Portable Hard Drives vs. Flash Drives vs. SSDs vs. SD Cards

portable hard drives

When you don’t want to weigh down your notebook with too much data and you’re going out of town, storage devices may be your best bet. Would a flash drive suit you? How about bringing portable hard drives instead? Have you thought about saving your data in the cloud?

If you can’t decide which one to use, we’ll help you narrow down your choices. After the jump, we’ll look into travel-friendly external drives and list some of the best options for each category.

USB Flash Drives

Incredibly versatile and cheap, the thumb drive (aka flash drive, USB stick, memory stick, etc.)  easily qualifies as the perfect mobile storage solution. While they’re great for moving files from time to time, they often have limited space—especially frustrating when you’re planning to store and transfer more than just pictures and videos.

Pros

Cons

Portable. They’re lightweight and small so you can bring a thumb drive anywhere you go. Simply tuck one in your pocket and off you go!

Durable. For the most part, flash drives don’t have any sensitive, moving parts. In a way, they’re fairly immune to accidental drops.

Economical. A USB stick is a relatively lower cost compared to other storage media.

Easy to use. You don’t need to install device drivers to use a memory stick. Most operating systems read and recognize this storage device as soon as you plug it in.

Limited write/rewrite cycle. Not great for transferring write-intensive applications, such as client-based antivirus programs and disk management utilities.

Easy to lose. Because of their size, thumb drives often get misplaced. And if you lose one that contains personal info and data, the loss could be a problem.

Using a USB memory stick on your next business trip? Here are a few that can give you a run for your money:

1. Patriot Supersonic Rage 2 ($41.99)

Move large files and high-resolution photos in a jiffy with one of the fastest flash drives we’ve ever seen: the Patriot Supersonic Rage 2. It’s not only fast, but this model also comes with a whopping 128 GB of storage space!

2. SanDisk Extreme CZ80 ($32.60)

Having earned the reputation as a blazing fast piece of hardware, you’d think the SanDisk Extreme CZ80 falls under the high-end range. It doesn’t, surprisingly. This speedy thumb drive manages to get read speeds of up to 245 MBps as well as write speeds of up to 100 MBps despite sitting comfortably within the budget range. It even offers a decent 32GB of storage space.  Just don’t get bothered by its bulk.

3. Lexar JumpDrive P20 ($34.99)

It significantly weighs heavier than most memory sticks you’ve owned and perhaps the reason is that it packs some serious power. Not only is the Lexar JumpDrive P20 one of the fastest USB 3.0 flash drives around, but it also offers an impressive 128 GB of space. It’s pricier than your average flash drive, though.

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Portable SSDs

As prices of solid-state drives (SSDs) continue to dip, it’s safe to say that external SSDs are becoming viable alternatives to portable hard drives. They’re faster, more rugged than the latter, and they fit easily into your pocket—what’s not to like?

Pros

Cons

Speedy. Accessing files on this portable drive is fast as it uses non-volatile flash memory. Transferring or saving files, videos, and photos on external SSDs is noticeably faster than doing so in portable hard drives or flash drives.

Tough. Because they don’t have moving parts unlike external HDDs, portable SSDs can take more punishment at the bottom of your travel bag. They’re great for when you’re moving very large files or lots of media files from one computer to another.

More expensive than external HDDs. In terms of dollar per GB (gigabyte), portable SSDs are more expensive. That’s why computers with solid-state drive systems are often pricier than units built with hard drive components.

Limited base storage capacity. Sure, we’re seeing a rise in the number of 4TB (Terabyte) SSDs nowadays. They’re not too common, though. Most portable SSDs have a base storage capacity that starts at 128 GB.

Do you want an external SSD that can store all your important data when you’re on the go?  We recommend you get any of these top-notch choices:

1. ADATA SE730 External SSD ($139.95)

An IP68 ruggedness rating, a solid metal shell, and a snappy performance—the ADATA SE730 External SSD truly offer a good mix of features. It even supports the USB 3.1 Gen 2 spec, a rarity for an SSD that is water- and dust-resistant. It only offers a rather limited 250 GB space, sadly.

2. SanDisk Extreme 500 Portable SSD ($139.99)

Outdoor photographers and even hikers will love tugging this one along, no doubt. It’s one of the slimmest external SSDs you’ll see on the market, after all. Not to mention that the SanDisk Extreme 500 Portable SSD performs at decent speeds. Load it up with lots of movies and watch them on your tablet after a long day of exploring the great outdoors.

3. Samsung Portable SSD T3 ($114.72)

You’ll instantly love its rugged, premium feel, but its aesthetics only comes as a bonus. The real clincher for the Samsung Portable SSD T3 is that it boasts a lethal combo of capacity and speed. It’s a pricey investment, though.

SD/MicroSD Cards

Shooting 4K videos on your next outing? Can’t survive your daily commute without your massive collection of mobile apps? In that case, you’ll need one or two reliable SD/microSD cards in tow. These two storage options are often exclusively used for mobile gadgets, making them a must-have for every mobile user.

Pros

Cons

Portable. Your camera, tablet, or smartphone all readily accommodate SD cards. If you’re planning to bring one along on your upcoming trip, simply plug it in your device and you’re good to go.

Speed. Buy a really good card for your tablet, action camera, camera, and phone and you’ll instantly notice your device get a speed boost.

Risky. While a good microSD/SD card can improve a camera or device’s speed, low-end models often do the exact opposite. Get such a card from an unknown brand and you’ll likely end up with a sluggish camera, a slow-loading tablet, or even a laggy smartphone.

Itching to know what SD/microSD cards could bring out the best from your mobile devices? Check out our shortlist:

SD Cards

1. Polaroid 64GB Class 10 SDXC ($49.99)

Made by the company who made instant cameras a household item, this high-performance SD card has been built with photographers in mind. For starters, the Polaroid Class 10 SDXC card can handle 4K videos and photos. With the card hitting 95 Mb/s read speeds and 90 Mb/s write speeds, you can easily transfer large, high-resolution videos and pictures with it. It’s shockproof and waterproof, too.

2. Transcend 32GB Class 10 SDXC ($45.99)

A recommended option for video producers and professional photographers who prefer to shoot in RAW or ultra-4K modes, this card packs a punch despite being in the low-end price range. It offers an impressive read and write-speeds of 285 MB/s and 180 MB/s, respectively along with a 32GB memory capacity.

MicroSD Card

1. Samsung MicroSD Evo+ 128 GB ($48.85)

It’s fast enough to work with an HD, 4K action camera and versatile enough to be paired with your smartphone or tablet. The Samsung microSD Evo+ sure is a great all-rounder! Even with its competitive cost, it has been made X-ray proof and waterproof.

2. Lexar 633x 64GB ($34.25)

You don’t always need high-end microSD cards to be able to shoot 4K videos. The Lexar 633x is proof of that. Its read/write speeds aren’t too far off from the fastest, most expensive options on the market despite being a little cheaper.

External/Portable Hard Drives

Before we proceed, you may want to know about the difference between external hard drives and portable hard drives. Well, it’s real simple: the former requires an external power source to run and the latter is powered up by your notebook. Either way, they are great for backing up all your files and more. An added bonus is the fact that you can readily take them with you during your travels.

Pros

Cons

Large capacity. When you need to save all your data as well as a wealth of large files on the go, external hard drives may be your best option. Their sheer capacity can pretty much store everything you can throw at them.

Backup solution. We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to backup your files. Portable hard drives may come with handy features like encrypting files or backing up the data you save in them.

Cheaper option. Despite being several times bigger than other options on our list, external hard drives are often more affordable.

Comparatively heavy. Because they’re often built with several mechanical components, portable hard drives are noticeably heavier than SSDs.

Consumes more power. Because of their sizeable storage capacity and internal mechanism, external HDDs often have greater power requirements. That’s why they need to be plugged into a wall outlet.

Prone to mechanical failure. Inadvertently knock an external HDD off the desk and it won’t likely survive the fall. On the other hand, portable HDDs may have a better chance in such scenarios but they’re still susceptible to mechanical failure because they’re similarly made with moving mechanical parts.

When you want to get a much more affordable yet more massive storage capacity to store your files on the road, here are a few of the best external/portable hard drives you can get today:

External Hard Drives

Seagate Backup Plus Desktop 4TB ($109)

With a good balance of price and speed, it isn’t surprising to see this external hard drive being a consistent top performer in file transfer tests. In terms of the Seagate Backup Plus Desktop’s toughness, the survey shows that only 2.8 percent out of all Seagate drives fail annually.

Toshiba Canvio for Desktop 5TB ($156.69)

Among the fastest desktop hard drives ever tested, the Toshiba Canvio for Desktop clocks in read speeds of up to 139.9 MB/s and write speeds of up to 137.7 MB/s.  We like that this one comes with a two-year warranty, too.

Portable Hard Drives

Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB ($78.99)

Despite being consistently fast in multi-file music and photo transfers, this portable device remains to be among the cheapest drives per terabyte today. The Seagate Backup Plus Slim is reliable, too, as it comes with 200 GB free OneDrive storage as well as some handy backup software.

Western Digital My Passport ($58.86)

Thanks to its excellent disk controller and a 3.0 USB port, the WD Digital My Passport is pretty capable of an outstanding performance every time. Unsurprising, really, for a hard disk drive with read-speeds of 174 MBps and write speeds of 168 MBps. You’ll like the fact that it’s the same size as an actual passport, too. This arguably makes it the smallest and lightest one within its category. It even has password protection as well as 256-bit data encryption, too.

Needing a reliable storage solution to use during your upcoming business trip? Our comprehensive list should point you to the right direction. They’ll especially come in handy when you’re hesitant to save files to the cloud (though we highly encourage you to try it out).

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