Unless you're splurging on a high-end model, most new computers don't come with much storage space -- they usually have 256 or 512 gigabytes. Game consoles today come with 1-terabyte drives (which is roughly 1,000GB), but the drives max out easily if you don't regularly take games off the drive as you acquire more. One way to manage it all is to find the best external hard drive for your needs.
A traditional hard drive that uses "old" hard drive technology (mechanical platters and a moving read-write head to access data) is adequate for the majority of users, thanks to speedierand USB 3.0 (as well as ) interfaces. Prices have dropped significantly in the last few years, with even mega-capacity models tipping the scales at 5TB but costing just over $100. A solid state drive doesn't have moving parts and has up to four times faster read speeds, but it costs a lot more per gigabyte.
Most of the options on this list of the best external hard drive models will work across platforms -- whether you have a Windows PC, Mac computer, PlayStation 4 or Xbox -- so long as the drives are correctly formatted for the right platform. But a lot of times they'll be designated as working with a specific platform out of the box and sometimes come with backup software that's platform-specific. Unless otherwise indicated, all the PC drives mentioned here are compatible with Windows but can be formatted for a Mac. Many of them include cables or adapters to accommodate USB-C and USB-A ports. But if they don't happen to be included, you can easily buy.
And remember: A single backup doesn't cut it. Ideally, you'll want redundant backups either off-site or using cloud storage for key data (such as family photos) in case of theft or fire. And make sure you encrypt your data, too.
One important note for console gamers is that the newerand consoles are much more restrictive about using external drives. The PS5 can store and play PS4 games from an external drive, but not PS5 games; the Xbox Series X can store Series X games, but you'll have to transfer them to the main SSD to actually play them. The Xbox Series X does offer a proprietary , but it costs $220.
With those caveats noted, our current top picks for the best external hard drives and SSDs are below. These (or nearly identical models with less storage capacity) have been used or anecdotally tested by CNET editors. We'll update our list of the best external hard drives and SSDs as we test new products.
SanDisk makes the Extreme Portable SSD (see below) that delivers speeds up to 550MB per second transfer rates, but if you're a photographer or videographer looking for a faster SSD drive for your PC or Mac, the Extreme Pro Portable SSD is the way to go for extra storage space. The 1TB version ($190) only costs $30 more than the standard Extreme Portable and it delivers almost twice the speed with 1,050MBps (just over a gigabyte per second) transfer rates, according to SanDisk. I copied a 4.2GB video file to the SSD in 8.1 seconds from a 2019 Mac Mini running a Core i5 processor with 16GB of RAM.
Compatible with Macs and Windows PCs, it's technically ruggedized with an IP55 rating, meaning this can withstand a sustained spray of water. It's also shock-resistant. It has a USB-C interface and includes both USB-C to USB-C and USC-A to USB-C cable. The price for the 2TB model jumps to $350.
For $80, you can get an external drive so you don't have to worry about managing the storage space on your PS4 (you can play games without lag directly from the drive). The 2TB version of the Seagate Game Drive is about $40 less. But you might as well spend the extra dough and get 4TB for this portable external hard drive.
Note that Seagate makes an SSD Game Drive For Xbox but not PS4. The storage drive costs around $200 for 1TB.
If you're looking for a high-capacity external drive for your Xbox One, the WD Black P10 5TB portable hard drive is a good value at around $150 (The 3TB version is $110). This external drive also comes with a digital code that gives you two months of Microsoft's Game Pass Ultimate, a nice perk, particularly if you're already a member. If you don't need the two months of Game Pass Ultimate, you can save $10 on the standard version of the portable hard drive, which also works with PCs and the PS4. The portable drive can deliver speeds up to 130MBps.
The Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB is one of the more compact non-SSD drives, making it the best external hard drive for those who are looking to save some space. And at less than $60, this backup drive is also a good value. Available in a few color options, it also comes in 1TB ($55), 4TB ($93) and 5TB ($115) versions, but the higher capacity drives are thicker.
This drive is about as futureproof -- and backward compatible -- as they come. You pay a bit of a premium over the standard WD drive, but this newer model offers a USB-C connection, meaning it has the latest and greatest USB cable connectivity for Macs and PCs. No USB-C on your system? No problem: Western Digital also tosses in a USB-A to USB-C adapter, so this device will work with pretty much any computer straight out of the box.
WD My Book desktop drive is available in up to a 14TB configuration, but the 8TB is the best value at around $150.
After Seagate acquired LaCie several years ago, LaCie became the company's premium brand and this external HDD 5TB model can be found on a lot of video editors' desks (including plenty at CNET). This rugged hard disk drive uses a USB-C interface, is compatible with Mac and Windows PCs and is water and shock-resistant. A 4TB Thunderbolt with USB-C version is available for Thunderbolt-equipped Macs for about $200.
Western Digital, which owns SanDisk, sells its WD My Passport SSD as well this SanDisk External Portable SSD for basically the same price (around $170 for the 1TB version). I like the design of this model a little better and it's technically ruggedized with an IP55 rating, meaning it can withstand a sustained spray of water. It's also shock-resistant. It has a USB-C interface with transfer speeds up to 550MBps. The price for the 2TB model of this external drive jumps to $300.
If you're looking to save $20 to $30 on a 1TB mini SSD, the RavPower Mini External SSD is priced below some of the name brand competition from SanDisk, Western Digital, Samsung and others. Amazon has this storage drive for $150 with a $20 coupon. It delivers up to 540MBps data transfer speeds. (Editors' note, September 2020: This product seems to have disappeared on Amazon and at RavPower's site. We'll remove it from this list if it doesn't return soon.)