The best external storage: jump straight to…
Choosing the best external hard drive or SSD for your Mac or PC is essential. As any designer or artist knows, it doesn’t take long for creative files to start filling up the internal hard drive of your machine – but it’s important to pick the right one, and there are a number of considerations to make before pulling out your wallet.
First, a quick recap of the basics. An external hard drive or SSD (which stands for Solid State Drive) is a device that can be easily plugged into your machine, giving you almost-instant storage space, without having to prise open your computer and make complicated upgrades.
Not only does an HDD or SSD give you more capacity for large files, but because the devices are portable, they can be taken with you on the go and plugged into different machines – handy if you swap between PCs and Macs regularly. Also, in the event that something bad happens to your machine, your files will still be safe and accessible.
Right now, we think the overall best external hard drive for Mac and PC is the Western Digital My Passport 4TB. It offers the best balance of speed, reliability, portability and price. But there are many options out there – scroll down to see our full list of recommendations, and the best external hard drive prices too.
There are a number of things to consider when looking for an external hard drive or SSD for your Mac or PC. First, is storage. You’ll want to make sure you buy an external storage device that has enough capacity for your needs – without paying for high capacities you’ll never use.
Around 500GB is a good sweet-spot for external storage, though you can buy smaller capacities, as well as larger ones at 1TB or greater.
Hard drive vs SSD: which is best?
Another consideration is whether to get an external storage device that uses a traditional hard drive, or one with an SSD. Usually, external hard drives with traditional drives are more affordable and come in larger capacities. There are external SSDs that come with large capacities – but these can be expensive.
SSDs are much faster than traditional hard drives, and because they don’t have any mechanical or moving parts, they’re generally more robust and smaller in physical size as well.
So, if you want to store huge amounts of data while keeping prices low, an external hard drive is the way to go. But if speed is your top priority – for example, if you move a lot of large files, or want to run programs off the drive – then choose an SSD.
The right connections
The connection between the external hard drive and your Mac or PC is also important. The first generation rectangular USB-A ports are slowly being superseded by the newer, smaller reversible USB-C ports. These are now found on all modern PCs, and Macs.
Some high end PC and Macs, such as the new iMac and MacBook Pro, come with USB-C ports that support Thunderbolt 3. This is the fastest external storage connection there is, and it provides very fast data transfer speeds, though Thunderbolt storage is considerably more expensive than plain old USB.
Best external hard drives and SSDs for Mac and PC
01. Western Digital My Passport 4TB
The overall best external hard drive for Mac or PC
Capacity: 4TB | Interface: USB 3.0
Good data transfer speeds
WD backup software is basic
This is the latest generation of the Western Digital My Passport range of external hard drives to have landed, coming in sizes from 1TB to 4TB. It features cloud storage and 256-AES encryption, along with WD’s own backup software.
It also offers very good data transfer speeds. And while it doesn’t quite offer a similar speed to solid state drive devices, the Western Digital My Passport range finds a great balance between high storage capacities and quick file transfers.
02. Samsung Portable SSD T5
The best high-speed external storage device
Capacity: 250GB – 2TB | Interface: USB 3.1 (Gen 2)
Very good performance
Very high capacity
The Samsung T5 SSD is a great performing storage device, reaching speeds up to 550 MB/sec, making the most of the USB 3.1 specification. It plugs directly into PCs and Macs with either a newer USB-C port or USB-A, is roughly the size of a matchbox and being a flash storage device, contains no moving parts, so can survive being dropped.
External SSDs may cost considerably more than hard disks, but the extra money and faster speeds go a long way. You’ll be able to easily load edit and save 4K video directly on the T5, which can be very slow with a USB hard disk, you can install applications onto it, or even run an entire alternative operating system off it at full speed, if you’re so inclined.
The downside is the pricing. SSDs give you less capacity for more money, so we don’t recommend the T5 for backup. It’s better to have a bigger hard disk for that and use the T5 in more specialised situations that need all that lovely performance
03. G-Technology G-RAID with Thunderbolt 3
The fastest and largest external hard drive for modern desktop Macs
Capacity: 8TB – 24TB | Interface: Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1
Lashings of fast disk storage
Easy removal of disks
G-Technology has long been a favourite of Mac creative professionals, and no small part of this is the clever use of silver aluminium that perfectly matches Apple’s iMac casing, keeping desktop areas with a uniform appearance.
The latest incarnation of its G-RAID dual hard disk Thunderbolt product isn’t just a start performer, capable of 440 MB/sec transfer rates in RAID 0, which is pretty incredible for hard disks, but it also gives you a few extras.
There’s an HDMI 2.2 port on the back, which routes a video signal for an external display over the G-RAID’s Thunderbolt 3 cable, which has plenty of bandwidth to spare even with the hard disk going at full speed. It also has a USB-C port to connect to Macs or PCs that lack Thunderbolt.
Expect to pay a small fortune for the largest capacities, but thanks to the easy drive removal system, you could always buy a cheaper, lower capacity G-RAID and upgrade it with off-the-shelf hard disks yourself.
04. Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt
The most affordable Thunderbolt external hard drive
Capacity: 1TB, 2TB | Interface: Thunderbolt, USB 3.0
Low price compared to other Thunderbolt drives
Limited hard disk performance
If you want to make use of your Thunderbolt port, then this Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt is a great option, as it provides twice the speeds of standard USB 3.0 drives. It’s also not especially expensive compared to other Thunderbolt drives. This is mainly down to the fact that it’s a traditional hard drive, not an SSD, which means it’s not quite as fast as it could be – though it will still give you an upgrade to your transfer speeds.
Helpfully, the Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt also comes with a USB 3.0 port for connecting to computers that don’t have a Thunderbolt port.
05. Adata SD700 External SSD
The best cheap external SSD
Capacity: 256GB, 512GB or 1TB | Interface: USB 3.0
No USB Type-C
The Adata SD700 will suit those looking for a rugged storage device that can provide ample capacity without costing too much. It performs superbly well and remains the only SSD we’ve seen that’s IP68 rated.
Thanks to the solid state drive that resides in this external hard drive, it’s a lot faster than external drives that use traditional spinning hard drives – so you’re getting great transfer speeds as well as rugged protection.
It also comes in capacities up to 1TB, so you don’t have to worry about missing out on storage space just because it uses an SSD. This Adata drive really does hit all the right notes.
07. WD My Book Duo
The best high capacity external drive for your Mac or PC
Capacity: 4TB – 20TB | Interface: USB-C (Gen 1)
Huge amounts of space
Integrated USB hub
Limited performance compared with Thunderbolt drives
If you’re looking for the absolute largest capacity external USB hard drive, then the WD My Book Duo Is the one to get, as it now goes all the way to 20TB.
If you don’t mind sacrificing some of the ample storage space you can set the drives up in a RAID 1 array, so you have file backups of your files should one of the drives die. This is an excellent feature if you’re going to use this device to back up irreplaceable data, such as your creative work, as it adds a level of protection in case things go wrong.
It provides two additional USB ports on the rear, so you can easily insert flash sticks. The device, which comes with two-year warranty, has 256-bit AES hardware encryption, and automatic backup software (WD SmartWare Pro).
It’s also worth noting that the enclosure used is fully serviceable and that WD ships the drive already pre-formatted for Windows users (NTFS), so you’ll want to reformat it to work with your Mac.
Read TechRadar’s review here.
08. LaCie Rugged USB-C
This rugged design is great for storage on the move
Capacity: 1TB – 5TB | Storage Type: Hard Disk | Connector: Type-C | Interface: USB 3.1
Backwards compatible with older USB
Ugly orange casing
Lacie’s rugged hard disk series is instantly recognisable from its orange casing, which is a rubber enclosure that keeps the disk safe from even medium-height drops up to 1.2m, along with your precious data.
According to Lacie it can apparently withstand the pressure of a one-ton car, and is resistant to rain. That makes it a great choice for content creation when you’re out and about, whether you’re participating in daredevil sports, travelling the world, just a bit paranoid or simply clumsy.