Last Updated on December 17, 2021
If you want to archive your important documents or your media for a long span of time, you don’t quite need to worry about getting a high performance option.
All you need is a quality affordable option that is durable enough to safely store you data without any hassle. Long term storage is often needed by professionals who process a ton of data for their work.
Generally, when these drives get filled to the brim with data, they are stowed away in secure areas and hence are not connected to the system 24/7. They don’t need to have a robust TB/year workload specification particularly if the intention is to fill the drives and stow them away.
In the following text we will review some of the best external hard drives for long term storage.
External hard drives come in many shapes, sizes and specs. You can find large 3.5″ HDD as well as much smaller NVMe SSDs. However, the right choice for long term storage is generally not based on whether a disk is high performance or not, instead it mainly depends upon GB/dollar cost as well as other functions like RAID capability, which can come in handy for mirroring drives for extra data security.
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Comparison of Top External Hard Drives for Long Term Storage
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1. WD My Book – Recommended External Hard Drive for Long Term Storage
A highly affordable large external hard drive for saving up a good share of data at a time.
If you are looking for an affordable solution for long term media and document storage, then this is perhaps the option that first comes to mind.
Basically, this is a large 3.5″ form factor external hard disk. This is essentially called a desktop external hard disk as it requires an external power source to operate.
The best part about these external hard drives is that they offer a huge capacity and have a very cheap GB/dollar cost. You can get WD My Book ranging in size from 3 TB all the way to 18 TB.
Hence whether you have a ton of downloaded media that you wish to store, create a personal Plex server, or simply store critical data then we highly recommend this as the best external hard drive for long term storage.
In terms of performance, the drive performs reasonably well. Since it uses the USB 3.0 interface and has a magnetic disk, it reaches a decent speeds of 177 MBps and 176 MBps read and write respectively. This is the typical speed of an 8 TB version, the speeds may differ depending on the capacity you choose.
While there are certainly more robust, expensive and faster enterprise grade NAS storage options out there, for an average user as well as for casual editors and creators, WD My Book is quite sufficient in our opinion.
2. WD My Book Duo – Huge Storage Capacity with RAID
A two drive external solution is best for users who either have a need for a huge storage capacity or for those who want to have a RAID configuration setup either for speed or security.
WD My Book Duo is available in sizes ranging from 4 TB to 28 TB. However, unlike the single drive option, My Book Duo has a significantly higher GB/dollar cost.
This is the closest thing to a NAS that you can find for personal use. It does not have LAN capability and therefore it isn’t a full fledged NAS storage, but for single user this is a robust option to go for.
The critical feature it offers is the RAID support. You can choose RAID 0 for a significant speed boost and no redundancy or RAID 1 for redundancy. For most firms and users who have critical data to store, RAID 1 configuration would certainly be best to mitigate any one point of failure. This would essentially reduce your overall capacity to half, but would double the data security.
You can also use the two drives in JBOD (just a bunch of drives) mode where you do not benefit from either RAID 0 stripping (speed boost) or RAID 1 (mirroring).
Depending upon the configuration you choose, you can get about 330 MBps Read/Write transfer speed in RAID 1 and about 200 MBps Read/Write transfer speed in RAID 0 or JBOD configuration.
All in all, for a robust personal storage system, we believe this to be the best external hard drive for long term storage thanks to its dual drive setup.
3. WD Essentials – Affordable 2.5″ Portable External Hard Drive
A good old highly affordable and reliable external HDD. Bear Minimum portable hard drive.
Unlike the hard disk above, this is a smaller 2.5″ form factor hard drive that does not require an external power source to operate. It is powered and transfers data through the USB connection.
The reason we have selected this portable hard drive is because of its sheer affordability in the 2.5″ form factor category.
2.5″ external hard drives do not feature a huge storage, but their compactness and their portability make them a great candidate for those who are always on the move.
WD Essentials Portable is perhaps the cheapest option in this category because it literally offers the bear minimum specs. It does not have Auto Backup software and does not feature password protection.
What it does offer is sheet affordability. If you have huge a set of data, media or documents that you want to collect and physically stow away in smaller packets, then WD Elements can make a lot of sense.
They are less clunky, do not occupy a lot of space and do not require you to arrange and external power source.
You can tell the popularity of this drive by the sheer number of customer reviews it has garnered. Very rarely will you find a product on a huge market place like Amazon.com have hundreds of thousands of satisfied customer reviews.
A drive doesn’t need to have premium features to be the best external hard drive for long term storage for your needs. If it has a good-enough storage capacity, comes from a reliable brand and has sufficient storage space, you can use it for your important files without having to worry too much.
With such a drive, you get the comfort of saving some extra money by not indulging in a costlier external hard drive. However, for the compromise of not having any shock or water protection, the burden of ensuring your drive survives long physically falls on you as the user.
It is worth noting, however, that unlike the larger 3.5″ variants, this has a much slower transfer speed. According to CNET, this drive sustains the transfer rate at about 100 MB/s.
This drive connects via USB 3.0 and comes with storage options ranging from 1TB to 5TB.
4. Silicon Power A60 – Rugged Portable External Hard Drive
The Silicon Power A60 is one of the best external hard drive for long term storage if you want physical safety for your drives.
Due to its sturdy construction and ruggedized exterior, this is something that can protect your data from many physical accidents.
You can get one quite affordably and because it has protection against water and shock damage, it can come in quite handy for your critical data particularly if you move a lot.
With the Power A60, you can get storage capacities of up to 5TB which is typical for most 2.5″ external storage drives.
The best part about the drive is that despite having a durable construction, it has a fairly competitive price tag and does not seem to charge much of a premium.
In short, if you travel or you want physical protection for your drive, then this is the best external hard drive for long term storage.
The only relative drawback is that like the WD Essentials above, this offers no backup software built in.
5. Seagate Backup Plus – Portable External Hard Drive with Backup
A good portable drive with automatic back up software can make your efforts of data archiving very intuitive. Not all 2.5″ portable drives offer this service built in. Seagate Backup Plus, however ,is an option that includes the backup service.
This too is a compact and a portable 2.5″ hard drive, however, its main highlight are two services that make it a worthy competitor against the rest.
For starters, it features automatic daily, weekly or monthly backups for both Windows as well as for Apple. It is compatible with Apple Time machine as well but may require re-formatting.
On top of that, the disk also comes with 2 years of Rescue Data Recovery Service. Therefore, if your data becomes damaged or corrupted in that time, you will have the chance to avail the recovery service.
So in short, if you need a drive capable of auto backup, then this is the best external hard drive for long term storage.
6. LaCie Mobile Drive – With USB Type C Connection – Recommended for Mac
If you want an external portable hard drive that can easily connect to the newer USB Type C ports, as are found mostly on Apple Devices, then this is an option you can look into.
While this is more expensive than the normal USB 3.0 portable drives mentioned above, the facility of the Type C port can save you from investing in a separate adapter particularly if you are a MAC user.
Fortunately, the drive does come with backup feature and also comes with a one free month of Adobe CC subscription.
It also comes with useful service as well as tools such as the Lacie ToolKit (downloaded separately) which can handle backups, mirroring much more. Furthermore, as far as performance goes, this has an above average transfer speed of about 130 MB/s.
What Kind of Different Options Do You Have to Store Data for Long Term?
There are many storage options out there for long term data storage. Lets go over them very briefly.
1. Media Cards and Flash Drives
They have a limited amount of storage capacity, they are prone to getting lost and can break easily.
On top of that, they are not designed to store data for more than 10 years. The drive essentially deteriorates as they lose their internal charge over time.
A good option, but archiving and storing data here is a very slow and a tedious process. On top of that, if you want longevity of your data, then you need to buy gold CDs which can put a cost burden on you.
We talk more about this below, but essentially they face the same problems as Flash Drives and Media Cards. The loss of data is a concern here.
4. Hard Drives
Hard Drives are the most resilient, cost effective and durable option for data storage at the moment. Until a more robust technology becomes available, Hard Drives will reign supreme not just for personal data storage but for professionals as well as for enterprises such as Data Centers.
How to Physically Store Drives for Long Term Durability?
The way you store the drives physically have a direct impact on the overall durability and security of the data.
For instance, you have to make sure that the room you store your drives is neither too humid and nor too dry. High relative humidity can create vapors and having a dry environment can create static discharges both of which are harmful for the delicate electronic circuits.
It is a good idea to store the drives in a container well padded from all sides to absorb shock and prevent dust from accumulating.
You can find plenty of storage boxes for stowing away internet 3.5″ or 2.5″ hard drives.
However, when it comes to external hard drives due to them having different shapes and designed, you may have to concoct a box of your own.
Alternatively, you can remove the hard drive inside the external enclosure and store them away in the dedicated hard drive storage cases.
Guide to Choosing the Right External Hard Drive for Long Term Storage
Handed a list of hard drives, what would influence your decision about which one is the best for long-term storage?
Performance does matter here but not so much. After all, a storage drive is not your primary working drive.
When we talk about a storage or an archival drive we refer to a drive that is filled to the brim and then stored away physically locked up in a secure case for future reference.
Hence the primary concern here, in most cases, is the dollar / GB cost.
Dollar / GB Cost
Among the most critical factor for deciding the best hard drive for long term storage is its cost.
Generally, when you look into a hard disk, you look at its performance as well as its mean time between failure rate.
However, for long term solution, the performance i.e the transfer speed as well as the MTBF value takes a backseat.
This is because drives used for long term storage are rarely used too often. They are intended for backing up data only. You will mostly find them thrown in a stowage space where they permanently reside with your data for good.
Hence, for a disk, that is seldom accessed but mostly stores data, affordability matters the most.
This is contrast to drives that are always in use. For instance, your primary drive where the OS is installed will definitely benefit from a high performance. Expensive SSD drives would make sense as well.
Rugged for Critical Long Term Data and If You Travel
While not entirely necessary, a rugged enclosure for a drive is great if you move a lot and are worried about the physical safety.
Ruggedized enclosure is mostly available for 2.5″ portable hard drives and not for the larger 3.5″ desktop external hard drives.
The ruggedized hard drives have the following features:
Also Read: 7200 RPM Hard Drive vs SSD
If you want a hard drive that you can carry with you to each of your destinations, then one that’s classified as shock-proof will be a worthy gamble.
Shockproof external hard drives are by design built to withstand knocks and some falls. They are also resistant to significant amounts of vibration so if you’re always on the move and mostly on rough terrain, you will probably need long-term external storage that’s shockproof.
Water damage is one of the worst things that can happen to any electronic device and it’s usually difficult to recover data if the hard drive has been exposed to a significant amount of water or moisture.
This may be defined by the IP rating (Ingress Protection) which determines the extent to which a device’s enclosure has been sealed, thus protecting the components inside it from intrusion and damage by the elements around.
SSD vs HDD for Long Term Storage
SSDs are fast. The hard disks are nowhere in comparison to the speed which the newer SSDs can provide. The newer PCIe v4.0 can even reach 8000 MB/s transfer speeds where as the nominal speed for hard disk is only 140 MB/s.
With that said, for long term storage, SSDs make little sense since they are very expensive. As mentioned earlier, long term storage entails that the disk is used only to store data and is seldom used.
On top of that, SSD is essentially temporary memory. The data can get lost without any chance of recovery. SSDs require a constant power source in order to be a reliable medium of long term storage.
However, that is generally not possible as you have only a limited amount of ports available.
If that is case here, there will be no point investing in expensive storage. We recommend the slower but inexpensive Hard disk drives.
Also Read: NVME vs SATA vs mSATA SSD
Are NAS Good for Long Term Storage?
If you have a significant amount of data to store or if you want to procure a data storage solution for a small to medium sized firm, then a NAS server can make a lot of sense.
Network Attached Storage (NAS) is a central storage space that is accessible by everyone on the attached network.
A NAS can work as your primary data storage or a secondary data storage for redundancy or disaster recovery.
NAS servers can have 2-12 drive bays (and more). These servers have their own CPU, RAM and networking capability for processing data and in out of the disks installed effectively.
Also Read: Best NAS for Backup
In this article we looked at some of the best external hard drives for long term storage. We looked at budget and premium, hard disk drives and sold state drives.
If you are looking for ultimate safety, it is important take into consideration how durable the external hard drive is. You need to make sure it is ruggedized since external hard disk are more prone to damage from fall and spills.
All in all, the good news is that there plenty of valuable options out there that you can choose. If you are looking to combine durability with speed, we would recommend you choose an SSD over an HDD.
Plus generally SSDs are more reliable against failure since they do not have mechanical moving parts.