External hard drives are a must for backing up computer data. And for most users, the best portable external hard drives work just as well as their desktop cousins, with the added versatility of travel-readiness. Storage capacity is important, but it’s definitely not the only factor to consider. Here are a couple of the other criteria we looked at for our “Best Of” list:
Speed: Drives that manage a disk speed of at least 5,400rpm with an 8MB buffer give faster performance. When it comes to transfer rates, high-speed connections like Firewire 800 are great – but the tried-and-true USB 2.0 is universally available, and in truth, it works fine for most users.
Reliability & Durability: The most feature-rich drive is useless if you can’t get at what’s stored inside, so a portable drive needs to be able to stand up to the realities of day-to-day use and travel.
Convenience & Value: Well-designed drives are user-friendly, easily portable, and let you get the job done with a minimum of fuss and expense.
Western Digital 1TB Elements SE Portable Hard Drive
A terrabyte for under 100 bucks? Who would’ve thunk it. But here we are, and Western Digital offers simple and straightforward performance as well as space in the Elements SE. Simple plug-and-play design with power via its USB 2.0 connection means no separate power cord is needed (a bonus for travel), and the Western Digital still manages data transfer speeds up to 480 MB/sec. The drive is formatted for Windows 7/XP/Vista, but can also be reformatted for Mac users.
The simplicity of the Elements SE is one of the factors that earned it 4.8 out of 5 stars on Dell’s website, and 4 out of 5 on Amazon (from 76 reviewers). Users love the lack of complicated “bloatware” and the sheer volume of storage space. Its tiny footprint is also a hit for those who need to take it on the road (it measures just 4.4″x3″). All in all, the Western Digital is a great choice for those who simply don’t need (or want) a myriad of software bells and hardware whistles.
The Western Digital 1TB Elements SE Portable Hard Drive is available for $99.99 at Amazon.
Iomega eGo Helium 500GB Portable Hard Drive
The Iomega eGo Helium has actually been out for a little while now, but when 500GB is enough space it’s still one of our favorites. It’s super thin and light (0.7″ thick and weighs under 6 ounces), and Iomega’s “Drop Guard” design protects it from falls up to 51 inches. A USB 2.0 port provides power as well as data connection, and although the Helium is designed for Mac users, it includes instructions for Windows reformatting.
The Iomega eGo Helium earned 4.3 out of 5 stars at Amazon thanks to its reliability and sleek, durable design. Reviewers at the Apple Store gave it 4.5/5, praising its dependable performance as well as quiet operation. Disk speed is a respectable 5,400 rpm, and a couple users gratefully vouched for the durability of the Iomega drives when they were accidentally dropped.
It’s available at Amazon for about $109.
Toshiba Canvio 1TB Portable Hard Drive
The Toshiba Canvio is a 1TB, bus-powered USB 2.0 drive that protects its contents with an internal shock sensor and a rubberized casing. Disk performance is solid with a 5,400 rpm spindle speed and 8MB buffer, and users like the Canvio’s slim 4.7″x3″ design and quiet performance.
The Toshiba Canvio is available in either Mac or Windows versions. Either one can be reformatted to change operating systems, but it’s worth noting that Amazon reviewers gave the Mac version a perfect 5 out of 5 stars, while the Windows edition only scored 4/5 due to a few complaints about reliability and hassles with the included software. B&H users had no complaints about the Windows Canvio though, and it received perfect scores from nearly 30 reviewers.
ioSafe Rugged 512GB Portable Hard Drive (Titanium Case)
Ever need to back up some files in the middle of a Michael Bay action movie? No problem. So if your portable hard drive takes a shotgun blast which knocks it into a raging fire, then it plummets 20 feet and bounces into the deep end of a swimming pool where it soaks for three days, then gets run over by a 5,000-pound truck, your vacation photos and expense spreadsheets should be fine. No joke – these are all things that the ioSafe Rugged Titanium has survived in testing.
Oh yeah, this solid-state drive also connects to your computer to save files and stuff. It was just released last month, so first-hand reviews are hard to come by. But ioSafe has earned a stellar reputation with some of its earlier external drives, and the Rugged Portable has some impressive specs that earned it a “Best of 2011 CES” award from CNET: USB 2.0/3.0/Firewire 800 connections that allow data transfer speeds up to 5Gb per second, plus both Windows and Mac compatibility. And as a bonus, ioSafe offers users $5,000 for data recovery if one of their drives suffers some real abuse.