The Best External Hard Drives for 2021

External hard drives are one of the single most useful accessories you can buy for your computer.

They allow you to instantly increase the amount of permanent storage you have.

And that’s just one of the many benefits of owning an external hard drive.

But they were also ridiculously expensive.

The good news though is that hard drive storage space is cheaper than it ever has been.

Source: https://mkomo.com/cost-per-gigabyte-update

And that includes external hard drives.

Right now, you can get 1TB of external hard drive storage for as little as $50.

The question now though is – which is the best external hard drive for your needs?

SSD vs. HDD

There are two basic types of hard drive – solid state and mechanical.

A mechanical hard drive has moving parts like the platters (disc), spindle motor, actuating arm, etc.

These are the most common type of hard drive, but are obviously prone to wear and tear.

But they’re also pretty cheap to buy, even when buying drives with multiple terabyte (TB) capacity.

A Solid State Drive (SSD) has no moving parts – they use the same type of memory you find in USB flash drives.

Fewer moving parts means these drives are technically less prone to wear and tear.

But they’re also much, much faster than a typical mechanical drive.

They’re also more rugged than a mechanical drive – they’re very difficult to damage like a USB flash drive is difficult to damage.

But if you drop an external mechanical drive onto a hard surface you can kiss your data goodbye.

Are there downsides?

Sure, and the first is that SSDs are typically far more expensive than a mechanical drive, especially if you want a 1TB+ drive.

Another is that SSD drives start “failing” from the first time you write data to them – it’s not unusual for an overused SSD to simply die after 2 – 3 years of use

Now that we have the terminology out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the better external hard drives on the market.

Samsung T5 1TB SSD external hard drive

Samsung is a brand name most often associated with smartphones and tablets.

But they also manufacture some of the best external hard drives on the market – the T5 SSD is just the most recent example of that.

The most important feature of this external hard drive is the fact that it uses SSD technology.

This means it’s up to 5x faster than a standard external hard drive.

But it also comes in a metal case, which means it’s designed to take at least some punishment.

So you get a killer combination of speed, looks and reliability.
  • Storage capacity: 1TB (1,000 Gigabytes)
  • Interface: USB 3.1
  • Data transfer rate: Up to 540MB/s
  • Compatible with: Windows 7 or higher, OSX 10.9 or higher
  • Data encryption: Yes
  • Warranty: 3-year limited
  • Power adapter required: No

Pros

  • It’s really, really small – less than 3-inches long and 2.5 inches wide
  • Ideal for somebody who needs a portable external drive
  • Metal instead of a plastic case means it’s very durable
  • Excellent data transfer rate, once it’s hooked up to a USB 3 port
  • Available in multiple colors
  • Can password protect and encrypt the entire drive

Cons

  • More expensive than regular mechanical drives
  • SSD drives have a maximum number of “writes” before the drive fails
  • Built-in software can be unpredictable and takes some getting used to

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Western Digital Elements 10TB desktop drive

And now we swing from away from highly portable external hard drives to one that’s designed to stay in one place.

A WD Elements was my first proper external hard drive.

But that was back when 300GB was considered a lot of storage space.

What you get for your money with the WD10TB is 10 Terabytes of storage space in an externally powered hard drive that’s designed to sit on your desktop.

You can unplug it and take it around with you, but these drives aren’t really designed for that.

In terms of data transfer rate you’ll only get the very best from this drive when it’s connected to a USB 3.0 port.

But it’s also happy to connect to a USB 2.0 port, just with a much lower data transfer rate.
  • Storage capacity: 10TB (10,000 Gigabytes)
  • Interface: USB 3.0
  • Data transfer rate: Up to 180MB/s
  • Compatible with: Windows 7, 8.1 and Windows 10
  • Data encryption: No
  • Warranty: 2-year limited
  • Power adapter required: Yes

Pros

  • Massive storage space of 10 Terabytes (available in capacities up to 18TB)
  • Very high data transfer speeds when connected to USB 3.0
  • Also backwards compatible with USB 2.0
  • The sleek design will blend in with everything else on your desktop
  • Plug and play out of the box thanks to the NTFS file system
  • You get a cost-per-gigabyte $0.016
  • From one of the best names in the data storage business

Cons

  • It’s a physically large and heavy drive – weighing almost 3lbs and measuring 6.5-inches tall and 5.3 inches in dept
  • Requires an external power supply.
  • Knocking this drive over means potentially losing all your data

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Aegis Apricorn Padlock Fortress

If somebody steals your hard drive they’ll have access to every single file on it – including anything sensitive or personal.

Unless you invest in something like the Apricorn Aegis Padplock Fortress.

While this might look like a regular external drive, it’s actually got some really cool stuff going on inside and outside.

You’ll notice that the exterior of the case has a built-in keypad – this is for your user access PIN to unlock the drive.

But this isn’t the only security feature because this device also features real-time 256-Bit AES XTS data encryption.

The interior electronics (and the drive itself) are secured with a layer of epoxy resin, so your data remains completely safe even if somebody breaks the case apart.

This drive also isn’t a slouch when it comes to performance thanks to the USB 3.0 interface.

Yes, the real-time encryption will cause a slightly slower data transfer rate, but the difference is marginal.

It even comes with an integrated USB cable and is also dust and water resistant to IP66 standards.
  • Storage capacity: Up to 2TB
  • Interface: USB 3.0
  • Data transfer rate:
  • Compatible with: Mac, Windows, Android and Linux
  • Data encryption: 256-Bit AES XTS + keypad access
  • Warranty: 3-year limited
  • Power adapter required: No

Pros

  • Complete safety for your personal or business files
  • Damage resistant ruggedized case
  • The drive auto locks when not in use or powered off
  • Failed PIN attempt result in a “self-destruct” mode being activated
  • Can be set to “read only” mode to original data can’t be altered
  • Fast data transfer rate thanks to USB 3.0 interface
  • No external power adapter required
  • Compatible across a broad range of operating systems
  • Available in capacities up to 18TB

Cons

  • The keyboard isn’t backlit so can be hard to navigate
  • Forgetting your PIN could result in losing all your data
  • 4x as expensive as a comparable 1TB hard drive

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Transcend 1TB 25M3 StoreJet

The majority of external hard drives have one fault in common – it doesn’t take much to break one.

Just dropping it a few feet onto the ground is enough to kill most drives stone dead.

That’s where the Transcend 25M3 StoreJet hard drive comes in handy – it’s designed to taken punishment.

So instead of just a basic plastic case, the drive in your Transcend StoreJet is protected by a 3-stage anti-shock system.

The internal shock dampener keeps your drive safe from impact energy, then the secondary metal case keeps everything in one place while adding even more protection.

And then finally the outer silicone layer provides another layer of protection.

This drive also chews through data transfer thanks to the USB 3.0 interface – that’s about 4x – 10x faster than a regular external drive.
  • Storage capacity: 1TB
  • Interface: USB 3.1/Type C
  • Data transfer rate: Up to 5Gbps (theoretical)
  • Compatible with: Windows 7 or later, Mac OC 10.7 or later, Linux
  • Data encryption: No
  • Warranty: 3-year limited
  • Power adapter required: No, but does require Lithium battery

Pros

  • You get a truly ruggedized hard drive that’s been drop-tested to military standards
  • The built-in software offers 256-Bit AES encryption  to keep your data secure
  • You can get the drive in either military green or gray
  • This drive automatically backs up your most important files
  • Move or copy your files in a flash thanks to USB 3.0

Cons

  • Even the most rugged external drive can fail – a tough case doesn’t mean it will last forever
  • There have been recurring reports of failure problems with the 2TB version of this drive

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Western Digital My Passport 2TB

What if you just need a drive that offers plenty of storage, is decently fast and doesn’t cost 5x as much as everything else?

In that situation you could invest your cash in a Western Digital My Passport drive.

These are standard mechanical/SATA external hard drives in a sleek case.

It’s not just about looks though – these drives also offer very high file transfer rates thanks to their USB 3.0 interface.

Although they are obviously backwards compatible with USB 2.0

But they’re also not going to be speedy as an external SSD drive, for example.
The 2TB of storage space kinda makes up for that though.

The ‘My Passport’ models also come with built-in 256-Bit AES encryption as part of the drive management software suite.

In the interest of full transparency here – I own several of these drives and I love them.

Basically, because they last well beyond their warranty, in my experience.
  • Storage capacity: 2TB
  • Interface: USB 3.1
  • Data transfer rate: 120Mbps in real life
  • Compatible with: Windows 7 or later, MacOS
  • Data encryption: Yes
  • Warranty: 3-year limited
  • Power adapter required: No

Pros

  • A highly portable external hard drive – if would fit in a shirt pocket
  • USB 3.1 interface offers file transfer speeds at least 5x fast than standard USB 2.0
  • Western Digital is one of the oldest hard drive manufacturers in the world i.e. quality products
  • Extremely affordable when compared to SSD or even other mechanical drives
  • Easy to set up even for complete newbies
  • Available in a variety of colors
  • Western Digital drives tend to last and last and last

Cons

  • The drive management software is annoying at times

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External hard drive buyers guide

Okay, so you’ve had a look at the reviews above and you’re still not sure what drive would best suit you?

No problem.

There’s a lot of information to absorb.

So, let’s take a look at the types of questions you need to ask yourself in relation to the type of external hard drive you need.

Not want – need.

Speed

Do you need your new drive to move or copy files so quickly that it almost seems miraculous?

If so, then invest in an SSD external hard drive – their data transfer rates make other drives look like they’re standing still.

But if you can afford to wait a few moments for all those files to get where they’re going, then a standard mechanical external drive will fulfill that need.

The majority of portable hard drives sold right now are mechanical drives.

And what about USB 3.0 vs. 2.0?

Always choose a USB 3.0 hard drive because:

  1. It’s backwards compatible with a USB 2.0 connection
  2. You can always get a USB 3.0 adapter card for your PC

Storage space

I know that it can be tough to decide on exactly how big your hard drive needs to be.

Bu the thing is that hard drive storage has never been cheaper than it is right now.

So aim for at least 1TB of storage space, regardless of whether you’re getting a standard mechanical drive or an SSD.

More storage space is always better.

Plus, it’s much easier to manage 1 large drive than several small ones e.g. 2TB = 1 x 2TB, 2 x 1TB or 4 x 500GB.

The biggest external hard drives available right now come with around 18TB of storage.

But they’re almost always desktop models and not designed to be carried around with you.

Reliability

This is a big one for me simply because I’ve had to endure several hard drive failures in the past.

Some of those were my own fault, but some of it had to do with “taking a chance” on drives that seemed like a good deal.

What’s important or remember here is that if your drive fails then it takes all your files with it.

Yes, you might be able to pay a data recovery company to restore most of your files, but they tend to have a 75% – 90% success rate at best.

So that still means you’ll lose anywhere up to 25% of your data.

You can get around this potential problem by only buying drives from brand names that you recognize.

Or simply paying attention to user reviews and seeing how often a given model fails over its first year or two of ownership.

Portability

My first external hard drive was as big as a single volume of a printer encyclopedia – it was huge!

But that was still far more portable than carrying my desktop computer around with me.

Or my equally huge laptop.

External drives now all tend to be highly portable, with the exception of dedicated “desktop” models that need an external power supply.

So all you basically need to decide is how often you’ll need to transport files with you.

If that’s quite often then get an external drive that does not require a separate power supply.

Encryption

Do you need a hard drive that encrypts your data?

Generally speaking, the answer is “It depends”.

If you plan on storing lots of sensitive personal information on your portable drive, then yes, you absolutely should encrypt it.

The problem with encryption (for novice users) is that if you lose you decryption key/your PIN, then the drive will auto-erase itself.

So you lose your data either way.

Data encryption is a nice feature but it’s not really a “must have”, again unless you’re storing extremely sensitive data on your drive.

Built-in Wi-Fi

Being able to transfer your files wirelessly over your home network is a nice feature.

But do you really need it?

If your external drive is part of a NAS (Network Attached Storage) setup for your home network, then Wi-Fi access can be useful.

Especially for some kind of “offsite” backup system i.e. you have an archive drive set up in another room.

Apart from that, you’re probably paying for features you don’t need.

Also, Wi-Fi is going to be much slower than a physical connection when transferring files.

And transferring big files over a Wi-Fi network could kill connection speeds for everyone else attached to that network.

Price

Please, please avoid those budget external hard drives.

They tend to come from “no name” brands and are mass produced in drive facilities where quality assurance isn’t an issue.

What this means is that, yes, you’ll save maybe $30 when buying the drive.

But it will most likely fail within a few months, at best.

There’s also the issue that some of these super-cheap drives “spoof” the amount of available storage space.

It might say “2TB for $20” on the box, but what you’re really getting is a 50GB drive that used trickery to convince your operating system that it’s actually a 2TB drive.

You’ll only find out you were conned when you reformat the drive out of frustration.

Conclusion

The “best external hard drive” is a question with a lot of nuance.

Basically, it’s down to what you need the drive to do.

In most cases that’s simply to provide a place for you to backup your files, photos, etc.

The vast majority of name brand external hard drives will fulfill that requirement.

But it is worth keeping an eye on SSD external hard drives – they’re becoming very affordable so expect them to dominate the portable drive market over the next few years.

Sources:

https://www.samsung.com/ie/memory-storage/portable-ssd/portable-ssd-t5-1tb-black-mu-pa1t0b-eu/

https://shop.westerndigital.com/en-ie/products/external-drives/wd-elements-desktop-usb-3-0-hdd#WDBWLG0040HBK-EESN

https://apricorn.com/fortress

https://www.transcend-info.com/Products/No-284

https://shop.westerndigital.com/en-ie/products/portable-drives/wd-my-passport-ultra-usb-c-hdd

Wired vs. Wireless Keyboards: Which Is Best For You?

Wireless keyboards are the norm now for most computer users.

But are they really a better choice, or are you using one just because it looks cool?

You probably never stopped to ask yourself that question.

Wireless = Modern and therefore = Good.

That’s not necessarily the case though.

At least not for every everyone.

Let’s look at what that might be the case.

Which is better – a wired or wireless keyboard?

Wired mechanical keyboards are preferred by professionals who need consistent and fast response times and gamers who cannot tolerate input lag. Wireless keyboards are cheaper to manufacture, and tend to be preferred by home and office users.

But there’s a lot of nuance to cover here.

Bluetooth vs. RF Keyboards

We need to cover this before we get any further into the “wired or wireless” keyboard debate.

Bluetooth is a wireless technology that was very popular in the early days of the new millennium.

But it never took off with PC peripherals except for headphones and a small number of input devices.

RF technology is what’s used in the majority of peripherals described as being “wireless”.

They use radio waves to communicate via a radio frequency (RF) with the USB receiver plugged into your desktop or laptop.

Way too many people think that Bluetooth and wireless RF is the same thing.

They’re not.

Most modern wireless keyboards communicate in the 2.4GHz frequency range, which allows them to communicate with a PC that’s up to 30 feet away.

Source: Logitech.com

Bluetooth devices also use a dongle but their effective range is usually no more than 10 feet.

What you can take away from this is that the vast majority of wireless keyboards are RF keyboards.

Okay, so that’s the technical stuff taken care of.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of wired vs. wireless keyboards.

Reduce Desk Mess

The real selling point for wireless peripherals is that you don’t have to worry about cables snaking across your desk, behind your screen, etc.

That means you could free up some extra desk space by not using a wired keyboard.

So that’s a definite plus in favor of wired keyboards.

But are those cables actually getting in your way?

Wires can mess up the visual Feng Shui of your desk, but do they actually get in your way…or do you just “feel” they do?

If you’re a total neat freak, then you’ll opt for using a wireless keyboard.

If you’re not then those cables might be kinda ugly, but how big of a deal is that in a home office?

Are you trying to create a neat working environment or a productive one?

Wireless Device Range

Wired keyboards usually come fitted with a 6-foot cable, which should be more than enough for the 99.9% of people who sit at arm’s length to their screen.

Bluetooth devices have a range of up to 33 feet, but line-of-sight is a factor here.

RF wireless peripherals, such as a wireless keyboard, have a range of between 6 and 30 feet, depending on the communication technology driving them.

The question to ask yourself here is how far away do you need to be from your desktop or laptop computer?

Do you know anyone who sits more than 6 feet from their PC or Mac while they’re working?

If so, drop me an email to explain why.

Interference Problems

Any type of wireless technology can suffer from signal interference, no matter what the manufacturers say.

Wireless devices communicate using radio waves, and radio waves can and do get scrambled.

Or other wireless computer peripherals in your home or office.

This is a major downside to wireless keyboards when compared to their wired counterparts.

What can cause interference with RF devices?

The problems usually come from other RF devices like headphones, printers, or anything else sharing the same 2.4GHz frequency.

Sometimes it can be something as random as a microwave oven in the next room – these emit electromagnetic fields (EMF) that can play havoc with wireless devices.

If this interference/signal drop happens while you’re listening to Spotify, then you won’t care.

But when you have the same problems with a wireless keyboard it’s beyond infuriating.

Your keyboard can simply stop working, or work intermittently, and you’ll have no idea why.

This is something wired keyboards never, ever suffer from.

So that’s a plus point for wired keyboards in this comparison.

Keyboard Response Times

Tech product “reviewers” always bring up keyboard response times.

Why?

Because input lag can be a real headache at times.

Basically, there can be a lag (delay) between what you type on a wireless keyboard and when that information appears on your screen.

The same goes for wireless mice.

This delay is measured in milliseconds, so the average human being won’t notice.

Unless something goes wrong, in which case you’ll find yourself shouting at the screen because the keyboard is duplicating everything you type.

Or you have to wait for the PC to catch up with the data wobbling over the RF connection to your computer.

This can be caused by local interference, failing batteries, or messed up driver software.

A wired computer keyboard doesn’t have this problem unless there’s something seriously wrong with it.

Like they’re totally borked.

Response times matter when it comes to gaming keyboards or those with optical switches.

But the average computer user will never be able to tell the difference.

Power usage

One of the single most frustrating aspects of owning a wireless keyboard is you need to have spare batteries on hand at all times.

They have a separate power source.

The same thing applies to computer mice – wireless mice can be a real pain in the ass.

I can guarantee that at least a few of you reading this have taken that 1am drive to a grocery store because your keyboard died just as you were in the middle of something important.

What most people suggest is buying two sets of rechargeable batteries and a battery charger.

That’s an environmentally friendly option…as long as you remember to keep your spare batteries charged.

Which most people don’t.

So maybe get a charger with a digital readout so you know exactly where you stand.

A wired keyboard never needs to be recharged (nor do wired mice).

And more importantly, they never run out of power at midnight on Sunday…while you’re putting the finishing touches to an important presentation.

When it comes to power requirements, a wired USB keyboard wins another point in the “wired vs. wireless” debate.

But, to be fair, wireless peripherals can have a battery life measured in months.

USB Ports Used

Every wired device needs its own USB port to work properly.

So your keyboard and mouse will take up two ports out of the total you have.

Most modern desktop PCs come with more USB ports than you’ll probably ever need, so this usually isn’t a huge issue.

But if you’re using a laptop then being able to connect both your keyboard and mouse via a single  USB dongle is a better solution.

Your dongle only takes up one port but connects two devices.

Wireless devices win in this category because they can actually reduce the number of USB ports you use.

So this is a win for the wireless models.

Fewer Moving Parts

When you’re troubleshooting issues with a PC, you have to take every component in a device chain into consideration.

What this means is that if I have to troubleshoot a wireless keyboard I need to consider the following:

  • USB dongle
  • Driver software
  • Battery/power
  • Physical device
  • RF interference

When I compare this to a wired keyboard my troubleshooting gets a lot easier:

  • USB driver issue
  • Physical cabling issue (is it plugged in)

Don’t get me wrong – a typical modern wireless keyboard is rock solid, and probably won’t ever give you a day’s trouble.

But if they do, that’s when the real work starts, and it’s never, ever fun.

Overall Cost

At face value, there’s very little price difference between the two.

You can get a basic wired keyboard for about $14, and a similar wireless keyboard costs around $18.

So, there’s no point in splitting hairs on price, right?

Plus…you kinda forgot to include the rechargeable batteries and a charger for them.

That adds an additional $14 to your overall costs, so the wireless keyboard now costs at least $32.

This matter only if you only plan on buying the cheapest keyboard you can find.

Which is usually a terrible idea.

Here are a few of my mid-range favorites of the different types you could buy:

Best wired keyboard under $50

The Logitech MK120 – this is a scaled down version of the Logitech MK280 I currently use.

Source: Logitech.com

Best wireless keyboard under $50

You basically have to get a keyboard and mouse combo here, but that’s just the way it works with the Logitech MK345.

Source: Logitech.com

Best mechanical keyboard under $100

And this is complete overkill, but it looks amazing. Ladies and gentlemen – the Razer Huntsman mechanical keyboard with optical switches.

Source: Razer.com

Gaming keyboards are an entirely different story – you already know you’re spending $100+ on one.

In terms of cost, there’s very little in the difference between wired vs. wireless keyboards.

Can a wireless keyboard be hacked?

Did you ever stop to ask yourself can wireless keyboards be hacked?

Yes, it can.

Any wireless device can be hacked.

Anyone telling you otherwise either doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Wireless keyboards can most definitely be hacked.

And it can be done from hundreds of feet away if the hacker used a drone to bounce their signal off.

Here’s a pretty exhaustive whitepaper on the subject of RF device security risks from the team at Bastille.

Data entered with a wired keyboard can also be hacked.

But that means using a virus, a physical device like a key logger, or a combination of the two.

Software Requirements

Something else you probably didn’t consider is the additional software you need to get your wireless keyboard up and running.

Windows 7 onward does a pretty decent job detecting USB keyboards.

But that’s not always the case with their wireless equivalents.

They usually need some kind of proprietary software installed, which can result in a stack of bloatware on your PC.

A wired keyboard only needs to be plugged in to a functioning USB port, and Windows will set it up with the standard HID (Human Interface Device) driver.

I prefer to keep my Windows install as lean as possible, and that includes installing the bare minimum of drivers and other software.

Plus, I always had to keep a wired keyboard around for reinstalling Windows on my PC…because a wireless keyboard is just a paperweight without its drivers.

Summary

So that’s my take on the whole wired vs. wireless keyboard debate.

It really comes down to what you need the keyboard for.

If you’re a gamer you’re going to use a wired mechanical keyboard, and you won’t need me to tell you that.

The average home office user can choose between wired and wireless technology depending on their preferences.

But there’s a lot to be said for using an input device that doesn’t need a battery, doesn’t suffer from interference, and does the exact same job.

So the best advice I can give is get the keyboard that best suits your needs.