5 Best External Hard Drives for Windows 10 in 2021

When using a Windows 10 computer, you have probably received a warning that you’re running out of storage and need to create some space.

This isn’t a dire warning, but getting the best external hard drives for Windows 10 can help sort out the issue.

If you need external storage, you will need to come up with some things that you want out of the hard drive.

Once you do, picking out the best one will not be an issue. Be that as it may, most hard drives will work with Windows 10.

List of Best External Hard Drives for Windows 10 in 2021

The following hard drives have a great value for Windows 10 users.

  1. WD Elements Desktop – Windows-ready Large capacity Drive
  2. Seagate Backup Plus Slim – Portable USB3.0 with Auto-backups
  3. SanDisk Extreme Portable – Rugged, 550MB/s USB3.1 SSD
  4. LaCie Portable – High-performance, shock-resistant USB-C drive
  5. Buffalo MiniStation Extreme – Durable with NFC Security

1. WD Elements Desktop – Windows-ready Large Capacity Drive

Its large storage capacities make the WD Elements desktop one of the best external hard drive for Windows 10.

This device was not built for portability, but to compensate, you get access to some of the largest storage spaces of up to 14TB.

This is enough space to store hundreds of HD files and countless documents.

The device comes with a USB3.0 interface that’s able to sustain great transfer speeds and allows you to move things with ease.

It comes preformatted to work with Windows, so, on your Windows 10 computer, all you’ll need to do is plug it in and get to work.

The device is very affordable considering the storage space you get. To put this into perspective, the 14TB unit will cost you a little less than $300.

Therefore, if you have a lot of files and are in the market for a high-capacity desktop drive, you’ll find this very useful.

You get a durable device that has some shock tolerance to keep it safe and it’s built with reliable technology from WD.

2. Seagate Backup Plus Slim – Portable USB 3.0 with Auto-backups

The Backup Plus Slim is a highly portable external hard drive that offers good performance in a small package.

It comes in an aluminum case that provides the hard drive with shielding from excessive force and this can come in handy if you decide to travel with it.

The drive comes preformatted for Windows but you can easily reformat it to work with other operating systems.

Performance is not the best, but considering it’s an HDD with a spinning disk, the 120MB/s you get is expected. However, this is enough for file storage and even some light work.

The drive has a 2TB maximum capacity so users who don’t need a lot of storage will be comfortable getting this.

It’s affordable and comes with a software that allows you to make automatic backups on your Windows machine.

The drive has a USB 3.0 interface and can support devices that use USB2.0. As a result, you get support on even older Windows computers.

When you take performance and affordability into account, this is the best external hard drive for Windows 10.

3. SanDisk Extreme Portable – Rugged, 550MB/s USB 3.1 SSD External Hard Drive for Windows 10

Windows 10 users who are keen on the performance and prefer portable drives will appreciate the SanDisk Extreme.

The drive has a rugged enclosure that provides a high level of durability against shocks, bumps, and some falls.

As a result, you can take the drive out with you and have the peace of mind that your files will be safe from these destructive elements.

Perhaps the greatest selling point for the device is its performance. Being an SSD you get read speeds that can go up to 550 MB/s which is fast enough for almost every task a Windows 10 user will need to accomplish.

You also get a USB 3.1 interface which aids in the great performance.

Besides being ruggedized, you get an IP55 rating for water resistance. This lets the device resist damage due to water flow and a little bit of dust won’t cause much damage either.

Because of its great performance and high durability, this is the best external hard drive for Windows 10. It also works with the OS out of the box without needing extra setup.

4. LaCie Portable – High-performance, shock-resistant USB-C Drive

The LaCie portable is a stylish device that performs very well under heavy workloads. Being an SSD, you get high speeds that go up to 540MB/s.

The drive has various storage options ranging from 500Gb to 2TB making it great for users who don’t have a lot of files to store externally.

You get access to software that lets you schedule your backups, allowing you to do more and keep your files safe in case of an internal drive failure.

The drive has a unique recognizable design and is very slim. Its minimalism makes it attractive to people who want a drive with a small footprint.

Besides being faster than an HDD, it’s also more durable as you don’t have any moving parts that can present as sources of failure or wear and tear.

To be relevant to the emerging technologies, the drive makes use of a USB Type-C USB3.0 interface.

This provides a fast data transmission line between itself and host devices. All these features add up to a drive that performs well and is the best external hard drive for Windows 10.

5. Buffalo MiniStation Extreme – Durable with NFC Security

What makes the Buffalo MiniStation Extreme the best external hard drive for Windows 10 has to be its advanced security features.

The drive has support for NFC and this is used to grant or revoke a user’s access to your files. Once set up, you can use the provided NFC card as a key to unlock the drive. It’s as convenient as tapping the card on the appointed location on the hard drive and you can get to work.

If you don’t want this, you can use the provided software to set a password and use that instead.

Besides its security, you get a high-performance hard drive that supports USB 3.0 for fast data transfers. The internal drive spins at 7200RPM which offers an added speed advantage over 5400RPM drives.

Using the drive on a Windows 10 computer is as easy as plug and play. This is because it comes formatted with NTFS out of the box. An integrated cable also comes in handy for users who may forget to carry one.

The rugged case gives it extra durability and you also get an IPX3 rating for water resistance.


Can You Install Operating System on an External Hard Drive?

Use WinToGo for creating portable windows hard drive.

Yes, you most certainly can.

PCWorld.com has a detailed article on how to do this.

Basically, in order to installed and run Windows 10 operating system from an external hard disk, you will need to download a simple tool called WinToGo.

This will allow you to create a portable windows. It is recommended that your external hard drive and the PC are both compatible with atleast USB 3.1 speeds. The best case would be for both to have the thunderbolt 3 port.

Once you install the portable windows using the aforementioned software, you will then need to selection your External Drive as the main boot drive from your BIOS settings.

Also Read: Best External Hard Drive for Graphic Designers

How to Choose the Right Windows 10 External Hard Drive?

When getting a hard drive, besides the specs of the device, an important aspect to consider is the device’s formatting.

Different Operating Systems have a specific way of dealing with different devices, and storage devices are not exempted.

What you need to consider is the device’s filesystem.

What is Filesystem?

best external hard drives for windows 10
You can check out the file system of your hard drive by right clicking the partition and clicking properties.

The filesystem, in simple terms, refers to the process that controls the storage, accessing, and management of files on a computer.

Technically any electronic device that needs to store data has this process running to ensure that the files are stored correctly and are correctly indexed to facilitate correct retrieval.

Different Operating systems implement different processes for this function and as such, the hard drive for a Windows computer needs to be correctly formatted for use with the Windows filesystem.

The Windows Filesystem

The Windows filesystem helps the OS determine how to allocate files onto the drive. It keeps a record of space allocation for the files on the disk as well as identifies the unused sectors that can be purposed to store new files.

The Windows ecosystem supports several filesystems. As such, with a simple reformat you can get your external hard drive to work with your computer.

FAT (File Allocation Table)

This is one of the oldest filesystems in computing and comes in various versions like FAT32 which implies that the data is stored in blocks that measure 32 bits.

It’s great and is supported by a lot of older systems. One caveat with this is that it won’t allow you to store files with sizes greater than 4GB.

As a result, you may not want this if you have very large files.

NTFS (New Technology File System)

This was released along with Windows NT. It’s supported by modern versions of Windows including Windows 10.

It supports larger file sizes than FAT does and also allows you to set up specific file permissions and encryptions.

exFAT (extended FAT)

This filesystem was invented for use mostly on external devices. It offers great compatibility with multiple operating systems.

Additionally, you get support for larger file sizes than you’d get with FAT.

ReFS (Resilient File System)

This is the latest offering from Microsoft. It was first available in Windows Server and though less common to personal computers, has been available to Windows 10 as well as 8.

It’s built to support data scaling and optimize data availability.

Also Read: Best External Hard Drives for Linux

Hard Drives Aspects to Take Into Consideration

Other than setting the right file system, the next most important aspect is choosing the right specs for hard drive.

Speeds and Performance

Whether you plan to use it as a secondary external hard drive or your primary drive for the windows installation make sure that it has a fast performance.

For starters, make sure that if it is a hard disk drive that it is rated at 7200 RPM. If it is an SSD that would be much better as even the slower SATA SSDs are 5 times faster than an average 7200 RPM hard disk drive.

Next, you need to make sure that drive has the USB ports for a fast transfer speed. This is particularly important if you plan to install Windows 10 on the external hard drive.

It is recommended that you at least have a USB 3.1 Gen 1 with 5 Gbps speed. It would be even better if both have USB 3.1 Gen 2 with 10 Gbps transfer speed.

USB 3.2 with 20 Gbps and a Thunderbolt 3 port with 40 Gbps would be the most ideal scenarios.


If you value portability, then getting a 2.5 inch external hard disk drive or a SATA SSD would be a no-brainer.

If you want ultimate portability with speed then we recommend investing in an NVME external hard drive but they are expensive.


Desktop Hard Drive
Desktop hard drives are large and require an external power source but they are the cheapest and offer huge storage capacities.

Here there are two considerations. Firstly, if you plan only to use the external drive as a portable Windows 10 drive, then get the fastest possible SSD with a small capacity if you are on a budget.

Alternatively, if you just want a hard drive for storing work on your Window 10 PC, then get large capacity external hard disk drive.

Final Words

In this article we talked about some of the best external hard drives for Windows 10. We also learned a bit about filesystem so that you know how to format your external hard drive.

In addition to that we reviewed a common question: whether you can install Windows 10 on an external drive or not and what kind of aspects to look at when choosing the right storage.

Fortunately, the choices are many. Depending upon your budget and requirement, you can choose to go for an HDD or an SSD.

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