USB hard drives roundup
WHETHER YOU NEED STORAGE ON-THE-GO, SPACE ON YOUR DESKTOP FOR DOCUMENTS OR ROOM FOR YOUR GAMES, WE TEST THE BEST DRIVES FOR JUST THAT.
WHILE THE FLASH storage space is undoubtedly growing, external hard disk drives (HDDs) still offer significantly more space at a much lower price. There won’t be much HDDs can do to try to mitigate the speed advantage of SSDs (the physical parameters of the spinning platters provide a pretty hard upper limit on transfer rates), but portable drive capacities are continuing to grow.
Bigger portable drives, greater desktop drive capacities and a series of games-console branded HDDs tend to dominate store shelves more than wireless drives, which we’ve reviewed separately in this superguide (see page 74). Despite being front and centre at retail, there hasn’t been much innovation in the space over the last year (the gamingspecific drives are literally just new packaging), but prices did drop considerably.
What you pay for portable and desktop HDDs can vary considerably from vendor to vendor. While we kept the listed costs pegged as low as we could find from major local retailers, as usual, it’s worth shopping around as much as possible.
Here are our picks for the best USB hard drives, which we’ve chosen across a range of five handy sub-categories.
WD My Passport TRAVEL TO A MORE VALUABLE STORAGE SOLUTION.
THE PORTABLE STORAGE space is a clear example of economies of scale, which demand that, when you buy more of something, the cost per unit falls. For most people, a terabyte or two is enough, even if it comes at a premium. While generally you’re looking at paying anywhere between $90 and $110 for a 1TB portable drive, WD’s My Passport sneaks in just under that at $89.
You can save $10–$20 on bare-bones drives that generally present reasonable read and write speeds, but you’d miss out on the security and backup software that the My Passport comes bundled with.
WD released its revamped My Passport drives in 2017 with a Maxibon-like, halfsmooth/half-textured plastic exterior, which is so square you can securely stack the 117g bricks on top of one another without worrying if they’ll topple. With a sustained read speed of 114.5 MB/s and write speeds of 110.1MB/s, the new My Passport is in the middle of the road when it comes to transfer rates, but it’s respectable for the budget end of the HDD market.
Seagate Backup Plus Portable MASS STORAGE ON THE GO.
MOST GAMING LAPTOPS come with 1TB of HDD storage while professional ultrabooks often end up with significantly less than that, so 5TB is a lot of storage space. In fact, the Seagate Backup Plus Portable 5TB is the largest capacity portable drive available to consumers, apart from maybe the Seagate USB-C-powered Innov8 drive (which is really a desktop drive that draws power through USB-C).
Encased in black, silver, red or blue metal, this relatively compact 2cm-thick drive fits neatly into a slightly frumpy plastic casing. While it’s not the most sleek looking device, its strengths in other areas more than make up for the squarish design. The Seagate Backup Plus Portable’s high data density means this 5TB unit was able to achieve a 10% speed boost over comparable drives we’ve tested in the past. The device’s sequential read and write speeds were a high 143MB/s and 134MB/s, respectively, using CrystalDiskMark 3.0.4. Not only is it unusually generous, it’s also reasonably priced with the 4TB going for as little as $198 online and the 5TB model — a whole terabyte — yours for just $50 extra.
Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim STORAGE THAT DISAPPEARS INTO AIR.
SLIDING IN AT a skinny 9.6mm, the metallic cratered exterior of the Backup Plus Ultra Slim is just half a centimetre thicker than the company’s inside-out portable drive, the Seagate Seven, which is so thin you can see the shape of the drive itself. This makes the Backup Plus Ultra Slim as compact as HDDs come but without the added cost of R&D for a unique housing.
With sequential read and write speeds around the 129MB/s mark on CrystalDiskMark benchmarks, Seagate’s mainstream ultra-portable drive is also quicker than most of the drives we’ve tested by about 15MB/s.
You could argue that even the slimmest portable HDD has twice the footprint of portable SSDs, but at $109 for 1TB of space, the Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim is around one sixth the price of a similarly sized portable SSD. When you pitch it that way, the slightly larger 159g, 1.21cm-thick Backup Plus Slim will be more than compact enough for most.
Seagate DJI Fly Drive PRETTY FLY FOR A HARD DRIVE.
IN 2017, SEAGATE partnered with major drone manufacturer DJI to develop a portable HDD with a feature set specifically tailored for use with drones. While the case is very similar to Seagate’s Backup Plus Portable range, it adds a rubber bumper to protect it a little more than your average drive from bumps and drops.
In our testing, we’ve generally found that the console gaming drives were just regular external drives with new skins, but the DJI Fly Drive actually seems to add useful features. Most prominent of these is the microSD card slot that’s built directly into the drive. This card reader is an excellent addition, benefiting any modern laptop that has decided to ditch the photographically inclined microSD card interface. This addition is complimented by a USB Type-C interface that will allow you to plug in to the most compact premium devices on the go.
The sequential read and write speeds of the DJI Fly Drive are at the high end of hard disk drives, landing just shy of 130MB/s each way, to round out a nicely tailored, portable drive for outdoor photography.
Seagate Backup Plus Hub HUBBA HUB-BA.
DESKTOP EXTERNAL STORAGE hasn’t seen the same dramatic capacity increases as portable drives in past years, and though 8,000GB of disk space is in no way an insignificant amount, it’s not quite revolutionary for an external desktopbound drive.
That said, the 8TB Backup Plus Hub excels in terms of value, speed, size and features. On the beveled front edge of this desktop drive’s plastic case are a pair of USB 3.0 ports that double as a charging point for your phone or tablet — or, alternatively, for you to plug in portable USB drives to backup to the Hub’s own internal storage.
There’s naturally a bit of a speed boost associated with bigger ‘desktop’ external drives (at least compared to their portable cousins) and the Backup Plus Hub’s sequential read and write speeds of 198MB/s and 188MB/s are testament to that.
At $374, this 8TB drive also works out to be exceptionally good value at $47-ish per terabyte and with the additional hub perks, this is one highly-desirable digital storehouse.