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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 of hard drive storage), 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 speedier USB-C and USB 3.0 (as well as 3.1/3.2) interfaces. Prices have dropped significantly in the last few years, with even mega-capacity hard drive 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 dongles for about $10.

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 and large files (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 newer PS5 and Xbox Series X (and Series S) 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 Seagate-made storage expansion card, 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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Western Digital, which owns SanDisk, sells its WD My Passport SSD as well this SanDisk External Portable SSD for basically the same price. 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 and has a USB-C interface.

The cheaper "older" version has transfer speeds up to 550MBps while the next-gen version nearly doubles that speed with up 1,050MBps (just over a gigabyte per second) and only costs slightly more in some storage capacities (the newer 1TB model costs $150 instead of $140). The price for the 2TB model of this external drive jumps to $300 for the newer version. You can save $70 if you're willing to go with the older 2TB model. 

Your speed will vary if you're moving a mishmash of files to or from the drive, but when copying a single large file you should be able to get close to those max speeds. 

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If you're looking for a high-capacity external drive for your Xbox One, the WD Black P10 2TB portable hard drive is a good value at around $80 (The 5TB version is about $130). This external drive also comes with a digital code that gives you one month of Microsoft's Game Pass Ultimate, a welcome perk, particularly if you're already a member. There's also a standard version of the portable hard drive, which also works with PCs and the PS4 for the same price. The portable drive can deliver speeds up to 130MBps.

Amazon

For $115, 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 portable hard drive). The 2TB version of the Seagate Game Drive is about $30 less at $80. 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.

David Carnoy/CNET

SanDisk makes the Extreme Portable SSD (see above) that delivers speeds up to 1,050MB per second transfer rates. But if you're a photographer or videographer looking for an even faster SSD drive for your PC or Mac, the Extreme Pro Portable SSD is the way to go for extra storage space. The latest version is capable of delivering up to 2,000MBps (2 gigabytes per second) read/write speeds if you pair it with the right equipment (in order to get the maximum speed, you need a host system that supports USB Gen 3.2 Gen 2x2 speeds).

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 and has a forged aluminum chassis that acts as a heatsink. It has a USB-C interface and includes both USB-C to USB-C and USC-A to USB-C cable. The 1TB version is around $150 while the 2TB model jumps to $300. 

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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.

WD

This drive is about as future-proof -- 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 storage device will work with pretty much any computer straight out of the box.

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The WD My Book desktop drive is available in up to a 18TB configuration, but the 8TB is the best value at around $150. Unfortunately, it's so popular it's out of stock (it's supposed to be available by June). 

Read our WD My Book (Fall 2016) review.

 

Amazon

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.

David Carnoy/CNET

Crucial's X6 external SSD is considered entry-level because it's just not as fast as higher-end models, which can offer read/write speeds that are twice or even four times as fast (the Crucial X8 is the step-up model). Even so, the X6 is about 4x faster than a non-solid-state drive, with transfer speeds of up 540MBps for the 1TB and 2TB versions and up to 800MBps for the new 4TB version, which has one of the lowest prices for a 4TB SSD at around $460.

Comparatively, the 4TB SanDisk Extreme SSD, which has a transfer speed rating of up to 1,050MBps, costs $700. So you're basically looking at a $240 savings if you're willing to take a bit of a speed hit (again, at least the 4GB version of the Crucial X6 has been bumped up to 800MBps from 540MBps). 

David Carnoy/CNET

The RavPower Mini External SSD delivers up to 540MBps data transfer speeds, a slower rate than what you get from more premium external SSDs but still about four times as fast as a non-solid-state drive.

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