Best external hard drive 2022: The best portable drives and SSDs for sheer speed and brilliant value


Whether you’re running out of storage space or in need of a speedy backup, these mighty little drives will have you sorted

Laptops and PCs keep getting smaller and lighter, but storage space has never seemed so tight – which is why you need the best external hard drive you can afford. High-res audio files, 4K videos and 20-megapixel photos can quickly fill the average laptop’s 256GB SSD, and if you’re working on a project or holding on to your music files and photos, you’ll soon run out of space. Gamers get it even harder – we’re seeing some big titles demanding more than 100GB, with some getting closer to 200GB. This isn’t just hitting PC gamers, but also the console crowd.

External HDDs and SSDs are the answer. They’re cheap, capacious and increasingly speedy – and all you need to do is plug them in. Even a basic USB 3 or 3.2 Gen 1 drive will be fast enough for most purposes, while you can pair the latest USB 3.2 Gen 2 and Thunderbolt 3 and 4 SSDs with a laptop that supports them and get enough speed for 4K video editing or gaming. We’ve picked out some of the best external drives – both SSD and HDD – to cover all requirements, including desktop models, slimline portables and matchbox-sized SSDs. Whatever your needs, whatever your budget, we’ve got the right external storage for you.

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Best external hard drive: At a glance

How to choose the best external hard drive for you

What type of drive should I buy?

Today, external drives come in three basic forms, the biggest and most popular category of which is the portable HDD. These feature 2.5in, 5,400rpm drives of the sort we used to see in laptops, housed in a toughened casing and using a single USB connection for both power and data transfer. Just plug one in and you’re ready to go. The latest USB standards deliver transfer speeds that are plenty fast enough for most, so the biggest bottleneck will be the performance of the HDD contained within the housing. You can easily pick up a 1TB drive for under £50 and a 2TB drive for around £20 more. You can even find 5TB drives for less than £100.

If you need more space, you’ll need to look at desktop drives. These use larger 3.5in hard disks and require a dedicated power supply, which makes them less convenient. To make up for this, you’ll often get better performance with drives that spin at speeds of up to 7,200rpm and a larger cache to make file transfers smoother. You can easily find 6TB drives for under £100 and 10TB for around £200.

Should I buy an SSD?

External SSDs used to be prohibitively expensive but a highly competitive market is now bringing the price right down. You still won’t get a whole lot of storage without spending major money but if you want something that can hold, say, 500GB of video or photos, you can find something fast and relatively affordable for a reasonable amount of money these days.

SSDs are small and extremely robust, which makes them great for moving media libraries or big projects between PCs or transferring Steam games from your PC to your laptop. And with read speeds anywhere between 500MB/sec and a staggering 2.4GB/sec (with the right connectivity - see below), you’ll be amazed how fast these things can go. Transfers that used to take ten or 20 minutes suddenly happen in a minute or less.

What kind of connectivity should I look for?

This is a more complicated question than it should be, thanks in the main to the USB standards body's inability to stick to a single, simple naming scheme.

It was all so simple once upon a time. USB 3 was your baseline. It offered a theoretical transfer rate of up to 5Gbits/sec (with real-world speeds closer to 300MB/sec). Then you had USB 3.1, offering speeds up to 10Gbits/sec and USB 3.2 delivering speeds up to 20Gbits/sec.

Then, all the names changed: not once, but twice. And, just in case this was all too easy for you, the USB standards body has also dreamt up the term "SuperSpeed" and added that into the mix too.

The result is that there are now 12 names for the three main USB connection standards. You'll see a mixture of these printed on packaging and used in descriptions of these products online. To help mitigate the confusion, here's a breakdown of all those terms and what they mean:

Original termFirst name changeNew nameAlso known as...Speed
USB 3USB 3.1 Gen 1USB 3.2 Gen 1SuperSpeed USBUp to 5Gbits/sec
USB 3.1USB 3.1 Gen 2USB 3.2 Gen 2SuperSpeed USB 10GbpsUp to 10Gbits/sec
USB 3.2-USB 3.2 Gen 2x2SuperSpeed USB 20GbpsUp to 20Gbits/sec

Certain professional portable HDDs support Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 connections, with maximum speeds of 40Gbits/sec (4.8GB/sec).

Remember, though, that no matter how fast the connection speed is, if the hard disk or SSD within can't make the most of it or your laptop/desktop computer doesn't support that kind of USB connection, you won't be able to make the most of it.

For mechanical hard disks, the very fastest drives max out at 2Gbits/sec so USB 3 will be fine. So you only need to start thinking about the faster speeds if you're buying an external SSD.

Are there any extra features worth having?

While Windows 10 and Windows 11 have their own backup tools (through OneDrive, System Image and File History), some users still prefer old fashioned backup tools – preferably something that will copy across any new and changed files for the day at a click. Many HDD and SSD manufacturers provide backup tools that do exactly that, along with tools for drive management or security. In fact, many drives are supplied with built-in encryption tools, which encrypt the drive’s contents and only decrypt them when the correct code or password is entered, or – with some of the most security-conscious drives – when the encryption is deactivated through a smartphone app.

How we test external drives

We test external drives on a laptop and a desktop PC, running the CrystalDiskMark and AS SSD benchmarks to evaluate performance on a range of connections, including USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type A, USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type C and USB 3.2 Gen 2x2. With the faster SSDs we also run applications and games directly from the drive to see how they hold up. Finally, we run file transfer tests using a folder of still image and video files, to check that real world file transfer speeds match what we’re seeing in the benchmarks.

READ NEXT: Best SSD: Give your computer a speed boost

The best external hard drives to buy

1. Seagate One Touch: The best value USB Hard Drive

Price: £47 (1TB), £80 (2TB), £88 (4TB), £106 (5TB) | Buy now from Amazon

Now that SSDs are becoming more affordable, buying an external HDD is all about getting the maximum capacity for the lowest price without compromising on performance or reliability. The Seagate One Touch hits just the right balance, particularly if you’re buying a 4TB or 5TB drive, which hover around the £90 to £110 price point. It comes in a smart black or space grey plastic case with a brushed aluminium panel on the top.

Like most Seagate drives, the One Touch has a good reputation for reliability, and while the read and write speeds – 145MB/sec and 136MB/sec in our benchmarks – aren’t anything to write home about, they’re good enough for basic storage and backup duties. Seagate also sweetens the deal with Mylio Create photo-management software and a four-month membership of the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan. It didn’t really need to; this drive is already fantastic value.

Key specs – Type: Portable HDD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 1 (max 5Gbits/sec); Spindle speed: 5,400rp

2. WD My PassPort Ultra: The best low-cost drive with USB-C

Price: £51 (1TB), £76 (2TB), £113 (4TB), £113 (5TB) | Buy now from Amazon

While it’s more expensive than the Seagate Backup Plus and the old WD MyPassport, the revamped Ultra has a couple of points in its favour. Measuring 82 x 110mm, it’s still a very compact unit (if a little chunky if you buy the 4TB or 5TB drives), and like the cheaper My Passport it does its job quietly and unobtrusively without any major noise or fuss.

There’s one good reason to get this drive over the Seagate Backup Plus, and that’s USB-C support; it comes with the required cable plus a USB-C to USB-A adaptor for laptops and PCs that don’t have the newer, smaller socket. Read and write times still aren’t spectacular, peaking at 134MB/sec and 126MB/sec respectively, but they’re perfectly adequate for mainstream users. The LaCie Mobile Drive is worth paying a little extra, but this is a fine and very affordable external HDD.

Key specs – Type: Portable HDD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 1 (max 5Gbits/sec), USB-C; Spindle speed: 5,400rpm

3. LaCie Mobile Drive USB-C + USB 3.0: The best portable external hard drive

Price: £65 (1TB), £85 (2TB), £121 (4TB), £137 (5TB) | Buy now from Amazon

You can trust LaCie to bring a little style to storage, and its latest Mobile Drive is another distinctive effort, with an angular, all-aluminium design enhanced by diamond-cut edges and a choice of space grey and moon silver MacBook-matching finishes. But while the looks are important, they’re not all this drive has to rely on.

It comes in 1TB to 5TB capacities, and performance is impressive by HDD standards, with read speeds topping out at 152MB/sec and sequential write speeds of 138MB/sec. You’ll want an SSD for editing 30-plus megapixel full-frame photos or 4K videos, but this drive’s great for media, backups or clearing less-used files from your speedier internal storage.

LaCie throws in its own software toolkit for one-click manual and scheduled backups and folder mirroring across different PCs or laptops, and you even get a month’s free Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. It’s the obvious choice for Mac users, but a great one for Windows creatives too.

Key specs – Type: Portable HDD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 1 (max 5Gbits/sec), USB-C; Spindle speed: 5,400rpm

4. G-Technology Armor ATD: The best durable external hard drive

Price: £78 (1TB), £125 (2TB), £170 (4TB), £270 (5TB) | Buy now from Amazon

ATD stands for all-terrain drive and G-Technology’s USB hard disk lives up to the name. Combining a solid aluminium enclosure with internal shock mounts and a chunky rubber bumper, the Armor ATD looks and feels like a piece of sci-fi military hardware – and it can handle rain, dust and pressures of up to 1,000lbs. The USB port supports both USB-C connections and Type-A through a bundled adaptor, and when not in use it’s protected by a thick flap with a beefy rubber plug.

The ATD isn’t the fastest drive out there: it gave us sequential read/write speeds of 119MB/sec and 141MB/sec in tests, although in random read/write benchmarks it proved faster than many rival conventional HDDs. Most of us will be better off with a faster drive that doesn’t offer quite such extreme levels of protection. But if you’re working with big digital image or video files and need a drive that can take some serious punishment, the Armor ATD won’t let you down.

Key specs – Type: Portable HDD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 1 (max 5Gbits/sec), USB-C; Spindle speed: 5,400rpm

5. Seagate One Touch Hub: The best high-capacity desktop drive

Price: £92 (4TB), £139 (6TB), £170 (8TB), £223 (10TB), £303 (12TB), £386 (16TB), £455 (20TB) | Buy now from Amazon

The Seagate One Touch Hub takes over from the old Backup Plus Hub as the best of the high-capacity desktop drives. Like the old model it’s a chunky unit that takes power from an external 18W power adaptor, but it makes up for the slight inconvenience by doubling as a two-port USB 3.0 Type A and USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C hub. What’s more, the external power allows room for a faster HDD, with sequential read/write speeds of 189MB/sec and 151MB/sec. That’s still not fast enough for demanding applications, but it’ll save you a few minutes if you’re running full-scale backups or storing large video, audio or game files.

The front-mounted ports are handy for plugging in USB memory sticks or charging devices, although speeds are limited to 5Gbits/sec USB 3.0 and there’s no fast charging. Otherwise, if you need more than 5TB of extra storage, this is the external drive to buy.

Key specs – Type: Desktop HDD; Connectivity: 1x USB 3.0 Type B (upstream), 1 x USB 3.0 Type A, 1x USB 3.2 Gen Type-C (downstream); Spindle speed: Not specified

The best external SSDs to buy

1. Samsung T7 Touch 1TB: Best external SSD with encryption

Price: £124 (1TB), £235 (2TB) | Buy now from Amazon

If data security is important to you, Samsung's T7 is the drive to choose. It comes with built-in AES 256-bit encryption and can be unlocked super quickly with the dab of a finger, plus with the ability to store four fingers you can share the drive with important family members.

It's a speedy performer, too, offering USB 3.2 Gen 2 speeds of a maximum 10Gbits/sec and performed brilliantly in the AS SSD speed tests. We saw sustained read and write speeds of 894MB/sec and 678MB/sec, both very impressive results. It’s great value considering the speed and features, and if you’re not fussed with the fingerprint security, you can find the regular Samsung T7 at even lower prices, with the same super-slim aluminium build and identical performance. Either way, it’s a fantastic drive.

Key specs – Type: Portable SSD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 2 (max 10Gbits/sec), USB-C; Spindle speed: N/A

2. Crucial X8: The best value external SSD

Price: £85 (1TB), £163 (2TB) | Buy now from Amazon

The Crucial X8 is the biggest bargain in external SSDs right now, giving you 1TB of high-speed storage for well under £100, and 2TB for around £160 to £180. It’s a compact drive with a nicely curved, shock-resistant aluminium casing, which does a nice job of keeping the drive cool even when it’s pushed hard. You can connect it up via a 5Gbit/sec USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type A connection or a 10Gbit/sec USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C. Crucial supplies a Type-C to Type-C cable and a Type-A adapter in the box.

Over the Type-C connection you get sequential read speeds of 1090MB/sec and write speeds of 1050MB/sec, although these drop to 469MB/sec and 461MB/sec over the slower Type-A. Random read/write speeds are speedy either way, peaking at 262MB/sec and 241MB/sec. While it’s not in the same league for speed as the fastest USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 SSDs, it’s an effective all rounder at a price more of us can afford.

Key specs – Type: Portable SSD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 2 (max 10Gbits/sec), USB C; Spindle speed: N/A

3. WD Black P50: The best external SSD for PC gaming

Price: £70 (500GB), £110 (1TB), £326 (2TB) | Buy now from Amazon

If your gaming PC, laptop or console is running out of storage space, this is the external drive to buy. For one thing, it looks impressive, sticking closely to the industrial aesthetic of the gaming focused WD Black line. For another, it’s incredibly speedy. Not only do you get sequential read/write speeds of 2007.67 MB/sec and 1982 MB/sec, but random read/write speeds of 245MB/sec and 210MB/sec, so you can run demanding games straight from the drive. Just bear in mind that you’ll only get these speeds with a USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 port; without one, performance drops considerably, down to just 467MB/sec over 5Gbit/sec USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type A.

This means that much of the speed will be wasted on the Xbox Series S/X and PS5 consoles, where the P50 could be used to store games you aren’t playing or run last-generation titles. On a fast PC with the right connection, though, it’s an absolute beast. It’s also happy working in the most demanding content creation apps, making it one powerful and versatile external drive.

Key specs – Type: Portable SSD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type-C (max 20Gbits/sec); Spindle speed: N/A

4. Verbatim Vx500: The best ultra-compact external SSD

Price: £34 (120GB), £47 (240GB), £70 (480GB) | Buy now from Amazon

The Verbatim Vx500 packs a lot of performance and a fair amount of storage into an absolutely tiny package, measuring 92mm long, 29mm wide and 9mm thick. It comes with two cables in the box – one USB-C to USB-C and one USB-C to USB-A – and its aluminium housing is clad in a handsome silver finish with a USB-C port at one end and a single status LED next to it.

The drive is rated at up to 500GB/sec for read speeds and 440MB/sec for writes but, in our tests, these claims proved fairly conservative. Our results returned sequential read and write speeds of 521MB/sec and 473MB/sec respectively, which isn’t far behind the Samsung T5. (We tested the 480GB model but it's also available in 120GB and 240GB variants.)

Otherwise, it's a fairly simple thing. There's no built-in encryption and the only software included is Nero Backup; however, for such a tiny drive, the Vx500 packs a hell of a punch.

Key specs – Type: Portable SSD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 2 (max 10Gbits/sec), USB C; Spindle speed: N/A

5. Kingston XS2000: The speedy compact external SSD

Price: £75 (500GB), £133 (1TB), £265 (2TB), £395 (4TB) | Buy now from Amazon

Don’t underestimate the Kingston XS2000 based on its size. While it’s tiny – less than 7cm long – it’s also ludicrously speedy, posting sequential read/write speeds of 2012MB/sec and 1854MB/sec on the USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 port of our test rig. It’s substantially slower over an old-school USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type A port, or even USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type C, but if you’ve got the connectivity to run it at full speed, you’ll see lightning-fast file transfers or be able to run demanding games and apps straight from the drive.

Kingston supplies it with a USB Type-C to Type-C cable, plus a rather natty rubber jacket to keep the drive safe if you’re lugging it around. With this on it’s water, shock and dust resistant, and a whole lot tougher than it looks. It’s not much bigger than a USB memory stick, but way ahead on performance and capacity. Like to pack light but still get the job done? Meet your perfect external SSD.

Key specs – Type: Portable SSD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type-C (max 20Gbits/sec); Spindle speed: N/A

6. SanDisk Extreme Pro: The best rugged high-performance drive

Price: £170 (1TB), £224 (2TB), £649 (4TB) | Buy now from Amazon

The SanDisk Extreme Pro has long been one of our favourite high-performance drives, combining the lightweight but ruggedized design of the SanDisk Extreme with a USB 3.2 Gen 2 interface and faster flash memory. The latest version upgrades the connectivity to USB 3.2 Gen 2 2x2 and increases the speed even further, making this one of the fastest external SSDs we’ve ever tested. While it’s not quite as fast as the WD Black P50 or Kingston XS2000, it’s still one of the best external SSDs we’ve tested.

Provided you have a USB 3.2 Gen 2 2x2 PC or laptop you can expect read speeds in excess of 1700MB/sec, with write speeds around 30MB/sec slower. Over a straight USB 3.2 Gen 2 connection, both read and write speeds stabilise at around 965MB/sec, which isn’t a massive improvement over 2020’s 1050MB/sec model. Yet it’s the random read/write speeds that are really impressive, reaching up to 206MB/sec and 226MB/sec, making this a good drive for apps and games as well as media. Looking for maximum performance for your most demanding applications? This is one of the strongest options.

Key specs – Type: Portable SSD; Connectivity: USB 3.2 Gen 2 2x2 (max 20Gbits/sec), USB-C; Spindle speed: N/A