An external hard drive is one of the most important computer investments you can make outside of, you know, actually buying a laptop or desktop computer.
The main purpose of an external drive is to give your computer an extra place to store files to take some of the storage pressure off of your computer’s internal hard drive.
It’s almost like renting a storage unit. And if you’ve ever rented a storage unit, you know that not all units are made the same. Some are large, while others are small. Some ventilate well. Others make you feel like you’re opening an Egyptian tomb.
The same is true of your computer’s external drive. Not all external hard drives are created equal, and some are definitely better than others.
A storage unit gives you a detached space to store your stuff, for good or for better. If your house burns down, any valuables kept in your storage unit would be spared.
An external hard drive offers the same kind of insurance for your computer files, providing an extra measure of safety and ensuring your files will be safe and sound even if your computer crashes and burns.
In fact, your important files should ideally be located three places: your laptop or desktop PC, the cloud, to save hard drive space, and an external hard drive.
So what are the best external hard drives for storage purposes? Let’s dive into some of our favorite models on the market, so you can select the right external hard drive for your needs.
What’s an external hard drive?
Every computer has an internal hard drive. An internal drive (not to be confused with your own personal willpower) stores all of your computer’s memory - your documents, your pictures, your videos, your software.
Just as your body can’t function without a heart, your computer can’t function without an internal hard drive. As the name implies, an internal drive is located within the laptop or desktop unit. It’s never meant to see the light of day .
An external hard drive, on the other hand, is what we might call a digital outdoorsman. It sits separate from your computer and has a very durable shell that makes it both portable and perfect for a desktop workspace.
You can think of an external hard drive as a regular, internal hard drive that has been removed from your computer, given its own lovely casing, and attached to a port.
Unlike an internal drive, an external drive is not needed for your computer to function. Instead, it serves as a supplement to the internal drive, and your computer will work with or without the external drive plugged in.
This device is an add-on, and it supplements storage, providing extra space for files that no longer fit on your internal drive. If you’re a power PC user, or if you’ve just had your computer for a long time, your internal hard drive is bound to run out of storage space.
All those documents and pictures and software that you’ve been accumulating over the years will eventually take up too much of your hard drive space. An external drive is an additional storage space where you can store your files to free up important space for your internal drive.
External hard drives are available in varying storage capacities, but all can be connected to a computer either by USB, eSATA, FireWire, or wirelessly through Bluetooth.
Do I only need an external hard drive if my internal drive is full?
An external drive can provide more benefits than you might imagine, and isn’t only useful when your internal drive is full. You can also use an external hard drive to:
Make backups of your hard drive in case something happens to your computer: Computer crashes are an unfortunate fact of digital life, so make sure your important files are backed up on an external drive to ensure that important information is never permanently lost.
Organize your files: This point is especially relevant if you’re a businessperson or creative professional. You can use an external hard drive to separate work files and creative files from your personal files. Your computer will be far better organized. And, besides, creative files are typically very large and take up a ton of space on your internal drive, so in many cases it’s better to store them on an external drive.
Take files on-the-go: External hard drives are easy to transport, so they can provide you with a large amount of extra storage whenever and wherever you need it. External drives can prove very valuable for traveling professionals who need to transport information from boardroom to boardroom without lugging around a particular computer.
The HDD came first, and it’s the standard hard drive that’s used in most desktop computers. There’s a real disk in an HDD; what’s called a “platter” in computer terms. There’s also a needle. The whole thing looks like a vinyl record player, except that there are actually layers of disks underneath the top, visible one.
Basically, the disks spin into position, and the needle uses electromagnetism to write data onto the platter. Ever heard those mysterious “whirring” and “spinning” noises going on inside your tower desktop? Those are the HDD disks doing their business and writing data .
A solid-state drive has no moving parts - hence the name.
An SSD records data through semiconductors. Because an SSD has no moving parts, it’s much quieter than an HDD and doesn’t overheat as easily. It also tends to be much faster. An HDD can’t write data as quickly because it has to wait for the disks and needle to align .
While SSDs have speed and power advantages over HDDs, an HDD might actually be better suited for storage. An HDD is larger for the money than an SSD, so you can afford more storage space. HDDs are also more durable, so long as they aren’t dropped or banged around .
If you need an external hard drive to assist with intensive applications, for instance, if you’re a designer or video professional doing video rendering, then an SSD might be the better option for you because it offers faster performance.
However, for the purpose of this article, we’re focusing on the best external drives for storage purposes. This means volume is more of a priority than speed, so nearly all of the storage devices on this list are HDDs. Let’s dive in a take a look at your external drive options.
Best external hard drives for storage
We’ve split our picks for storage external hard drives into four different categories. Depending on your storage needs, one of these four drives may be the perfect solution.
Let’s dive a bit deeper and show you the technical nitty gritty about each of the drive options.
1. Best external hard drive for a desktop PC
Most external drives are small enough to be transported easily. This one, though, is optimal for a desktop workspace and is better suited to staying in one place.
BUFFALO DriveStation USB 3.0 4TB external hard drive
The BUFFALO DriveStation USB 3.0 has 4TB of storage space. Wow! Even for a power PC user, that’s plenty. It’s a beautiful drive, with modern style and a glossy shell. You can position it in a vertical or horizontal position.
The drive is built with Buffalo Backup Utility software, which you can use to schedule automatic backups of your internal drive. What’s great about this hard drive is that it connects to your computer via USB 3.0. This is a versatile cable that can transfer data with stability and a surprisingly high speed.
2. Best portable external hard drive
What if you need to take your data on-the-go? Here’s our pick for the best portable external drive.
HP External Portable USB 3.0 hard drive
You’ll love the HP External Portable if you need a drive that’s easily transportable. It’s only about 4 inches wide and weighs less than 0.5 Ibs. You can slip it comfortably into any backpack or even your pocket. It’s small, but it’s still durable.
The shiny aluminum casing protects the components from bumps and bruises. You could take this drive across town to a business meeting or across the world on a backpacking trip. It’s built to handle transit.
The HP External Portable has 1TB storage space, which is a ton of space for such a tiny drive.
3. Best external hard drive for PS4 and Xbox One
Did you know that you can hook up an external HDD drive to either a PlayStation 4 (PS4) or an Xbox One? If you’re a gamer, you probably know that modern game systems feature a lot of downloadable entertainment.
In fact, downloading might be the future of gaming distribution. If you’re a hardcore gamer, you might worry about your game system running out of space .
Thankfully, Sony and Microsoft have built their latest game consoles to be compatible with HDD’s. You can store games and downloadable content (DLC) on the external drives so they won’t take up all the hard drive space on your console. Here’s our pick for the best external hard drive for consoles.
The drive has USB 3.0 connectivity, so it’s easy to hook up to the USB ports on the PS4 and Xbox One. And the design is perfect: black and boxy, with a glossy section. It looks practically custom-made for a PS4 or Xbox One. For that matter, doesn’t “DriveStation” complement “PlayStation” in a way?
4. Best SSD drive
Again, SSD drives aren’t always the best hard drives for storage because they don’t offer the largest possible storage capacity for the money.
However, there are times when an SSD is incredibly helpful for storing and transferring a smaller number of files that you need to access quickly.
HP v221w 32GB USB flash drive
Wait a minute… you think... a flash drive is an SSD drive? Yup.
A flash drive uses the very same storage technology that an SSD drive uses. If you’re a business person or casual PC user, you might use a flash drive more than you use a larger external drive. The HP v221w 32GB USB flash drive is one of our favorite models.
The housing is built from durable metal so it can handle being lightly tossed around in your pocket or desk drawer. It’s capless, so you don’t have to worry about losing the cap. And there’s an opening on top so you can attach it to a key ring.
Many flash drives are equipped with either 8GB or 16GB storage, but this one has a 32GB capacity, making it a beast of a storage option. Have a lot (and we mean a lot) of files to take with you? This may be the right solution for you.
Which of these external hard drives is right for me?
Whether you need your external hard drive to sit on your desktop or travel with you to work, these four drives are sure to contain a great option. So which do you choose? Consider your digital needs.
Are you looking to supplement your gaming device with storage power for all of your amazing feats? Maybe you’re in search of a hard drive you can take on your frequent travels. Examine your motivations, and narrow down your choices.
Ultimately, here’s your line: Choose an external hard drive that provides reliable storage space for all those files that are cluttering your computer and never worry about losing important information again.
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