Who this is for
Portable hard drives are great for travel and for people who frequently transfer large amounts of data between computers. Compared with portable hard drives or desktop external drives, they're much faster, more compact, more durable, and more secure, and run at cooler temperatures, but they're also more expensive.
How we picked and tested
Here's what you should look for in a portable solid-state drive:
- Reliability: A portable SSD must keep your data safe.
- Toughness: Because portable SSDs lack moving parts, they are less susceptible to total failure when dropped or jostled than mechanical drives. A portable SSD should also be sturdily built, and not feel creaky or hollow.
- Durability: Flash memory cells can be written to only so many times before wearing out. You'd have to write hundreds of terabytes of data to even begin wearing out the drive, though, and very few people will ever get near that limit.
- Drive speed: Speed is the reason you're spending a lot more for a portable SSD over a portable or external desktop hard drive. We tested both sequential and random speeds.
- Connection type: We considered both USB-A and USB-C models in this review, at speeds of USB 3.0 or faster.
- Price: More expensive portable SSDs can offer faster speeds, but you don't want to overpay to get extra speed or other features you may not notice.
- Capacity: We think a capacity around 500 GB for about $200 currently represents the best mix of affordability, space, and speed for most people.
- Size and weight: A portable SSD should be light and compact—many are roughly the size of a stack of sticky notes, or even smaller.
- Encryption: Portable SSDs that support the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) can more reliably protect your sensitive information, but not all portable SSDs offer this feature.
- Software: Backup software is a nice addition, but it's not essential.
- Warranty and customer service: Three-year warranties are standard among portable solid-state drives, and strong customer service is always valuable.
We investigated the most popular portable solid-state drives on Amazon, and scoured the websites of well-known external SSD manufacturers. We then researched each of the 28 models we found by reading reviews from trusted editorial sources and customer reviews, ultimately calling in four finalists. We tested each drive's sequential and random speeds, and evaluated its build quality and included software. Please see our full guide to Portable SSDs to learn more about our testing process.
The 500 GB Samsung T5 Portable SSD is the best portable solid-state drive for most people because it's reliable, fast, reasonably priced, and compact. At around $200, or 40¢ per gigabyte, it costs about as much per gigabyte as most SSDs—many of which are slower and larger. The T5 has a single USB-C port that supports USB 3.1 Gen 2 speeds and includes both a USB-C–to–USB-C cable and a USB-C–to–USB-A cable. It also comes with software that was the easiest to use of the drives we tested and AES 256-bit hardware encryption to protect your data. Plus, it has a handy indicator light so you know when it's connected and actively transferring data, and it comes with a three-year warranty.
When plugged into a USB 3.0 port, the 500 GB Samsung T5 gave us sequential read and write speeds of 409.8 MB/s and 423.6 MB/s, respectively, about as fast as the competition. Using a Thunderbolt 3 port, it was even faster—462.2 MB/s and 493.3 MB/s, respectively. Its random speeds were faster than any of the competition, too.
More storage: 1 TB Samsung T5 Portable SSD
If you need double the storage and you're willing to spend around twice as much, we recommend the 1 TB Samsung T5 Portable SSD. Because higher-capacity solid-state drives often provide slightly improved performance, we expect the 1 TB to be a little faster than the 500 GB Samsung T5 (even though we tested only the 500 GB capacity). At around $400, it costs about the same per gigabyte as the 500 GB version, with the same dimensions, features, and warranty.
If our pick is sold out or unavailable, we recommend the 512 GB Western Digital My Passport SSD for around the same price. In our tests, the My Passport SSD was about 30 to 60 MB/s slower than the Samsung T5, but it was faster than the other two solid-state drives we tested. Like the Samsung T5, it has a USB-C port and supports USB 3.1 Gen 2 speeds. The My Passport SSD is even thinner and lighter (but longer) than the T5, though not by much. Its software is as simple to use as the Samsung's, and it has hardware encryption as well. The My Passport SSD has a three-year warranty but lacks an indicator light.
Plugged into a USB 3.0 port, the My Passport SSD had sequential read and write speeds of 387 MB/s and 383.9 MB/s, respectively. Although these are respectable speeds, they reflect the slower side of the four solid-state drives we tested. When we plugged the My Passport SSD into a Thunderbolt 3 port, though, it was faster than every drive except the Samsung T5.
This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.
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