External hard drives are almost a commodity these days. They're cheap, come in multiple sizes, and they're pretty easy to find. Still, some are better than others: They're more reliable, more portable, have more connectivity options, and so on. This week we're looking at five of the best, based on your nominations.
Earlier in the week,we asked you to tell us which external hard drives you thought were the best. That is, off-the-shelf, consumer-oriented drives. We've covered the best external drive enclosures before, and we've talked about the best NAS enclosures as well. This time we wanted to cover the best simple, out of the box external drives. You offered up your nominations, and now we're back to highlight the top five.
Western Digital's My Passport line of drives are small, portable, and come in capacities ranging from 500GB all the way up to 2TB. All of the drives sport WD's "Smartware" automatic backup software, which allows you to back up your computer to your drive as soon as you connect it, or on regular intervals (although, we generally suggest you avoid any drive's built-in software and back up with something much better.) The My Passport line is most noted for being affordable and remarkably small—about the size of a pocket notebook—and being available in multiple colors and cases to fit your needs to both storage and style. The MyPassport line is also available with USB 3.0 (or 2.0), packs Western Digital's password-protection features (that keep the files on the drive from being accessed without authentication), and they're all powered by USB, so you don't need to drag an adapter along with you.
Those of you who nominated the My Passport line specifically praised its portability and its affordability, and one of you even mentioned liking WD's included security software—something we don't often hear when we're talking about external hard drives. If you want one, you can pick them up in your choice of size and color at Amazon, ranging from $60 for 500GB to $128 for 2TB.
The GoFlex portable line of hard drives is still available, and tried and true, even if it's technically been replaced by Seagate's newer Slim Portable and Backup Plus line of portable drives. However, the GoFlex portable series earned your and reviewers' praise for being reliable, relatively rugged, and flexible. The drive comes with features you would expect from an external drive, including built-in software that performs automatic backups when connected or at regular intervals, encryption software to keep your data secure and safe from prying eyes if it's lost or stolen, and so on. When paired with their USB dock, the portable GoFlex becomes a powerful desktop drive with storage and health indicators on the exterior, and what was a portable USB 2.0 drive can suddenly become a USB 3.0, eSATA, or Firewire drive for faster data transfer.
Those of you who praised the GoFlex Ultra-Portable line hihglighted its flexibility and its port options, which let you connect it to virtually any computer you come across using the best possible connection method. Even though the Super Slim series is the new iteration of the line, the GoFlex Ultra-Portable is still available from third parties like Amazon in multiple sizes and colors ranging from around $100 for 500GB (USB 3.0) and $54 for 500GB (USB 2.0) and up for 750GB and 1TB versions, and even larger capacities in the form of the GoFlex Desk, which sports many of the same modular features. Upgrade cables for the interface are available direct or as add-on items from Amazon.
The My Book line of external hard drives by Western Digital have been around for ages, and they're still going strong. They've changed look a few times, but they're still popular, and firmly targeted at desktop users who need a little more storage space (and don't necessarily need to take that storage with them on the go). Like the My Passport series, the My Book line comes with Western Digital's "Smartwave" automatic backup software, that will back up your PC anytime you choose or on a regular, pre-defined schedule. The drive can also be password protected and encrypted, so you have to authenticate before you can access or open any of the files on it. The desktop version supports system backups using Acronis as well as WD's own software, and can be configured to sync with cloud storage services like Dropbox.
The other nice thing about the My Book line is that you have plenty of connectivity options. It supports USB 2.0 and 3.0 out of the box (at least on the new models), and comes in capacities between 2TB and 4TB. Those of you who highlighted it praised its history of quality drives and customer support, not to mention reliability. If you want to pick one up, they're available at Amazon from $90 for 2TB, $110 for 3TB, and $160 for 4TB.
The Seagate FreeAgent Desk is the desk-sized version of Seagate's external drives, and while it's technically been replaced by the Backup Plus line of desktop drives, but it's still widely available, and comes in capacities ranging from 1TB to 4TB. The FreeAgent line are almost iconic, and as the name implies, they're desktop drives, designed not to be moved terribly often. The FreeAgent line comes with USB 2.0 by default (although the newer Backup Plus supports 3.0), and Seagate's built-in automatic backup and encryption software to keep your files and data safe.
On the up-side, even though the FreeAgent series is fading away, they're still available, ranging from around $37 for 500GB up to $60 for 1TB to $150 for 1.5TB at Amazon. Alternatively, the Backup Plus line is a natural upgrade for more modern devices, sporting USB 3.0 connectivity that's upgradable to Firewire or Thunderbolt if you need it, visual storage and health indicators on the front, support for cloud syncing and auto-downloading photos and media from social networks, and more. They're available in capacities from 1TB up to 4TB, starting at $82 for 1TB, $92 for 2TB, $118 for 3TB, and $150 for 4TB at Amazon. If you're interested in an older FreeAgent, there's no reason not to look at the newer models instead.