The Best External Hard Drive for the Digital Hoarder

The Best External Hard Drive for the Digital Hoarder
Eight terabyte hard drives, clockwise from top left: the Seagate Backup Plus Hub, the Lacie D2 Professional, the Western Digital My Book, the Fantom Drives G-Force 3, and the WD_Black D10. (Photo: Tom McKay/Gizmodo)

Data hoarding is somewhat of a lost art these days, thanks in large part to streaming services, cloud storage, faster internet access, and uh, digital rights management.

But that old itch is back, and I’m running out of storage space on my solid state drives. The remaining space on my desktop PC is mostly in the form of a hard disk drive labelled “Seagate 2014” — which may be generous — and another 1 terabyte Toshiba that I have no memory of acquiring but appears to have been first released in 2013. This is not good! My bytes are at risk!

An external hard disk drive is the ideal solution to this kind of problem. They offer stationary, bulk storage for photos, videos, backups, work files, and random downloads at a much cheaper price than SSDs. USB 3.0 drives are fast enough to be convenient for most purposes other than professional work or gaming. Importantly, they also do not require me to open up my computer.

So we decided it’s time for a Battlemodo on the best options for anyone who, like me, could use a few more terabytes of local storage. After a bit of searching, we came up with these five 8TB options:

We took these drives and ranked them on three criteria for the home data hoarder: design, performance, and price. For design, you want a drive that looks attractive on a desk or shelf — admittedly our least important consideration — and won’t fall over, scratch surfaces, or make a lot of noise. Other factors included how sturdy the drives are and other factors, like additional features (USB ports, etc) and whether there’s any annoying catches.

Performance and price are more straightforward: We ran tests on the drives straight out of the box and looked up the cheapest purchase price for each model. For pricing, we also considered warranty length, which is generally correlated with a manufacturer’s confidence in an overall lifetime.

(Our test machine was my PC, a Threadripper 2950X on an AMD X399 board with USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports.)

The Best Designed External Hard Drive

The LaCie was absolutely the best looking drive, with the most stable base, and a couple set of options for keeping it powered on. (Photo: Tom McKay/Gizmodo) The LaCie was absolutely the best looking drive, with the most stable base, and a couple set of options for keeping it powered on. (Photo: Tom McKay/Gizmodo)

If you’re just looking for bulk storage — in the form of an external hard drive that requires its own power supply and is likely just going to be sitting somewhere — aesthetics might not be your top priority. Still, none of these drives are cheap, and it’s not too much to want one that looks good, isn’t flimsy, and doesn’t have any annoying flaws.

The Seagate Backup Plus Hub is one of the cheaper options on this list, and it looks the part, too. While it’s relatively compact compared to some of the other drives on our list, it also looks like a low-resolution prop from Counter-Strike: Source’s cs_office map. The two USB 3.0 ports on the front of the unit are a nice touch, and it has rubber feet that are relatively good at preventing sliding. However, the lack of a wider base and the plastic build left me nervous about what would happen if a desk got bumped.

The WD_Black is marketed as a gaming drive, which is probably why Western Digital settled on some kind of design inspired by an airbrushed shipping container. It has two 7.5 watt USB Type-A plugs for charging accessories, but they aren’t capable of data transfer. The plastic base doesn’t have any kind of rubber padding and might be capable of scratching whatever it’s sitting on. It’s also rather loud, and when it was shifted at all from the upright position, it began making the kind of noises that it really, really shouldn’t. Its My Book counterpart does have rubber strips on the bottom and runs quietly, but it’s bulky looking, made out of plastic, and is honestly kind of hideous.

Photo: Tom McKay/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Tom McKay/Gizmodo, In-House Art

I had high hopes for the Fantom, but the base is a big yikes.

A nicer base and quieter experience would have really helped the WD_Black out.

The Western Digital My Book is…a box.

The Seagate is fine.

The Fantom G-Force 3 is quite solid looking, with an aluminium frame and mesh sides for air flow. Unfortunately, it has a flimsy, detachable plastic base with small rubber pads that don’t actually seem to reach the desk or shelf, resulting in the same scratch potential as the WD_Black. More troubling is the LED indicator light, which blinks rapidly whenever the drive is being accessed. It’s quite bright to start with, but once it gets into strobe mode, it becomes actively distracting.

The LaCie D2 Professional easily sweeps this category; it’s the only one that appears to have had any thought put into the design besides “gamer” and “non-gamer.” This drive is built like a tiny little tank out of a single sheet of aluminium (and as a result, according to an unscientific measurement using a bathroom scale, weighs a hefty three pounds). It looks cool as hell — someone at LaCie clearly likes HAL 9000 — and it has a wide, rubberised base that makes it practically slip-proof. The indicator light isn’t too bright and, I assume, will not turn red and threaten to lock me out of my space ship.

As a bonus, it comes with adapters for pretty much every type of outlet we’ve ever encountered and some we haven’t. There are probably not many places you won’t be able to plug this in.

Winner: LaCie D2 Professional 8TB

The External Drive With the Best Performance

To measure performance, I benchmarked each drive with CrystalDiskMark and ATTO. These tools give a good approximation of what the typical read and write speed of a drive will be. But benchmarks should always be supported by real-world testing so I also ran a test of how long it took to transfer a heavily modded copy of Total War: WARHAMMER II (clocking in at about 70 gigabytes). Great game.

Straight out of the box, something was clearly wrong with the Seagate drive. While read speeds were acceptable at around 161-200 MB/s in our CrystalDiskMark tests, write speeds were abysmal — just over 11 MB/s. It took 31 minutes and 38 seconds to back up Warhammer II, or under 40 MB/s. That’s despite formatting the drive, tweaking options like disk write caching, and checking to see if it passed health tests. Just as bad, a cursory look at reviews on Amazon and Best Buy showed that other recent purchasers had similarly poor performance.

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

What did work, however, was running the “Fix All Long” operation via the included SeaTools software, which took 13 hours and 45 minutes. It’s possible there was a quicker fix, but it’s impossible to tell now. In any case, performance increased considerably: Read speeds in our CrystalDiskMark tests averaged at around 190 MB/s, while write speeds were marked at around 183-186 MB/s. The Warhammer II copy time improved to 14 minutes and 19 seconds, or about 81.5 MB/s.

Seagate support told me that though the drive was marketed as a backup, uses the slower SMR technology, and is not intended to be high performance, the speeds I got out of the box weren’t acceptable and most likely the result of bad sectors. (It’s worth noting that CrystalDiskInfo reported zero current pending, reallocated, or uncorrectable sectors, which are red flags for drive health.)

Given that it retails for more than most of the other units on this list, is marketed as a premium drive, and looked like a high-quality build out of the box, I had high hopes for the Fantom G-Force 3. It comes with a possibly unnecessary list of instructions to format the drive via the Windows Powershell command line that I followed to the letter, but I really shouldn’t have: While CrystalDiskMark showed speeds of about 215 to 216.5 MB/s read and 221 to 232 MB/s write, it took 17 minutes to copy Warhammer, or just shy of 69 MB/s. Ignore the instruction booklet and quick format the drive, and you’ll have Warhammer in six minutes and 46 seconds (about 176.6 MB/s). That’s a lot better, but hardly something to brag about.

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

Surprisingly, the LaCie D2 Professional and WD My Book were virtually tied for second place. In the CrystalDiskMark tests, the LaCie drive showed 238-239 MB/s read and 232-236 MB/s write, and it powered through Warhammer in about 5 minutes and 56 seconds (~192.63 MB/s). The MyBook came in slightly slower with benchmark read speeds of 224.1-224.6 MB/s and write speeds of around 225.5 MB, but it slammed through the copy test in an almost identical 5 minutes and 57 seconds.

The WD_Black was the fastest overall unit I tested, with measured read and write speeds of about 263-264 in CrystalDiskMark. It left every other drive in the dust with a Warhammer II transfer time of 5 minutes and 13 megabytes, or just shy of 224 MB/s.

Winner: WD_Black D10 8TB

The 8TB External Drive With the Best Price Per Terabyte

For most people, this is going to be the most important metric for an external hard drive: If you really need speed, you’d go with an SSD. Generally, the higher capacity you go the cheaper the price per terabyte gets.

The LaCie D2 Professional is by far the priciest drive on the list. At the lowest price I could find of $400+, this drive comes in at a whopping $45-ish per terabyte. The price differential between this and the other units appears to come down mostly to its high-quality build and parts, and LaCie advertises it with a five-year warranty as well as a single in-lab data recovery attempt. Still, this is a lot to pay unless you’re backing up data more important than a 4K screener of Cats.

The cheapest price I could find for the WD_Black drive was $350 — which isn’t bad, considering it’s the fastest one I tested. The cheapest I could find the Fantom drive (at a reputable-looking retailer) was $300.

Each of the drives came with a limited warranty. LaCie’s was the longest at five years, while both Western Digital drives came with three-year ones. Seagate offered just a two year limited warranty, while Fantom offered just a single year of protection.When you factor that all in the My Book 8TB still comes out on top as the best combination of warranty and price per terabyte.

Winner: My Book 8TB

The 8TB External Hard Drive We Recommend

The LaCie D2 Professional was my favourite of the five drives — and while it may be competitively priced for the feature set, it’s probably out of the price range for most people looking to expand their storage right now.

I’ll chalk up our negative initial experience with the Seagate Backup Plus Hub to a fluke. But even when I got it working, it performed unimpressively. The Fantom G-Force 3 didn’t nail the sweet spot between price and performance; given how much better the WD_Black performed and the minimal price differential, it’s a no-brainer to go with the latter.

It’s close, but honestly, my recommendation for most people is the ugly duckling: the My Book 8TB. Sure, it looks weird, and there’s nothing particularly interesting or exciting about it. Yet it nailed the sweet spot: tied for second place in our speed ranking while coming in at $70 cheaper than the first-place winner. That’s hard to beat.