Don’t wait for disaster to strike: get your PC backups storage sorted now with our annual super guide. Portable hard drives are the most popular way to get more digital storage and their compact size means they’re easy to take with you. We tested 12.
DESPITE MANY OF us relying heavily on the cloud these days, if you’re one to keep a lot of videos, photos and music, a hard drive is an indispensable piece of kit. For professional photographers, that hard drive might be a My Passport Wireless Pro that’ll wirelessly sync with a camera to store photos as they’re taken. For cinematographers who want to work directly off the drive, a portable SSD is probably going to be the best bet, best buy. But for most, the afford ability and large capacity of external hard drives is hard to pass up.
Following the integration of USB Type-C into the latest high-end ultrabooks, the new cabling standard has finally started to trickle down into external hard drive ranges. USB 3.1 (Type-C) is theoretically capable of carrying twice the data of USB 3.0, but when the older standard is capable of transferring data at 5Gbps, the upgrade is purely for compatibility and perception, offering no real technical boosts to a portable hard drive. Yet, despite the lack of usefulness to this category, many of the pricier models have started including the Type-C connection in their devices. Seagate did manage to put the extra current carrying capacity of the USB Type-C connection to hard drive unit that doesn’t require its own power adapter, but in the portable drive space, it seems more of a status symbol still.
Table of Contents
- HOW WE TESTED
- Seagate Backup Plus Portable 5TB Review
- Seagate Backup Plus Fast 4TB Review
- Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim 2TB – SEAGATE 2TB Review
- WD My Passport Ultra 3TB Review
- Toshiba Canvio Connect II 1TB Review
- Toshiba Canvio Slim II 1TB Review
- WD My Passport Pro 2TB – Western Digital 2TB Hard Drive Review
- G-Drive ev ATC 1TB Review
- G-Drive Mobile USB-C Drive 1TB Review
- Toshiba Canvio Basics 2TB Review
- LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive 4TB Review
- G-Drive Mobile USB/ FireWire 1TB Review
- BUNDLED SOFTWARE COMPARED
HOW WE TESTED
Benchmarks were tested using a USB 3.0 Type-A connection on a Surface Pro 4 running full Windows 10 Pro 64-bit. The disk speed results were determined using a 2015 version of Crystal Disk Mark 3.0.4 running all sequential, 512B and 4KB benchmarks through five test instances of 1,000MB of data. The only exception to this is if the drive was formatted for use with macOS, in which case, we ran BlackMaic Diskspeed Test to find sequential read and write speeds on a 2014 13-inch MacBook Air.
What to look for when shopping for a Portable drive, external hard drive.
Fast is best, but expect speeds to be slower for a mix of smaller files compared to sequential transfers of large files.
USB 3.0 is ubiquitous, but some drives offer other options, such as Thunderbolt.
For mechanical drives, larger capacities typically give slightly faster transfer speeds, simply because the data is more densely packaged.
Using an old, spare laptop drive? just buy a cheap USB 3.0 external case for it instead of shelling out to buy a whole drive.
It typically slows transfer speeds, but encryption is an important feature to protect sensitive data.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Cost per GB gets better on larger drives, but the smallest 500GB models are usually worth skipping.
Larger capacity portable drives have more platters and are usually a little bit thicker — up to a noticeable 5mm.
Many (but not all) drives come with a variety of bundled software that’s anywhere from excellent to mediocre. There are also plenty of free options available in case you want something better. Typically, the software is included on the drive by default, or can be downloaded.
Seagate Backup Plus Portable 5TB Review
Size really does matter.
SEAGATE’S LATEST BACKUP Plus has an absurdly large 5TB capacity. While there’s only a slower 5,400rpm internal drive under the hood, the high data density means it was able to achieve a 10% speed boost over comparable drives. The sequential read and write speeds were a high 143MB/sand 134MB/s, using Crystal Disk Mark 3.0.4, but the scores fell back to more normal levels for smaller 512KB files (at 44MB/s and 70MB/s). The USB 3.0 Type-A to micro-B cable gives the drive ample power, and remains compatible with older USB 2.0 computers. The Backup Plus provides an unparalleled cost-to-capacity ratio of 6.4 cents per GB. And with 200GB of OneDrive storage and Seagate’s suite of backup software to boot, it’s hard to fault the 5TB Backup Plus Portable in any real way.
5TB storage; USB 3.0. USB 2.0; 11.4 x 7.6 x 2cm; 247g
Seagate Backup Plus Fast 4TB Review
A compelling but slightly pricier option.
NOT TO BE confused with Seagate’s standard 4TB (TERABYTE HARD DRIVE) portable drive, this chunky model is heavier and larger than most on the market. But there’s actually two 2TB drives inside in a RAID configuration, which means it’s also very fast (up to 250MB/s) — that’s provided, of course, you’ve got a USB 3.0 connection and you’re copying to or from a similarly speedy drive, like an internal SSD. There’s a two-headed Y-cable in the box, which you’ll need to use for connecting to USB 2.0 ports. Seagate’s Dashboard software is included, one of the most comprehensive backup apps on offer. Of course, higher-end features cost, so this one’s not cheap. You do get what you pay for, though.
4TB storage; USB 3.0. micro USB; included USB2.0 adaptor cable; 11.7 x 8.3 x 2.2cm; 307g
Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim 2TB – SEAGATE 2TB Review
Teeing off with an even slimmer drive.
SEAGATE DECIDED THAT a shiny metallic gold or silver topside with a golf ball pattern was the key to its latest Backup Plus Ultra Slim drives, hoping the lunar-like surface will accentuate the 3mm reduction in width from the existing range. But more noticeable is the drive’s slight boost in read and write speeds when compared with the Backup Plus Slim. The Backup Plus Ultra Slim showed 15MB per second boosts for sequential read and write speeds on the Backup Plus Slim models, which roughly corresponds to the 10% price difference. The cost per GB is reasonable on this drive and the weight and size live up to its title.
2TB storage (1TB also available); USB 3.0. micro USB; 11.3 x 7.6 x 0.96cm; 159g
WD My Passport Ultra 3TB Review
Reasonably priced and good at the basics.
THE MY PASSPORT Ultra is Western Digital’s ultra portable offering at 150g — the second lightest we’ve tested. Apart from introducing a ‘New’ upgraded model that boosted speed slightly, this drive hasn’t changed much. It’s reasonably priced with the 500GB model, though you can get the 1TB Canvio Connect II from Toshiba for the same price. The hardware here is top notch, with an attractive external design, hardware-based 256-bit AES encryption and the software suite is a good package. The new My Passport Ultras net respectable sequential read and write speeds of 124.5 and 123MB/s, respectively, and the wide range of available colors are sure to suit anyone.
3TB storage (500GB. 1TB and 2TB also available); USB 3.0, micro USB; 11x 8.1 x 1.5cm; 150g
Toshiba Canvio Connect II 1TB Review
Stuck in the middle.
THOUGH THE MARKETING spiel for the Canvio Connect will have you thinking the drive has some kind of wireless data transfer capability, it’s nothing more than the bundled software that allows for the remote access of files and, even then, its not remote access of files stored on the portable drive. The drive itself is reasonably commonplace in other ways, with the usual 10.9cm, 7.8cm and 1.4cm dimensions, plus a nicely light 149g weight. The tested speeds also stick closely to what we expected, with 116MB/s sequential read and write speeds with a similarly unsurprising small file read and writes speeds of 41MB/s and 49MB/s. There weren’t any downsides, well other than it being a little dull.
1TB (500GB. 2TB. 2.5TB. 3TB also available); USB 3.0. micro USB; 10.9 x 7.8 x 1.4cm; 149g
Toshiba Canvio Slim II 1TB Review
An average performer.
A BRUSHED-ALUMINUM CHASSIS, compact design and low 150g weight make this nice to look at and hold. It’s even a tad smaller than WD’s My Passport Ultra design. Unlike the Canvio Basics line, you get some software — both encryption and backup are handled with third-party tools and Toshiba has also bundled in an NTFS driver for Macs, so you can use this drive without reformating it. We’ve noticed some online retailers discounting this 1TB model, it’s a bit of a steal. We’re presuming this particular line’s nearly at the end of its shelf-life, with fewer retailers stocking it; so if you want to pick one up for that price, you’d better get a wriggle on.
1TB; USB 3.0. micro USB; 10.7 x 7.6 x 1.3cm; 150g
WD My Passport Pro 2TB – Western Digital 2TB Hard Drive Review
A lightning fast dual drive model.
WITH THE ARRIVAL of portable SSDs that can reach over 450MB/S write speeds, dual hard disk portable drives are going to have a hard time if they want to remain competitive. This model uses a thunderbolt connection and a dual drive in RAID 0 configuration to read and write speeds over the 200MB/s mark, around double the speeds of a hard disk drive. The use of thunderbolt and a the HFS+J disk format peg this drive as one specifically for Mac users. It still hits a unique price, speed and capacity point when you consider, for the same money, you could only afford a 512GB portable SSD.
2TB (4TB also available); Thunderbolt; 14.3 x 8.9 x 2.8cm; 450g
G-Drive ev ATC 1TB Review
The mac user’s impervious storage unit.
THE EV ATC range is the fastest ‘rugged’ drive we’ve ever seen. When you look at the sequential read speeds, it’s even at the heels of the fastest single portable drive we’ve tested. G-Drive’s current range is aimed at Mac users; the drives don’t even register on Windows Devices straight out of the box. The ev ATC has a unique design with the main hard drive being ensconced by a removable waterproof casing that includes an inbuilt Thunderbolt casing, allowing you to transfer files without having to remove it. Punching out sequential read and write speeds of 137MB/s and BOMB/s, respectively, and coming with a USB 3.0 cable, this speedy drive is hard to fault in any way.
1TB; Thunderbolt. USB 3.0; 20.4 x 5.4 x 5.2cm; 372g
G-Drive Mobile USB-C Drive 1TB Review
Fast but not great.
THE G-DRIVE USB-C mobile drive from G-Technology has a little more to boast about than some of the company’s other offerings, but it’s still worth prefacing that the USB-C standard doesn’t offer improved transfer rates over and above USB 3.0. That said, the G-Drive Mobile USB-C Drive is packing a fast 7,200rpm disk drive that pushes sequential transfer rates to 135MB/s when reading and 128MB/s while writing.
The G-Drives are formatted specifically for Mac, so for PCs, you will have to manually format the drive before you can use it.
It is better than the Mobile USB/ Firewire model but it’s far from being good value in terms of available hard drives.
1TB; USB 3.0, USB 3.1; 12.9 x 8.2 x 1.3cm
Toshiba Canvio Basics 2TB Review
A bare essentials option.
FOR THE LAST few years, Toshiba’s Canvio Basics drives have been excellent-value options, with this family of models often selling below the equivalent WD and Seagate units. That margin has narrowed to almost nothing in recent months, however, and poor availability does dull the appeal. The name (‘Basics’) denotes something important — there’s no software included (backup or otherwise), so you’ll need to sort out your own, like SyncBack Free. You’ll also need to reformat it if you want to use it on a Mac. Performance was largely average with transfer speeds of around 116MB/s tor reads and 114MB/s when writing.
2TB (500GB, 1TB also available); USB 3.0. micro USB; 11.9 x 7.9 x 1.5cm; 210g
LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive 4TB Review
Cinto the (expensive) future.
BEING ONE OF the only portable drives here with the option of USB Type-C to C transfers and the only hard drive to be designed by a sports car manufacturer, we were expecting the Porsche Design Mobile Drive from LaCie to be a speedy little device.
Despite it being the fastest single portable hard drive we’ve tested, transfer rates are still leagues away from actually needing the new USB 3.1 protocol. At 137MB/s and 134MB/s sequential read and write speeds, Porsche Design Mobile Drive is between two and three times slower than the speediest flash drives. When you put it up against Seagate’s 2TB Backup Plus Ultra Slim drive, it’s less than 5% faster overall.
4TB (2TB also available); USB 3.0. USB 3.1; 12.2 x 8.2 x 0.7cm; 315g
G-Drive Mobile USB/ FireWire 1TB Review
Can this drive really handle ?
SLIGHTLY CHUNKIER THAN your average ultra-portable drive, the G-Drive isn’t going to be breaking any records for how compact it is and considering it weighs in at 283g, it’s also notably heavier than most of the other drives we tested. The G-Drive Mobile USB is one of the only portable drives we’ve seen with two firewires and a USB output, so even though it is encased in a stock-standard metal enclosure, it does have at least one unique feature.
Unfortunately, the 5,400rpm disk drive is a little slower than what we’re used to, with sequential read and write speeds at around 105MB/s and 102MB/s, some 20-30% slower than your standard 7,200rpm-equipped portable drives.
1TB (500GB also available); USB 3.0. FireWire; 12.7 x 8.3 x 1.8cm; 177g
BUNDLED SOFTWARE COMPARED
First up, though, most best hard drive you’ll buy today come bundled with some kind of software, be it backup software, remote access, encryption or drive utilities. If you’re going to buy an external drive, it’s absolutely worth knowing what you’re going to get on the software front. It can make all the difference.
Typically, drive makers have a standard bundle that they provide with most, if not all, of their external products. Over the next two pages, we thought we’d go ahead and give you an overview of what those bundles are, broken down by vendor.
Seagate software suite Review
GREAT SOFTWARE TO GO WITH SEAGATE’S SOLID HARDWARE.
ARGUABLY THE BEST bundled backup solution available right now, Seagate’s Dashboard comes with nearly all of its consumer external hard drives. Dashboard provides an easy one-dick solution tor PC backup, and supports continuous backup as well as full-system backup.
‘The true strength of the app is in its mobile and social media integration. It can back up your Facebook and Flikr media easily: you just need to give it your password. It also provides a backup service for Seagate mobile backup apps on Android and iOS. Those apps will talk to the Seagate Dashboard app installed on your PC’ and use it to transfer the data to the Seagate drive attached to the PC.
If a backup solution is important to you, this is definitely the one to get. There are some strong contenders — WD in particular — but this is our current top solution.
Free with select Seagate drives www.seagate.com
Continuous backup: mobile and social media integration; backup service for mobile; data transfer across platforms
Toshiba software suite Review
PROVIDES A GREAT FEATURE SET.
WITH TOSHIBA, THE availability of bundled software depends on whether you purchase the Connect/Premium model or the Basics model. Canvio Basics drives do not come with additional software. They’re just provided as-is.
Canvio Connect drives, however, come with an interesting suite of tools. For backup, they provide NTI Backup Now EZ, the same tool provided with A DATA drives. It’s not as sleek as the WD and Seagate solutions, but it’s still a serviceable solution (and better than nothing).
Perhaps the more valuable inclusion, however, is the fully licensed Pogoplug Remote Access software that lets you access the contents of the drive over the internet. It’s easy to use and works really well, a major selling point for Toshiba.
Canvio Connect drives also frequently come with a limited cloud backup and storage subscription.
Free with higher-end Toshiba drives www.mytoshiba.com.au
Backup; remote access software; limited cloud backup and storage subscription
LaCie software suite Review
STURDY AND USER-FRIENDLY.
LACIE DRIVES COME with a first-rate software suite, including a unique setup application that will initialize the drive for your platform. It will, by default, create a common shared section of the drive in FAT32 and an optionally encrypted partition, formatted for your OS where the bulk of the data will be stored.
After the drive is initialized, the setup application will install LaCie Backup Assistant/Genie Timeline Free, an absolutely solid backup system with continuous backup. It s very easy to use and definitely an improvement on Windows backup, although a lot of configuration options are annoyingly disabled in the free version you get with the drive. It will also install LaCie Desktop Manager.
Finally, LaCie also offers Private-Public (which you may have to visit its site to grab), a capable software encryption tool that requires no installation.
Free with selected LaCie drives www.lacie.com
Continuous backup: optional encrypted partition in your drive; software encryption tool
Western Digital software suite Review
SIMPLE. BUT NOT LACKING.
NEARLY ALL WESTERN Digital drives come with WD SmartWare as their software suite of choice, and many drives (particularly the bigger ‘desktop’ class drives) come with a licence for a special edition of Acronis True Image as well
WD SmartWare is an excellent, consumer-friendly backup solution, on par with Seagate’s solution for PC backup but lacking its mobile and social media support. It provides a super-simple one-click option as well as a customed backup. Backup is continuous or scheduled, and the app provides plenty of storage imagery, showing you how much space is being used by what kind of data.
Acronis True Image (a drive imaging tool) is available on many drives, too. It’s an outstanding solution for performing a full-system Windows backup or even a system migration to a new internal hard drive or SSD. It offers incremental and continuous updates, ensuring that the backup drive image always matches the actual PC.
Free with select WD drives www.wd.com
Continuous/scheduled backup: drive imaging tool; incremental and continuous updates
[JOEL BURGESS & PAUL TAYLOR]