The best portable hard drives give you the freedom to move about with more storage than your device alone can offer. That can mean gigabytes on the go for your laptop, tablet, or even smartphone.
In a world of cloud storage, with plenty of free space out there, are physical hard drives still relevant? For a few reasons, these are. If you want the security of knowing your data is all in one place, where the darker web can't get at it, then a physical hard drive helps -- making it ideal for teacher and student use.
Portable hard drives can also provide a lot of storage space for your money. Crucially though, these also work offline, allowing you to access your content anytime and anywhere regardless of internet connection status.
Since these can work with multiple devices, it can be helpful for sharing files across machines, such as taking a video from your laptop and plugging it directly into a projector, for example.
So you may already have looked at the best laptops for students or best tablets for students and want to save money by going for a lower storage option and pairing that with an external drive. Whatever you're after, this guide should have a perfect portable hard drive for your needs.
Best Portable Hard Drives
1. Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch: Best overall portable hard drive
The Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch is the premium model in this range from the hard drive specialist. That means that it still offers plenty of storage at up to 2TB and does it in a very portable and slender body, but with super protection. This offers an onboard AES-256 encryption so that nobody can get at your data but you -- it would take a super computer several hundred years to brute force break into this drive.
Everything is transmitted at high-speeds thanks to the USB-C and USB-3.0 adaptors. These allow you to use the drive with your Windows or Mac laptop, tablet, or Android smartphone.
Especially helpful here is the inclusion of the Seagate Toolkit software, which allows you to create backups automatically, or at the touch of a button. This lets you always have copies of your files, for you to roll-back to, should you needed. You can even mirror folders so all your files are kept backed up, live, as you make changes on your device.
The fabric outer gives the drive a premium feel, also making it more easy to grip when on the move. Everything is simple to transport with a 5.3oz weight in total and slim 0.46-inch body that could slip into a pocket or bag easily.
2. SanDisk Extreme Portable: Best for speed
The SanDisk Extreme Portable is a superb option for anyone who wants the fastest file transfers. This comes in 1TB and 2TB versions, yet in both cases offers speeds of up to 1GB per second. That makes this ideal for anyone working with larger files such as video, audio, or images that need to be moved fast. Or if you want this as the main drive you access regularly then the speed helps make this feel as quick as working with an internal drive.
Everything is solid state allowing it to be compact; in fact, this is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and it's so reassuringly well-built that you get a 3-year limited warranty as part of the deal.
The downside? This is expensive, so you'll pay more per terabyte than many other drives, however, it gets you that speed and portability advantage. It's also super tough with an IP55 rating against dust or water damage, meaning you don't need to worry about looking after this drive as you throw it in a bag.
3. Samsung T7 Shield: Best for toughness and speed
The Samsung T7 Shield is a superb combination drive that offers a solid state drive of up to 4TB in a body that's built to last. Thanks to a tough outer shell this drive is both shock- and water-resistant to an IP65 rating. It works with nearly any device that has a USB port, and is also super secure thanks to an AES-256 encryption.
Unlike some other drives, this packs in USB 3.2, which allows it to read and write at over 1GB per second. All that makes this suitable for video, audio, images, and use as an internal drive equivalent with near instant response rates. The fact it looks attractive and comes in a selection of color options is just a bonus.
Samsung throws in USB C-to-C and C-to-A cables so you can use this with laptops and desktops as well as smartphones, tablets, and consoles. Crucially, this should work with most smart whiteboards with ease. It's not the cheapest but you get a lot for the price, and with lots of size options there should be a model to suit most needs.
4. Crucial X6 Portable SSD: Best budget option
The Crucial X6 Portable SSD is a very portable and capable drive that is also affordable, comparatively. At just 2.4 by 2.6 inches and 0.35-inches thin, this is a svelte little square that can slip into your pocket with ease. You get USB type C and A combinations, allowing you to use this with most devices from laptops and desktops to tablets and smartphones.
This isn't the fastest drive out there for transfer rates with SATA skills that mean you're going to get about 550MB per second, which is still very fast and more than enough for most file transfers.
The drive is a basic looking unit yet it does the job and is solid enough to withstand most daily rigors -- although it's not tough by any means.
5. Western Digital My Book: Best for storage space
The Western Digital My Book is a great option for anyone who wants huge amounts of storage. This comes in a variety of capacities with prices to suit but pushes the limit at the top end right up to 22TB of storage.
The downside here is that the drive does require an external dedicated power cable to run, making it less portable than most. But the flip of that is a lot more capacity from this drive that is also larger than most.
Speeds are decent with USB-A offering transfer rates of 5Gbps. Thanks to software onboard this offers an AES-256 encryption as well as backup that automates, keeping files secure on the drive.
Thanks to a high-quality build, you get a 3-year limited warranty on this shock-resistant drive that's made to last.