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Best external hard drive 2021 - some of your best storage options

best external hard drive
(Image credit: Western Digital)

The best external hard drive can take many forms. With a rather crowded market in the year 2021, getting the best external HDD for you is both potentially daunting in the first instance, but also surprisingly simple. All you have to think about is what you're going to use the drive for, whether you prefer speedy file transfer or sheer capacity, and how much you want to spend. We've got options that cover all those bases here. 

You're spoilt for choice; there are some standout models in the best external hard drive field. Although these are often from big-name players with proven model types, there is a growing trend of more left-field entries that are well worth your time. As we grow this list of the best external HDDs, we will be adding more and more from both ends of the spectrum.

The two main types you'll need to choose between are Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) or Solid State Drives (SSDs). The former is the more traditional spinning disk type of hard drive, while the latter is, well, solid - i.e. no moving parts. As a result, SSDs are way faster and more 'efficient', but you pay a premium for that. This also means you get more GBs for your money with HDDs than SSDs by default (something to consider when it comes to the best PS5 external hard drive and Xbox Series X external hard drive). 

As such, mulling over what you need will be helpful in your search for the best external hard drive. Want cheap, general mass storage? Go for HDDs. Need to transfer files safely and quickly, or run games from them? SSDs - like those included on our best SSD for gaming list - are for you.

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WD My Passport 4TB Portable Hard Drive

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WD My Passport 4TB Portable Hard Drive

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WD My Passport 4TB Portable Hard Drive

1. WD My Passport Portable Hard Drive

The best external hard drive for value

Capacity: up to 5TB | Storage Type: HDD

Masses of storage
Really great price
Great transfer speeds for an HDD

The My Passport drive from Western Digital has gone through several iterations over the years, and we'd bet it'll go through several more as time goes by. Even in a world moving slowly but surely toward SSDs, there's still more than an important place for a HDD and there's a reason why this one tops our list (not to mention our guide to the best PS4 external hard drive). And that's because the My Passport combines capacity, price, value, build-quality, and performance in one excellent package.

Looking at it in more detail, the My Passport drive works via a simple USB connection that helps keep the size down. It is a small and robust unit (about the size of a mobile phone) and the aesthetic isn't bad either - it's a chic half-ribbed, half matte and smooth metal finish. It'll also look at home in almost any setup.

Our favourite in terms of specific capacity remains the 4TB version. The reason for this is is largely two-fold: first, a 4TB HDD will provide easily enough space for lots of games, data, files, photos, videos and music; and, secondly, we've seen the biggest savings on the 4TB. This very much fits the established theme of 'bigger drive = better value'. 

It won't win the prize for speedy file transfer, but it earns its place at the top of this list nonetheless. The My Passport is an all-round great external hard drive - especially if you're not fussed about an SSD or want to shave some dollar signs off the price tag while waiting for the seemingly inevitable wave of PS5 SSD deals. 

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WD Black P50

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WD Black P50

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WD Black P50

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WD Black P50

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WD Black P50

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2. WD_Black P50 Game Drive

The best external hard drive that's an SSD

Capacity: up to 4TB | Storage type: SSD

Excellent speeds
Great design
Robust build
Purpose-built for gaming
A little pricey

In your search for the best external hard drive, you'll need to consider a top SSD. And Western Digital's Black P50 drive is probably the best external hard drive we've tested in a while. 

As a proper external, portable, SSD package, it offers everything: a robust and cool design, and exquisite file transfer speeds that are often only seen in the best gaming PCs. That makes it a real contender as the top PS4 SSD.

Yes, this SSD does err on the side of a gaming drive, and it features in many of our console external hard drive guides, but its performance cannot be denied. The stated speeds of 'up to 2000MB/s' were on the money in our testing, but what this translates to in real-life scenarios is that games are loaded incredibly quickly, files and media are retrieved and stored in an instant (you know what I mean), and all this is done incredibly consistently.

In terms of what the drive looks like and how it feels, the P50 has a military metal-style and is a rectangular drive featuring sleek molded metal, and it'll easily fit in the palm of your hand. Its USB-C port can be used on your devices as either a USB-A or USB-C connection meaning you can hook it up to multiple different devices of its life span, and benefit from the same speeds. One small criticism is that it does get a bit warm in use but that's sort of fair enough as a small compromise for the performance - just be aware of it when you place it or leave it in one position for a while.

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3. SanDisk Extreme Portable

The best portable, accident-proof external hard drive

Capacity: up to 2TB | Storage type: SSD

Very hardy and durable
Great speeds
Neat and tidy design

Undoubtedly, one major factor when perusing the best external hard drive market is going to be looking for units that are really robust and portable and could survive plenty of bumps, falls, squeezes, and encounters with dust and water. Luckily, the SanDisk Extreme Portable is just the ticket for that criteria. 

This drive will be able to withstand any sort of accident, and is great for the who are preparing to go outdoors a lot with their tech, or for those of us who like to take a 'belt and braces' approach to ensure our tech is both of the highest order, but also well-protected should anything bad happen. The Extreme Portable is resistant to dust and water to the IP-55 standard, while it also has a shock-resistant core for extra durability. All this in a drive that will survive on a hook on your backpack, or be at home in your hand on clothes with fit-it-in-your-pocket size. 

And, naturally, it's an SSD so offers those higher speeds, and overall improved performance you get from solid-state drives. Its file speeds even challenge the likes of the famous Samsung T5 SSD. All this does combine to knock up the price tag a bit but it's definitely worth it if you're looking for a rugged drive with great performance. (If you want something even hardier, you can consider the Extreme Pro variant - but the price will jump a bit higher still.)

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Seagate Expansion 6TB external HDD

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Seagate Expansion 6TB external HDD

4. Seagate Expansion HDD

The best external hard drive for big storage

Capacity: up to 16TB | Storage Type: HDD

Great price
Unbelievable amount of storage
Again, HDD speed

A big attraction to some of the best external hard drives is the sheer capacity of the storage you can get. And if you never want to worry about storing your media, files, games, and pretty much whatever else, then something like this Seagate Expansion drive is for you. It gets a nod here on this list because the value it represents is incredible - it is very nicely priced, and also often sees discounts through deals and promotions, meaning it's some of the best-value storage money can buy. 

Using the drive is as easy as plugging the power cable in, attaching the USB, and getting started. It is a chunky boy and will need a bit of desk or setup space (due to needing access to mains power, for example), but it keeps a nice finish and aesthetic nonetheless. 

The Seagate Expansion drive is available in a variety of capacities, but the middle range, like the 6TB size, sits in a very attractive place of bang-for-buck value. A great value contender for best external hard drive, and one that features on our best Xbox One external hard drive list.

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Samsung SSD T5 500GB

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Samsung SSD T5 500GB

5. Samsung SSD T5

The best Samsung external hard drive

Capacity: up to 2TB | Storage Type: SSD

Very reliable
Speedy
Solid, robust, and compact design

Often the darling of external drives lists across the internet, the Samsung T5 series might not be the newest external option on the market, but it is still one of the top models you can go for. And, what's more, with it being on the market for a while, its price is (often) getting more and more attractive at retailers. 

The main pulls of the Samsung T5 are simple to outline: it's got Samsung's pedigree, build quality, and design finishes in its DNA; it's a top-performing SSD offering some of the best performance and speeds for an external hard drive; and it's beautifully compact, robust, reliable, and chic. In related news, it's no wonder that the rumored top candidate for a PS5 internal SSD is a Samsung one. 

If the T5 whets your whistle, then it's worth mentioning that other variants are available in this range from Samsung. The slightly dearer T7 drive or even the T7 Touch drives will offer even better speeds and a few extra features, too.

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Silicon Power Bolt SSD

(Image credit: Silicon Power)
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Silicon Power Bolt SSD

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Silicon Power Bolt SSD

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6. Silicon Power Bolt B75 Pro

The best Samsung external hard drive

Capacity: up to 2TB | Storage Type: SSD

Solid, shock-proof design
Light and easily transportable
SSD performance

 Away from the mega-big boys of the next external hard drive market, manufacturers and brands like Silicon Power quietly go about their business of making equally dependable, robust, competitively priced, and quality hard drives. And SP's Bolt B75 Pro SSD drive is exactly that.

This is an Incredibly light, but incredibly robust unit, which means it's easily transportable yet you can have great confidence in it if you're prone to mishaps, or just want that extra protection. It's military-grade shockproof, aluminium case will look after the important stuff inside easily and the casing definitely exudes the rugged quality that was intended. The unit as a whole doesn't feel solid but that comes from its lightness - some folks may prefer a more hefty unit.

The SSD's performance is very solid, but nothing too spectacular. As a result, if you're after something that offers good value, want to upgrade from an existing HDD to SSD to ensure you get that better and faster performance without number chasing too much, and you want something robust then this is a great contender.

Note: Stock seems a bit flaky in recent days and weeks so this one might be worth keeping an eye on for restocks if it's piqued your interest.


Looking for gaming storage on your Switch? Be sure to check in with the best Nintendo Switch SD cards.

I'm one of the Hardware Editors for GamesRadar+, and I take care of a whole host of gaming tech reviews, buying guides, and news and deals content that pops up across GamesRadar+. I'm also a qualified landscape and garden designer so do that in my spare time, and lean on it to write about games' landscapes and environments too.