Top five affordable portable drives that ain't cheap

CNET editor Dong Ngo lists the top five external hard drives that are not only great but also superportable and pretty affordable.

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
5 min read

Watch this: Cheap portable drives

When it comes to storage, you definitely don't want to risk getting stuck with a lemon. That's because, unlike other commodities like a car or a TV, when a storage device breaks down, chances are you lose a lot more than just the drive itself. It's a painful experience to see your invaluable data vanish. Take my word for it on this.

But you likely don't want to spend too much, either, and want your storage device to be easily accessible, especially on the go since there's not much use for your data if it always has to stay at home.

Bearing that in mind, compact and portable external hard drives are arguably the most popular form of storage. They have room to hold lots of data, often more than your laptop or ultrabook can, without being big or heavy. Following is the list of the top five portable USB 3.0-based drives that are the best among their peers, offering great performance, large storage space, compact design, and sometimes even the kind of toughness that will withstand drops and submersion in water. Most importantly, you can easily find them for less than $100. Have more to spend? You can get larger capacities that cost more.

Note that these drives also work with USB 2.0 (MacBook Air owners, you're included here) and they are all bus-powered, so you don't need a separate power adapter to use them.

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Seagate Backup Plus (500GB version)
The Backup Plus is the latest family of portable hard drives from Seagate. These replace the company's popular GoFlex line that was first introduced back in 2001 and is known for being superflexible. Though the name has changed, the new family retains the flexibility of the previous design; in fact, new Backup Plus drives work with the old GoFlex adapters, and now also offer a new easy backup approach, not just for local storage but also for your social-media personal data.

The new Backup Plus drives also come in many colors to fit your tastes. In fact, the color of the interface on the backup software actually changes based on the color of the drive. This is isn't a huge deal, but it's definitely fun and helps you know which drives you're working with. The Seagate Backup Plus comes in three capacities from 500GB to 1TB, with the 500GB costing just around $90. Read the full review of the Seagate Backup Plus.

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WD My Passport (500GB version)
Western Digital's new My Passport is the world's first portable drive that offers up to 2TB of storage space. If you want the top amount of storage space, you'll have to spend about $200. However, it also comes with a 500GB version that costs around just $80 or 750GB for $90. All of the drives' capacities offer the same features, including fast USB 3.0 speed, sturdy design, and useful, simple backup software. Read the full review of the WD 2TB My Passport.

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Lexar JumpDrive Triton (32GB version)
As far as I know, the Lexar JumpDrive Triton has a lot of firsts. It's the first thumbdrive that supports USB 3.0, the fastest USB 3.0-based portable storage device, and also the first among a lot of computer and electronic devices I've seen that bears a "Product of USA" label. It doesn't mean it was made in the States entirely, but hey, at least it wasn't made in China, like the majority of thumbdrives. For those who like pretty things (and who doesn't?) the drive is really good-looking with a shiny, full-metal-alloy base and an equally shiny hardened plastic top. It also comes with a great retractable USB head design.

The Triton's top capacity is 64GB, which costs around $140; it's a little too expensive, but its 32GB version costs just about $70, making it a good choice for those who travel with a portable computer and don't need to carry a lot of data. It's worth noting that 32GB is still a lot of storage space, considering how tiny the Triton is. There's also a 16GB version that costs around $50. Read the full review of the Lexar JumpDrive Triton thumbdrive.

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Silicon Power Armor A80 (500GB version)
The Silicon Power Armor A80 is a special 2.5-inch-based portable drive that offers up to 1TB of storage. It's the first USB 3.0 drive that comes with an A-female USB port (similar to the ones found on computers). This means you can't use standard USB cables with it. To make up for this minor inconvenience, the drive comes with two A-male-to-A-male USB cables of its own, one of which is hidden on the drive itself. This cable-carry design makes the drive even more portable, but it is not the only selling point of the drive. Housed in a rugged chassis, the A80 is waterproof down to a depth of 3 feet and is rugged enough to handle shocks and drops from around 4 feet, while moving. The drive also showed great performance in my testing.

The Silicon Power Armor A80 comes in four capacities: 500GB, 640GB, 750GB, and 1TB. On a good day, you can find the 500GB online for just around $80. At this price, for those who work in rough environments and are looking to expand their laptop's storage, the A80 is definitely worth every penny. Read the full review of the Silicon Power Armor A80.

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Seagate GoFlex Slim (500GB version)
The GoFlex Slim is the only drive in the GoFlex family that's not supposed to be replaced by the Backup Plus family. This is because the drive is a type of its own. It's the first, and currently still the only, portable hard drive on the market that's ultraslim; at just 0.35 inch, it's actually thinner than a regular 2.5-inch hard drive, which is about 0.4 inch thick. The drive itself is just about the size of an iPhone.

Despite the ultraslim design, the drive spins at 7,200rpm, has fast USB 3.0 data rates, and shares the same flexibility -- and adapters -- as the rest of drives in Seagate's GoFlex and Backup Plus families.

Initially, the Slim was available only in the 320GB capacity. The 500GB version was just added earlier this month, together with the Backup Plus family. The good news is the new 500GB version currently costs less than $100, while the 320GB version is about $80. Read the full review of the Seagate GoFlex Slim.

Want to find out how these five drives stacked up against one another? Compare them head-to-head.

Editors' note: This post was originally published March 5, 2012, and is updated frequently. Other devices that have been on our list so far this year are the HP Portable Hard Drive, the Hitachi Touro Mobile, and the Seagate GoFlex Ultra-portable . While no longer in the Top 5, these are still excellent portable drives for the price and worth consideration.