A guide to buying the best external hard drive in 2019

Updated 10th June 2019

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Introduction

External hard drives have for a long time been part of many peoples every day lives, with more and more information and media becoming increasingly digitised and readily available, there has never been more content to capture and store, let alone create. …and external hard drives are the perfect tool to store, transfer and transport it all.

Despite the abundance of cloud based storage facilities  hard drives have remained our preferred storage device and method, as they simply provide us with more control and comfort in knowing that your valuable information is physically in one place where we can see it. …and of course does not require an internet connection to access it.

In this article we look at:

  • What is an external hard drive, why are they useful and what are they used for?

  • What type of hard drive should i buy?

  • What makes a good hard drive 

  • Storage capacity / What size do i need?

  • HDD or SSD?

  • Connections and transfer speeds

  • Reliability

  • Desktop or portable

  • Hard drives for mac

  • A round up of the best external hard drives for 2019

The short answer to best options…

We’ve searched through all of the “best of’s” and “top 10’s”, “tops 6’s” and even the “top 8’s”! and can conclude that the below external hard drives are currently the best on the market for 2019…

Best overall external hard drive

Western Digital my passport

Item Dimensions - 4.33 x 3.21 x 0.85 in

Connectivity - USB 3.0

Hardware - PC

Max Storage - 4 TB

Weight - 8.6 ounces

 

Best external hard drive for mac

LaCie rugged mini

Item Dimensions - 3.39 x 0.75 x 5.31 in

Connectivity - USB 3.0

Hardware - PC & Mac

Max Storage - 4 TB

Weight - 14.1 ounces

The best hard drives provide reliable, secure, fast and large storage capabilities, however before we delve into our ‘best of’ list, lets look at the some of the key criteria we used to evaluate the below products, and highlight what to look out for. 

What is an external hard drive?

Essentially a hard drive is a digital store, that is accessed via computer (be it a PC, laptop or hand held device) and holds any type or format of digitised information or media, and to determine what makes a product worthy of being one of the best, it is simply measured by its ability to this as well as possible.   

why are useful?

Their principle usefulness is their convenient portability and the ease in which they allow stored information to be transported.

...and with the right product, it is a very safe and reliable method of storage.

Uses?

Aside from the above, one of the major uses for an external hard drive is to expand your storage capabilities for your PC and/or Mac. Laptops in particular are getting smaller and lighter, however the pay off is often a smaller amount of on board storage, and so this is where a bit of extra comes in very useful.

As described below, SSD’s in particular are even fast enough to run programmes straight off of them, meaning that you only need to install your most used items of software directly, and keep the rest of your built-in memory as free as possible.

Another primary use is backing up. Backing up your files is vitaly important in any circumstance, be it personal or professional, as files can get infected, deleted, lost or even stolen, and so safeguards against the loss of priceless information and memories.

What type of hard drive should i buy?

There are three basic types of external hard drives to initially choose from, desktop drives, portable hard disk drives (HDD's) and portable solid state drives (SSD’s).

However in short, an HDD is generally the most popular chose, as it provides the best overall performance and function as a reasonable price.

Desktop drives:

Desktop drives are by far the largest product out of the three, and as the name suggests generally permanently sit on top of the desk or workspace, as they often require a separate power supply. This not only means that they are very impractical to transport around, but also makes them very large and inconvenient in general.

However if portability and ease of transportation are not important and/or required, then these hard drives do in fact provide the best balance between price, capacity and speed, when weighed up against the other two HD and SS drives.

They are based on providing function over anything else, which as a result gives them a slightly cumbersome appearance but in turn provides a lot of storage space for your money.

Portable SSD’S:

SSD’s are the most expensive, but also the fastest in transferring data out the three types available, which is primarily due to the SD card commonly also found in cameras, phones and tablets that they use for their flash memories.

This results in them requiring fewer internal moving parts, and are therefore smaller, lighter, quieter, more robust and less power hungry than other options. 

However this does result in a limited amount of memory available, that means they are not the best option for backing up data and/or transferring large file and folder sizes.

They are best suited for storing small amounts of information and programmes that are required quickly and on a temporary basis, such an item of software that isn’t used on a regularly.

Portable HDD:

As mentioned, portable HDD’s tend to be the most popular chose, and this is due to their overall well balanced storage, portability and speed capabilities followed by cost.

As with SSD’s they do not require a separate power source, and power and transfers are all taken care of through one singular USB connection.

As a result, generally speaking they are the size of an average phone (although thicker), making them the perfect travelling companion to say a laptop or in a bag for everyday use and access.

They do however still use a physical spinning disk, which as described below means that they take longer to copy files (when compared to an SDD) but have much larger scope for increased memory.

To summerize:

  • Desktop drive - Best for cheap and large amounts of storage that dont need to be transferred to different physical locations.   

  • SSD - Best for fast and portable storage on the go.

  • HDD - Best for storing large amounts of portable data.

What makes a good hard drive?

Ultimately the best external hard drive is one that is portable and reliable, with reliability being the most important factor. 

Portability

To an extent, portability is slightly subjective as different users will have different expectations and requirements, however fortunately most, if not all are capable of fulfilling most peoples needs.

Reliability

For reliability, we recommend that as we show below, you stay with the main and well known brands that have been tried and tested.

Durability

Durability is also very important, as they are often stored in a bag or on top of a desk, where they can be dropped or knocked off. Again most of the primary models can withstand a certain amount of abuse, however for occasions where impacts are common, there are shock absorbent covers and cases available.

Capacity

Next is capacity, but as there is such a large variety of memories available, its very rare that you will struggle to find one that suites.

Transfer rate

…and lastly is transfer rate, this becomes important if you plan to run programmes and view files directly, as appose to coping them over first.

Storage capacity / What size do i need?

On average memory sizes range between 250GB to 4TB, for anything smaller than 250GB then a USB drive will prove to be more cost effective in the short term, and for anything larger than 4TB (which is a lot of storage!) you are really looking at more permanent storage solution, that is less transportable.

250GB storage capacity even at the lower end of the memory scale, can still hold a vast amount of files, and for context, 1GB is capable of holding up to 500 iPhone photos or approximately 200 iTune songs.

For ‘normal’ daily use we recommend 500GB, but for backing up files and for large sized photos and videos start at 1TB.

Which is best? HDD or SSD?

When deciding on whether to buy an HDD (hard disk drive) or an SSD (solid state drive), it simply comes down to whether or not you plan to run and open programmes and files directly from the hard drive, or simply use it as a storage and transportation device.

As described above due to their method of memory storage, SSD’s can be up to 4 times faster than HDD’s, and are therefore far more capable of running programmes, games and media directly without hesitation.

However for this reason, SSD’s are more expensive and on average have a maximum storage capacity that is far less than an HDD.

If speed isn’t an important factor, and if you have a large number of files to backup and store, then we recommend that you go for an HDD for maximum storage and cost efficiency, but for speed and small to medium file transfers, an SSD could prove to be a more reliable and faster storage tool.

Connections and transfer speeds

Many external hard drives use USB 2.0 connections, but for faster speeds you should aim for a USB 3.0 or the newer USB Type-C connection. You will need to firstly ensure that your PC and/or laptop has a USB Type-C port, as many still only have USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 connection.

Transfer rates are dependant on the connection type of both the hard drive and computer, choosing the device that has the latest connection (USB C) will put you in best possible position however.

For comparison, a USB 2 connection has a maximum speed of 480Mbps, whereas a USB 3 port can go as fast as 5Gbps (more than 10 times as much).

Reliability

In short, if you stay with a tried and trusted brand (as our recommendations are below) and avoid the cheaper manufactures, then reliability is a very rarely an issue.

Like with most things, you get what you pay for, and when transporting and storing precious information, you dont want to risk loosing it.

Desktop or portable

Most people looking for an external hard drive want one that is easily transported, stored, and unobtrusive. So this means portable.

Hard drives for mac

Its fairly rare to find a product that isn’t compatible with both a PC and/or Mac, but be sure to double check the specifications before buying.

Extra features?

Back up tool:

Some hard drives come with automatic back up functions, this is much more reliable than manual method drag and drop

Date protection:

Secondly, some also come with a password protection, that could become invaluable if the hard drive is lost or stolen and contains important / sensitive info

A round up of the best external hard drives for 2019…

- Seagate expansion

Item Dimensions - 4.61 x 3.15 x 0.82 in

Connectivity - USB 3.0

Hardware - PC

Max Storage - 4 TB

Weight - 8.3 ounces

Item Dimensions - 4.33 x 3.21 x 0.85 in

Connectivity - USB 3.0

Hardware - PC

Max Storage - 4 TB

Weight - 8.6 ounces

 

Item Dimensions - 2.99 x 4.53 x 0.55 in

Connectivity - USB 3.0

Hardware - PC, Mac

Max Storage - 2 TB

Weight - 8 ounces

 

Item Dimensions - 5.5 x 1.9 x 6.7 in

Connectivity - USB 3.0

Hardware - PC

Max Storage - up to 10 TB

Weight - 2.12 pounds

 

Item Dimensions - 4.65 x 1.61 x 7.8 in

Connectivity - USB 3.0

Hardware - PC

Max Storage - Up to 10 TB

Weight - 2.34 pounds

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