Solid-state storage may be sexy, but if you’re looking for huge capacity and tiny prices, then the classic hard disk remains unbeaten. Available capacities of portable drives with laptop-style disks inside now extends up to a whopping 4000GB, more commonly referred to as 4 terabytes (TB). Most portable USB drives are powered by the connected computer, so you can use them on the move without the need to plug into the mains or use batteries.

Click here to skip to our top portable drive recommendations.

Best portable hard drives: Capacity

Even in the smallest portable drives you’ll likely find are 128GB in size, which is enough to space thousands of CD albums in lossless FLAC format, or even more in lower quality MP3 or AAC formats. Off-loading your music collection alone from a computer to a portable drive can be a godsend in freeing valuable space if your laptop has limited storage.

Another popular application of portable storage is for keeping critical backups of your data held on a PC or laptop. You may be able to keep a perfect clone of your entire computer’s internal drive, on standby and ready in the event that the computer is lost or its drive should malfunction.

Alternatively, you may choose just to back up the most important files and documents from your user libraries, such as text documents, photos, films, music and stored email. Some portable drives include software that can help automate this process, keeping your selected directories in sync whenever you plug in the drive or by a daily schedule.

Best portable hard drives: Performance

Now that USB 2.0 has been banished from all self-respecting storage, we find USB 3 as the standard for connection, letting these portable drives perform as quickly as the little disks inside will allow.

This means that when transferring your music or video collection to or from your PC, you can expect around 100MB/s read speed (and typically the same for writing, since unlike flash storage technology the read and write speeds tend to be more symmetrical). Compare this with the older drives using USB 2.0, which would limit speeds to around 35MB/s, or only one-third the speed. So in real terms, your 100GB of media files would take close to an hour to transfer with USB 2.0, or under 20 minutes using USB 3.0.

If you’re likely to be storing or backing up many small files, be aware that overall performance will plummet since hard disks tend to choke on smaller files. So while large files may zip across at 100MB/s, the smallest will likely travel at less than 1MB/s, or one hundredth that speed.

USB 3 is confusing, as USB 3.0 was retrospectively renamed to USB 3.1 Gen 1. There’s also a new version, USB 3.1 Gen 2. This doubles the potential throughput from Gen 1’s 5Gb/s to 10Gb/s. In megabytes per second, these equate to 625 and 1250 respectively. Pretty fast, then. In reality, the fastest SSDs top out at around 550MB/s and this speed is highly dependent on the device you’re connecting it to.

Best portable hard drives: Protection

A rugged exterior will be handy if you want the freedom of being able to throw around the unplugged drive with less worry that it will damage the unit; and more importantly lose your data.

Look out for shock-resistance ratings such as the US military MIL-STD-810F 516.5 (Transit Drop Test). This means that it should withstand being dropped 26 times onto a hard floor, once on to each face, edge and corner, from a height of 1.22m.

The drive does not need to be switched on to pass - we don’t believe any hard disk would survive that test – and nor does it require independent verification before a manufacturer can promote its product as ‘milspec shock-resistant’. But the rating is an indication that the manufacturer has probably taken more care in nurturing the delicate disk inside.

Flash storage - more commonly known as SSDs - can survive more brutal treatment, and some portable drives are even water resistant. If you were to accidentally drop a portable SSD drive in water, then as long as the port covers are firmly closed, it will work fine to use it after it has been fully dried.

Best portable hard drives: Reliability

It’s tough to say definitively which manufacturer makes the most reliable hard drives. While there’s a big difference between the technology used in traditional hard drives and SSDs, both have a limited lifespan, and this is why warranties are relatively short – typically two or three years.

What’s important is that you have a well-thought-out backup process and you don’t rely on any single drive to store precious files. Ideally you should have three copies: one on a PC or phone / tablet, one on a backup drive (such as one of these portable drives) and one in the cloud. This guards against drive failure, losing or breaking your phone, plus theft and fire.

Best portable hard drives: Extras

Besides the drive itself, you can expect to find more extras included with the product. A slip-on case or even just a simple cloth pouch can be valuable, letting you store the drive in the bottom of a laptop or handbag without it collecting scratches and dents - or in the case of metal-cased storage drives, of leaving scratches and dents on everything around it.

At least one USB cable will be included, and you may find additional Y-cables that allow you to piggyback more power from a neighbouring USB port. This is mandatory for some portable hard drives, which demand more power than a single USB port can provide, for example.

Software is often bundled, and this can add value: we’ll tell you if it’s any good in our reviews.

Best portable hard drives: Value

For many users, a portable storage drive may be an unavoidable commodity, and price will be the deciding factor. We give a value rating based on how much each gigabyte of storage is costing you for each drive. Particularly with a 3TB drive, you can expect to find storage for under 4p per gigabyte now.

Best portable hard drives: Security

The larger the drive, the more you can store - and the more you stand to lose in the event of losing the drive or having it stolen. This is where it pays to lock down that drive.

There are two ways to ensure the data is unreadable by other users. You can scramble the contents through hardware encryption. Or you can use a software application to encrypt either parts or all of the drive.

The hardware-encryption option is good for defeating keyloggers and other malware already installed on your PC, and this solution also tends to be platform agnostic, where it works with Windows, Linux or Mac computers. The disadvantage is that the security is hard-coded into the drive, so that in the event of a vulnerability being discovered there’s little chance of upgrading or fixing it.

Software encryption can be more flexible, but ensure that it works on your chosen computer platform. Ideally the software should be open-source to reduce the chance of it being compromised by deliberate back doors introduced by the developer.

Best portable storage drives: How we test

Our benchmarks were run on our test rig which comprises:

  • Operating system: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
  • Processor: Intel Core i7 4770k @ 3.5Ghz
  • RAM memory: 16GB 1600Mhz
  • Motherboard: Intel Desktop Board DZ87KLT75K Haswell Z87
  • Graphics card: AMD Radeon R9 390

When conducting our tests, we plugged in our portable storage drives into one of our motherboard’s rear USB 3 ports. Like the vast majority of PCs and laptops, it does not support USB 3.1 Gen 2. However, Gen 1 ports should (theoretically) be able to handle up to 625MB/s and none of the drives on test is rated beyond 550MB/s.

We used CrystalDiskMark 64-bit to test each drive’s speed. We selected 1GB test files and three test passes in order to determine both sequential and 4KB performance.

Where a drive could be connected to a phone or tablet, we did so an installed any relevant Android or iOS apps.

Best portable hard drives 2016 UK

1. Adata SE730

Adata SE730
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 31 August 16
  • RRP: £106.44 inc VAT

Typically if you want a tiny, high-capacity drive you have to sacrifice performance, but not with the SE730. It really is a pocket rocket, and well worth the price if you need speedy portable storage.

Read our Adata SE730 review.

2. Samsung Portable SSD T3

Samsung Portable SSD T3
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 31 August 16
  • RRP: £606.06 inc VAT

If you’re after a large capacity portable drive for backing up your photos, videos, music and other precious data, the Samsung T3 is a great choice. However, a traditional hard drive is still much, much cheaper if speed isn’t your main priority.

Read our Samsung Portable SSD T3 review.

3. Transcend ESD400K

Transcend ESD400K
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 20 September 16
  • RRP: £93.60 inc VAT

The Transcend ESD400K is a very light, portable and blisteringly fast portable SSD drive. At only 56g, the portable drive is easy to carry around and competes with some of the very best portable drives in the market.

Read our Transcend ESD400K review.

4. SanDisk Extreme 500 Portable SSD

SanDisk Extreme 500 Portable SSD
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 31 August 16
  • RRP: £70.02 inc VAT

For those that need high-speed portable storage, the Extreme 500 is a solid choice. Capacities extend to 480GB which should be fine for most people. If you need more, look no further than the Samsung T3.

Read our SanDisk Extreme 500 Portable SSD review.

5. Toshiba Canvio Connect II

Toshiba Canvio Connect II
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 31 August 16
  • RRP: £104 inc VAT

Aside from speed, the Toshiba Canvio Connect II is a brilliant all-round package. It offers acres of space for your backups and media library, it’s cheap and it comes bundled with genuinely useful software.

Read our Toshiba Canvio Connect II review.

6. Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim 2TB

Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim 2TB
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 21 September 16
  • RRP: £89.99 inc VAT

The Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim is not a top performer, but with its 2TB storage and super slim design, the Seagate portable drive is fantastic for backing up documents.

Read our Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim 2TB review.

7. WD My Passport Ultra 1TB

WD My Passport Ultra 1TB
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 22 September 16
  • RRP: £50.09 inc VAT

As a high-capacity portable drive, the WD My Passport Ultra 1TB offers cloud services, hardware encryption and a respectable hard driver performance.

Read our WD My Passport Ultra 1TB review.

8. Freecom mHDD Slim 1TB

Freecom mHDD Slim 1TB
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 23 September 16
  • RRP: £85.99 inc VAT

Despite having an expensive price per GB, the Freecom mHDD Slim 1TB is a stylish, well-made portable hard drive.

Read our Freecom mHDD Slim 1TB review.

9. Freecom Tablet Mini SSD

Freecom Tablet Mini SSD
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 31 August 16
  • RRP: £83.99 inc VAT

If you’re specifically after a portable drive which can connect to your phone or tablet to provide extra storage or act as a backup for its photos and videos, the Freecom is a decent choice. It isn’t stylish nor is it the cheapest, but it performs well and is convenient thanks to the built in USB cables.

Read our Freecom Tablet Mini SSD review.

10. Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB

Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 19 August 15
  • RRP: £74 inc VAT

The Seagate Backup Plus Slim is a well-rounded portable hard drive which offers good value for money, design and speed. PC and Mac compatibility out-of-the-box is a decent feature and the Seagate Dashboard software is easy to use offering PC, mobile and social backup. There's very little to dislike here.

Read our Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB review.

11. PNY Duo-Link 3.0

PNY Duo-Link 3.0
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 31 August 16
  • RRP: £70.79 inc VAT

The only reason to choose the Duo-Link is to add storage for music and movies to your iPhone or iPad. While, technically, it does the job, it does it in such a ham-fisted way. Add to this the relatively poor performance and it’s hard to recommend.

Read our PNY Duo-Link 3.0 review.

12. Transcend StoreJet 25M3

Transcend StoreJet 25M3
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 30 January 15
  • RRP: £85 inc. VAT

At less than £85 the Transcend StoreJet 25M3 is very good value for money, costing just 4.15p per gigabyte for a decently resilient portable drive. It's well made and should serve splendidly as a highly capacious data store.

Read our Transcend StoreJet 25M3 review.

13. Western Digital My Passport Ultra Metal 2TB

Western Digital My Passport Ultra Metal 2TB
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 3 February 15
  • RRP: £91 inc. VAT

The My Passport Ultra Metal offers good value as a solidly constructed portable drive. It has good software support and decent all-round performance for the category of portable disk.

Read our Western Digital My Passport Ultra Metal 2TB review.

14. Toshiba Canvio Basics 2TB

Toshiba Canvio Basics 2TB
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 6 February 15
  • RRP: £69.99

Like Tesco Basics, the Toshiba Canvio Basics lives up to its name, a basic portable drive with no frills in its packaging, style or feature set. However there’s also little sign of any compromise in its overall performance and usability, excepting a slower than usual small-file random write issue. Importantly for many potential buyers, it’s one of the cheapest drives available at fewer than 4 pennies per gigabyte, without compromising the build quality required of its role.

Read our Toshiba Canvio Basics 2TB review.

15. Seagate Seven

Seagate Seven
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 9 February 15
  • RRP: £89.99

At £123, or just under 25p per gigabyte, the Seagate Seven is currently priced rather expensively for its 500GB capacity. It does offer something quite different in industrial design though, and providing it’s not jostled too much while powered up should be a relatively robust portable drive too.

Read our Seagate Seven review.

16. iStorage diskAshur Pro 1TB

iStorage diskAshur Pro 1TB
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 28 January 15
  • RRP: £382

The diskAshur Pro could be iStorage's most secure encrypted drive yet, and its FIPS rating means the US government is content to let its contractors store potentially sensitive data on it. As a storage drive alone it's rather expensive (26.9p/GB) but it performs well and should keep out just about any civilian hacker.

Read our iStorage diskAshur Pro 1TB review.

17. LaCie Mirror 1TB

LaCie Mirror 1TB
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 5 February 15
  • RRP: £240 inc. VAT

The LaCie Mirror is well suited for the modern computer narcisist, a portable storage drive that lets you check your makeup as easily as your Facebook status, or just to keep an eye on who is creeping up behind you. As a drive it performed perfectly well but be prepared to pay to peer through this looking glass – at £230 it is five times the price of more function-first 1 TB models.

Read our LaCie Mirror 1TB review.