Five Best External Hard Drives

Five Best External Hard Drives

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

We’ve covered the best external drive enclosures and the best NAS enclosures before in our Hive Five series; this time we’re looking at simple external drives.

Western Digital My Passport

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.

Seagate GoFlex Ultra-Portable

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portable line of hard drives is a tried-and-true option that’s still available, even though it has technically been superseded by Seagate’s newer Slim Portable and Backup Plus line.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.

Western Digital My Book

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.

Seagate FreeAgent Desk

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 Airport Time Capsule

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.


  • Sorry but WD MyBooks are tinny pieces of crap. Ive had three and all of them have had board failures whilst the drives themselves have remained ok. Their drives are good, their enclosures are balls.

    • I agree. I’ve been given 2 from work mates that had failed and was asked if I could try get the data back. Both were board failures and the HDDs were fine. On another note I refuse to buy an external drive these days with built in software if it cannot be erased. Had an issue where my father couldn’t print photos at a photo booth and it was the inbuilt software at fault though it was a USB stick not a HDD.

    • Yeah, I bought a couple of cheap Chinese versions, or at least the same style aluminium caddy as the “My Passport” with USB3, for around $15.00 and just popped my old SSHD’s into them. Fantastic speed, easy to do, very cheap and still running nearly two years later…! 🙂

    • yeah I had one just die on me after not much use, pulled the drive out and put it in a thermaltake external case. That is easily the best external I’ve used, would recommend the thermaltake enclosures to anyone.

      • Western Digital are the pits. I bought them all the time years ago but one day woke up and realised that nearly all the hard drive failures I was getting was Western Digital. I went through a pile of dead hard drives I had- 19 out of 22 were Western Digital. I looked out for this thereafter and sure enough the pattern continued. Now I won’t touch them with a barge pole, often being faulty out of the box. Go Seagate, reliable with a repair tool that actually works

    • Yeah have to agree, just bought a 3tb drive from Harveys as they were on special and can’t believe I am getting much slower transfer rates than my Seagate Backup Plus, which I’m surprised missed the list with Thunderbolt and USB options available….

    • Totally agree. WD external drives are hopeless. I’ve had 3 My Books (2 of them the so called ‘premium’ my book studio) and all have failed catastrophically after not long. Hard drives inside were okay 2/3 times – it’s the enclosures themselves and internal circuitry thats crap. The third time was an earlier studio model where the drive was automatically encrypting and decrypting the data as I used it (Without my knowledge – I never turned encryption on or even used the software). One day, it decided to completely brick itself and although the HD inside ‘worked’ when I got it out, I couldn’t access any of my data as it’s hardware encrypted unique to each enclosure. Also un-formattable because of a stupid encryption-related glitch. Thanks WD.
      Thankfully their software that they try to force you to use is now removable (though they don’t make it easy) – but because of the notoriously terrible hardware I can never trust a WD external drive and advise everyone to stay well away!

  • I’ve had a great run over the years with several hard working WD My Passport drives. Of course that’s always after nuking the installed crapware and partitions first.

    And I can report that the WD MyBook(s) I used hooked up to my WDTV both died after about 12-14 months.

  • I usually go the more expensive route and build my own with an enclosure. But I got one of all of those laying around as well…

  • That hard drive in the top picture is actually a media player – the LaCie silver screen. I’ve got a 40 gb laying around if anyone wants it.

  • My cheap boss always bought those seagate drives. I’m not sure we had one last more than a couple months. They are pieces of shit.

  • Both WD and Seagate external drives seem to have a high failure rate. The best I’ve used and found to be reliable with few failures are the Lacie ones.

  • Not a single WD failure, out of 5 HDDs (both MyBooks and Passport) in the last 8 years. By the sounds of it, I’m one lucky sob.

  • ok, so if WD’s are shit and Seagate is shit. Which ones are actually worth buying that last a long time and that is portable?

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