Where to buy external hard drives: The Best Rugged Hard Drives and SSDs for 2023

The Best Rugged Hard Drives and SSDs for 2023

What’s the best way to be sure your external hard drive won’t suffer an early demise due to rough handling? Keep it in a climate-controlled room, wrapped in bubble wrap, resting on a feather pillow, and plugged safely into a stationary desktop PC.

Excellent! But…wait, you can’t do that? Oh, well. Looks like you’re going to need a hard drive designed to withstand the rigors of the real world.

Now, any ordinary external hard drive has some degree of toughness. But there’s everyday tough, and then there’s rugged. “Rugged” comes in many grades, though. Some rugged drives are built to withstand forces that would kill any bare-naked internal drive: strong impacts, water immersion, even fire. Drives designed for more casual abuse are often marketed as “ruggedized,” but that’s an inexact term. It’s also something of a misnomer, as the actual drive mechanism inside the tough shell is usually a normal, off-the-shelf storage component, just like you’d find in any laptop or desktop. What makes a drive rugged is the casing around it, which allows these drives to withstand shock, dousing, and the like. The level of survivability often depends on how much money you want to spend.

In general, how much torture a given drive can take varies according to the nature of its enclosure. Some will let you drive a car over them. Others might be designed to handle just a short fall off a desk, and not much more.

In this guide, we gather up the most impressive models we’ve reviewed, and then walk you through the features most commonly found in rugged drives. If you’re the type of person who’s suffered a drive failure “in the field” before—whether that’s in your office, or climbing Kilimanjaro—these devices should keep you from suffering that pain again.

Deeper Dive: Our Top Tested Picks

ADATA SE800

Best Rugged SSD for General Use

4.5 Outstanding

Bottom Line:

The ADATA SE800 external SSD is everything you want in a shirt-pocket solid-state drive: sleek, tough, affordable, and snappy. It will make an excellent addition to your kit.

PROS

  • Small, light, and fast.
  • Highly durable.
  • Reasonable cost per gigabyte.
  • USB-C and USB-A cables included.

CONS

  • The provided cables are on the short side.

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ADATA SE800 Review

LaCie Rugged SSD Pro

Best Rugged SSD Using Thunderbolt 3

4.5 Outstanding

Bottom Line:

The LaCie Rugged SSD Pro external drive is designed for professional videographers and others who work in the field with Thunderbolt 3-equipped computers (most often Macs). Small, light, and even mailable, it earns the right to add “extremely” in front of “fast and rugged.”

PROS

  • Field-leading speed
  • Also works with USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 and Gen 2 ports
  • Extreme ruggedness against dust, water, drops, crush pressure
  • Five-year warranty

CONS

  • High price per gigabyte
  • Cable is a bit short

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LaCie Rugged SSD Pro Review

SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD

Best Rugged SSD for Mac Users

4. 5 Outstanding

Bottom Line:

The Mac-centric SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD, an external drive with sizzling speeds over a Thunderbolt 3 connection, is built to withstand anything the elements can throw at it. It doesn’t come cheap, but costs less than the nearest comparable drive we’ve reviewed.

PROS

  • Blistering speeds over a Thunderbolt 3 connection
  • Extremely rugged
  • Handsome design
  • Thunderbolt 3 cable included

CONS

  • High cost per gigabyte
  • Tricky to reformat for Windows use
  • Slower over a USB-C connection

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SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD Review

Samsung Portable SSD T7 Shield

Best Rugged and Secure Mainstream SSD

4.0 Excellent

Bottom Line:

Samsung’s Portable SSD T7 Shield is an external solid-state drive that’s impervious to dust, rain, and tumbles. It’s a durable and secure choice for outdoor workers and travelers, if on the slow side compared to non-rugged SSDs.

PROS

  • Provides protection from rain, dust, and drops
  • AES 256-bit hardware-based encryption
  • Offers the raw speed of a USB 3.2 Gen 2 drive
  • Comes in capacities up to 2TB

CONS

  • Relatively short three-year warranty
  • Not the fastest external SSD for everyday storage tasks

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Samsung Portable SSD T7 Shield Review

iStorage DiskAshur M2

Best Rugged SSD for Extreme Data Security

4.0 Excellent

Bottom Line:

The iStorage DiskAshur M2 portable SSD packs a wealth of security features to protect your data—and it’s a proper value, too. It is impervious to the elements, can survive being run over, and costs less than similar security-focused SSDs.

PROS

  • AES-XTS 256-bit full-disk hardware encryption
  • IP68 ruggedness rating
  • Compatible with Windows, macOS, Linux, Chrome, Android, and more
  • Supports an administrator PIN, plus separate user PINs
  • No software to install
  • Aggressively priced for a security-focused SSD

CONS

  • More expensive per gigabyte than standard external SSDs
  • Much slower transfer rates than less-security-minded drives

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iStorage DiskAshur M2 Review

SanDisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD V2

Best Rugged SSD for Athletic Activities

3. 5 Good

Bottom Line:

Geared to content creators, SanDisk’s Extreme Pro Portable SSD V2 offers some of the fastest read and write speeds we’ve seen from an external solid-state drive. But you’ll likely have to buy and install an expansion card on a desktop PC to attain them.

PROS

  • Stellar read and write speeds
  • Five-year warranty
  • Password-protected with 256-bit AES hardware-based encryption
  • Durable

CONS

  • Port that enables drive’s full speed barely exists in the wild
  • 2×2 expansion card will cost extra, and is only an option on desktops

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SanDisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD V2 Review

OWC Envoy Pro EX With USB-C

Best High-Style Rugged SSD

4.0 Excellent

Bottom Line:

If you’re shopping for a fast, Mac-matching external SSD that will look just as good in the boardroom as it will on the side of a mountain, the Envoy Pro EX With USB-C is the drive for you.

PROS

  • Sleek design
  • Aesthetic especially complements Mac laptops
  • Durable chassis design
  • Three-year warranty
  • Strong speed results

CONS

  • Pricey on a cost-per-gigabyte basis
  • Only a USB Type-C-to-C cable in the box, with no C-to-A dongle

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OWC Envoy Pro EX With USB-C Review

ADATA HD710M Pro External Hard Drive

Best Rugged Hard Drive for Budget Buyers

4.0 Excellent

Bottom Line:

Love or hate its camouflage look, the ADATA HD710M Pro external rugged hard drive provides on-par performance and fine durability at a competitive price.

PROS

  • Durable in drop tests.
  • Good dollar-per-gigabyte ratio.
  • Trim enclosure.
  • Lightweight for a ruggedized unit.
  • Cable storage around the edges.

CONS

  • Camouflage exterior may not be for everyone.
  • Plastic housing only.

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ADATA HD710M Pro External Hard Drive Review

LaCie Rugged RAID Shuttle

Best Rugged Portable Hard Drive With RAID Speeds

4.0 Excellent

Bottom Line:

LaCie’s two-drive Rugged RAID Shuttle offers the choice of high capacity and fast performance (in striped mode), or of half the capacity with all data mirrored on the second disk. It’s ideal for anyone who works in the field and produces oodles of data.

PROS

  • Flat, easily mailable chassis.
  • Can set to RAID 0 for higher speed and capacity, or to RAID 1 for drive mirroring.
  • Bundled cables for USB Type-A and Type-C on PC side.

CONS

  • No tab over Type-C connector to protect it from dust and water.
  • High price per gigabyte, due largely to ruggedization and RAID design.

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LaCie Rugged RAID Shuttle Review

SanDisk Professional G-Drive ArmorATD

Best Rugged Hard Drive for Mac Users

4. 0 Excellent

Bottom Line:

The SanDisk Professional G-Drive ArmorATD is an attractive, cost-effective portable hard drive, best for Mac users, that provides some protection from the elements but lacks a software suite and hardware-based encryption.

PROS

  • Rugged enough to protect from the elements, with rubberized sheath and port cover
  • Attractive design
  • Ideal for use with macOS
  • Both USB-C and USB-A cables bundled
  • Competitive pricing

CONS

  • Lacks software suite and hardware-based encryption
  • Requires reformatting for use with Windows

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SanDisk Professional G-Drive ArmorATD Review

Buying Guide: The Best Rugged Hard Drives and SSDs for 2023

Buying a rugged drive involves a lot of the same decision points you’d face with an ordinary external drive. Let’s break them down.

INTERFACE TYPE. The industry has settled on two main interfaces in external portable drives these days: USB 3 of various flavors (very common) and Thunderbolt (much less common). Which one is best for your needs depends on the ports on the computer or computers you are using. Also, these interfaces, in their latest iterations, actually overlap in terms of physical connectivity. We’ll explain that in a moment.

You might be asking: Thunderbolt? Thunderbolt is no longer a specialized connector meant mainly for Mac users, though Mac usage still dominates. The latest iteration, Thunderbolt 3, makes the interface much more mainstream, and a new version, Thunderbolt 4, is emerging of late (though not yet really a factor in external drives). The version of Thunderbolt common from 2013 to a few years ago, Thunderbolt 2, offered four times the theoretical bandwidth of USB 3.0 (20Gbps for Thunderbolt, versus 5Gbps for USB 3.0). But adoption was limited, and on top of that, no single hard drive-based external drive can even begin to approach the limits of either interface. Platter-based hard drives just aren’t fast enough for it to matter much which interface you use.


(Credit: Zlata Ivleva)

If you have a older Mac with an original Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2 port and want a Thunderbolt drive to use with it, go ahead and pull the trigger. A few makers of rugged drives, such as LaCie, still offer rugged drives with the legacy Thunderbolt interfaces, but know that those older interfaces are a dead end for future computers. Just make sure the drive and system use matching and compatible versions of Thunderbolt, and don’t assume it’ll be any faster than what USB 3.0 offers.

That said, both of these interfaces are evolving, which leads us to…

USB 3 AND THUNDERBOLT 3 (IT’S A TANGLE). Newer and faster versions of both USB and Thunderbolt have been rolling out in some external drives over the last couple of years. They offer twice the potential bandwidth of previous implementations. But you’ll need ports to match them on your computer, and again, the real-world speed ramifications aren’t as big a deal as they might sound.

On the USB front, the latest interface is called USB 3.2 or USB Type-C, and it first made headlines by appearing in the super-thin 2015 version of the Apple MacBook. It’s now common on new Windows PCs, and a staple in all the latest MacBook Air and Pro laptops (in the case of the Macs, paired with support for Thunderbolt 3 on the same ports). USB Type-C is a slim, oval-shaped port with a cable that you can insert in either of two directions. To complicate matters, though, “USB Type-C” technically refers to the shape of the plug, while USB 3.2 is the spec having to do with the speed over that interface. You’ll find that some ordinary “Type-A” USB ports (the rectangular USB ports we are all used to) in recent-model systems also claim support for USB 3.2. Some late-model external drives that support USB 3.2 come with two cables, one with a Type-A connector at the system end and one with a Type-C.


(Credit: Zlata Ivleva)

Beyond that, USB 3.2 (the speed specification) comes in two primary (and one rare) flavors as of this writing: “Gen 1” and “Gen 2. ” The iteration called “USB 3.2 Gen 2” has a maximum theoretical interface speed of 10Gbps. (Few single external devices can saturate that interface, even most solid-state drives.) “USB 3.2 Gen 1,” on the other hand, is identical in maximum potential speed to USB 3.0. (Confusing, we know.) We won’t complicate matters further with the much rarer, 20Gbps “USB 3.2 Gen 2×2,” which also exists but remains uncommon enough to ignore at the moment. (Only a few high-speed external SSDs use it.)

When you’re dealing with an external platter-based hard drive, it makes little difference which kind you get. To make this matter even more confusing, though, the naming convention for USB 3.2 is relatively new; it was gradually moved to USB 3.2 Gen 1 and USB 3.2 Gen 2 from various flavors of “USB 3.1,” thanks to some (in our opinion) ill-advised branding shenanigans by USB’s governing body. (See our explainer.)

Bottom line, when looking at rugged drives with a USB interface, you just need to be sure your PC or Mac has a physically compatible USB port—that is, can you simply plug it in, and does the drive say it works with PCs, Macs, or both? This physical compatibility is what matters most, as a USB device will dial down to the slower speed of the two elements in play (the host system or the drive).

Muddying matters further, though, is the most common recent version of Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt 3—specifically, in how it is implemented. Thunderbolt 3 uses the same reversible connector as USB Type-C. Also, support for USB 3.2 is baked into Thunderbolt 3. In essence, all Thunderbolt 3 ports are USB Type-C ports, though not all USB Type-C ports support Thunderbolt 3.


(Credit: Zlata Ivleva)

As a result, any new drive with a USB Type-C connector should just work, whether you plug it in to a Thunderbolt 3 port or to a “plain old” USB Type-C connector. (The possible wrinkle is plugging a Thunderbolt 3 drive into a USB Type-C port that doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3; you’ll want to check if the drive maker supports that. In our experience, sometimes it works, sometimes not.)

As mentioned earlier, with hard drives, you won’t see a huge speed benefit from USB 3.2 vs. Thunderbolt 3 vs. plain old USB 3.0. Thunderbolt 3 boasts potential bandwidth up to 40Gbps, but again, your typical external hard drive won’t push data anywhere close to that limit. That said, some newer SSDs employing cutting-edge, hopped-up internal components are starting to make better use of USB 3.2 and Thunderbolt 3 bandwidth. Look for “USB 3.2 Gen 2” branding and peak transfer rates from 1,000MBps to 3,500MBps. These external SSDs are based on the same PCI Express/NVMe internal bits that today’s fastest internal SSDs use; older SSDs tended to top out around 550MBps because they were based on older Serial ATA technology. (For more on the nuances of this speed uptick, see our guide to the best external SSDs.)

ROTATIONAL SPEED. If you’re talking about a rugged platter hard drive, as opposed to an SSD, drive rotation speed matters—a little. It’s the rate at which the physical platters inside the drive spin, and it used to be a significant determining factor in overall performance. But these days, many models spin at a modest 5,400rpm or thereabouts, rather than the 7,200rpm that used to be more common with performance-oriented drives.

In a bigger-picture sense, SSDs (which have no moving parts) have largely made the notion of a “fast” hard drive a bit passe. Even the slowest external SSD is faster than a 7,200rpm hard drive, often several times over, depending on what you’re transferring and measuring.

If you really need extra performance but can’t dole out the bucks for a portable SSD due to cost or capacity concerns, a few 7,200rpm external rugged hard drives are available (the G-Tech G-Drive eV ATC is one), but they are not often clearly advertised as such. In most cases, we wouldn’t make rotational speed a prime factor in a purchase.

EXTERNAL SSD VS. EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE. SSDs are not only taking over the notebook and personal computer market, but they’re also edging into external storage. It’s easy to imagine a future in which all external drives will be solid-state, because the advantages of SSDs over spinning hard drives make them perfect choices for real-world knocks. Not only do SSDs have no moving parts, making them much more durable, but they also make no noise and produce very little heat.

The only problem with SSDs? They are still expensive compared to hard drives of the same capacity. And compared to portable hard drives, the roomiest of which today can store up to 5 terabytes (5TB) per drive mechanism, external SSDs aren’t as spacious. That’s changing, though, as we’ve seen SSDs creeping into the multi-terabyte range—albeit at a hefty price premium. Check out our explainer for more on hard drives versus SSDs.


(Credit: Zlata Ivleva)

Most portable external SSDs aren’t expressly advertised as rugged, though ADATA, LaCie, SanDisk, and a few others do offer such drives, with caps to cover their ports to protect their innards from moisture. But in a general sense, any portable SSD should hold up to drops and being jostled around in a bag better than any traditional portable hard drive. If that’s the extent of the extra protection you’re after, a portable SSD, rugged or not, is enticing, particularly if you don’t need lots of storage space.

REMOVABLE OR FIXED ENCLOSURES. A permanent shell is the most common design among rugged drives, with a sealed chassis around the drive. Materials and design vary, but the exterior for a platter hard drive is typically a hard plastic or rubber, which allows the drive to absorb impact. These enclosures may or may not also provide seals to keep the elements—dust, dirt, and water—out of your drive. (More on that in a moment.) Rugged external SSDs will typically have a metal shell, since shock absorption is less crucial.


(Credit: Zlata Ivleva)

A few drives feature enclosures that are removable, adding another layer of protection between the drive and the casing. These are typically sealed with O-rings all the way around, allowing the drive inside extra moisture protection. In other cases, the removable element might just be a rubber or silicone wrapper around an outer metal or plastic casing.


What Exactly Makes a Drive Rugged? Quantifying Drive Protection

A key spec to seek out for rugged outdoor use is compliance with IP67 or IP68. IP stands for “International Protection” as well as “Ingress Protection,” and the IP spec describes a drive’s level of waterproofing and dust/debris resistance. The related specs are governed by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)(Opens in a new window), a nonprofit standards-creation body. We have an in-depth primer on what the various IP levels mean and how to interpret the figures; check out Waterproof? Dust-Resistant? Making Sense of Gadget Ratings, which defines how long a drive can be submerged, and more.

Quantifying the allowable vertical drop resistance is hazier. Most rugged drives, especially SSDs, can handle a fall from your desk and keep on chugging. Standard external platter-based hard drives are less resilient, especially if a drive happens to be running when it took a dive.


(Credit: PCMag)

Since your basic external hard drive has a hard-plastic shell, when an impact occurs, the chassis transfers the shock energy to the hard drive within, possibly causing the read and write heads to crash into the hard drive platters. That is, for certain, A Very Bad Thing. (Modern drives have acceleration sensors, which detect a fall and rapidly “park” the heads in a safe place before impact, but even that’s not foolproof. ) When a drive is encased in a material with more “give,” or with a soft bumper, the enclosure absorbs more of the impact. However, not all enclosures are designed for maximum shock resistance; a rugged drive might have a metal shell, to provide crush protection as well as some safety in case of a drop. As a result, you’re mostly at the mercy of the drive vendor to tell you the rated maximum drop distance for the drive.


So, Which Rugged Drive Should I Buy?

See below for our top picks in rugged drives according to usage case. If you’re looking for a more ordinary external hard drive or a portable SSD, we’ve got best picks for those, as well, at the links.

This story has been produced in partnership with our sister site, Computer Shopper.

The Best External Hard Drive of 2023

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  1. Electronics
  2. Storage devices

Photo: Marki Williams

FYI

Whether you need to back up your computer or get more space for a growing media library, external hard drives are the easiest, most cost-effective option for more storage. Portable drives like the Western Digital My Passport Ultra (5 TB) require only a single USB cable attached to your computer, so they’re convenient to use and carry with a laptop in more than one place. Desktop drives require both a USB cable and a power outlet but are generally faster, so they’re better suited to everyday work with files on the drive rather than occasional access or backups.

Our pick

Western Digital My Passport Ultra (5 TB)

This 5 TB drive gives most people the best balance of price, speed, capacity, portability, and usability. That makes it a great choice for backing up your laptop or transferring large files between your office and home computers.

The Western Digital My Passport Ultra has the largest capacity available among portable drives, and it’s one of the most affordable drives we considered with this much storage. It works with both Windows computers and Macs, and it comes with USB-C and USB-A connectors and a three-year warranty.

The research

  • Why you should trust us
  • Who this is for
  • How we picked
  • How we tested
  • Our pick: Western Digital My Passport Ultra (5 TB)
  • If you need more than 5 TB of storage
  • The competition
  • What to look forward to

Why you should trust us

Wirecutter has researched and recommended hard drives since early 2012. Over that time, we’ve spent hundreds of hours researching and testing more than a hundred different external hard drives, both portable and desktop, to recommend the best options for a variety of needs. To find out how portable and desktop drives differ in quality and build, we spoke to product experts from Western Digital and Seagate, companies that manufacture both types of drives. We also spoke to Andy Klein of Backblaze, a cloud-backup company that publishes statistics on hard drive failure rates each year.

Who this is for

External drives are great for backing up important files or adding storage to your PC without opening it. For regular backups or quick transfers from one computer to another, a portable hard drive that receives power and transfers data over a single cable is ideal—such drives have a much smaller desk footprint and don’t need an external power cable. But if you work with large music, image, or video files, you should opt for a desktop hard drive or splurge on a portable SSD instead. Both types are faster than a portable hard drive, but desktop drives are designed to be stationary and may not withstand bumps or jolts as well, and they require an external power brick. Portable SSDs, in contrast, can be moved freely but are more expensive than portable hard drives or external hard drives.

Everyone should regularly back up their important documents and photos. Your computer’s internal drive will stop working someday, and unless you’ve backed up your data, it will be gone forever at that point. Fortunately, backing up your data is easy, and getting started takes only a few minutes: We have advice to help you set up a system to back up your files automatically to both an external hard drive and the cloud. Having both on-site and cloud backups ensures that your data stays safe from internet outages or disruptions to the cloud backup provider, as well as localized threats such as fire, theft, or natural disaster.

How we picked

Ideally, an external hard drive is something you don’t notice much. It should sit on your desk, quietly spinning away, storing and backing up your data without a lot of setup or ongoing maintenance. Desktop drives can be big, bulky, and sometimes an eyesore, so early on we wanted to see if smaller, portable drives could perform the same functions well enough for most people.

These are the features we regularly look for in an external hard drive:

  • Input: We consider drives with a variety of USB port types—USB Type-B, Micro-B, or Type-C—but regardless of the port, we look at only those drives that support the most current USB standard, USB 3.2 Gen 2. We dismiss drives built exclusively for Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 because they cost too much and don’t perform noticeably better for most people.
  • Performance: We evaluate each drive with tests that replicate different real-world uses. We outline our testing procedure below.
  • Price: Although we consider drives of all prices, we limit our testing to models priced below $150, and we compare their value on a dollar-per-terabyte basis.
  • Capacity: We focus on 4 TB and 5 TB hard drives because of the balance they strike between value and total cost. Many desktop hard drives are available in capacities of 14 TB or more, but most people don’t need that much storage.
  • Reliability: All hard drives die eventually, but there’s no definitive answer on when that day will come. If possible, try to replace your backup drives between the third and sixth years of use. It’s difficult to get metrics on which hard drive models are more reliable over the long run, and though we’ve examined Amazon reviews to establish which drives have died more quickly for owners, there will always be outliers and failures that occur sooner than expected. We’ve also analyzed Backblaze’s hard drive failure reports, which have their own shortcomings. The best way to protect your files from being lost in a hard drive failure is to double up with a cloud backup service.
  • Durability: Hard drives contain physical moving parts, so they’re more prone to failure due to jostling or drops than solid state drives, which have no mechanical parts. Get an SSD if you want a drive that has extra protection against getting knocked around, and if you need speed. If you’re deciding between an external desktop hard drive and a portable hard drive, ask yourself how often you’ll be moving it around and how careful you are. “Since portable drives are meant to be taken with you, they are designed to be more durable in terms of the everyday wear and tear of taking them along with you. Desktop drives may be less resistant to drops and are designed to be stationary,” a product expert from Western Digital told us.
  • Nice-to-have features: Desktop drives generally have power switches so that you can be sure they’re off when you’re moving them, and these switches can also help the drives waste a little less energy when they aren’t in use; in contrast, portable drives generally lack power switches. Backup software is another nice perk, but you can find lots of free alternatives and great options among online backup services. If you don’t need the extra features in backup software, setting it up on every computer you use isn’t worth the time and effort. Dragging and dropping files works just fine for performing manual backups, and your OS’s built-in backup utility should suffice for running automatic ones.
  • Warranty: Almost every drive we’ve tested has had either a two- or three-year warranty. If all else were equal, we would always recommend a longer period of coverage. But because we’ve read some customer reviews complaining about warranty claims being unexpectedly rejected, we wouldn’t value this factor over other aspects of a great drive.
  • Speed: Hard drives contain spinning disks, or platters, with heads that move over the surface of those platters to read and write your data. The faster the platters spin—rated in rotations per minute, or rpm—the faster the drive can access data and transfer it to your computer. Some readers in the past have asked us to recommend 7,200 rpm drives, but in testing such drives on real-world and backup tasks, we’ve found that rotations per minute isn’t the most important criterion to judge a drive by. If speed is critical for your needs, look at our portable SSD picks instead.

How we tested

Going by our initial research and criteria, for each round of testing we settle on external desktop hard drives and portable models to evaluate. We first test them using the benchmarking program HD Tune. For a more real-world measurement, we then time the transfer of a 15 GB folder including a Blu-ray movie and a 31 GB folder of music. We perform each test six times, and we determine the average read and write speeds to rule out performance hiccups.

Once we finish testing, we sift through hundreds of Amazon reviews for our finalists. We eliminate drives for which 5% or more of the total reviews are only one-star ratings, because that many complaints is disproportionate to what we’ve seen for most drives. Although you can find negative reviews for every drive complaining about an unexpected failure or incompatibility with a computer, we select models that keep such reviews to a minimum.

Our pick: Western Digital My Passport Ultra (5 TB)

Photo: Marki Williams

Our pick

Western Digital My Passport Ultra (5 TB)

This 5 TB drive gives most people the best balance of price, speed, capacity, portability, and usability. That makes it a great choice for backing up your laptop or transferring large files between your office and home computers.

We recommend choosing a portable hard drive because such models offer simplicity and versatility whether you’re backing up files on a laptop, expanding your computer’s storage capacity, or transferring files from one computer to another. The best portable hard drive for most people is the Western Digital My Passport Ultra (5 TB), whose capacity and cost per terabyte make it a better value than most. It connects to USB-A and USB-C ports, and its body has a native USB-C port, which is more durable and easier to plug in than the Micro-B connectors on older drives.

Its 5 TB capacity makes it an excellent value. At about $26 per terabyte, the My Passport Ultra offers more for the price than the competition. For example, the 4 TB Toshiba Canvio Advance Plus we tested is a few bucks cheaper per terabyte, but it has a lower maximum capacity and has a less sturdy Micro-B connector on its body. Our former pick, the Toshiba Canvio Flex, is pricier at about $28 per terabyte, and it’s also limited to 4 TB.

The My Passport Ultra has a USB-C cable that’s long enough for you to place the drive close to your laptop, whether on your desk or on a laptop stand. Photo: Marki Williams

It comes with a three-year warranty. That coverage could help you save some money if the drive does die early. Most other drives have a two-year warranty. Consider the more expensive portable solid-state drive option if you want an SSD’s longer lifespan.

The My Passport Ultra has a USB-C port on its body, a rarity for a portable hard drive. USB-C ports are easier to connect and more durable than the wider Micro-B ports. The cable comes with a USB-A adapter for older PCs and Macs. Photo: Marki Williams

The My Passport Ultra has a USB-C port on its body, a rarity for a portable hard drive. USB-C ports are easier to connect and more durable than the wider Micro-B ports. The cable comes with a USB-A adapter for older PCs and Macs. Photo: Western Digital

The My Passport Ultra has a USB-C port on its body, a rarity for a portable hard drive. USB-C ports are easier to connect and more durable than the wider Micro-B ports. The cable comes with a USB-A adapter for older PCs and Macs. Photo: Marki Williams

The USB-C cable is easy to plug in. USB-C ports are great because you don’t have to worry about flipping the cable to plug it in. We like that the My Passport Ultra comes with a cable with a USB-C connector on both ends, as well as a USB-C–to–USB-A adapter to match whichever port your computer has (or whichever one your next computer may have). The cable is on the short side, but it’s certainly long enough for you to plug the drive into a laptop on your desk, even if it’s on a laptop stand.

Real-world file transfers, in minutes

All times are expressed in minutes:seconds. Our tests include a variety of data transfers to mimic real-world situations.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

It’s slower than competing hard drives at transferring files. Even so, it’s still plenty fast enough for backing up your laptop while you work or for copying the occasional file folder. The declining cost of 1 TB portable SSDs is making those models more competitive with 4 TB and 5 TB portable hard drives, however, so we suggest looking at SSDs if file transfer speed is more important to you than storage space.

The My Passport Ultra is formatted for Windows PCs. If you have a Mac, you can either reformat this drive or purchase the Mac-compatible version.

If you need more than 5 TB of storage

Try the Western Digital Elements, which was a previous runner-up pick and is still a solid option especially if it’s on sale. Because it’s a larger desktop drive, you have to plug it into a power outlet as well as the USB port. But it comes in a wider range of capacities (from 4 TB to 22 TB) than the My Passport Ultra does, and it performed decently in our tests.

The competition

External desktop hard drives

The Seagate One Touch Hub has USB-C and USB-A ports on its front panel, which are handy for charging mobile devices or connecting portable drives to your PC or Mac. This desktop drive was significantly slower in our testing than our portable hard drive pick. If you don’t need the extra connectivity, the WD Elements desktop drives listed above are less expensive for most capacities above 4 TB.

Although the Fantom Drives Gforce 3 Pro is a 7,200 rpm drive, its transfer speeds were mediocre in our tests. It’s also heavy, expensive, and selective about which computer ports it connects to, a problem we didn’t have with any other drive.

We tested the Sandisk Professional G-Drive at a 12 TB capacity, and it tested faster than most of the other desktop drives, but it’s expensive, and it’s a specialized model for Mac media professionals. It comes formatted for Macs and works only with USB-C ports.

The Seagate Expansion drive performed fine in our large-file transfer tests but had the slowest speeds of any desktop drive we tested in our small-file transfer tests. It also disconnected itself from our PC without warning in the midst of testing and failed to connect again afterward.

The WD My Book, a previous pick, didn’t stack up well against the models we tested more recently. In comparison, it produced slower transfer speeds across the board, and it took significantly longer to perform backups.

Portable hard drives

LaCie’s Mobile Drive costs way too much for a drive that doesn’t offer unique benefits, and it performed atrociously in most of our testing.

We dismissed the LaCie Rugged USB-C drive because it cost more than the LaCie Mobile Drive, and we expected that the performance would be comparable. If you’re drawn to a “rugged” drive, consider buying a portable SSD instead, since it lacks moving parts and will survive rough handling better than most hard drives.

The Toshiba Canvio Flex was a pick in a previous version of this guide. The Canvio Flex and Canvio Advance Plus come with USB-A and USB-C cables, but both drives still have a Micro-B connector on the body. The more durable USB-C port and the higher capacity of our new pick, the Western Digital My Passport Ultra, make it a more attractive option.

The Toshiba Canvio Gaming has firmware to improve performance when it’s attached to a game console, but in our standard testing it produced mediocre results. If you find it on sale, it isn’t the worst portable drive you can buy.

We dismissed the Toshiba Canvio Slim because both models were too expensive per terabyte at the time of our research and capped out at 2 TB of storage.

What to look forward to

Hard drives are a mature category, so we don’t anticipate many innovations down the road. Capacities will continue to increase—as of this writing, drives up to 24 TB are now entering the scene. We’re more excited about adoption of USB-C as the cable and connector standard, as evident in our latest pick.

This article was edited by Caitlin McGarry and Arthur Gies.

Meet your guides

Haley Perry

Haley Perry is an associate staff writer at Wirecutter covering video games and technology. She used to review video games full-time, and she’s also a big fan of mezcal. If you get enough in her, she may just admit that she still plays The Sims … a lot.

Joel Santo Domingo

Joel Santo Domingo is a senior staff writer covering networking and storage at Wirecutter. Previously he tested and reviewed more than a thousand PCs and tech devices for PCMag and other sites over 17 years. Joel became attracted to service journalism after answering many “What’s good?” questions while working as an IT manager and technician.

Further reading

  • The Best Portable SSD

    by Joel Santo Domingo

    A great portable SSD is much smaller and more durable than a hard drive and will generally transfer files much faster.

  • How to Format Your External Hard Drive

    by Justin Krajeski, Kimber Streams, and Dave Gershgorn

    You might need to format an external hard drive before you can use it with your computer. We have some tips to help the process go smoothly.

  • Choosing the Right PlayStation 5

    by Arthur Gies and Haley Perry

    The new PlayStation 5 launched on November 12, 2020. We break down the differences that matter and consider whether it’s worth the upgrade.

  • The Best USB Flash Drives

    by Arthur Gies

    Almost any flash drive can be used as a cheap storage option, but the best ones won’t keep you waiting when opening, saving, and transferring files.

Wirecutter is the product recommendation service from The New York Times. Our journalists combine independent research with (occasionally) over-the-top testing so you can make quick and confident buying decisions. Whether it’s finding great products or discovering helpful advice, we’ll help you get it right (the first time).

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The computer does not see the SSD drive, how to fix it

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    Published: 28 July 2022

    Today, most users choose an SSD drive. It features higher performance, lower power consumption and no noise during operation.

    In practice, there are situations when the SSD drive is not displayed even in the BIOS. There are several reasons for this – we will analyze them in more detail in the material of the article.

    Initialization process

    If the system does not see the SSD drive, then first of all you need to initialize it. It is usually performed automatically by default, but due to some security settings or some software error, this may not work.

    This process must be carried out manually, which is done in the following way:

    • go to the “Control Panel”;
    • open the “Administration” section;
    • click “Computer Management”;
    • select a drive that is not displayed in the “My Computer” tab;
    • in the section menu, click “Initialize”.

    After these steps, a wizard for setting up a new disk will appear, with the help of which you need to perform initialization step by step. In the process, you will need to specify the structure of the drive and the file system. After completing the formatting procedure, you can use the SSD drive.

    Drive letter not assigned

    The Windows operating system uses a tree-like file structure. Accordingly, each system drive is assigned a letter. This designation is further responsible for its internal address. It may be that the OS was unable to assign the letter automatically. Then you need to do it yourself:

    • open the Disk Management utility;
    • right-click on the SSD and click “Change drive letter (drive path)”;
    • in the window that opens, click “Change”;
    • select a drive letter from the list;
    • complete the operation with the “OK” key.

    After the performed actions, the specified disk will be displayed in the system and will become available for all standard operations.

    Note that Windows 10 may not see the SSD when it is used as an external drive and connected via USB.

    The drive is not formatted

    If the SSD disk is correctly displayed in the “My Computer” section, but an error occurs when trying to start it, the drive is most likely not formatted. This will also be reported by a notification when opened with the text “The drive is not formatted”. This usually happens when using new drives that have not been used before.

    The problem is solved manually using standard Windows tools. For this you need:

    • open the “My Computer” context menu;
    • select the “Format” section – it is recommended to click the “Quick” option;
    • specify “NTFS” as the file system – it is optimized specifically for the operation of internal and system drives;
    • click the “Start” button and wait for the operation to complete.

    At the end of the procedure, the disk can be fully used.

    It should be said that changing the “distribution unit” (cluster size) is not recommended. Windows assigns the best by default. It is desirable to reduce this indicator only when the user needs to save space on the hard drive, and maximum performance is of no fundamental importance.

    The drive is shown as “Hidden”

    By analogy with folders or individual files, the Windows SSD drive is also able to make it “Hidden”. But the drive is hidden here with the help of specialized third-party programs. One of them is MiniTool PartitionWizard. The drive in this case works with the preservation of all its functional properties, it is simply not displayed in the system.

    You can also correct the situation using the Disk Management utility, where in the context menu of the desired SSD, select the “Restore” item.

    Unsupported file system when formatting

    If the disk was previously used in a computer running MacOS or Linux, then it was also formatted for the appropriate file system. In this case, it is likely that this drive will not be supported in Windows (for example, F2FS, EXT4, etc.).

    To solve the problem, the SSD must be re-formatted and in the process specify a shared file system: NTFS, exFAT. This procedure is described step by step in the previous sections of the article.

    Incorrect BIOS settings

    The BIOS of certain digital devices has the ability to independently select which of the connected drives to initialize and which to ignore (for security reasons). Here you need to check if the initialization mode is enabled by default when connecting a disk. This item is usually located in the “Device Configuration” section.

    In some cases, users are faced with the fact that the SSD drive does not see Windows 7. Here you need to check not only the BIOS settings, but also the availability of the appropriate driver for the connected drive. Certain drives need it installed in order to function properly. Otherwise, the controller is not properly initialized and the disk will not be shown. The need for a driver for a particular drive should be checked with the manufacturer, or see the technical specifications of the device.

    Another problem may be that not all slots are always available on boards. Some slots can share lines with an additional usb or sata controller and until they are forcibly disabled, the nvme disk will not be detected. This case is relevant if you use an m.2 adapter to connect a disk via a pci-e slot.

    Cable failure

    If the SATA cable is damaged, the system may not see the SSD. It is recommended to check all connections between the motherboard and the drive for cable bends and kinks. These defects lead to damage to the wires inside the insulation, even taking into account the normal external state of the material. In this case, it is better to replace the cable.

    It is advisable to use conductors less than one meter long, since longer ones often fall out of the connectors. The connection density to the SATA ports should be sufficient so that the functional properties of the devices are not violated.

    A few words in the end

    As you can see, there are several reasons why the computer does not see the SSD drive. If all the above solutions to problems did not have the desired result, then the drive itself is most likely faulty. This may be a factory defect or mechanical damage to the device. In this case, only specialized specialists of the service center will be able to help, who will perform diagnostics and possible repair of the drive.

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    How to merge hard disk or SSD partitions

    In some cases, it may be necessary to merge hard disk or SSD partitions (for example, logical drives C and D), i. e. make one out of two logical drives on a computer. This is not difficult to do and can be implemented both using standard tools in Windows 7, 8 and Windows 10, as well as using third-party free programs, which you may need to resort to, if necessary, to connect partitions while saving data on them.

    This manual details how to partition disks (HDD and SSD) in several ways, including saving data on them. The methods will not work if we are talking not about a single disk divided into two or more logical partitions (for example, C and D), but about separate physical hard drives. It may also come in handy: How to increase the C drive with the D drive, How to create the D drive. I recommend, if possible, to save them somewhere outside the drives on which actions are performed.

    Merge disk partitions using Windows 7, 8 and Windows 10

    The first way to merge partitions is very simple and does not require the installation of any additional programs, all the necessary tools are in Windows.

    An important limitation of the method is that data from the second partition of the disk must either not be needed, or it must be copied in advance to the first partition or a separate drive, i.e. they will be removed. In addition, both partitions must be located on the hard disk “in a row”, i.e., conditionally, C can be combined with D, but not with E.

    Necessary steps in order to merge hard disk partitions without programs:

    1. Press the Win + R keys on the keyboard and enter diskmgmt.msc – the built-in Disk Management utility will start.
    2. In Disk Management at the bottom of the window, find the disk containing the partitions to be merged and right-click on the second of them (that is, the one to the right of the first, see the screenshot) and select “Delete Volume” (important: all data will be deleted). Confirm the deletion of the partition.
    3. After deleting a partition, right-click on the first of the partitions and select Extend Volume.
    4. The Extend Volume Wizard starts. It is enough just to click “Next” in it, by default, all the space freed up in the 2nd step will be attached to a single section.

    Done, at the end of the process you will receive one partition, the size of which is equal to the sum of the connected partitions.

    Using third-party programs to work with partitions

    Using third-party utilities to merge hard disk partitions can be useful in cases where:

    • You want to save data from all partitions, but you cannot transfer or copy them anywhere.
    • You want to merge partitions that are out of order on the disk.

    Among the convenient free programs for these purposes, I can recommend Aomei Partition Assistant Standard and Minitool Partition Wizard Free.

    How to merge disk partitions in Aomei Partition Assistant Standard

    The order of merging hard disk partitions in Aomei Partition Aisistant Standard Edition will be as follows:

    1. under which should be all the sections to be merged) and select the menu item “Merge sections”.
    2. Specify the partitions to be merged (the letter of the merged disk partitions will be indicated at the bottom right in the merging window). The location of data on the merged partition is shown at the bottom of the window, for example, data from disk D when merged with C will fall into C:\D-Drive .
    3. Click “OK” and then “Apply” in the main program window. If one of the partitions is a system partition, you will need to restart the computer, which will take longer than usual (if it is a laptop, make sure it is plugged in).

    After restarting the computer (if it was necessary), you will see that the disk partitions have been merged and are presented in Windows Explorer under one letter. Before proceeding, I also recommend watching the video below, which mentions some important nuances on the topic of combining sections.

    You can download Aomei Partition Assistant Standard from the official website http://www.disk-partition.com/free-partition-manager. html (the program supports the Russian interface language, although the site is not in Russian).

    Using MiniTool Partition Wizard Free to merge partitions

    Another similar freeware is MiniTool Partition Wizard Free. Among the possible disadvantages for some users is the lack of a Russian interface language.

    To merge sections in this program, just do the following:

    1. In the running program, right-click on the first of the sections that are merged, for example, on C, and select the menu item “Merge” (Combine).
    2. In the next window, again select the first of the sections (if not automatically selected) and click “Next”.
    3. In the next window, select the second of the two sections. At the bottom of the window, you can specify the name of the folder where the contents of this section will be placed in the new, merged section.