Best Cheap External Hard Drives
As people look for space to store more and more digital images, movies, and music, interest in cheap external hard drives is growing. Over the past few years, the price of external hard drives has fallen even as the storage capacity has increased and the backup software has improved. Now you can find portable devices for as little as $50, but be prepared to spend closer to $100 for one of the best cheap external hard drives.
Our Top Pick
Hitachi Touro Mobile Pro Review
Reviewers who gave the Hitachi Touro Mobile Pro (starting at $100, Amazon) a test drive were impressed with both its performance and its looks. One expert posting a Hitachi Touro Mobile Pro review at CNET appreciates the drive's speed, noting that this hard drive's platter spins at a quick 7,200rpm, whereas other comparable drives the site looked at spin at just 5,400rpms. In its Hitachi Touro Mobile Pro review, PCmag points out that the drive was able to copy a 1.22GB folder in 17 seconds when using a USB 3.0 connection - a data transfer rate of about 72MB per second. The CNET expert also likes that this drive includes 3GB of online "cloud" storage at no extra cost and that the backup software is easy to use. But performance isn't all this hard drive has going for it: The expert posting a Hitachi Touro Mobile Pro review at GadgetReview raves about how attractive this hard drive is, saying it looks like a larger iPhone 4. Users posting reviews at Amazon appreciate how fast and visually appealing the Hitachi Touro Mobile Pro is, while shoppers at B&H say the drive is easy to install. One downside: This drive doesn't have inputs or adapters for Firewire or eSata connections (though several experts reviews note that most users don't use those types of connectors anyway).
The Hitachi Touro Mobile Pro is available in both 750GB and 500GB versions, although it's easier to find the 750GB version. Both versions include 3GB of free online storage so you can post and share data online, but with a price difference of just $10 to $15, we'd jump for the drive with larger storage. The Mobile Pro spins at 7,200rpms and is compatible with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 connections. Although you can use this drive with a Windows-based PC right out of the box, you'll have to reformat it if you're using a Mac-based system. But Mac users beware: This drive is only compatible with Macs using Mac OS 10.5 or newer.
The Hitachi Touro Mobile Pro is a speedy, hard-working drive. Although it's a bit pricier than other drives we researched, we think it's worth the extra cost because it spins faster and has more storage. And the 3GB of free online storage is a nice bonus, one you don't usually get with other cheap hard drives.
Western Digital My Passport Essential Review
With 500GB of storage space, this model boasts an attractive cost-to-megabyte ratio, but Western Digital My Passport Essential reviews curb their enthusiasm nonetheless.
Western Digital My Passport Essential reviews posted at Macworld carp about a plastic housing that smudges and scratches easily but give high scores to this model's USB 2.0 performance, saying it's one of the faster drives these experts have analyzed. (Macs don't support USB 3.0, so an external hard drive with a fast USB 2.0 data transfer speed is essential for Mac users.) On Notebook Review, the review concurs about the very fast USB 2.0 speeds, but adds that the USB 3.0 performance doesn't compare with the transfer rates of other USB 3.0 external drives these experts tested. Users posting reviews at Staples are fans, too, noting that My Passport Essential is lightweight and easy to use; one user especially likes the software that comes bundled with the drive. Users posting reviews at Best Buy comment approvingly on the drive's portability, simplicity, and speed, although a few report durability limitations and installation struggles.
The Western Digital My Passport Essential (starting at $100, Amazon) has typical specs for a portable drive in this price range. It features a 500GB drive with a rotation speed of 5,400RPM and supports both USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 connections. You can also use the drive with a Mac if you reformat it. This model weighs 0.31 pounds and measures 4.3 x 3.2 x 0.6 inches. It comes in black, white, silver, red, and blue.
USB 3.0 ports aren't yet common in laptops and PCs, so most people who use an external hard drive still need a USB 2.0 connection. The fast USB 2.0 speeds make the Western Digital My Passport Essential a compelling buy, and its relatively slow USB 3.0 performance will be a non-issue for many consumers. The compactness of this model clearly appeals and 500GB of storage at this price is a reasonable deal.
Buffalo MiniStation Stealth Review
There's good and there's ho-hum with this external hard drive, according to Buffalo MiniStation Stealth reviews.
A top-notch software package that can back up multiple computers and includes data restore and encryption functions and a RAM disk utility for the primary computer wins accolades from Expert Reviews. Consumers' Buffalo MiniStation Stealth reviews at Amazon say the drive is a cinch to set up and they even contain a few suggestions, such as perusing the entire menu of installation options before clicking on the first one so you can choose the software tools you want. The quiet operation and compact size also appeal to users, and reviews posted at B&H often mention ease of use, noting this drive works right out of the box, even with a Mac; several, however, balk at the proprietary cable. Another minor source of irritation is the plastic case, which is susceptible to scratches and smudges.
The Buffalo MiniStation Stealth (starting at $79, Amazon) is available with 1TB and 1.5TB of storage in addition to the 500GB version we put on our list of top picks. It spins at 5,400RPM, which is typical for a portable hard drive. You can use the MiniStation with a Mac -- and it plays nicely with the Mac's Time Machine software -- but you'll have to reformat the drive first. The Buffalo MiniStation can use USB 3.0 and 2.0 connections and comes bundled with a proficient backup software package. It measures 3 x 4.5 x .055 inches and weighs just shy of 6 ounces. It's backed by a one-year warranty.
With 500GB storage capacity and a full suite of software, the $79 price is compelling. If you're expecting a super fast backup drive, the Buffalo MiniStation Stealth may disappoint, but if you're looking for a hard-working drive with a modest (15.8 cents) cost per gigabyte, the MiniStation will prove to be a good value.
Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra Review
After testing a 1.5TB model, the expert Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex review at CNET gives high marks for this drive's speedy USB 2.0 performance, ability to work with Macs without requiring any reformatting, and two-piece design (hard drive and adapter with connector and USB 3.0 port) that lets you mix and match with other adapters (e.g., Firewire) and devices. Lower grades are awarded for mediocre data transfer speeds with the USB 3.0 interface. The review by PC Mag concurs about the relatively slow USB 3.0 speeds, but doesn't consider that a deal-breaker. Still, these experts are unimpressed with the bundled backup software, which they note is nothing more than "trialware." Consumers generally seem pleased. Typical comments found in reviews at Best Buy note the ease of set up and operation and express appreciation for out-of-the-box Mac compatibility. However, a handful of users express concern about the product's durability, complaining that the drive stopped working after a short period, and a few assert the software is useless.
The Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra (starting at $90, Amazon) can use USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 interfaces and it's Mac-compatible without any reformatting. In addition to the 500GB version on our list, the GoFlex Ultra is available in 320GB, 750GB, 1TB, and 1.5TB sizes; all come in black but the 500GB model can be had in red, grey, or blue, as well. It weighs 0.33 pounds and measures 4.4 x 3.2 x 0.6 inches and comes with a two-year warranty.
Although reviewers like the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra, we're hedging our endorsement. There are cheaper 500GB external hard drives on the market that feature better bundled software. If price is less important than the flexibility afforded by the two-piece design, then this is one portable drive worth considering.
Toshiba Canvio Review
The price of the Toshiba Canvio (starting at $85, Amazon) is competitive with other inexpensive 500GB external hard drives, but Toshiba Canvio reviews take it out of the running. An annoying design flaw in the connector cable on the EO5A050CAU3XS version prompts angry users to post critical reviews on sites such as Amazon and Newegg. Consumers concede that this drive includes good backup software, delivers fast data transfer speeds, and boasts a sleek design. But many also argue that a short cable that's quite stiff and pops out of the port all too easily is an annoyance too major to overlook. Additionally, some report that the drive failed to recognize users' computers or simply stopped working shortly after purchase. A newer model, the HDTC605XK3A1 (starting at $80, Amazon), doesn't seem afflicted with the same cable connector problems, at least according to a different set of Toshiba Canvio reviews posted on Amazon.
The Toshiba Canvio is available in a variety of storage sizes, including 500GB, 750GB, and 1TB. It spins at a standard 5,400RPM, supports both USB 3.0 and 2.0 connections, and comes with bundled backup software. Just like most of the drives we researched, you'll have to reformat this model to make it work with a Mac. It weighs 5.2 ounces and measures 4.7 x 3.1 x 0.53 inches.
This drive performs well and looks classy, and it sells at a good price. But based on the Toshiba Canvio reviews we've seen, a redesign of the cable was called for and seems to have placed high on the company's must-do list. So if you're hankering for a Toshiba Canvio, think twice about purchasing the older EO5A050CAU3XS model. The newer HDTC605XK3A1 may have resolved the problem, but there aren't enough reviews yet to ascertain for sure.
Verbatim Titan XS Review
The Verbatim Titan XS (starting at $86, Amazon) is an older-model hard drive that lacks USB 3.0 support, but Verbatim Titan XS reviews indicate its software and performance are good enough to satisfy most users. A review posted at Maximum CPU gives the drive's rubbery outer shell a thumbs up and raves about the operational ease of the bundled backup software, which is manufactured by Nero, a popular software maker. This review also clocks the drive's average data transfer rate at about 30MB/s, which counts as pretty fast in the USB 2.0 universe. The review by Computer Shopper, lauds the slim profile but dings the rubber casing, saying it attracts dust and is hard to clean. It also grumbles about the too-short cable, which measures less than 4 inches compared to the more common 18 inches. Users post similar comments in Verbatim Titan XS reviews on Amazon and likewise conclude that it performs well enough for a portable hard drive with a USB 2.0 interface.
The Verbatim Titan XS comes with 500GB of storage space, spins at 5,400RPM, and is Mac compatible with reformatting. Perhaps its best feature is the included Nero backup software, a strong product from a well-respected company. The drive measures 3 x 4.3 x 0.6 inches and weighs 5.5 ounces. It comes with an unusually long seven-year warranty.
Despite the included software, the generous warranty, and the good data transfer speeds, the Verbatim Titan XS seems pricey given its USB 2.0 limitations. The competition has moved to USB 3.0 compatibility and it's time for Verbatim to do the same.