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Best external hard drives

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We live in an age where the newest technology never suffices for very long. You can purchase a top-of-the-line computer today, only to need more storage tomorrow – a sign of the ever-increasing amount of data we amass right under our noses. Thankfully, there are more affordable external hard drives on the market now than ever before, so you can tack on terabyte upon terabyte of storage without breaking the bank. It appears, at least for now, that you’ll be able to hold on to that pirated copy of Spring Breakers and The Dark Knight Rises after all.

However, choosing an external hard drive isn’t as simple as you might think. There are a multitude of factors you should consider before making your final decision, such as storage capacity, portability, durability, and transfer speed. Desktop-class hard drives, though requiring a power adapter and intended to remain at home, will provide greater storage and faster speeds for a cheaper price, while portable drives ditch the speed and storage in favor of greater convenience on the go.

Here are our picks for some of the best external hard drives, whether you’re looking for a larger-than-life desktop drive or something a bit more modest for lugging around with your laptop. Also, check out our external hard drive buying guide for a more comprehensive look at the various factors you should take into account before purchasing an external drive.

Buffalo DriveStation DDR (Desktop/PC/Mac/$140 to $180)

Thunderbolt? Pssh. Buffalo’s single-volume drive is one of the best external drives available. With high-end performance at a low-end price, the drive utilizes 1GB of DRR3 RAM cache, boosting data transfer and enabling lightning quick read and write speeds over the equipped Micro-USB 3.o. The Drivestation is also minimalist in design, sporting a sleek black finish with two blue indicator lights and a single red strip at the top to offset the jet black finish.

Although it still requires an external power supply and lacks portability – it measures 7.75 x 4.96 x 1.77 inches – the blazing quick data speeds give even Thunderbolt a run for its money while offering greater versatility given the device’s USB 3.0 accessibility. Plus, the 3TB model provides more than enough room for even the most tenacious of multimedia hoarders.

Buffalo DriveStation DDR External Hard Drive

LaCie 2big Quadra USB 3.0 (Desktop/PC/Mac/$400 to $700)

There’s a reason LaCie’s Quadra is the most expensive external hard drive on our list: it offers the most robust capacity and beastly performance of all the routers on the roundup. Although even the cheapest model costs a pretty penny, you get what you pay for. The USB 3.0 and FireWire 800 ports provide speedy read and write capabilities, while the RAID 1 and hot-swappable disks will help keep your data in tact even if your drive fails. Cooling, another factor to consider when looking at an external drive’s long-term hardware reliability, is also not an issue given the drive’s dual-cooling system and thermo-regulated fan.

Additionally, the product includes a three-year warranty featuring a variety of Web-based resources, in-house technical support, and worldwide replacement coverage should all else fail. The aluminum casing is a bit futuristic in appearance – dig that ocean-blue orb on the front of the device – but it’s also constructed to facilitate airflow and keep the device running properly. Storage size starts at 4TB and only goes up from there. 

LaCie 2big Quadra USB 3 External Hard Drive

LaCie Rugged USB 3.0 (Portable/PC/Mac/$200 to $250)

The Rugged is one of the most iconic external hard drives out there (if there is such a thing). The pumpkin-orange rubber bumpers can supposedly protect the device from 4-foot tumbles or less, but we assume it could probably handle a little more abuse given the solid-state drive, which features no moving parts. Measuring a mere 3.5 x 5.5 x 0.97 inches, the pocket-sized drive is equipped with both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports for quick universal connectivity on almost all standard machines.

The built-in, military-grade AES 256-bit encryption also adds a noteworthy element of protection, while the included Thunderbolt cable and bus-powered convenience make the device a steal. Unfortunately, the SSD model only offers up to 256GB of storage, but the 1TB model is still worth a look as it’s still one of the most affordable external drives on the market.

LaCie Rugged USB 3 External Hard Drive

Western Digital My Passport (Portable/PC/Mac/$60-$120)

It’s not surprising that Western Digital produces one of the best external hard drives on our list, considering the company has been one the largest hard drive manufacturers on the planet since its arrival in the mid-’70s. WD offers a wide array of external drives, but the My Passport is the crown jewel in our eye. The device doesn’t boast Thunderbolt functionality like many of its peers, but the equipped USB 2.0 and 3.0 are surprisingly fast despite the increasingly outdated technology.

Continuous backup is also fairly quiet, the coupled drive utilities are handy, and the compact size is convenient at home or on the road. It’s not overly flashy by any means, but various models boast up to 2TB of storage and are available in five colors (black, white, red, blue, and silver).

Western Digital My Passport External Hard Drive

Seagate Backup Plus (Portable/PC/Mac/$70-$100)

Seagate’s been churning out quality drives for a good while now. The Backup Plus’ predecessor, the GoFlex, was an astonishing little device capable of delivering stellar performance on modest budget. The newest lineup of external drives follows in suit, offering a slick design available in five colors (black, silver, red, and blue) and storage capacity up to 1TB. Transfer speed is incredibly fast – whether you rely on solely the USB ports or opt for quicker transfer speeds using the Thunderbolt or FireWire 800 – and the device even comes with an intuitive save feature that will back up any files uploaded to your Facebook or Flickr account.

The Plus has its shortcomings, notably the incompatibility of some features with Mac and less-than-sturdy exterior, but it’s still a solid, bus-powered drive capable of delivering top-notch performance on either operating system sans any pesky reformatting. It also measures 0.5 x 3 x 4.75 inches, making it more akin to My Passport than some of the bulkier desktop drives on our list.

Seagate Backup Plus External Hard Drive

What did you think of our selection for the best external hard drives available? Did we a really good one? Let us know in the comments below.