It’s easy to buy a laptop and think, Nah, there’s no way I’ll ever need more storage than this. Then a year later, you’re hunting for any file you can delete to free up space as your drive continually badgers you about being full. If you need more space than your computer provides—or you want something to back up your important files—you’ll want one of these top-rated external drives.
There are plenty of great portable drives out there. But you can’t go too wrong with Western Digital’s My Passport line of drives, which easily fits into a backpack for on-the-go storage. The My Passport comes in 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, and 5TB sizes, along with multiple colors and materials (plastic and metal). It’s USB-3.0 compatible, though it uses a standard mechanical hard disk, so it won’t be the fastest thing on the market—but for most uses, it’ll do the job without breaking the bank. Couple that with a 3-year warranty, and you can feel confident Western Digital has your back if something goes wrong.
If you don’t need a drive that travels with you—or you’re okay plugging it in when you do—a desktop drive may be a better choice. A desktop drive like the WD My Book will be a little faster than its portable counterpart, and a bit cheaper gig-for-gig. They also come in much larger sizes—all the way up to 14TB in the case of the single-drive My Book line, or 24TB for a dual drive model. They are physically larger, though, and require you to plug into a wall outlet when you use them.
For desktop use, this shouldn’t be a problem and is a small sacrifice for the advantages you get. (The WD Elements line is also good, though it comes with a 2-year warranty instead of the My Book’s 3-year warranty—but if it’s on sale for significantly cheaper, it could be worth the savings to you.) These are also shuckable, if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to fill your NAS.
If traditional spinning drives are too slow for you, check out a portable SSD. The Samsung T7 incredibly small, blazing fast, and comes with a 3-year warranty. You even get a fingerprint scanner for extra security. It comes in 500GB, 1TB, or 2TB sizes, in a number of different colors. It’s more expensive than its mechanical counterparts, but you’re paying for that extra speed, which comes in extremely handy if you’re editing video on the go. (If you don’t need the fingerprint scanner or best-in-class speeds, Samsung’s older T5 is a tad cheaper, and still plenty fast.)
You’re probably familiar with LaCie’s distinct orange-bumpered drives, and there’s a reason they’re popular. LaCie’s Rugged line can withstand drops, water, and some serious crushing force, and come in a number of sizes and connection types. So if you’re the clumsy type—or maybe you need an external drive for cataloging your outdoor adventures—you can grab them in capacities from 1TB up to 5TB (or higher for their RAID drives), with either Mini USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt/USB-C. There’s even an SSD version, if you need more speed.
Most people buy an external drive for one of two reasons: they either want to back up their PC, or they need to expand their PC’s limited storage. The latter group can use an external hard drive for massive expansion, but if you just want to add a bit of permanent storage to your laptop, consider a tiny flash drive like the Samsung FIT Plus. It’s so small you’ll barely notice it’s there, so you can leave it plugged in all the time—it’s like upgrading the hard drive in your laptop, even if you can’t actually swap out the onboard storage. (Chromebook users rejoice.)