Last updated: September 6, 2020

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A significant part of our lives can now fit on a hard drive. In the past, we had photo albums to keep our memories, folders and file cabinets for our documents, all of which occupied whole shelves on our walls. Our music collections consisted of vinyls, VHS cassettes, and CDs, with films and series on tapes or DVDs.

Nowadays, you can store all of this information digitally on hard drives. The first models had limited capacity and were physically built into older computers. In addition to providing much larger storage capacity, the latest hard drives are removable and allow you to carry all this information with you.

Key Facts

  • External hard drives are portable models not directly integrated into an electronic device. They store data in the same way that internal hard drives do, but you can travel with them and connect them to various devices.
  • Their operation is similar to that of the hard drive on your laptop or desktop computer. The two types available – HDD and SSD – differ in the way they read and write data.
  • There are two critical criteria to consider when you’re buying a new external hard drive: its compatibility and its storage capacity. The latter is often the deciding factor, and it plays a major role in the cost of the device.

Our Selection: The Best External Hard Drives on the U.S. Market

External hard drives are incredibly popular products, which is why you will find so many models on the American market. In that regard, finding the perfect device for your needs can be challenging at times. To help you make the right decision, we have selected some of the most popular external hard drives currently available out there. You can learn more about them in the following section:

Best-Selling External Hard Drive

American company Western Digital specializes in the manufacturing of hard disk drives, so it’s not a surprise to see this model being an Amazon Best Seller. With tens of thousands of high ratings from past users, it undeniably delivers. Compatible with both USD 2.0 and 3.0, it is designed to function with Windows devices. This specific model offers 2 TB of storage space. 2-year manufacturer’s warranty included.

Best Budget-Friendly External Hard Drive

Kesu might not be the most famous brand in our selection, but reviews from customers don’t lie. This model combines versatility, affordability, and compact design, making it an excellent option for anyone looking for a small and practical external hard drive. It’s compatible with all three major operating systems, as well as USB 3.0. If you’re worried about the quality, just know that the manufacturer offers a 3-year warranty on it.

Best External Hard Drive: Amazon’s Choice

This Toshiba model is an Amazon’s Choice in the category, having satisfied thousands of buyers already. Weighing a mere five ounces, it’s incredibly compact but still offers one terabyte of storage – more than what most of us would need. It is compatible with Windows devices, but also Mac if you reformat it. This plug-and-play device offers USB 3.0 connectivity, and it comes with a 1-year limited warranty by Toshiba.

Best Large-Storage External Hard Drive

Last but not least, the Seagate Expansion is the external hard drive that buyers turn to when they really need space – a lot of space. With a capacity of six terabytes, you won’t be running out anytime soon. This is the ideal model for music lovers and cinephiles who like to travel with their favorite tracks and movies. Its size may be its only drawback, but you can’t expect that much space without making concessions in that domain!

Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About External Hard Drives

You may be more familiar with the best models on the market, but we understand if you still have doubts regarding the different technical specs and features of these products. It’s important that you feel confident with any electronic device you purchase. This is why we have answered the most frequently asked questions regarding external hard drives in the section below. That way, you’ll be ready to use yours as soon as you get it delivered!

Person using external hard drive next to laptop

Like conventional hard drives, external models offer a very eclectic range of technical specs.
(Source: Adamowicz: 87844663/ 123rf.com)

What is an external hard drive exactly?

Despite being a piece of hardware in its own right, this portable hard drive isn’t integrated into the internal structure of the computer, tablet, or any other device to which it provides storage. The main difference with conventional models is that you can physically transport them and connect them to a variety of other devices.

Certain types of hard drives that are integrated into electronic devices but can be removed are also considered to be external disks. These often come with a protective casing and are used as external hard drives using a USB connection. That way, you can recycle your old computer’s hard disk.

Why are external hard drives so useful?

The primary use of these devices is to compensate for the low storage capacity of many computers, especially laptops. They also allow professionals and students to carry a large number of files without needing to have a computer at all times. All you have to do is connect the hard drive to any PC to access its content.

This data storage device makes it easy to physically transport a wide range of data. Most mid-range models weigh less than two pounds and measure only a few inches, which means that they will easily fit in your backpack or even pocket! You won’t have to pay a subscription for cloud storage, either.

External hard drive next to laptop

Despite being a piece of hardware in its own right, this portable hard drive isn’t integrated into the internal structure of an electronic device.
(Source: Jantararungsan: 41497686/ 123rf.com)

How much can I store on my external hard drive?

Like conventional hard drives, external models offer a comprehensive range of technical specs. In that regard, you can purchase basic models with more modest space, while advanced devices can now provide incredible storage capacity.
Besides, you can find just about anything in between.

Nowadays, the primary baseline measurement in the field of digital storage is the terabyte (TB). Each terabyte is equivalent to 1,000 gigabytes (GB), which was still the reference unit a few years ago. It had itself replaced the megabyte (MB).

How do external hard drives work?

Their mechanical operation is very similar to that of conventional hard disks, so we can explain how these storage devices work in general. To speak in general terms, they consist of one or more hard drives that are covered by a magnetic material and joined by an axis. This axis rotates at high speed inside a metal case.

The rotation of the axis on the disks causes the movement of each of the needles with a reading and writing head sliding on the disks. What this means is that both the file writing and the reading of those already written occurs simultaneously.

Red external hard drive connected to laptop

Most mid-range models weigh less than two pounds and measure only a few inches, which means that they will easily fit in your backpack or even pocket.
(Source: Rawpixel: 85344636/ 123rf.com)

What types of external hard drives are there?

The models that operate in the way we just explained are called hard disk drives (HDD). In terms of size and design, they are the biggest type available on the market. However, you can opt for another more compact, manageable, and sophisticated kind of hard drive: the solid-state drive (SSD). In fact, most current models are SSDs.

This type of external hard drive stores the data via electrical impulses in interconnected flash memories – the very same ones used by USB flash drives. In HDD disks, a chip is responsible for the reading and writing of the needle. This means that SSDs have fewer mechanical components, making them lighter and faster.

Can I use my external hard drive on any computer?

No. Like with any peripheral that is connected to another electronic device, you will need to check the compatibility of your hard drive to see how you can use it. What you have to do is to make sure that it can operate with your computer’s operating system.

While most external hard disks offer universal compatibility, you will find certain models that will only function with a specific operating system. As you know, Windows, Mac OS, and Linux are the most common; in that regard, hard drive manufacturers try to adapt their devices to all three.

What are the advantages of external hard drives?

Now that we have introduced you to the primary characteristics of these storage devices, let’s go over the main pros and cons of purchasing one. As you can see in the table below, the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks. One of the greatest benefits of an external hard drive is that it can boost the storage capacity of any electronic equipment at an affordable price.

Advantages
  • They provide additional storage space
  • You can transport them with you everywhere you go
  • They are compatible with a large number of devices
  • Their size and weight are constantly reducing
Disadvantages
  • They still represent an additional investment

Buyer’s Guide

Do you feel confident about choosing the right external hard drive yet? You should already know a lot more concerning this state-of-the-art product, so you may be asking yourself what is left for you to discover. Well, various key shopping criteria can serve as deciding factors if you’re hesitating between two different models. In the following section, we will introduce you to these essential aspects:

Personal Use

The storage capacity of an external hard drive is undeniably one of the most important factors to consider when making your purchase. There is a wide range of options out there, which is why you need to be clear about how you plan on using your device. What type of files will you be storing? How many?

Answering these questions is critical. As you saw in our selection of products, you can now find external hard drives with 20 terabytes or more. That’s about twenty times more than the internal hard disk of most computers today. So, do you need that much space? Your decision will depend on the files – documents, videos, PDFs, audios – that you want to store.

Black external hard drive on wooden surface

The primary use of these devices is to compensate for the low storage capacity of many computers, especially laptops.
(Source: Hakobyan: 101319216/ 123rf.com)

Compatibility

We’ve briefly discussed this criterion already, but it’s always useful to go over it again. The more compatibility your external hard drive is, the fewer problems you will run into in the future. That way, you won’t have to search for suitable devices when you want to use it. Besides, you won’t have to install specific software every time you take it with you.

Keep in mind that the compatibility of an external hard drive relates to the operating system of the computer to which you want to connect it. If you can’t find a suitable model compatible with the major operating systems (Windows, Mac OS, and Linux), pick one that works with the system you use most often. Ideally, however, your external hard drive should be universally compatible.

Size & Weight

One of the greatest perks of these devices is that you can comfortably take them around with you. They were specifically designed for this purpose, which is why most of them only measure a few inches. The weight rarely exceeds two pounds, apart from the more sophisticated models tailored to professional use.

The best thing you can do is find a balanced model that combines high-quality performance with a compact design. You won’t want to overlook the manufacturing material of the casing, either, as it plays a major role in the durability of the device. Plastic, steel, or metal alloys have different densities and, therefore, different weights.

Certain types of hard drives that are integrated into electronic devices but can be removed are also considered to be external disks.
(Source: Friesen: 77240063/ 123rf.com)

Reading & Writing Speed

This criterion refers to the speed at which the disk is capable of recording content and playing it back. It is measured in revolutions per minute (RPM), 5,400 being the most common speed in this type of device. Any higher value will be considered ultra-fast according to normal performance standards. In our opinion, this isn’t the most decisive factor in general.

Transfer Speed (USB 3.0)

This technical spec, on the other hand, is key if you need to receive and send files as quickly as possible when your external hard drive is connected to a computer. This is why virtually every model now includes a USB 3.0 connection. If you opt for a model with an older USB version, it will considerably slow the overall speed.

Think back about the old days when you had to wait several minutes just to transfer a couple of PDFs and Word documents from your flash drive to your PC. Now, take this speed and apply it to the massive audio and video files we often pass from one device to another. You’re in for a long day, aren’t you? This is why you should prefer hard drives with USB 3.0 connectivity.

Summary

We have reached the end of our guide on external hard drives, and we hope you enjoyed the information we provided regarding their technical specifications, characteristics, and other functionalities that make these devices so precious today. We believe this knowledge will now allow you to identify the models that best suit your needs for a successful purchase.

In the end, it is all about defining the most relevant criteria for you and choosing accordingly. In that regard, don’t forget the key aspects of external hard drives that we discussed in the final section of our article. These include the storage capacity, transfer speed, and reading/writing speed, as well as the size and compatibility with operating systems.

Did you find our shopping guide helpful and interesting? If that’s the case, feel free to share it with your friends and family on social media so that they can also benefit from these wonderful technological products. If you have any remaining questions, or if you simply want to share your opinion, don’t hesitate to use the comments section below!

(Source of featured image: Boonyarattaphan: 59012854/ 123rf.com)

Why you can trust me?

Brett Holmes Technology Geek
Brett is a keen observer of the latest technology trends and knows his way around the industry because he runs an electronics store. He writes about it in his spare time and wants to help others learn more about the technology industry.