Top five portable drives: Mobile storage redefined
When you think of a portable storage device, you think of something that can be plugged into a computer's port to provide extra storage space. Well, that's true for the most part, but some can offer more, such as really fast speeds, a lot of storage, a convenient backup solution, or a built-in mobile media server that works even when not plugged in.
Here are the best portable drives currently on the market and they collectively offer all the goodies mentioned above, as well as something I personally find important: sexiness. They are sorted in the order in which they were reviewed, with the most recently reviewed on top.
Seagate Wireless Plus
The Seagate Wireless Plus is a fast and compact bus-powered portable drive, but that's the least interesting thing about it. This is a brand-new device that's set to change the way you think of mobile storage.
The drive is the successor to the Seagate GoFlex Satellite, with lots of improvements. It comes with a built-in Wi-Fi access point and a battery, and allows up to eight Wi-Fi clients to connect to its Wi-Fi network (the Satellite allows three) and stream content from it, via a network browser or the Seagate Media mobile app. The app supports Android- and iOS-based devices as well as Kindle Fire tablets, and, for the first time, also supports uploading user-generated content from the mobile device back to the Wireless Plus. It can also connect to an existing Wi-Fi network to relay the Internet connection to devices connected to its own Wi-Fi, and share its contents with even more devices connected to the other Wi-Fi network.
With more than 10 hours of battery life and 1TB of storage space, it makes a perfect companion for a tablet owner, and is totally worth the $200 price tag. Read the full review of the Seagate Wireless Plus portable storage device.
WD My Passport Edge
The new WD My Passport Edge is the latest in WD's My Passport family of portable drives. The new drive is now much more compact and light, while still offering very good USB 3.0 performance. The drive is designed for Windows PCs (though can easily be reformatted for Macs) and comes with very useful backup software. With a single capacity of 500GB, it'll make a very good companion for mobile users. Read the full review of the WD My Passport Edge.
Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt
The Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt portable drive, which came out in July, was the first Thunderbolt storage device on the market to also support USB 3.0. And it was the first to come with a Thunderbolt cable included, setting a new precedent that has been followed by other drives, such as the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt above. Available in 500GB and 1TB capacities, the hard-drive-based Buffalo performed well in my testing. It also looks great. It comes formatted for Macs but can be easily reformatted to work with Windows.
The only downside is the fact that it isn't available with a solid-state drive (SSD). Still, it's a great portable storage device, especially for those who work with both Thunderbolt-enabled and legacy computers. Read the full review of the Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt.
Seagate Backup Plus
The Backup Plus (available in 500GB, 750GB, and 1TB capacities) is the latest portable hard drive from Seagate, replacing the company's popular GoFlex line, which was first introduced back in 2001 and is known for being extremely flexible. Though the name has changed, the new product family retains the flexibility of the previous design; in fact, new Backup Plus drives work with the old GoFlex adapters. However, they now offer a new, easy backup approach, not just for local storage but also for your social-media personal data.
The Backup Plus drives also come in many colors to fit your tastes. In fact, the color of the backup software's interface actually changes based on the color of the drive. This isn't a huge deal, but it's definitely fun and helps you know which drive you're working with. Read the full review of the Seagate Backup Plus.
WD My Passport
Western Digital's new My Passport is the first portable drive that offers up to 2TB of storage space. The USB 3.0 drive is compact and bus-powered, and offered very fast performance in my testing. It also comes with effective backup software and useful utilities for both Windows and Mac computers.
The new My Passport comes in 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB capacities and will make a great companion for those who want to carry a lot of data on the go. Read the full review of the 2TB WD My Passport.
Want to find out how these five drives stack up against one another? Compare these drives head-to-head.
Editors' note: This post was updated on January 31, 2013. Previously, the following drives also made this top-five list, and they're still excellent portable drives: the LaCie Rugged USB 3.0 Thunderbolt, the Elgato Thunderbolt, and the LaCie Little Big Disk Thunderbolt SSD.