External hard drives are a commodity these days — they're cheap and easily acquired — but that doesn't mean some models still don't offer a better package than others. This week we're looking at five of the best, based on nominations from readers.
Title photo by Karen
Western Digital's My Passport line of drives are small, portable, and come in capacities ranging from 500GB all the way up to 2TB. All of the drives sport WD's "Smartware" automatic backup software, which allows you to back up your computer to your drive as soon as you connect it, or on regular interval. The My Passport line is most noted for being affordable and remarkably small — about the size of a pocket notebook — and being available in multiple colours and cases to fit your needs to both storage and style. The MyPassport line is also available with USB 3.0 (or 2.0), packs Western Digital's password-protection features that keep the files on the drive from being accessed without authentication, and they're all powered by USB, so you don't need to drag an adaptor along with you.
The GoFlex portable line of hard drives is a tried-and-true option that's still available, even though it has technically been superseded by Seagate's newer Slim Portable and Backup Plus line. However, the GoFlex portable series earned your and reviewers' praise for being reliable, relatively rugged, and flexible. The drive includes built-in software that performs automatic backups and encryption software to keep your data secure and safe from prying eyes if it's lost or stolen. When paired with Seagate's USB dock, the portable GoFlex becomes a powerful desktop drive with external storage and health indicators, and what was a portable USB 2.0 drive becomes a USB 3.0, eSATA or Firewire drive for faster data transfer.
The My Book line of external hard drives by Western Digital have been around for ages, and they're still going strong. They've changed look a few times, but they're still popular, and firmly targeted at desktop users who need a little more storage space (and don't necessarily need to take that storage with them on the go). Like the My Passport series, the My Book line comes with Western Digital's "Smartwave" automatic backup software. The drive can also be password protected and encrypted, so you have to authenticate before you can access or open any of the files on it. The desktop version supports system backups using Acronis as well as WD's own software, and can be configured to sync with cloud storage services such as Dropbox. The My Book line offers plenty of connectivity options. It supports USB 2.0 and 3.0 out of the box (at least on the new models), and comes in capacities between 2TB and 4TB.
The Seagate FreeAgent Desk is the desk-sized version of Seagate's external drives. Like the GoFlex, it has technically been succeeded by the Backup Plus line of desktop drives, but it's still widely available, and comes in capacities ranging from 1TB to 4TB. The FreeAgent line comes with USB 2.0 by default (although the newer Backup Plus supports 3.0), and Seagate's built-in automatic backup and encryption software to keep your files and data safe.
Apple's Airport Time Capsule is a wireless router and an external hard drive rolled into one. It's not specifically designed to be connected to a particular computer (although you can), but to connect wirelessly to all of the computers in your home. You can manage it remotely with an iOS device, and even though a wireless external hard drive sounds overcomplicated, setting it up is surprisingly easy. If you need it to be a base station, you can set it up to be one, or if you want it to act as a bridge, extending Wi-Fi into another room, you can set it up that way as well. The Airport Time Capsule comes in capacities of 2TB and 3TB, and can be connected to a printer or even more USB storage to make it available to the other computers on your network. It even features a built-in firewall to keep the internet at bay, and supports Apple's Time Machine automatic backup software natively.
Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favourite, even if it wasn't included in the list? Tell us your preferred alternative (and why you like it) in the comments.