If you're heading back to school then the best external hard drives and the best external SSDs (solid-state drives) are pretty important tools for anyone that deals with digital files, especially since image and video files tend to get bigger and bigger. That's why we've constructed this guide the very best options when it comes to both the larger external hard drives, and the smaller but faster SSDs.
It's true that the value of creatives' work lie in its creativity and design skills, but all that comes to nothing if they can't store, share, transfer and back up files and assets easily, efficiently and safely. The truth is, your computer could be stolen, damaged, or simply fail. And the best external hard drive and best external SSDs can provide peace of mind, safely securing your files should the worst happens.
If you are heading back to college or university, and to make it easier for you to pick the best external hard drive or the best external SSDs for you, we've chosen a selection of our favourite options for both PCs and Macs. If you're not sure how to choose between them, skip down the page to our section on how to choose the best external hard drives.
When choosing the products to feature in this list, we considered storage capacity, upload speed and connectivity – crucial specs for hard drives and SSDs. Based on our own experience and thousands of customer reviews, as well as reputation, we whittled the options down to these stellar choices. See how we test and review for more on our process.
Meanwhile, if you're looking for a device specifically for gaming, see our guide to the best SSD for PS5, and remember you can also back up files with the best cloud storage. If you're looking for more accessories, you might also want to take a look at our pick of the best power banks and the best internal hard drives.
The best external hard drives and best external SSDs
With superfast transfer speeds, huge capacity and an affordable price, we rate this device from WD as the best external hard drive for most people today. It's compatible with the latest USB 3.0 devices, as well as being backward compatible with USB 2.0 devices. When connected to a USB 3.0 port, it delivers superfast data transfer rates of up to 6GBps. It's consistently reliable in use, and depending how much you pay, capacity ranges up to a massive 18TB. That can get expensive, but in terms of cost per TB, it still offers excellent value.
This hard drive is preformatted for Windows, yet it's easy enough to reformat for Mac users. And while doesn't have much in the way of clever features, it performs the job at hand brilliantly, and at a very reasonable price. Note, though, that backup software is not included on this drive. So if that's something you need, you may prefer the next option on our list.
Speed can be of the essence if you have gigabytes of big image or video files and don't want to be stuck watching the progress bar crawl along at a glacial pace. That's when an SSD is the smart option over an external hard drive. They're more expensive, but a lot faster. And the Samsung T7 Touch is a great value option, with the added bonus of fingerprint security (this is the difference from the standard Samsung T7)
The built-in fingerprint scanner backed up with AES 265-bit encryption, and once you set that up, nobody except you will be able to access your files. You can also use password protection if you prefer. You can load, edit and save 4K video directly on the T7, something that can be painfully slow with a USB hard disk. You can install applications onto it, and you could even run an entire alternative operating system off it at full speed if you wanted to.
We've been impressed with this range of Samsung SSDs ever since our Samsung T3 review years ago. Like the earlier drives in the range, the T7 is compact, lightweight and robust, with a shock-resistant aluminium housing that means it can withstand drops of up to two metres. The T5 is still widely available, but the T7 is twice as fast, with read/write speeds up to 1,050MB/s and 1,000MB/s. And we've seen some great discounts on the Samsung T7, so get in there if you want to save big on one of the best SSDs around.
Western Digital's My Book external hard drive is pretty similar to its Elements model, number one on our list. Both support USB 3.0 and offer high transfer speeds (in this case, up to 5GBps). Both are available in a wide range of capacities, up to 18TB. And both offer great overall value.
The main benefit of opting for the My Book is that you get a lot of useful features too. Most important of these are the in-built backup software (WD Auto Backup) and password protection with 256-bit AES hardware encryption.
If you're not bothered about these, then you'll probably get more gigabytes for your money with the WD Elements drive. But if security and/or regular backups are important to you, then the My Book will probably represent better value overall. (Note, though, that prices vary day by day, so check the links above for the latest deals.)
If you're taking your hard drive outdoors – as you might do, say, on a photography shoot – you'll want something rugged enough to survive the trip, especially if the weather is not kind. In which case, we'd recommend the ADATA HD710 Pro.
With three layers of military-grade, anti-shock technology, it can withstand drops from up to 1.5m in height. Rated to IP68 standards, it provides protection against dust and sand, and is waterproof to the point where it can withstand 60 minutes submerged at 2m depth. It also comes with a waterproof cover, and is equipped with shock sensors. So if big vibrations are detected during data transfer, a red LED lights up to warn you, and the device automatically activate internal protection mechanisms to safeguard your data.
It's nice and fast too, offering transfer speeds of up to 5GBps, and capacity goes up to 5TB. And while the camouflage look might not be for everyone, when it comes to ruggedness you won't find finer.
Don't want to mess about reformatting a hard drive to use with your Mac? This SanDisk hard drive comes Mac-ready, and you can format it to work with any PC, as well. Beyond that, you get the choice of eye-watering capacities: up to a whopping 20TB. There's a lovely, clean aluminium design. And you get USB-C plus two Thunderbolt ports. In fact, if you're looking for a massive external hard drive for work, this is a great option for digital creatives.
Be warned, though, if you're looking for a cute, portable little hard drive, the G-Drive Pro is not that. Whether you go for the 4TB or the 18TB version, the big metal case is something of a beast. The fact you can daisy-chain up to six together tells you this is aimed at professionals who create a large amount of digital work.
With the Thunderbolt ports, you can either use the included mains plug, or you can just plug into your Mac / PC and power up that way. This allows for a bit of portability, but this is by no means a pick up-and-go option.
For a reliable backup solution that you can set up and forget about, the Seagate Backup Plus is just the ticket. It comes with its own backup software and can be set up to safely store data from just about all your devices. So not only will it move files from your computer, it can also grab data from your phone, cloud storage and social media accounts if you want.
You get a good choice of storage capacity from 1TB-5TB at a good price, and it's a good looker with an attractive slim metal design that's also nice and portable. Bear in mind that if you're a Mac user you'll find that it's formatted for PC; however if you install the Mac NTFS driver you'll be able to use it on both platforms without the need for reformatting.
As you'd expect from the name, the Samsung T5 is an older model than the Samsung T7 Touch, and as such its transfer speeds are only around half as fast, and you don't get the fingerprint scanner. It may be worth looking at, though, if you can get one for a significantly cheaper price. (Check the pricing widgets above for the latest deals).
That's because you're still getting the same high build quality and reliability, the same AES 256-bit encryption, and the same password protection. Plus, it's even smaller and lighter (at 5.7 x 1 x 7.4 cm and 51g). So if you need an external SSD to take on the move, and every bit of luggage space is valuable to you, that may be a consideration too.
In general, SSDs can take more punishment than hard drives. But the Adata SD700 goes a further. It's water-resistant for up to 30 minutes, and it's also IP68 rated, which means that it can withstand dust, dirt and sand. Perfect if you enjoy working on the beach! The starting capacity isn't enormous, and the write speeds as fast as the Samsung SSDs on our list. But overall, this is a great option if you need rugged protection for your external storage device.
If you work regularly with 4K or 8K video or massive 3D scenes, you're likely to need a bit more storage than most of the best external hard drives can provide. In fact, you might need something like the WD My Book Duo, which delivers storage options up to a staggering 36TB. While that might seem like overkill for any individual, there's a good reason why you might choose this over smaller external drives.
Instead of using all the storage normally, you can choose to set up the My Book Duo's drives as a RAID 1 backup, which means your data's duplicated across two drives. This means that if one of them fails, everything's still safe on the other drive. It makes this the ideal choice for anyone who doesn't want to leave anything to chance where their files are concerned.
This drive provides two additional USB ports on the rear, so you can easily insert flash sticks. The device has 256-bit AES hardware encryption, and automatic backup software (WD SmartWare Pro). It's also worth noting that the enclosure used is fully serviceable, and that WD ships the drive already pre-formatted for Windows users (NTFS). So you will need to reformat it to work with your Mac.
How to choose the best external hard drives and best external SSDs
When choosing the best external hard drive for you, you need to choose an option that has enough storage space for all your data, ideally with room to spare. A 500GB drive will probably do the job if you want to clear project files off your main computer, but if you regularly work with video then you'll probably need more than that. We'd recommend working out roughly how much storage space you need, then doubling it to be on the safe side.
You'll need also to be sure you can actually connect the drive to your PC or Mac. The early generation of rectangular USB-A ports has largely been superseded by the newer, smaller reversible USB-C ports, which now dominate modern laptops. Make sure you know which slots your device has, and that the external hard drive or SSD supports one of them.
External storage should also be fast and responsive, ideally as fast as moving things about on your normal computer. The external hard drives on this list are all pretty nippy, but if you want something even faster, a solid-state drive (SSD) offers the ultimate in speed, even though these devices are also more expensive.
Hard drive vs SSD: which is best?
When you're buying an external drive, you have a choice between two types of drive: a hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid-state drive (SSD). Hard drives have been around for a very long time and are built around a spinning platter. SSDs are a comparatively recent development. They store data using flash memory, which means they have no moving parts. It also means that SSDs are lighter, faster and use less power, however the downside is that they inevitably cost more.
If you want to store huge amounts of data while keeping prices low, a HDD is the way to go. They offer big capacity for accessible prices. The downside is that they're relatively slow and their moving parts make them more susceptible to damage, since they can become unreliable if they get knocked or dropped. This means you shouldn't use an HDD as your only back up, especially if you carry it around with you.
SSDs are faster and more reliable since they don't have delicate moving parts. They come at a higher price, but if speed is your top priority, and especially if you move a lot of large files or want to run programs off the drive, then they're often worth paying extra for.
Alternatively, you can always use a smaller SSD for files that you need to access or move around often, and then store the data that you use less often on a higher capacity HDD.
Can I make my own external hard drive or SSD?
Yes, if you don't mind getting a little hands-on, you certainly can. It's possible to save money by buying an internal hard drive or SSD and a suitable enclosure and putting it together yourself; it'll take five minutes, tops. For the best performance, go for an NVMe SSD and enclosure, but bear in mind that to get top speeds out of it you'll need to plug it into a USB 3.1 Gen 2 port. For less speed at a better price, seek out a SATA SSD and a compatible enclosure; it's also easy to find hard disks and enclosures for maximum storage at the lowest prices.
Note that you won't benefit from any useful automated backup software that you might get with a ready-made external drive, so if that matters to you, you'll either need to source your own or settle for one of the options above.
It's also worth knowing that if an external drive fails on you, it's possible that the fault's in the enclosure rather than the drive. So if your external drive dies, it's worth finding a cheap enclosure and swapping the drive into that to see if it comes back to life; it's worked for us before!
Want some more great deals on the best external hard drives and SSDs? Here's a selection of the best prices in your region.