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The best external hard drive and SSD for 2021: Mac, PC, PS4 and Xbox

Need a backup option or just more space? Here are our top picks for external storage options.

  • Rugged external mini SSD
    SanDisk Extreme Portable 1TB SSD
    $150 at Amazon
  • Best value for Xbox One
    WD Black P10 2TB with 1 month Game Pass Ultimate
    $80 at Amazon
  • Best value for PS4
    Seagate Game Drive 4TB
    $110 at Amazon
  • Blazing fast SSD
    SanDisk 1TB Extreme Pro Portable SSD
    $230 at Amazon
  • Slim design for PC
    Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB
    $59 at Amazon
Show more (5 items)

Unless you're splurging on a high-end model, most new computers don't come with much storage space -- they usually have 256 or 512 gigabytes. Game consoles today come with 1-terabyte drives (which is roughly 1,000GB), but the drives max out easily if you don't regularly take games off the drive as you acquire more. One way to manage it all is to find the best external hard drive for your needs.

A traditional hard drive that uses "old" hard drive technology (mechanical platters and a moving read-write head to access data) is adequate for the majority of users, thanks to speedier dongles for about $10.

And remember: A single backup doesn't cut it. Ideally, you'll want redundant backups either off-site or using cloud storage for key data (such as family photos) in case of theft or fire. And make sure you encrypt your data, too.

One important note for console gamers is that the newer PS5 and Xbox Series X (and Series S) consoles are much more restrictive about using external drives. The PS5 can store and play PS4 games from an external drive, but not PS5 games; the Xbox Series X can store Series X games, but you'll have to transfer them to the main SSD to actually play them. The Xbox Series X does offer a proprietary Seagate-made storage expansion card, but it costs $220.  

With those caveats noted, our current top picks for the best external hard drives and SSDs are below. These (or nearly identical models with less storage capacity) have been used or anecdotally tested by CNET editors. We'll update our list of the best external hard drives and SSDs as we test new products.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Western Digital, which owns SanDisk, sells its WD My Passport SSD as well this SanDisk External Portable SSD for basically the same price. I like the design of this model a little better and it's technically ruggedized with an IP55 rating, meaning it can withstand a sustained spray of water. It's also shock-resistant and has a USB-C interface.

The cheaper "older" version has transfer speeds up to 550MBps while the next-gen version nearly doubles that speed with up 1,050MBps (just over a gigabyte per second) and only costs slightly more in some storage capacities (the newer 1TB model costs $150 instead of $140). The price for the 2TB model of this external drive jumps to $300 for the newer version. You can save $70 if you're willing to go with the older 2TB model. 

Your speed will vary if you're moving a mishmash of files to or from the drive, but when copying a single large file you should be able to get close to those max speeds. 

$150 at Amazon
Amazon

If you're looking for a high-capacity external drive for your Xbox One, the WD Black P10 2TB portable hard drive is a good value at around $80 (The 5TB version is about $130). This external drive also comes with a digital code that gives you 1 month of Microsoft's Game Pass Ultimate, a nice perk, particularly if you're already a member. There's also a standard version of the portable hard drive, which also works with PCs and the PS4 for the same price. The portable drive can deliver speeds up to 130MBps.

$80 at Amazon
Amazon

For $110, you can get an external drive so you don't have to worry about managing the storage space on your PS4 (you can play games without lag directly from the drive). The 2TB version of the Seagate Game Drive is about $30 less at $80. But you might as well spend the extra dough and get 4TB for this portable external hard drive.

Note that Seagate makes an SSD Game Drive For Xbox but not PS4. The storage drive costs around $200 for 1TB.

$110 at Amazon
David Carnoy/CNET

SanDisk makes the Extreme Portable SSD (see above) that delivers speeds up to 1,050MB per second transfer rates. But if you're a photographer or videographer looking for an even faster SSD drive for your PC or Mac, the Extreme Pro Portable SSD is the way to go for extra storage space. The latest version is capable of delivering up to 2,000MBps (2 gigabytes per second) read/write speeds if you pair it with the right equipment (in order to get the maximum speed, you need a host system that supports USB Gen 3.2 Gen 2x2 speeds).

Compatible with Macs and Windows PCs, it's technically ruggedized with an IP55 rating, meaning this can withstand a sustained spray of water. It's also shock-resistant and has a forged aluminum chassis that acts as a heatsink. It has a USB-C interface and includes both USB-C to USB-C and USC-A to USB-C cable. The 1TB version is around $230 while the 2TB model jumps to $330. 

$230 at Amazon
Amazon

The Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB is one of the more compact non-SSD drives, making it the best external hard drive for those who are looking to save some space. And at less than $60, this backup drive is also a good value. Available in a few color options, it also comes in 1TB ($55), 4TB ($93) and 5TB ($115) versions, but the higher-capacity drives are thicker.

Read more.

 

$59 at Amazon
$50 at Walmart
$55 at Adorama
WD

This drive is about as futureproof -- and backward compatible -- as they come. You pay a bit of a premium over the standard WD drive, but this newer model offers a USB-C connection, meaning it has the latest and greatest USB cable connectivity for Macs and PCs. No USB-C on your system? No problem: Western Digital also tosses in a USB-A to USB-C adapter, so this device will work with pretty much any computer straight out of the box.

Read more.

 

$130 at Best Buy
$141 at Walmart
$125 at Amazon
Amazon

The WD My Book desktop drive is available in up to a 18TB configuration, but the 8TB is the best value at around $150. Unfortunately, it's so popular it's out of stock (it's supposed to be available by June). 

Read our WD My Book (Fall 2016) review.

 

$218 at Amazon
$230 at Best Buy
$249 at Walmart
Amazon

After Seagate acquired LaCie several years ago, LaCie became the company's premium brand and this external HDD 5TB model can be found on a lot of video editors' desks (including plenty at CNET). This rugged hard disk drive uses a USB-C interface, is compatible with Mac and Windows PCs and is water and shock-resistant. A 4TB Thunderbolt with USB-C version is available for Thunderbolt-equipped Macs for about $200.

Read more.

 

$164 at Amazon
$170 at Best Buy
$180 at Apple
David Carnoy/CNET

Crucial's X6 external SSD is considered entry-level because it's just not as fast as higher-end models, which can offer read/write speeds that are twice or even four times as fast (the Crucial X8 is the step-up model). Even so, the X6 is about 4x faster than a non-solid-state drive, with transfer speeds of up 540MBps for the 1TB and 2TB versions and up to 800MBps for the new 4TB version, which has one of the lowest prices for a 4TB SSD at around $480.

Comparatively, the 4TB SanDisk Extreme SSD, which has a transfer speed rating of up to 1,050MBps, costs $650. So you're basically looking at a $150 savings if you're willing to take a bit of a speed hit (again, at least the 4GB version of the Crucial X6 has been bumped up to 800MBps from 540MBps).  

 

$479 at Amazon
David Carnoy/CNET

If you're looking to save $20 to $30 on a 1TB mini SSD, the RavPower Mini External SSD is priced below some of the name-brand competition from SanDisk, Western Digital, Samsung and others. Amazon has this storage drive for $115 with a $35 coupon. It delivers up to 540MBps data transfer speeds, a slower rate than what you get from more premium external SSDs but still about four times as fast as a non-solid-state drive.

$115 at Amazon

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