-Drive Armor ATD: The best ruggedized external hard drive

Price when reviewed: £77 (1TB), £110 (2TB), £145 (4TB), £157 (5TB) | Buy now from Amazon

ATD stands for all-terrain drive, and the G-Drive Armor definitely fits the bill. Combining a tough aluminium enclosure with a thick, non-removable rubber bumper, it feels like a piece of military hardware and can handle rain, dust, and weight up to 1,000lb. You might be able to damage its IP54-spec build, but you’d either have to be careless around the swimming pool or really going at it with some heavyweight machinery.

It has a USB-C connection concealed beneath a chunky rubber flap and plug, with a Type-A adaptor provided. Don’t expect much in the way of extreme speed – it’s rated at a max 140MB/sec, and we tested it at 119MB/sec read and 141MB/sec write – but this is more of a tank than a Ferrari. Most of us don’t need to splash out on a drive that offers this level of protection, but if you want to store big image and video files and want a drive that’s built to withstand most disasters, then 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

6. Seagate One Touch Hub: The best high-capacity desktop drive

Price when reviewed: £98 (4TB), £122 (6TB), £141 (8TB), £249 (10TB), £225 (12TB), £328 (18TB), £358 (20TB) | Buy now from Amazon

The Seagate One Touch Hub takes over from the old Backup Plus Hub as the best of the high-capacity desktop drives. Like the old model it’s a chunky unit that takes power from an external 18W power adaptor, but it makes up for the slight inconvenience by doubling as a two-port USB 3.0 Type A and USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C hub. What’s more, the external power allows room for a faster HDD, with sequential read/write speeds of 189MB/sec and 151MB/sec. That’s still not fast enough for demanding applications, but it’ll save you a few minutes if you’re running full-scale backups or storing large video, audio or game files.

The front-mounted ports are handy for plugging in USB memory sticks or charging devices, although speeds are limited to 5Gbits/sec USB 3.0 and there’s no fast charging. No other HDD gives you this much capacity for anything like this price. Want to archive years of video and audio or store a huge library of games? The One Touch Hub gives you just what you’re looking for.

Key specs – Type: Desktop HDD; Connectivity: 1x USB 3.0 Type B (upstream), 1 x USB 3.0 Type A, 1x USB 3.2 Gen Type-C (downstream); Spindle speed: Not specified

The best external SSDs to buy

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

Price when reviewed: £117 (1TB), £224 (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

2. Crucial X8 Portable SSD: The best value external SSD

Price when reviewed: £61 (1TB), £107 (2TB), £215 (4TB) | Buy now from Amazon

The Crucial X8 is the biggest bargain in external SSDs right now, giving you 1TB of high-speed storage for well under £100, and 2TB for around £160 to £180. It’s a compact drive with a nicely curved, shock-resistant aluminium casing, which does a nice job of keeping the drive cool even when it’s pushed hard. You can connect it up via a 5Gbit/sec USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type A connection or a 10Gbit/sec USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C. Crucial supplies a Type-C to Type-C cable and a Type-A adapter in the box.

Over the Type-C connection you get sequential read speeds of 1090MB/sec and write speeds of 1050MB/sec, although these drop to 469MB/sec and 461MB/sec over the slower Type-A. Random read/write speeds are speedy either way, peaking at 262MB/sec and 241MB/sec. While it’s not in the same league for speed as the fastest USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 SSDs, it’s an effective all rounder at a price more of us can afford.

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

3. WD Black P50: The best external SSD for PC gaming

Price when reviewed: £91 (500GB), £190 (1TB), £351 (2TB) | Buy now from Amazon

If your gaming PC, laptop or console is running out of storage space, this is the external drive to buy. For one thing, it looks impressive, sticking closely to the industrial aesthetic of the gaming focused WD Black line. For another, it’s incredibly speedy. Not only do you get sequential read/write speeds of 2007.67 MB/sec and 1982 MB/sec, but random read/write speeds of 245MB/sec and 210MB/sec, so you can run demanding games straight from the drive. Just bear in mind that you’ll only get these speeds with a USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 port; without one, performance drops considerably, down to just 467MB/sec over 5Gbit/sec USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type A.

This means that much of the speed will be wasted on the Xbox Series S/X and PS5 consoles, where the P50 could be used to store games you aren’t playing or run last-generation titles. On a fast PC with the right connection, though, it’s an absolute beast. It’s also happy working in the most demanding content creation apps, making it one powerful and versatile external drive.

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

4. Kingston XS2000: The speedy compact external SSD

Price when reviewed: £56 (500GB), £89 (1TB), £164 (2TB), £311 (4TB) | Buy now from Amazon

Don’t underestimate the Kingston XS2000 based on its size. While it’s tiny – less than 7cm long – it’s also ludicrously speedy, posting sequential read/write speeds of 2012MB/sec and 1854MB/sec on the USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 port of our test rig. It’s substantially slower over an old-school USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type A port, or even USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type C, but if you’ve got the connectivity to run it at full speed, you’ll see lightning-fast file transfers or be able to run demanding games and apps straight from the drive.

Kingston supplies it with a USB Type-C to Type-C cable, plus a rather natty rubber jacket to keep the drive safe if you’re lugging it around. With this on it’s water, shock and dust resistant, and a whole lot tougher than it looks. It’s not much bigger than a USB memory stick, but way ahead on performance and capacity. Like to pack light but still get the job done? Meet your perfect external SSD.

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

5. SanDisk Extreme Pro: The best rugged high-performance drive

Price when reviewed: £137 (1TB), £245 (2TB), £462 (4TB) | 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 2×2 and increases the speed even further, making this one of the fastest external SSDs we’ve ever tested. While it’s not quite as fast as the WD Black P50 or Kingston XS2000, it’s still one of the best external SSDs we’ve tested.

Provided you have a USB 3.2 Gen 2 2×2 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 2020’s 1050MB/sec model. Yet it’s the random read/write speeds that are really impressive, reaching up to 206MB/sec and 226MB/sec, making this a good drive for apps and games as well as media. Looking for maximum performance for your most demanding applications? This is one of the strongest options.

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

6. SanDisk Pro G40 SSD: The best Thunderbolt 4 portable SSD for Macs and high-end PCs

Price when reviewed: £298 (1TB), £496 (2TB) | Buy now from Amazon

Used as a USB Type-C drive, the SanDisk Pro G40 does nothing to justify its high price. Sequential read/write speeds (1,055MB/sec and 1,012MB/sec in our tests) are nothing special, and its random read/write speeds aren’t particularly fast. However, plug it into a Mac, or a laptop with a Thunderbolt 4 port, and you’ll unleash a monster. On Thunderbolt 4, the Pro G40 posted read speeds of 3.15GB/sec and write speeds of 2.6GB/sec, making it the fastest drive we’ve ever tested. And nothing else even gets close for random read/write speeds.

Given that even our fastest USB Type-C drive – the Kingston XS2000 – could only reach 2GB/sec over USB 3.2 Gen 2×2, that’s extremely impressive. From editing 4K, or even 8K, video to gaming, there’s nothing that this drive can’t handle.

It’s also built to withstand working in extreme conditions, thanks to an ultra-rugged aluminium and rubber enclosure that’s IP68 dust and water resistant, 3m drop resistant and 4,000lb crush resistant. It is extremely pricey, but if you want the fastest, toughest drive in town, then you’re just going to have to pony up the dough.

Key specs – Type: Portable SSD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 2 (max 10Gbits/sec), Thunderbolt 4 (max 40Gbits/sec); Spindle speed: N/A