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Selecting an External Hard Drive
External hard drives have all sorts of uses, so picking the correct external hard drive is essential. External hard drives are built with different purposes in mind. Some external hard drives are excellent for permanent home or office backup utilities, while others are better for traveling. Some drives are designed to maximize security and include backup software, while others are blazing fast for things like loading games and transferring large files quickly.
Note that the term external hard drives is often used interchangeably to mean both hard disk drives or HDDs that have a spinning magnetic disk and solid state drives or SSDs that use flash memory similar to what is on a USB flash drive or SD card. Technically, hard drive still refers to a mechanical HDD, and that is what you will find on this page - the best external hard drives that use HDD technology. Looking for our selection of solid state external hard drives? Explore them all right here!
Portable Hard Drives
Though all external hard drives can be considered portable hard drives, if you intend to travel with an external hard drive frequently, it is best to pick a portable hard drive built specifically for this purpose. Although an external solid state drive is an excellent portable choice since it has no moving parts, many top HDD brands make ruggedized external hard drives designed to withstand being jostled around, often with features such as a rubber bumper for improved impact protection. Ruggedized portable external hard drives are best when you need a large amount of capacity. Though solid state drives do come in larger sizes, the mechanical spinning disk drives used in ruggedized drives are still the kings of storage capacity.
Extra Storage for Any Budget
Portable hard drives do come in non ruggedized, high capacity versions, too. These types of drives, designed primarily for home and office use, are often more affordable at the cost of being less impact resistant. We are not kidding about the high capacity part, either - the storage space of these desktop drives often tops 10TB, 15TB, or even more!
These drives also offer a wider variety of options. For instance, they can be tiny enough to fit in your pocket or large enough to need a case to carry them. They can be purchased with slower 5,000 RPM drives or offer extra performance with 15,000 RPM drives. Some desktop hard drives require an external power source, while others are powered by their connected device.
External hard drives come in a variety of interface options, too. For instance, some drives include Thunderbolt connectivity with data transfer speeds as fast as 40Gbps. Most users, however, will be happy with some variation of the USB 3.0 standard. USB 3.2 drives, for example, can transfer data as fast as 20Gbps - still plenty fast, unless you regularly work with huge media files.
Checking Compatibility on Your External Hard Drive
It is also worth noting whether you need compatibility with Macs, Windows PCs, or both. Some hard drives are optimized to work with one or the other, while others perform well on either. Usually, this comes down to what file system the drive uses - NTFS for Windows, APFS for Apple, or exFAT for both. It is possible to reformat most drives in a different file system if you need to, but many people prefer to skip this step and buy a drive that will work with their operating system out of the box. For console gamers, there are also our external gaming hard drives, which are designed for compatibility with modern PlayStation and Xbox systems.
Be aware of which ports and interfaces your hard drive will use, too. The USB-A connector is still the most common interface on most external hard drives, although the USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connector is increasingly popular and widespread, particularly for Mac users. If you need a specific data transfer speed, be sure to check the stats of both your computer’s port and your external hard drive. If they don’t support the same version of the data transfer standard, you could miss out on faster read and write speeds.
External Hard Drives for Backup
One of the biggest reasons people purchase external drives is for backups. External hard drives come with tons of different features today. These features include things like:
Attaching your external storage drive to your router so you can use it anywhere in your home or business, hardware encryption and robust password protection on saved data for personal security, additional hard drives that utilize RAID for data redundancy and safety, and support from the manufacturer, such as a warranty or data recovery service options, in case your storage device is damaged
External hard drives are a vital part of the 3 2 1 backup rule, too. The 3 2 1 backup rule states that you have three different backups, those backups are on at least two different devices, and one of those devices is stored in a different location. External hard drives make the 3 2 1 backup rule possible. Whether you are worried about personal data safety or you are creating a backup solution for a small business, there are plenty of external hard drives to choose from.
Note that there is a fine line between a dedicated network attached storage or NAS server and an external hard drive. Many external hard drives have similar features to a full fledged NAS, but they are often more affordable and have less capabilities. Newer NAS devices can often run things like docker containers and servers while pure external drives cannot.
For easy storage, high performance, and affordable space, the Micro Center external hard drive lineup is impossible to beat. Shop our selection of HDDs from Western Digital, Seagate, Samsung, and other top brands now, or browse our external SSDs to find the perfect solid state solution.