(Pocket-lint) - Though laptops and other electronics often have the option of high-capacity flash memory, an external drive is still the most affordable and portable form of additional storage for most people.
With plenty of different uses for an SSD, however, picking the right option for your needs is easier said than done. Thankfully for you, that's where this guide comes in.
We've put some of the top drives through their paces in a variety of scenarios, including intensive video editing, gaming and productivity tasks, in order to help you find out.
For those new to the world of external hard drives, we've also included some advice on what to consider before buying.
Best external drives in 2022
- Samsung T7 Shield
- ADATA SE900G
- Sandisk Extreme Portable SSD
- WD_Black P10
- Toshiba Canvio Basics Portable HD
Our Top Pick: Best SSD
Samsung T7 Shield
- Best in class reliability
- Rugged IP65 housing
- Impressive performance
- On the pricey side
Samsung has updated its top-performing external SSD with a new rugged housing and even more impressive performance. The Shield forgoes the fingerprint scanner of the T7 Touch and instead opts for the utmost in reliability thanks to a drop resistant, IP65 certified, rubberised shell.
For most people, durability is of greater concern than security, so we think the Shield might just be the most popular version yet. However, if you need top-notch security, fear not. The T7 Shield benefits from the same industry-leading AES 256-bit hardware encryption as the T7 Touch, you'll just need to type a password instead of scanning a finger.
When it comes to performance, the T7 Shield leaves little to be desired, with 1000 MB/s writes and 1050 MB/s reads via USB 3.2 Gen 2. What's more, Samsung has improved sustained performance, so you'll be able to experience that maximum speed for longer transfers.
Portable external drives we also recommend
While we think the Samsung T7 touch is the best choice for most people, there's a variety of fantastic drives available to suit a wide range of needs. So, here are some other top portable external storage options that we recommend.
- Blazing fast
- Reasonably priced
- Flashy looks
- RGB lighting can't be turned off
This flashy drive from ADATA knows how to stand out, the entire top panel has an RGB illuminated lattice that's sure to draw attention. Perfect for pairing with a gaming setup, but equally suited to the eccentric.
You'll have to be a fan of the lighting, though, as there's no way to turn it off. So if it's not your kind of thing, you'll want to look elsewhere.
Aside from the flashiness, the SE900G is a blazing fast portable SSD that touts speeds up to 2000MB/s when used with a compatible USB 3.2 Gen2x2 port.
There's support for a huge variety of devices including PC, Mac, Android, PS5 and Xbox. The pricing is competitive too.
We think it's a great option for anyone, so long as you're into the styling.
Sandisk Extreme Portable SSD
- Rugged design
- Well priced
- Can be clipped onto keys or a bag
- Gets pretty hot in use
Testing the transfer speeds from our MacBook Pro desktop to the Sandisk Extreme Portable SSD, we got virtually identical results to the Samsung T7. The same 9.3GB collection of files were transferred in 20.66 seconds, and the discrepancy was easily ignorable, and probably explained by the pace of human reaction, rather than the speed of the transfer itself.
So, performance is essentially as good, but there's one real reason you might want this over the Samsung: design. Not only is the Sandisk (somehow) considerably smaller and lighter than the T7, but it's also got some water and dust resistance.
You can't submerge it, but it'll survive the odd accidental splash. As a bonus, it also has a handy little cutout in the corner to feed a carabiner through so you can attach it to your keys or bag.
- Bags of storage
- Unique styling
- Console compatible
- Not as rugged as it looks
The WD_Black P10 is one of several variants of external HDDs Western Digitial has designed specifically for gamers. This drive comes with a robust, snazzy-looking housing that includes an aluminium top for passive cooling goodness.
An external drive like this is a brilliantly simple way to upgrade your storage space for more games without messing about with internals. When compared with an SSD, the P10 is pretty slow, but it offers brilliant value for money. If you need a lot of storage then the 5TB option is one of the better deals around when the SSD equivalent would run you into four-figure territory.
WD also has SSD and desktop variants of the WD_Black external drives, so, if you like the looks but need more speed or more storage, you can get it in a similar chassis.
Toshiba Canvio Basics Portable HD
- Cheap and cheerful
- Highly portable
- Storage options up to 4TB
- Fairly slow at around 120MB/s
If you're looking for really great value for money, the Toshiba Canvio Basics is one way to go. It's compatible with USB 3.0, so you can rest easy knowing it's not a snail, and it's also compatible with Xbox and PS4.
Unfortunately, it is formatted to NTFS for Windows machines, rather than the system Mac uses. However, this can be reformatted to work with Mac, or you can download plugins to make your Mac read NTFS-formatted drives.
In our file transfer test, it was slightly faster than the Seagate Backup Plus, but not by much. The 9.3GB collection of videos transferred across in around 1min 12 seconds.
Other drives we've considered
When initially deciding what we believe to be the best portable external storage currently available, we spent hours testing and researching. No matter the subject area, we always consider a range of factors when it comes to recommending devices - and apply the same process before a new device enters our top five selections. We don't just take into account our own testing, either, but also consumer reviews, brand quality and value.
In all of our roundups, there are also many products we test that don't make the final cut. Since they may be the right fit for some people, however, we've listed them below.
- Seagate FireCuda gaming SSD
- G-Technology ArmorLock
- Surefire Gaming Bunker SSD
- ADATA SE800 External Solid State Drive
- LaCie Rugged Mini 2
How to choose a portable external drive
Finding the right external drive for your needs can be a tricky task, especially if you're not familiar with the terms used in storage products.
To help you figure it out, we've put together some things to think about and explained some of the more common terms used. Have a read of these, and you'll be well on your way to finding your ideal portable storage.
SSD vs HDD - which is best?
If you want to get into the details, we have a full guide on this topic that can be found here. In short, SSDs are better than HDDs in every way except one - and that's the price.
If you need very high capacity storage, like above 2TB, then SSDs become extremely cost-prohibitive. Whereas you can find HDDs up to around 5TB for less than £100/$100.
In an ideal world, we'd be using SSDs for everything. They're way faster, smaller, more robust and use less power to operate, which is handy on the go.
The good news is that SSDs up to 1TB in capacity are more affordable than ever before, so if you don't need mountains of storage, SSD is definitely the way to go.
What is NVMe?
You may see portable SSDs described as having NVMe storage, this is currently one of the fastest types of SSD available. We won't get bogged down in how it works or why it's faster, all you really need to know is that it's fast.
Having an NVMe SSD won't affect compatibility, durability or anything else. It's just a faster and more modern style of SSD. We've also tested and ranked the top NVMe SSDs, if that's something you're interested in.
The different types of USB connection
This is where things start to get a little confusing, as there's a variety of USB standards that offer varying levels of speed. Modern drives mostly rely on a USB-C connector, but this only describes the shape of the connector and the actual speed can range anywhere up to 20Gbps.
Unfortunately, the naming of these classifications isn't the most intuitive, but here's how it breaks down:
- USB 2.0 - 480Mbps
- USB 3.2 Gen 1- 5 Gbps (SuperSpeed)
- USB 3.2 Gen 2 - 10 Gbps (SuperSpeed+)
- USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 - 20 Gbps (SuperSpeed 20Gbps)
Luckily, USB 3.2 is backwards compatible, so, even if you don't have the latest and greatest device to connect to, you will still be able to transfer your files, albeit at a slower pace.
If you want to make sure that you can benefit from the full speed of your external drive, you will need to check the specifications to see which type of USB port it has.
How is your portable drive going to be used?
This is really what things come down to when choosing a portable external drive, as different options are geared toward different users.
If you're a nature photographer who needs to back up files out in the field, then ruggedness and water resistance will be high on your priorities.
If you're a gamer looking to boost console storage, you'll want to focus on the speed of the drive so that you don't have to spend all day sitting in loading screens. We should also mention that we have dedicated guides to help you pick an external SSD for Xbox Series X and Series S, as well as hard drives for PS5.
Think about how you're planning to use the drive and the important features that should jump out at you.
More about this story
Every product in this list has been assessed thoroughly to ensure it will perform exactly as a recommended pick should.
We've tested everything, factoring in how each model will perform when being used at home or on the go. This meant performing file transfer tests, as well as editing 4K videos and even gaming directly from the drives. From there, we've then crossed our judgements with each individual price tag to ensure they represent good value for money, too.
As with any roundup, it's not possible to deliver a list that works for every type of user, but we lean on the experiences and opinions of the wider Pocket-lint team - as well as thoroughly assessing the areas above - in order to do our best in this regard.
What we always tend to avoid when compiling these picks are needless spec comparisons and marketing lines; we just want to provide an easy to understand summary that gives you an idea of what each external drive is like to use. Our verdicts are concise, but this is purely in the interest of brevity.