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2016
Best

External Hard Drive Reviews

reviews & comparisons
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External Hard Drive Review

Why Use an External Hard Drive?

The top performers in our review are the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt, the Gold Award winner; the Samsung P3, the Silver Award winner; and the WD My Passport Ultra, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a product to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.

Cloud storage is an increasingly popular convenience for storing your important digital files away from your computer. But portable external hard drives are significantly more cost-effective, and they are a reliable alternative to storing your data in the cloud. Portable external hard drives also allow you to take your backed-up data with you, giving you instant access anywhere you are without relying on an internet connection to access the cloud.

External Hard Drives vs. Cloud Storage: Which Is Safer?

The issue of safety is one that’s at the forefront of anyone seeking a safe place to store their personal digital data – including irreplaceable family photos, legal documents and more. The increasing availability of cloud storage for backing up all your files via an internet connection has attracted many customers, and yet cloud storage is not enough.

Cloud storage providers keep information within dedicated and secure data centers. The vast majority offer top-of-the-line security and backups in the unlikely event of equipment failure. However, the 3-2-1 Rule reminds you that in order to obtain the best level of security, you should have: three copies of your important files in storage, in two different formats, with one copy offsite.

The offsite recommendation can be handled well by cloud storage. However, this only covers you for one of the necessary three methods of storage. In order to keep your digital data truly safe, it’s important to look beyond the cloud at other methods of storage. A portable external hard drive for your PC is a solution that can meet your security demands.

External hard drives that connect physically to your computer offer advantages that cloud storage does not. For example, cloud-stored data can only be accessed when there is a reliable internet connection available. This automatically excludes accessing your data at a moment’s notice if you don’t have access to a Wi-Fi signal. More importantly, the Wi-Fi signal used to access your cloud-stored data should be a secure connection to prevent hackers from gaining access to your information. For this reason, it’s not recommended to upload or download files to the cloud unless you have access to a secure internet connection. In this respect, storing data to an external hard drive is a solution that keeps your files safe and secure.

What’s the Difference Between Desktop and Portable External Hard Drives?

Desktop external hard drives are a slightly different animal from portable external hard drives. For one, there’s the issue of portability. Desktop external hard drives are not portable, and are meant to be kept in a single location where they can stay plugged in to an electricity source. They’re also known for having greater longevity than portable external hard drives.

Portable external hard drives are typically smaller – small enough to fit into a pocket, and certainly slender enough to carry easily in a backpack or computer bag. They are also more solidly built, in some circumstances encased in rubber, as in the Transcend StoreJet 25M3 and the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt. This prevents them from becoming damaged if they’re exposed to dust, high heat or constant movement. To learn more check out our articles on external hard drives.

External Hard Drives: What We Tested, What We Found

In order to ensure you have adequate space to store your digital data, we recommend a 1TB external hard drive at minimum. Many portable hard drives exceed this size, like the Samsung P3 which offers up to 4TB of space, or the WD My Passport Ultra and the Toshiba Canvio Connect II, both of which offer up to 3TB of storage space.

All modern external hard drives we reviewed are equipped with USB 3.0 for more rapid transfer of data; however, it’s important to seek out a drive that is also backward compatible with USB 2.0 in the event your computer only has 2.0 functionality. All of the portable hard drives we reviewed are backward compatible and will therefore work with older computers and laptops.

Looking beyond mere storage space and USB compatibility, it’s also important to focus on additional features that can make backing up your digital data easier. This includes pre-loaded software that can be programmed to automatically back data up to your external drive at certain times of the day. Another consideration is seeking an external hard drive that is password protected so that your data remains secure from prying eyes.

Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the units in our comparison through a combination of retail purchases and direct loans from the manufacturers. These manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.

Our Verdict and Recommendations

During testing, we found that the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt, Samsung P3, and WD My Passport Ultra are the best external hard drives you can find that will adequately meet your storage and security needs, with additional considerations given to ruggedness and the ability to survive an accidental drop or exposure to dirt and other elements. All three score high in the important area of ease of use, making it possible for you to back up your important documents and files without worry. All also offer a high level of help and support in the event you need assistance.

Of the top three ranked drives, only the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt comes with a rubberized exterior that offers that maximum amount of drop, dust and water protection. Both the Samsung P3 and the WD My Passport Ultra are encased in plastic and lack these added protective features, however they're significantly lighter and thus less susceptible to accidental drops.

Only the WD My Passport Ultra offers phone support in addition to email, providing the most comprehensive level of support. However, the responsiveness of online tickets for the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt and Samsung P3 are excellent.

The lightest of our top three external hard drives is the Samsung P3. It’s also the slimmest, measuring in thickness at under a half-inch, which imbues it with significant portability. In comparison, the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt is the second-heaviest of the portable external hard drives we reviewed and tested, which is largely due to the additional rubber casing which protects it against impacts.

The right external hard drive not only has enough space to store your important files, but it also includes security features to keep that information safe. Equipped with a reliable portable hard drive, you can rest assured that you’ll be able to bring your files with you and access them, even when you’re out of range of the nearest secure Wi-Fi signal.