Hard drives have so many features these days, it can be hard to choose. Do you really need SSD? What about Thunderbolt? Finding the perfect combination of looks, price, and features can be tough.
Whatever your storage needs, we’ve made a list of the top five hard drives covering a range of purposes, along with an all-round budget option.
What Do You Need a Hard Drive For?
In the era of cloud storage, hard drives might seem a rather antiquated solution.
But plenty of people still find them very useful as a mobile way to carry their files around or for backing-up, particularly gamers, photographers, and professionals with lots of data.
They’re much cheaper than they used to be, along with being smaller, sleeker, faster and higher capacity.
There’s tons of extra features too, from fingerprint protection to movie streaming.
Types of Hard Drives
The two main types are traditional hard drives (HDDs), or the newer Solid-state drives (SSDs).
Hard drives store data on spinning platters. These platters can spin at speeds like 5,400rpm or 7,200rpm.
SSDs don’t have spinning platters, but more modern ‘flash cells’. These are faster and more resistant to drops, since there’s less moving parts.
A lot of people still buy hard drives, though, as they’re much more affordable per byte of data. This is particularly true when you get to high capacities.
RAID drives are composed of multiple HDD drives working together, enabling SSD-like speeds as well as other options like mirroring.
Top 5 Hard Drives
1 ADATA SE800
Image Source: Amazon
- Super fast SSD
- Small and light
- Slightly fiddly USB cap
- Cables are short
This is a great all-round USB 3.1 Gen2 SSD, with the option of either 512GB or 1TB of storage.
It’s practically indestructible, with a rugged chassis and rubber ends to protect from water and dust.
It’s got an incredible IP68 rating, which is as yet unbeaten by another SSD, and better than the more expensive Samsung T7. This means instead of just being water-resistant like some hard drives, it’s actually waterproof up to a depth of five feet for a crazy 30 minutes. You can practically swim with it.
It’s also dust-proof, and has a MIL-STD 810G rating, meaning it can survive drops up to four feet.
Despite its durability, it manages to remain incredibly small and light, with dimensions of just 2.9 x 1.7 x 0.5 inches and weighing just 1.4oz. It would easily fit into your pocket. Again this is smaller and lighter than the Samsung T7.
It’s also one of the sleekest-looking cases around, a curved design with a nice blue or black brushed-aluminium finish.
Speeds are also very impressive, with 915MB/s read and 900MB/s write speeds on a CrystalDiskMark test. ADATA advertises1 GB/sec speeds, so they were close to that.
It includes both a USB-C and USB-A cable, which is a nice touch.
It also comes with a three-year warranty, longer than the typical two.
There’s only two minor downsides. First, all this waterproof stuff only applies if the rubber end is intact. You have to take the cap off to insert the USB cable, and replace it carefully to ensure it stays water-tight.
Second, the included cables are very short.
Price-wise it’s quite reasonable for an SSD.
Fast, small, light, indestructible, and not that expensive? This is definitely the best all-rounder SSD right now.
2 Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC
Image Source: Buffalo
- Unique security features
- Military-grade shock protection
- Some compatibility issues
Storage for the security-conscious, the Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC is USB 3.0 and gives you a cool 1TB of storage as well as bringing something unique to the table: NFC unlocking.
First, it has an optional Secure mode, which means all your data will be protected by 256-bit AES Full Disk Encryption (FDE). To access it, you’ll have to enter a password.
However, instead of a password, you can also set it up to be unlocked by an near-field communication (NFC)-enabled device, like a smartphone.
To unlock it, just put your phone near to the hard drive, and voila. Only one NFC device can be used at a time.
This is all very easy to set up via the preloaded Mode Changer software. There’s two modes: Open and Secure.
Open means no encryption and no password or smartphone unlocking.
Be aware that changing from one to the other means you have to reformat the drive, which will delete any current data you have stored. So best choose your mode from the start.
Secure mode also only works with Windows and Macs, rather than other things like games consoles.
It also takes pains to protect your data physically as well as electronically, by being extremely shock- and water-resistant.
Hard drives are notoriously sensitive, so this is very welcome.
It has US Military-grade shock protection, with a rugged chassis and internal bumpers to absorb shock, so it can withstand drops of 1.2m.
It’s also got an IPX3 rating for water resistance, and an IP5X rating for dust resistance. This means it can handle water spray up to a 60°C angle, and is almost dust-proof.
To top it off, it also has an inbuilt USB cable that you can’t lose. It’s strong and wraps easily around the hard drive.
All this does make it bulkier than most, though. It measures 3.5 by 5 by 0.7 inches, almost twice the size of typical drives. It’s still portable, but you won’t be able to put it in your pocket.
There were also some compatibility issues; the software doesn’t seem to work on some older Windows computers, and the NFC feature didn’t work on iPhone 6 or 6 Plus’s.
Plus, all this extra protection puts the price at a slight premium for a 1TB HDD. But if your data is particularly precious or private, such as business data, and you’re constantly carting it around, the Buffalo is an ideal solution.
How about speeds? Write speeds are around 86MB/s plugged into a USB 3.0 port, with read speeds of 95MB/s. It plummets to just 30MB/s for a USB 2.0 port, though.
There’s also a more expensive 2TB option.
3 LaCie 2big RAID
Image Source: Amazon
- Up to 8TB of RAID
- Lightning fast speeds
- Not Thunderbolt-enabled
- Very expensive
Are you a creative professional needing more than 2TB? The USB 3.0 LaCie 2big is designed with you in mind.
It comes in both 4TB or staggering 8 or 16TB versions, with dual-bay Seagate IronWolf Pro RAID drives.
If you get the 8TB, it’s comprised of two separate 4TB 7,200rpm spinning drives which you can set up to act as two separate drives, mirroring drives, or one big drive. Using the drives together will give a performance boost.
It’s dead easy to configure this by selecting the correct mode in the LaCie app.
If that wasn’t enough, they’re even hot-swappable, meaning you can swap drives around and put new ones in easily.
With such large storage, it isn’t the most portable, and resembles two bricks sitting on top of each other with dimensions of 3.5 x 4.6 x 8.5 inches. It’s a hefty 6.2 pounds in weight.
Aside from the size it’s fairly attractive, aluminium gray with plastic black front panels and a large blue status light. The light could be a bit distracting for some.
It reached a zippy 440MB/s read and 384MB/s write speeds in the CrystalDiskMark test
The front panels opens like a door on a hinge so you can access the drives. Rubber feet help absorb vibration, and there’s lots of vents at the back and bottom to aid in cooling.
Everything else is on the back, including the USB 3.1 Type-A port.
It comes with both a USB-C to USB-C cable, and USB-C to USB-A cable.
This drive uses exFAT, meaning it’s both Windows and Mac compatible.
You also get a cool five-year warranty, and five years of Rescue Data.
The fan automatically changes speeds based on temperature, and runs nice, quiet and cool.
Unfortunately it doesn’t have Thunderbolt 3, but this helps cuts down the price of an already expensive model.
If you need even more storage, check out the similar WD My Book Duo, where you can get up to 20TB.
4 Samsung Portable SSD X5
Image Source: Amazon
- Mind-boggling speeds
- Encryption included
- Robust yet attractive
- Thunderbolt only
This is a truly lightning-fast SSD thanks to the combination of Thunderbolt 3 and NVMe.
We’re talking up to 2.8GB/s read speeds and 2.3GB/s write speeds, putting it in a whole other league than anything on this list.
On a CrystalDiskMark test, it scored 3412MB/s read speed and 1884MB/s write speed.
However, it’s limited to those with Thunderbolt devices only, since this device doesn’t support USB ports.
It’s got a nice glossy pebble-shaped body with a non-slip mat at the bottom. Though the mix of the glossy metallic top and bright red base is a bit jarring.
Dimensions are 4.7 x 2.44 x 0.77 inches, which is small and pocket-shaped.
The magnesium body makes it very durable, and it can survive drops up to 45cm, although it’s not waterproof.
You can opt for 500GB, 1TB or 2TB.
There’s one USB-C port and a long 18 inch Thunderbolt cable.
You’ve got the security too, with optional AES 256-bit encryption and password protection.
And it comes with a three year warranty.
On the downside, although it’s small it’s heavy, weighing 5.3 ounces. This is over 3 times heavier than the ADATA SE800, another SSD.
The speeds make it perfect for 4k video editors or photographers. It’s pretty pricey, especially the higher capacity models, so probably only professionals will find the speeds worth the premium.
5 WD My Passport Wireless SSD
Image Source: WD
- SD card reader and power bank
- Long battery life
- Impressive SSD speeds
- Only 2 year warranty
- No USB-C cable
If you need or just want a wireless hard drive, WD My Passport Wireless SSD is currently the best of the bunch.
You can choose from a range of capacities: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB or 2TB.
It’s not the sleekest-looking model around, gray plastic with a centre dip ringed with orange. It looks more like a mini-router.
It is, however, very functional. It’s got a non-slip grip, and is able to survive drops of up to 1 meter thanks to the optional rubber bumper, making it great for on-the-go.
It measures 0.95 by 4.97 by 4.97 inches and weighs 15.6 ounces, which is pretty good for all those extra wireless features, and still makes it roughly pocket-sized.
There’s in-built 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and an SD card reader that makes it very popular with photographers. You can quickly backup your photos on the go, then, thanks to wifi, immediately view them on your smartphone/tablet via the My Cloud app.
It’s also got a Li-Ion battery, giving you a cool 10 hours of use. Lights on the device indicate both battery levels and the progress of SD card transfer progress.
Not to mention, it can also be used as a power bank to charge other devices with a 1.5A of power output.
Although it’s wireless, it does provide a cable for faster wired transfers, too. Plug this into a USB 3.0 or higher to get those SSD speeds.
However, the cable is for USB-A sockets, so if your laptop has the newer USB-C, you’ll need to buy an adaptor.
Top speeds were 390.1MB/s reads and 385.5MB/s for writes, which are pretty impressive and knock HDD speeds out the park.
However, wireless speeds were obviously hugely lower, at just 17.5MB/s for reads and 14.8MB/s for writes.
Setup is easy, and there’s a ton of optional advanced features, too, controllable via an intuitive dashboard.
For example, you can stream music, movies, etc, from the drive, with a resolution of up to 4K. You can also enable automatic backups as soon as you plug your SD card or USB card reader in.
It’s an expensive model, to be sure, and we’re a bit disappointed in only a two-year warranty at this price.
But bear in mind you’re getting SSD speeds, an SD card reader, and an inbuilt power bank.
If this is out of your price range and you don’t need all these features, try the Seagate Wireless Plus instead.
Best Budget Hard Drives
WD My Passport
Image Source: WD
- Packs up to 5TB in 2.5 inches
- Mac version more expensive
This is a very affordable, high-quality 1 to 5TB model packed into just 2.5 inches.
5TB is extremely high capacity for a portable drive, but you can also downgrade to 1, 2, or 4TB, which is just as great in value.
Dimensions are just 4.2x3x0.75 inches for the 5TB, which is extremely slim considering the capacity, and will still easily fit in a pocket. Lower storage variants are even slimmer at 0.44 inches.
It’s extremely attractive to boot, with a diagonal partially rippled surface and great blue, red, or black finish.
It comes with a USB 3.2 Gen 1 port, a Micro-USB Type-B connector, and a cable.
The software is well above its class, including optional AES-256 hardware encryption, along with password protection. Excellent for such a cheap 5TB model.
You can also forgo entering your password on computers you use regularly, a very handy feature.
There’s a ton of other features with the software, too. For example, you can download data from cloud or social media accounts, and automatically backup to Dropbox as well.
It’s also not bad on speeds for a HDD, scoring 131MB/s read and 126MB/s write on the CrystalDiskMark test.
As a bonus, you get an above-average three year warranty in case anything goes wrong.
The only downside is for Mac users, where there’s no 1TB version, plus you have to pay extra for a specific Mac version. Not great. It does come with an extra USB-C to Micro-B cable, though.
But if you don’t want to pay extra, you can always reformat the Windows version to the HFS+ file system. (The Windows version comes with the NTFS file system).