Test results for 13 portable hard drives
Portable hard drives have finally broken the capacity barrier that for so long has relegated them to being the poor cousins to desktop drives. You can now buy a drive with up to 4TB (terabytes) of storage space. The release of the first 4TB portable drive, the Seagate Backup Plus Fast, was just in time for our test.
We compared 13 portable hard drives available in nine brands in the largest capacities from each manufacturer to see which offer the best combination of performance, features and value. They range from 1TB to 4TB.
Three drives tested are ruggedised, meaning they’re designed to more easily take the knocks and bumps of everyday usage while on the go, while several offer encryption security for greater peace of mind in the event of a loss.
We also compared these standard spinning disc hard drives to a super-fast external solid-state drive (SSD) to see how they stack up in the battle for best bang for your buck.
Brands and models tested
2.5-inch external hard drives
- Buffalo MiniStation (Thunderbolt/USB3)
- Buffalo MiniStation Extreme
- Freecom Mobile Drive Mg
- HGST Touro
- LaCie Porsche design
- LaCie Rugged (Thunderbolt/USB3)
- LaCie Rugged Triple (USB3/FireWire)
- Samsung M3 Portable
- Seagate Backup Plus Fast
- Seagate Backup Plus Slim
- Toshiba Canvio Connect
- Verbatim Store'n’Go
- WD My Passport Ultra
How we test
We test performance and assess ease of installation and use. Performance testing utilises NTFS drive formatting for Windows drives that don’t have the maximum drive volume size limitation (typically 32GB) of FAT32 format, nor the 4GB individual file size limitation. Where drives are supplied formatted with HFS+ for OS X, we test them using that format.
We time multiple transfers of two multi-gigabyte sets of data (one set of large files, one of small files) to each drive using each connection port included, recording the read and write speeds and averaging them for a final figure. Where there is more than one option, the fastest interface speed is used for the performance score.
We also assess the software that comes with the drive (if any), and if backup software is supplied, how easy it is to install and set up a backup routine, backup files and restore them to the drive.
The overall score comprises:
- Performance (70%) is assessed with drives formatted as NTFS. The performance score is relative for the drives tested and not directly comparable to our previous hard drive tests. However, we also supply actual read/write speed figures for comparison. All connection ports are tested and the fastest interface speed is for the performance score.
- Ease of use (30%) comprises an assessment of hardware installation (40%), design advantages/disadvantages (20%), overall style (20%) and software installation (20%).
Software versatility is made up of backup (50%), security (40%) and power management (10%) support. However, software versatility is for comparison only and does not contribute to the overall score.
For more information about storage for your computer, see Computers and accessories