With most of us relying on compact mobile devices of various sorts for our day to day computing, gone are the days of upgrading your storage by popping another hard drive in your PC. Nowadays, the easiest option is to buy an external drive, but with so many to choose from, it can be difficult to know which best suits your purposes.

Large desktop-bound hard drives can provide loads of storage for a low price, while smaller, portable options let you bring your extra storage with you. SSD-based drives provide lightning quick performance that are ideal for working directly from, while mobile-phone compatible thumb drives make it easy to quickly clear a bit of space so you can keep snapping photos and recording your memories.

A network-accessible NAS drive is also useful for sharing data all round your house or office. Whichever sort of drive you need, we’ve picked out the best ones on the market.

Seagate Expansion+ Portable Hard Drive, 1TB: £44.99, Argos

External hard drives don’t have to be clever or complicated and the Seagate Expansion+ is neither of those things. Plug this drive into your computer’s USB port and you have instant access to an extra 1TB (or up to 4TB) of storage. It’s also small enough to fit in your laptop bag and stylish enough that it won’t look out of place in a swanky office. It’s not particularly fast and you get few extras to speak of, but it’s hard to argue with such a reasonable price.

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Samsung T5 Portable SSD, 500GB: £120, Currys

The Samsung T5 Portable SSD provides a perfect balance of portability, performance and price. This tiny drive measures just 74 x 58 x 10.5mm and weighs just 51g, yet it packs in a Samsung SSD that’s quick enough to be used for tasks such as video editing direct from the drive. It connects via USB 3.1 Type C – that’s the one with the reversible plug – so is convenient as well as quick. It’s pricier than a portable hard drive, but if you need a bit of extra performance and a more portable package, it’s a great option.

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Seagate Back Up Plus Desktop Hard Drive, 8TB: £164.99, Argos

If portability isn’t a concern, a large desktop-based external hard drive is the most cost-effective way of expanding your storage. This drive from Seagate comes in capacities up to 8TB and provides quick and easy storage via its USB 3.0 connection. As well as being able to connect directly to a computer, the Back Up Plus has a couple of USB ports on the front that let you charge other devices and backup their data directly to the drive too.

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ioSafe Solo G3, 4TB: £375.36, Amazon

If you’ve got some really important data that needs protecting, the ioSafe Solo is the drive for you. Available in capacities up to 4TB, these very large and heavy external desktop drives are designed to withstand being consumed by a house fire and subsequently doused by the fire brigade. The company also provides forensic data recovery if the worst were to happen. You can get both USB and network-attached storage (Nas) versions (see below for more on Nas), with the latter being easy to upgrade with your own drives.

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Synology DiskStation DS216se NAS: £128.99, Scan

Keen for your data to be easily accessible from all your home devices? A Nas drive is the ideal solution. These plug in to your home router and provide access to your storage without the need for any other computers to be on. This DiskStation effort is one of the cheapest, easiest and most robust options out there. It can accommodate two hard drives for a total capacity of up to 16TB and has plenty of features including backup, media streaming and mobile app access.

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Buffalo MiniStation Extreme, 1TB: £75.97, LaptopsDirect

Drop resistant to 1.2 metres, as well as splash and dust proof, the Buffalo MiniStation Extreme is all about keeping your data well protected. Moreover, the drives come with hardware encryption that can cleverly be unlocked by tapping an NFC card against the side of the drive. Otherwise this drive offers fairly typical USB 3.0 hard drive performance, so is no speed demon.

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Samsung X5, 500GB: £328.99, CCL Computers Limited

If extreme performance is important to you, then the Samsung X5 is the drive to get. This compact portable drive uses a lightning-quick Thunderbolt connection. Just how quick is it? A typical portable hard drive can read/write at around 120MB/s, while portable SSDs like the Samsung T5 can hit 540MB/s, but this model hits 2800MB/s. Most users won’t ever need such speed, but if you simply must have the best, this is it.

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Leef iBridge 3: £46.78, Amazon

Apple’s devices don’t normally play well with external storage devices but this tiny drive gets round that. It plugs into your iPhone or iPad and neatly curves round the back of your devices so it’s safely out the way. Via its app, it then provides an easy means of backing up your photos, transferring files to and from your phone as well as playing back multimedia stored on the iBridge.

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SanDisk Ultra USB Type-C, 64GB: £22.99, Argos

Unlike iOS devices, Android phones and tablets don’t need clever apps to access storage devices. However, you still need a drive that can plug into your phone. The SanDisk Ultra USB Type-C provides this functionality via its USB Type-C port, which is fast becoming the standard connection for Android devices. The SanDisk app lets you backup your system and transfer media – plus, if you use the drive with your PC, you can set a portion of the drive to be password protected.

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Kingston DataTraveler Micro 3.1, 128GB: £22.98, Amazon

For all the clever ways we can store and share data these days, sometimes there’s nothing more convenient than a simple USB thumb drive. Clip the tiny DataTraveler Micro on to your keyring and it can be ready to go whenever you need. Its USB 3.1 connection ensures it transfers data reasonably quickly and the rugged metal exterior keeps it safe from harm. Just be sure to pick the pocket lint out of the end before you plug it in.

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Verdict: Best external hard drives

For just sheer bulk storage, the Seagate Back Up Plus is the drive to opt for, while those seeking speed and portability will want the Samsung T5. For its combination of portability and low price, however, the Seagate Expansion+ will be all the drive most people need.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.