Best external hard drives: 10 top large-capacity drives to boost your storage
15th Oct 2013 | 14:33
Keep your files safe with these USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt hard drives
With capacities measuring in the terabytes, today's hard drives mean that one drive can now serve all your needs, from backup to storing all those gargantuan video files you've accumulated over the years.
Of course, with increased capacities comes the need for faster drive interfaces. The emergence of both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt means that you can transfer even the largest files across to these drives without tying up your machine for hours at a time.
And with prices falling across the board, there's never been a better time to beef up your storage capacity.
The problem is, how do you choose which drive to buy? We can help with that: we've rounded up 10 of the very best USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt drives, covering both desktop and portable needs, with a few left-field choices thrown in. But there are some general buying tips that you can bear in mind:
- If storage capacity is your main priority, a desktop hard drive usually offers more for your money than a portable hard drive.
- Portable hard drives are, by their nature, more vulnerable to damage. Choosing a drive with a solid, well-made case has more than just aesthetic benefits: it should also protect your valuable data better.
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- If you intend to use your hard drive as a backup device, consider the quality of the included backup software. Some hard drive manufacturers only offer trial packages, while others include far more functional and useful alternatives at no extra cost.
- Drives with faster USB 3.0, FireWire 800, or eSATA interfaces are only worth investing in
if your computer comes equipped with a similarly speedy connection.
- High-capacity drives may initially seem expensive, but work out cheaper in terms of gigabytes-per-pound.
Whatever your needs, we've got a drive for you. Read on to find your perfect storage partner.
1. Toshiba Stor.E Canvio 1.5TB
£99, AU$170, US$160
If you're looking for a portable drive with plenty of storage, the Toshiba Stor.E Canvio 1.5TB fits the bill nicely, squeezing 1.5TB into its compact, attractive case.
It comes with lots of useful extra software too, including automatic backup, remote access and 10GB of cloud storage for peace of mind. There's also a Mac driver for maximising its performance on Apple machines.
Transfer speeds are typical for portable USB 3.0 drives - around 106MB/s read and write, with good real-word performance too. If you're looking for a solid and dependable drive that packs just that bit more capacity into its small footprint, your search is over.
2. LaCie Blade Runner 4TB
£230, AU$395, US$262
The LaCie Blade Runner 4TB is pretty bulky. But clever touches like recessing the USB 3.0 and power sockets on the bottom of the drive help give it a refined look alongside the unique number stamped on its left blade, indicating it's one of just 9,999 units manufactured.
In terms of performance, the drive achieves impressive peak speeds with sequential file reads and writes of nearly 195MB/s, but also holds up well in random read/write tests too.
While there's a hefty premium to pay, you're getting your money's worth in build quality and potential art work.
3. Verbatim GT Portable Hard Drive 1TB
£76, AU$131, US$185
This portable drive's go-faster stripe isn't just for show: the Verbatim GT Portable Hard Drive 1TB lives up to Verbatim's claim that it's one of the fastest mechanical drives it's ever produced, with decent 105MB/s sequential read/write speeds, and the ability to transfer a 1.36GB test file in just 20 seconds. It's not the quickest, but at this price you can't complain.
The drive also comes with free backup software and a handy write-protect switch, which may come in useful when connecting the drive to other computers where you're only interested in copying data from it and don't fancy risking your drive to potential malware infection in return.
4. Buffalo DriveStation HD-LBU3 2TB
£65, AU$112, US$105
Known as the DriveStation Axis drive in some markets, the USB 3.0 Buffalo DriveStation HD-LBU3 2TB desktop external drive has plenty going for it, not least its super-fast performance when copying large numbers of files at once. This is down to a clever PC Turbo driver that utilises write caching technology to boost performance, but even without this the drive holds its own against other USB 3.0 models.
It's housed in a compact, black case that can be stacked on its side to take up less room, and boasts energy-saving features that help prevent it from getting too hot to the touch.
5. Samsung D3 Station 3TB USB 3.0
£96, AU$165, US$130
If you're looking for a no-nonsense desktop drive that ticks most boxes and will stand up well to scratches and the odd bump, then Seagate's Samsung-branded D3 Station is worthy of attention.
While it doesn't set the performance charts alight, it copies data quickly enough. Its robust, solid case will suit those with clumsy tendencies quite well.
One thing we were disappointed with was a lack of energy-saving features with the drive, but it offers an inexpensive way of quickly adding huge amounts of storage to your system, and the performance is good enough for day-to-day use.
6. Freecom Tough Drive 3.0 1TB
£82, AU$141, US$132
Portable hard drives by their very nature need to be transportable, but that often means wrapping them in cotton wool.
The Freecom Tough Drive 3.0 1TB comes in a rubberised silicone case with an anti-shock mechanism, both of which provide surprisingly effective protection against drops and bumps. Yet despite this, it's small enough for a large pocket and light too, at just 200g/7oz.
With real-world transfer times rivalling that of desktop drives, the only drawback is the Tough Drive's integrated USB cable, which is just 8cm/3in long. That's fine for plugging into a convenient laptop port, but where's the extension cable for other purposes?
7. Western Digital My Passport Ultra 1TB
£65, AU$112, US$105
Western Digital's My Passport range of drives has impressed us with its performance over the last year, and this portable drive, the Ultra 1TB, continues in that vein, delivering fast read/write times in a reasonably attractive slim casing.
We say reasonably because it's not as slim - or sturdy - as the appropriately titled My Passport Slim, but offers much better value, offering you 1TB capacity for the same price as the My Passport Slim 500GB model.
Also in its favour is the existence of a massive 2TB model, giving you loads of capacity in a portable-friendly package. Now you really can take your media collection anywhere.
8. Freecom Mobile Drive Mg 1TB Thunderbolt/USB 3.0
£210, AU$360, US$338
If you want maximum performance from a Thunderbolt drive, then you'll need a desktop 3.5-inch drive rather than the smaller 2.5-inch drive housed in the Freecom's Mobile Drive Mg's slim and chic case.
The presence of USB 3.0 alongside it merely reinforces the fact the limitation here is the drive itself, but to be fair there is a small performance gain to be had when connecting through Thunderbolt, and those with older Macs that sport Thunderbolt but not USB 3.0 can at least see what all the fuss is about with this pocket-friendly, if slightly disappointing model.
9. WD My Book VelociRaptor Duo
£520, AU$914, US$750
They say you get what you pay for, so it's no surprise this powerful 2TB drive (consisting of twin 1TB 10,000rpm drives) costs so much.
There's the premium for Thunderbolt obviously, plus the twin drives, of course, which use RAID for superior performance of around 365MB/s read/write performance when the drives are striped as one logical volume.
There are other nice touches: two additional Thunderbolt ports for daisy-chaining additional drives or peripherals, plus you have easy access to the drives inside, allowing you to upgrade or replace them when the time comes.
If you're looking for one of the fastest mechanical drives out there, the VelociRaptor Duo fits the bill perfectly.
10. LaCie 5big 20TB
£1,799, AU$2,799, US$2,099
As its name implies, the LaCie 5big brings together five 4TB drives to attain its 20TB capacity.
By combining the drives in a RAID array and using a Thunderbolt interface, you can enjoy peak transfer speeds of over 750MB/s with larger files, but these speeds are cut dramatically when smaller files are involved, making it comparable to the Velociraptor Duo, although its average read/write speeds of around 350-360MB/s make it very consistent.
The drive suffers from a lack of hardware RAID controller, which means it only supports basic striped and mirrored configurations. It's a good - if expensive - choice for pro-video, but most people will get better value looking elsewhere.