Top five external hard drives: Backup is like insurance

CNET editor Dong Ngo rounds up current top external hard drives best used for backup purposes.

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
4 min read

Backing up your digital storage is like insurance is to driving, you need it even though you hope you'll never have to use it. Unfortunately, backing up is not required by law, and I've seen a lot of accidents where folks lose their precious data. You can buy a new car but you can't buy back lost memories, no matter how much money you have.

In short, I can't stress enough how important backing up is. The good news is it's very easy, and cheap, to have a backup drive for your computer. Here are the top five external hard drives I've reviewed recently that make excellent home backup solutions. They are all affordable, easy to use, and work with both Windows PCs and Macs. They also come with helpful backup software for home users.

Note that these drives are listed based on review order, with the latest review on top. They are equally great backup drives so pick one that fits your needs -- generally you want to get a drive that has the same or larger capacity than that of your computer. Also, be sure to read more about data safety and check out CNET's complete list of the best portable hard drives.

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Seagate Backup Plus Desktop

The Backup Plus Desktop external drive is one of the first on the market that offers up to 5TB of storage space. This is the top capacity for a single drive and is an excellent drive for those with lots of data. This is the only drive on this list for desktops (it requires a separate power adapter to work) and is ideal for using at home.

The Backup Plus Desktop is very fast and comes with automatic and user-friendly backup software called Seagate Dashboard for home users. The software works very well and, after the initial setup, takes care of backing up by itself without a user needing to get involved. At less than $220 (£131) for 5TB, it's a steal. There are also 2TB, 3TB, and 4TB versions that are cheaper. (Note that this model is not currently available in Australia.) Read the full review of the Seagate Backup Plus Desktop.

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Seagate Backup Plus Slim

The Backup Plus Slim is the portable version of the Backup Plus Desktop. Like the rest of the drives on this list, it's bus-powered, meaning it requires only one USB cable (included) to work. With up to 2TB in a portable design, this is an excellent backup drive to use both at home and on the road. Read the full review of the Seagate Backup Plus Slim.

Seagate Backup Plus Fast (4GB)
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Seagate Backup Plus Fast

The Backup Plus Fast doubles the capacity, physical thickness, and performance of the Slim drive above. This is currently the only USB 3.0 portable drive on the market that has 4TB of storage space and a performance faster than 200MBps. The Plus Fast achieves this by using two internal hard drives (2TB each) on the inside in a RAID 0 configuration. Since RAID 0 generally raises the risk of data loss, this drive should be used for backup only. And when you do, it takes very short time to back up a large amount of storage space. Other than that, it comes with the same Seagate Dashboard backup software as other Seagate drives above. Read the full review of the Seagate Backup Plus Fast.

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WD My Passport Slim

The My Passport Slim is an excellent portable storage device. The drive is fast, with USB 3.0 speed of more than 100MBps and is very compact while offering up to 2TB of storage space. Like other WD drives, the Slim comes with WD SmartWare backup software that not only backs up data automatically, but also allows for saving versions of files, a great way to protect yourself from accidental editing. The drive also comes with a security feature that protects its contents with a password so your data is safe from prying eyes, or in case of theft. All this makes it a great choice for backing up while you're on the go. Read the full review of the WD My Passport Slim.

WD My Passport Ultra (500GB, Black)
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WD My Passport Ultra

The My Passport Ultra is very similar to the My Passport Slim above but about 10MBps faster. It also comes in four different colors, including titanium, red, blue, and black, and it is slightly larger than its brother. In addition, it shares the same WD SmartWare backup software and security features as the Passport Slim. It also costs about the same, with the 2TB version currently costing about $110 (£90). Read the full review of the WD My Passport Ultra.

CapcitiesWeightDimensionsBus-poweredTop speed
Seagate Backup Plus Desktop 2TB, 3TB, 4TB, 5TB2.38 lbs. (1.1kg)6.2 x 4.9 x 1.7 inches (15.7 x 12.4 x 4.3cm)No180MBps
Seagate Backup Slim 500GB, 1TB, 2TB5.6 oz (159g)4.5 x 3 x 0.4 inches (11.4 x 7.6 x 1cm)Yes120MBps
Seagate Backup Fast 4TB.68 lb (308g)4.6 x 3.2 x 0.8 inches (11.7 x 8.1 x 2cm)Yes230MBps
WD My Passport Slim 1TB, 2TB5.6 oz (159g)4.3 x 3.1 x 0.5 inches (10.9 x 7.9 x 1.3cm)Yes108MBps
WD My Passport Ultra 500GB, 1TB, 2TB9 oz (255g)4.3 x 3.2 x 0.5 inches (10.9 x 8.1 x 1.3cm)Yes119MBps

Finally, note that the point of backups is to have multiple copies of your data in many places. So whether you chose to buy a new external hard drive, or build your own, remember that the more copies you have, and the more frequently backups are done, and the safer your data. If you still have more questions or suggestions on how to back up your data, send them to me via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or post them in the comments below.