About a decade or so ago, people were still using floppy disks and CDs to store their digital data. These relatively ancient means of data storage were cheap and disposable – as they often carried limited capacities, and to be fair, not a lot of people were into the whole digital data culture.
Fast forward to now, data storage is now a necessity due to the growing demand of users in the digital space, whether it be for personal uses like portfolios and media files, or for commercial applications like content creation and data logs.
Fortunately, the external storage market has never been cheaper, providing a wide variety of options for people from all walks of life to stash their files in safety.
But it’s not just about storing data that’s important – it’s about being able to move it around with you too. External hard drives, first HDDs, and now SSDs too, have become the number one option people turn to for storing their work, photos, games, and more. Fortunately for us, some great options are also decreasing in price.
In the quest to find the best cheap external HDD in town, we’ve rounded up a number of contenders that not only boast affordability but also carry a sizable capacity, along with other essential features. We’re dedicated to providing you with a bang for buck options that do not compromise functionality for a dirt-cheap price tag. So, without further ado, here are some of the best budget external hard drives that offer quality and value for money.
Our Favorite Budget External Hard Drives of 2021
|WD 2TB My Passport Portable Drive||HDD||2TB||4.9|
|Silicon Power 2TB Rugged External Hard Drive||HDD||2TB||4.6|
|Seagate STHP5000400 Backup Plus 5TB||HDD||5TB||5.0|
|ADATA Entry SC685 Series: 500GB External SSD||SSD||500GB||4.6|
|Maxone Upgrade 2.5'' 320 GB Portable HDD||HDD||320GB||4.2|
|Seagate Expansion Portable 2TB External Hard Drive||HDD||2TB||4.5|
|SanDisk Extreme 510 Portable SSD 480GB||SSD||480GB||4.2|
|LaCie Rugged Mini 1TB External Hard Drive||HDD||1TB||4.5|
|Feishuo 120 GB Portable External Hard Drive||HDD||120GB||4.0|
When it comes to data storage solutions, Western Digital has been a trusted name in both professional and personal settings. The brand also showcases its own offering in the low-priced external hard drive department with the WD 2TB My Passport Portable External Hard Drive.
The battle for supremacy on who can dish out the largest storage capacity at affordable prices has been a tight one lately, and, at the time of writing, this is our pick for the best external hard drive under $50.
Clad in a sleek, professional package, this budget external HDD boasts up to 2 TBs of storage for your files – games, images, videos, spreadsheets, and more – with a transfer speed of up to 130 MB/s. Not the fastest out there, but it is viable enough for casual applications. It also supports USB 3.0 compatibility to allow the drive to utilize its transfer speed.
What makes it special is the unique storage ecosystem that is loaded with software like WD Backup and WD Discovery. The former allows you to dial in a preferred backup schedule for your files to automatically store them, while the latter offers a password functionality that you can set to protect your files – working in tandem with the 256-bit AES hardware encryption feature to add that extra barrier of defense against data tampering. WD Discovery also hosts a plethora of functions like social media integration and cloud storage services for the user’s convenience.
For those who are looking for an affordable solution to store their personal files like photos, videos, and games, the Silicon Power 2TB Rugged offers a great gigabyte per dollar value – all in a robust external packaging that can take a beating. If you’re one with a grab and go lifestyle, this option might be for you.
Unlike most external hard drives that carry the USB 3.0 standard, this drive bears the next-generation USB 3.1 interface, boasting transfer speeds of up to 120 MB/s. While not the fastest around due to it being a mechanical-based drive, this is a decent figure for those who are casual users. Do note that it comes pre-formatted as FAT32, so ensure that you reformat the drive based on the OS or the file sizes you will be working with for a seamless storage experience.
Unlike external HDDs that are advertised as “rugged”, the Silicon Power 2TB drive doesn’t carry the unwanted heft, adding portability points to the tally. It has a military-grade shockproof casing and is rated for IPX4 water resistance, adding some protection from external factors. The case also has non-slip rubber paddings and an integrated USB cable slot for added ergonomics and ease of use. This drive is also compatible with a variety of platforms, including Windows, Mac, Playstation, and XBOX.
When it comes to gigabyte per dollar, it’s hard to beat the value brought to the table by the Seagate STHP5000400 Backup Plus 5TB external hard drive. It carries a whopping 5 terabyte capacity, making it a perfect companion for those who work with large media files like high-resolution, post-processed videos and photos, or triple-A games that often go over a hundred gigabytes per title.
This is our number one pick for the best external hard drive under $100. We still don’t quite know how they manage to get 5 terabytes of storage into such a cheap price tag.
Furthermore, it adapts the USB 3.0 standard which is widely used for portable storage solutions now, and delivers up to 120 MB/s of file transfer speed, which is pretty decent for a portable platter-based solution. The 4 TB variant boasts up to twice the transfer speed but seeing that you get a terabyte more of storage for a little over $20 more, this particular model is a no-brainer choice.
It isn’t as slim as units offered by competitors, but the package is neatly enclosed in an aluminum shell with a sleek design for that modern vibe. On top of that, you get an 18-inch data cable, and an amazing bargain deal on a one-year subscription to Mylio Create, and a two-month complimentary membership to Adobe Creative Cloud (Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC). The Seagate STHP5000400 Backup Plus 5TB is compatible with both Windows and Mac devices.
While storage capacity is often prioritized by consumers more often than not, there is also a demand in the market for performance. High-capacity portable storage drives are mostly comprised of mechanical hard disk variants that are significantly slower than their solid-state counterparts. This is where the ADATA Entry SC685 Series shines, sporting a solid-state drive platform without the premium price mark-up.
While this unit is limited to only 500 GBs of storage space, it’s our first pick for the best budget SSD external hard drive. It boasts compatibility with the USB 3.2 standard allowing it to utilize its 3D NAND Flash implementation. This means that the device is capable of transfer speeds of up to 530 MB/s, which is a massive step-up from traditional mechanical-based external drives.
Apart from the standard USB Type-A compatibility, it is also designed to work with devices that have Type-C ports. This makes the external SSD viable for productivity applications that need the speed, like content creation, or gaming on the go as in-game performance can highly benefit from faster read/write speeds. Thus, if you are a gamer, we’d recommend this external gaming hard drive.
The ADATA Entry SC685 500GB External SSD comes in a shock-resistant package, which works well with the solid-state platform for that improved level of ruggedness. It also boasts compatibility with numerous platforms like Windows, Mac, Linux, and game console ecosystems like the Xbox and Playstation. You get a USB 3.2 Type-C cable and a USB 3.2 Type-C to Type-A conversion cable for backward compatibility with older USB standards.
For those on an extremely tight budget, getting a sizeable external data storage solution might seem impossible. Enter the Maxone Upgrade 2.5” 320 GB Portable HDD which comes in as one of the best value external hard drive options.
This particular cheap external hard drive has a 320 GB capacity, which isn’t a lot but isn’t half bad at the price of less than $30. It also supports the USB 3.0 standard with USB 2.0 backward compatibility, allowing for file transfer speeds of up to 100 MB/s. This is probably the best figure you’ll get for a drive of this quality, but it’s nothing to scoff at.
The manufacturer has invested in making the Maxone Upgrade Portable HDD a rugged unit, with its shock-proof casing that helps protect your data, considering it is a mechanical-based device. It also follows the 2.5-inch size standard with a slim footprint, allowing you to pop it in your pocket for that grab-and-go functionality. Oh, and you also get to choose from multiple colors to spice up its portable charm.
All in all, the Maxone hard drive Upgrade 2.5” 320 GB Portable HDD hosts a decent storage capacity and speed dirt cheap, making it ideal for students who are limited in budget, or those who just need a good cheap external hard drive for file backups.
Seagate has established itself as a household name in the past few years thanks to its wide variety of affordable storage devices that can hold its own against renowned competitors. One such offering is the Seagate Expansion Portable 2TB, which provides a decent amount of storage space and file transfer speeds for a price that’s hard to resist.
It works with the USB 3.0 standard but is backward compatible with USB 2.0, giving the user the convenience of plug and play functionality even with older device platforms. The Seagate Expansion Portable external HDD comes in a 1 TB version, but the 2 TB variant is where the money’s at – as for only $5 more, you get an extra terabyte of storage. Transfer speeds are somewhere around the 90 MB/s range, which is slightly slower than the previous options but still decent considering the price.
It comes in a basic plastic casing that adds some shock resistance to the package, but take extra care in lugging the drive around as it is a mechanical-based device. The Seagate Expansion Portable 2TB External Hard Drive doesn’t need any kind of special software to be used and is instantly recognized by your device upon plugging in. Do note that it is only compatible with Windows out of the box, and will need to be reformatted in order to be readable in Mac and other OS platforms.
Here’s another great cut for those who have the need for speed. The SanDisk Extreme 510 Portable SSD 480GB external solid-state drive offers the external storage functionality of traditional HDDs but packed with the speed of an SSD. This particular variant puts emphasis on rugged portability, boasting a shock resistance rating of up to 800 G and vibration resistance on top of it, keeping your data protected from physical factors at all times. It is also water and dust-resistant at an IP55 rating.
Speaking of data protection, the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD makes use of the brand’s proprietary SecureAccess software. It offers a decent 128-bit AES encryption function that allows password protection of your desired files with a drag and drop user interface.
While it hosts up to only 480 GBs of data storage, this external SSD has impressive file transfer speeds of up to 400 MB/s, a far cry from external drives of the mechanical kind. This makes the SanDisk Extreme 510 Portable SSD 480GB a viable choice for content creators who shoot and edit on the go, allowing for the fast facilitation of images and footage simultaneously. It even comes with a handy metal ring clip that you can hang onto your bag for easy access and retrieval.
For those who live life on the edge and are bold enough to document it, only a capable external storage solution like the LaCie Rugged Mini 1TB External Hard Drive can keep up with your lifestyle – for a price that doesn’t bite. This external hard drive boasts the ultimate durability in terms of protection from physical factors, keeping your data safe from corruption even in the most challenging situations.
It carries a 1 TB storage capacity which is enough for most use cases and hosts up to 130 MB/s of file transfer speed – decent enough for casual applications like personal file storage like movies, games, and documents. It also carries the USB 3.0 standard with a USB 2.0 backward compatibility for a plug and play operation on older device platforms.
This specific model also comes with a complimentary 1-month membership to the Adobe Creative Cloud “All Apps Plan” for your content creation needs. You also get access to the LaCie toolkit which automates your backup plan.
Where the LaCie Rugged Mini excels is its resilience to external factors despite the small device footprint. It is water-resistant, is crush-proof with a 1-ton rating, and can withstand drops from heights of up to 4 feet, making it perfect for backpackers who need a consistent storage solution on the go.
Get a decent amount of storage space for the price of a flash drive with the Feishuo 120 GB Portable External Hard Drive. It sports a 120 GB storage capacity which for over $15, making it a no-brainer choice over conventional thumb drives. This is also the cheapest external hard drive on this list of cheap hdds. It even has a petite device footprint which considerably improves its pocket portability.
The Feishou External Hard Drive uses the USB 3.0 standard with USB 2.0 backward compatibility and can offer file transfer speeds of up to 75 MB/s. While this might not be the fastest drive around, the value for money it offers per gigabyte is nothing to scoff at. The drive is also compatible with platforms like Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android out of the box.
It also sports a rugged housing which is protected by a silicone sleeve wrapped around the case, acting as a vibration and impact dampener in the event of dropping or crushing, while claiming to be water-resistant to some degree. The Feishou External Hard Drive is perfect for those who need a temporary data storage solution for files that aren’t sensitive to tampering, like movies and music.
Tips for Choosing a Good Budget External Hard Drive
Before pulling the trigger on your upcoming external hard drive purchase, it makes sense to establish a set of guidelines on what to look for and expect. Since our guide is focused on bringing you quality external hard drives without breaking the bank, there will be some areas of compromise – but just enough to get you the best value for your money.
Reliability is a vital attribute that an external hard drive must possess. Just like any other storage device, your data is only as safe as your drive allows it to be. A general rule of thumb is to stick with brands and models that have proven their mettle and have earned the praise of reviewers and consumers alike. What good would a dirt-cheap external hard drive bring if it can’t keep your files safe from corruption or tampering, right?
Speed vs. Capacity
This is one of the most important trade-offs you will have to make in this particular budget level. External hard drives are commonly split into two categories for this: HDDs and SSDs. HDDs (hard disk drives) are based on a mechanical system that offers cheap gigabytes of capacity per dollar at the expense of read and write speeds. You can often snag 1 to 4 TB models for cheap if you go down this route.
HDD or SSD?
SSDs (solid-state drives), on the other hand, features a fixed circuit-based storage system that boasts incredibly high read and write speeds, but are generally more expensive per gigabyte of space it offers. You are often limited to a maximum of 500 GBs of storage space but are treated to speeds of 400 MB/s or greater if you settle for this option.
If you need mass storage capabilities for files that don’t often need to be moved, an HDD-based model is the way to go. However, if you work with files that frequently need to be transferred onto other devices, you will benefit greatly from the speeds of an SSD-based unit.
Once again, this will be a balancing act that you will need to ponder on if you need speed or capacity for a specific use-case. For example, content creators that need a long-term storage solution for sizable photos and videos can benefit from high-capacity mechanical-based drives, although in these applications, you will also need the high-speeds offered by SSD-based units – especially during shoots where the content creator will have to constantly offload stills and footage from the camera to the storage device. Decide on whichever aspect provides the best value to your setup and take it from there.
Another thing to consider is the connectivity an external hard drive offers, whether it be an older platform like USB 2.0 or newer generations like USB 3.0 and USB Type-C. Fortunately, most of today’s external hard drives support the latest connectivity standards while adding backward compatibility with older ones for seamless file transfers.
And last but not least, an external hard drive should be portable enough for you to lug around without causing discomfort or inconvenience. There’s a reason why internal storage solutions remain in the innards of their respective devices: they’re often too bulky to travel with and require proprietary technology to power them up or gain access to the stored data.
With external hard drives, the setup is designed to project the smallest footprint possible whilst providing all the required power and data connection with the USB connectivity standard, leaving no room for user error. Some models even have extra protective features like waterproofing or impact resistance for an improved device and data protection in any kind of situation.
Armed with the above information, you can go ahead and choose from our curated list of the best cheap external hard drives to fit your specific data storage needs.