Last Updated on December 17, 2021
One of the many reasons Linux is popular is that most, if not all its desktop distributions, are opensource. This means that users do not need to pay for a license to use, or even modify it.
With Linux, you get a lightweight OS that can run everything from basic tasks like document editing to some enterprise-grade software.
It is also quite the popular operating system among developers and coders.
The selection of best external hard drives for Linux here are not just intended for saving and storing files, but also for smoothly running operating system right off the drive.
Disclosure: PCGearLab is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Can You Install Linux OS on External Hard Drives?
You most certainly can. You will basically need to create a Linux OS Boot Drive.
The first and foremost important consideration is make sure that your computer can boot from an external hard drive. This largely depends upon your BIOS and its version. Most newer BIOS have no issue in doing so.
To do this, you will need to plug the external drive into the USB port first
Next before making a Linux OS Boot Drive, you will first need to make Installation Media Boot Drive. To do this on, get a flash drive or an SD card and follow the steps highlighted in this article for both making an Installation Media Boot Drive using Ubuntu, Windows or Mac.
Next, you need to restart your PC and manually boot from the USB/SD card you just created in the previous step. You may have to change the boot order in BIOS. Generally, pressing F12 at the start can also take you to booting options.
Next, go through the installation process and when it prompts you to choose the destination drive, choose the External Hard Drive where you want to Install the Linux Operating System.
Once Linux has been installed in the External Hard Drive, restart your PC and choose the newly created Linux OS drive from the boot menu.
Comparison of Top External Hard Drive for Linux
|WD Black ||3.5"|
1. SAMSUNG T7 Portable – Recommended External Hard Drive for Linux – SSD
A popular and one of the fastest NVMe external SSD available.
This is by far one of the best external hard drive for linux that we recommend. This slim and highly portable SSD is testament to the fact that SSD prices have truly come down with drastic improvement in speeds.
Samsung T7 is an upgrade over the previous and equally popular Samsung T5 slim SSD. However, while the former only offered 550 MB/s of transfer, this version has a whopping 1050 MB/s of transfer speeds making it one of the fastest external hard drive.
In order to operate an entire operating system via an external drive without any lag, you need the fastest possible hard drive. This hard drive would easily allow you to have that experience.
If features the latest USB 3.2 protocol and thus the input lag will be naturally quite low as well.
This hard drives comes in various sizes including 500 GB, 1 TB and 2 TB.
All in all, if you are looking for the fastest possible transfer speeds at lowest possible rates, then this is the best external hard drive for Linux.
2. Silicon Power Armor A60 – Rugged, Affordable and Water-Resistant
A sturdy and a ruggedized external hard drive for protecting your operating system.
The Silicon Power Armor A60 is the best external hard drive for Linux users who value high durability with good performance at a comfortable price.
This drive has a rugged case that offers users much-needed protection against shocks. This helps keep the drive’s internals safe while giving you peace of mind if you decide to carry the drive when visiting places.
The drive offers a good price with purchase which may be attractive to Linux users who are on a budget.
It provides a great solution for backing up your files since it comes with large storage capacity options for users who need the space.
Besides being shockproof, the hard drive also has an IPX4 rating for water resistance. This means that water splashes will not have a huge impact on the drive, however, submersion may cause damage.
The drive comes formatted in NTFS meaning that you can just plug it into your Linux computer and get to work. It has a USB3.1 interface that provides great performance. Add that to the durability and the price tag and you get a great drive.
3. WD My Passport Portable – Affordable External Hard Disk – 130MB/s HDD
Very large storage for a very affordable price tag.
If all you need is a basic hard drive that has large storage capacities then this will be the best external hard drive for Linux.
It comes with storage options that go up to 5TB and this is great for Linux users who need to store or archive large volumes of files.
Additionally, you get decent performance out of this. With speeds of 130MB/s, you can expect to transfer small files effortlessly while significantly large files may take more time.
The drive is fit for file storage and while you can boot Linux from an external hard drive, the speed may be a limiting factor for some intensive tasks so just file storage is enough for this.
The drive supports password protection and automatic backups. However, you may need to check if your Linux distro does support this as well.
Nevertheless, the USB 2.0 support will come in handy when connecting to computers, and formatting it for Linux should be simple.
This is an affordable drive with minimal features that are just meant for basic use.
4. Transcend StoreJet TS2TSJ25H3B – USB 3.1, Anti-Shock Protection
Ruggidized hard disk with data recovery.
This hard drive was designed with portability and durability in mind. Users get to have a device that comes with a rugged exterior that can absorb shocks and mild impacts.
What sets this apart from the rest of the ruggedized hard disks is that this comes with a data recovery solution. Therefore, should your data get damaged, this will give you chance to retrieve it.
The Transcend StoreJet has a shock-absorbing silicone case and also comes with a suspension damper and a reinforced hard plastic case. These three systems work in tandem to protect the drive against drops and shocks.
It comes with a USB 3.1 Gen1 connector that provides high transfer speeds between the device and your computer hence offsetting any bottlenecks that may occur during data transit.
Storage capacities go up to 4TB meaning you can store very many files before you need to get a new drive or delete old files.
As a bonus, the drive comes with a one-touch backup feature that’s activated by the push of a button.
The drive supports Windows Mac and Linux from kernel version 2.6.31 so ensure you check your OS.
This is one of the best external hard drive for Linux that features military-grade durability and good performance.
5. LaCie Rugged STHR500800 – 1050 MB/s, USB 3.0 Drop-resistant SSD
Water, drop, and crush resistant NVMe SSD with high 1050 MB/s of transfer speeds.
Like the Samsung T7 above, this is for those who want a hard drive that is very fast and you can even boot your OS from effortlessly. However, unlike the Samsung T7, this is expensive but has all sorts of rugged features.
This SSD offers better performance than a regular SATA SSD since it’s an NVMe drive. As such, you get phenomenal speeds of up to 105-MB/s.
Because of this, the drive is fast enough, you can load the OS into it and use it as an external boot device.
In addition to being a great performer, the drive has an IP67 rating that gives it better water resistance than the other hard drives seen here.
The drive has a rugged case that makes it extremely durable, able to survive crushing force, and drops from up to 3m.
With large storage capacities, this drive can be great for transferring files between computers s well as program installations.
When it comes to speed, this is the best external hard drive for Linux. There’s also a feature that lets users encrypt their files, therefore protecting them from unauthorized users. It’s a premium drive, hence it’s expensive.
6. WD Black (WDBA3P0080HBKNESN) – Desktop External Harddisk – Huge Storage for Cheap
High Performance Desktop external hard disk.
The WD Black is a high-performance hard drive that delivers fast speeds and is the best external hard drive for Linux when you want a balance between storage space and performance.
Unfortunately though, if you are looking for portability, this may not be the best option. Sure it has a huge storage for very cheap, but the form factor of the hard disk used is 3.5″ which requires an external power source to operate.
It’s disk runs at 7200RPM which is faster than that of basic hard drives that do 5400RPM. The result is a 250MB/s transfer speed that’s impressive for an HDD.
The disk comes with a wide variety of storage options for users with varying needs and being a desktop hard drive means you shouldn’t expect much portability from it.
Nevertheless, with storage capacities of up to 8TB, space will not be an issue, and read/write speeds are good for day to day use.
With a USB 3.0 interface, the drive will be easily compatible with most computers and it also offers support for USB 2.0 support for those running Linux on an older computer.
The device has a sturdy construction that gives it a lot of tolerance to shocks and drops. This keeps the drive safe from damaging impacts.
It comes formatted with NTFS so you can use it as is or reformat it to work solely with the Linux OS.
How to Buy the Right Hard Drive for Linux?
Different Operating Systems have their way of reading disks and handling files. The Linux filesystem is quite different from what you will find on other systems like Windows or Mac.
Linux uses the ext filesystem with the popular flavor being ext4. While the OS does support some others including xfs, zfs, and btrfs, you don’t have to worry much about this when formatting your external hard drive.
Things to Consider
Whether or not a hard drive works on a computer will depend on many factors. However, any hard drive can be formatted to work with Linux.
Nevertheless, before settling for a hard drive that will be used on Linux, you may need to consider a few things like:
Bus Type and Driver Support
Linux has support for popular USB drives including some of the latest ones. These usually get added.
You can get some third-party drivers that are ports of the main drivers your hard drive comes with to allow seamless integration in case if it does not work.
Availability of Support for Certain Features
Some hard drives come equipped with proprietary software that provides users with extra functionality like automatic backups, file recovery, and even wireless media streaming.
These may work well with Operating Systems like Windows and Mac but the support may be missing for Linux.
When getting a hard drive for your Linux computer, it is best to first ensure that the features you’re looking for are available with your OS.
Unfortunately, the Linux ext filesystem is only accessible to Linux so those files won’t be read on any other OS.
You could format your drive to use FAT32. This will allow you to access it from different operating systems.
Sadly, FAT32 comes with limitations such as the maximum size of an individual file cannot surpass 4GB. This will make it impossible to copy files that are larger than this to the drive even if you have space.
NTFS (New Technology File System)
If you intend to share your drive’s files with Windows computers, NTFS is a safe bet. Linux has support for it and it works with Windows out of the box. On a Mac, you’ll be able to read but will need tweaks to perform writes.
What To Look for in an External Hard Drive Generally?
There is a small list of specs that you can choose to review when buying the hard drive be it for Linux or for any purpose. We will talk about it below:
HDD vs SSD
This is the most important consideration when choosing any external hard drive. Do you want a hard drive that offers a high capacity but slower speeds for archiving or do you need a amazingly fast hard drive and are okay with paying a pretty penny for it?
So in short, if you want performance per dollar value, go for SSD. If you want capacity per dollar value, go for HDD.
If you want the Linux OS to operate as smoothly as possible, recommend investing in an NVMe SSDs. These can top speeds of about 1050MB/s.
External HDDs, on the other hand, operate at about 120 MB/s transfer speeds.
Enclosure and Portability
You don’t technically have to get a standalone external drive. You can instead invest in portable enclosures for both SSDs and HDDs. Therefore, if you have an extra SSD or an HDD lying around, you can turn them into a Linux OS boot drive.
Also Read: Best Hard Drives for External Enclosures
Installing Linux on External Drives
In this article, we reviewed some of the best external hard drives for Linux. All of the drives mentioned above are not just highly valued by their customers but are also completely compatible with the Linux operating system.
It should be noted, however, that certain software such as a data recovery, data archiving that come built in with certain hard drives may seize to function with Linux as they are mostly compatible with Windows or MAC OS.
Nevertheless, when it comes to pure storage purposes, the above mentioned hard drives can be used without any limitations.