Gaming can be an expensive hobby that takes up a lot of time and space. Not physical space, but storage space: Games are bigger than ever. That's why you want to have the best external hard drive to store them. The internal SSDs in the Xbox Series X and PS5 can only stretch so far. Although the PS5 and Xbox Series X can't run games off external drives, transferring the games between the two is fast and efficient. There are a huge number of high-quality hard drives and solid-state drives on the market, making it easy to find the right one for your needs and budget.
A traditional hard drive or mechanical drive that uses "old" hard drive technology, with mechanical platters and a moving read-write head to access data, is adequate for most people, 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 the high-capacity, state-of-the-art, all-around best external hard drive models tipping the scales at 5TB but costing just over $100. Solid-state drives, on the other hand, don't have moving parts, which gives them up to four times faster read and write speed, but they cost 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 or Xbox -- so long as the drives are correctly formatted for the right platform. But a lot of the time 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 $12.
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 to 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 offers a proprietary Seagate-made storage expansion card and you can now install an M.2 SSD in your PS5 to expand storage for PS5 games.
With those caveats noted, our current top picks for the best external hard disk drive and external solid-state drive 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.
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 to 1,050MBps (just over 1GB per second) and only costs slightly more for the 1TB version. The price for the 2TB model of this external drive jumps to $280 for the newer version.
Your speed will vary if you're moving a mishmash of files to or from the USB drive, but when copying a single large file you should be able to get close to those fast transfer speeds.
For better or worse, there's currently only one way to expand the storage on your Xbox Series X/S for next-gen Series X/S games: the Seagate Expansion Card. Similar to the storage situation with the PS5, you can plug in any external SSD or hard drive to expand the storage for standard Xbox games (previous-gen), but you can only store native Xbox Series X/S games on the game console's internal memory or the Seagate Expansion Card.
It plugs into a proprietary slot on the back on the Xbox Series X/S and "replicates the Xbox Velocity Architecture" (Microsoft's internal NVMe SSD tech) with peak speeds of up to 2.4GBps of raw I/O throughput. Microsoft says that's more than 40x the throughput of the Xbox One.
The expansion card now comes in a more affordable 512GB version for $140 along 1TB ($200) and 2TB ($360) versions. The 512GB version can be hard to find in stock.
You can expand storage for PS4 games on your PS5 by adding a standard external SSD because you can play PS4 games directly from an external SSD. However, that's not the case for PS5 games, which take up a ton of space and can only be played from the PS5's internal drive or an M.2 SSD that you install in a special expansion bay inside your PS5.
While the Seagate FireCuda 530 technically isn't an external SSD, it's not so different from Seagate's Storage Expansion Card for the Xbox Series X/S in that it's an NVMe SSD with very high transfer speeds (up to 7,300MBps, according to Seagate, though my PS5 listed the top rate at 6,800MBps ).
Several M.2 SSDs will work with the PS5 (see our complete list) but ideally, you want one with an integrated heatsink. Otherwise, you'll have to add one.
The Seagate FireCuda 530 with heatsink starts at $95 for the 500GB version and jumps to $140 for the 1TB version (most popular), $400 for the 2TB version and over $882 for the 4TB version.
Read more: Here's How to Boost Your PlayStation 5 Storage
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 $120). It gives you portable storage for your coveted game collection. This external drive also comes with a digital code that gives you one month of Microsoft's Game Pass Ultimate if you're a new subscriber. There's also a standard version of the portable hard drive, which also works with PCs and the PS4 for slightly less (it's missing the Xbox branding but is otherwise the same drive). The portable drive can deliver speeds up to 130MBps.
An external drive means 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 $160 for 1TB.
You can use any SSD with your PlayStation PS4/PS5 or Xbox One, Xbox One Series X or Series S to store PS4 and Xbox One games and other content and pick up a nice speed bump when loading games compared with a standard external hard drive like the WD Black P10 above. Note that with the Xbox Series X, you can only archive Xbox Series X and S games to this drive, you can't store full games on it (the Seagate Storage Expansion Card is required for that). The PS5 has the same restriction -- you can only store full PS4 games on external drives.
On its surface, then, the WD Black D30 game drive isn't all that special. It has up to a 900MBps transfer rate, which is basically what a console's USB 3.1 connection caps out at. But it's the design that sets it apart. It's thicker and more rugged-looking than your typical SSD or flash drive and includes a detachable stand with rubber feet to keep it from moving around wherever you place it. This is an NVMe SSD (Non-Volatile Memory Express) that provides efficient performance and interoperability. It essentially looks like a mini hard drive, which is kind of cool.
The standard version works with PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and One X and S consoles, as well as PCs. The Xbox version shown in the image simply includes an Xbox logo and a month of Game Pass Ultimate, a $15 value, for $20 more. Alas, only new subscribers can use the included code, so if you already have a Game Pass Ultimate subscription, you're paying the extra $20 for the logo.
The 1TB version starts at $125 while the 2TB version starts at $180.
The WD Black P40 is a new-for-2022 ultrafast SSD that's more geared toward PCs -- and really future Windows PCs with USB 3.2 Gen2x2 since few machines currently have this dual-lane architecture. But it can also be used with consoles and Macs. It's capable of speeds up to 2,000MB/s.
Rated for surviving drops of up to 2 meters, the drive is durable and has an RGB lighting element that can be customized with a Windows PC. The drive starts at $120 for 500GB but the 1TB at $150 is clearly the better value (2TB jumps to $250).
You do pay a bit of a premium over the WD Black D30 (see above), which comes with a stand and is more geared to game consoles. But this drive is more future proof and you may wish you got it as more devices are equipped with USB 3.2 Gen2x2.
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 (2GBps) 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 $170 while the 2TB model starts at $219
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. This Seagate external hard drive can also be connected to Macs that have a thunderbolt port. 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 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.
The WD My Book desktop drive is available in up to a 18TB configuration, but the 8TB is the best value at around $200. It's so popular it's often out of stock.
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 $250.
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 drive that isn't solid-state, 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 $340.
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 $360 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).
More home computing recommendations
- How to Buy Storage
- Best Portable Drives for 2023
- 3 Great VPNs for Xbox in 2023
- Best Mac VPN of 2023
- Best MacBook for 2023
- Best Laptops for 2023
- Best Tablets for 2023
- What to Look for in a Cheap Gaming Laptop
- Best Chromebooks for 2023
- Best Printer for 2022
- Best Android VPNs of 2023
- 7 must-Have Ergonomic Upgrades for Your Home Office
- Best Gear for Video Chats From Home: Webcams, Lights, Mics and More
- Best Controllers and Accessories for Xbox Cloud Gaming