If you’re in the market for an external hard drive with the purpose of backing up your computer, 4TB is the perfect size. Although it may seem like overkill — a modest downloader may struggle to fill 1TB — the higher capacity will prove useful over time. In this guide to the best 4TB external hard drive, we’re going to show you our favorite ones.
We took notes from our best external hard drive guide, but we didn’t simply port the picks to this guide. External SSDs, which dominate the field in terms of performance and portability, haven’t made it to higher capacities, making them unideal for backup. Instead, the options we picked focus on raw capacity over speed.
Despite that, we have a few solid performers, including our top pick, the Western Digital My Book. Before getting to our options, though, let’s talk about how we made them.
Best 4TB External Hard Drive 2021
- Capacity: 3 TB, 4 TB, 6 TB, 8 TB, 10 TB
- Backup utility
- Hard Drive Type: Spinning
- Capacity: 1 TB, 2 TB, 4 TB, 8 TB
- Backup utility
- Hard Drive Type: Spinning
- Capacity: 1 TB, 2 TB, 3 TB, 4 TB
- Backup utility: No
- Hard Drive Type: Spinning
- Capacity: 1 TB, 2 TB, 4 TB
- Backup utility: No
- Hard Drive Type: Spinning
Choosing the Best 4TB External Hard Drive
- Western Digital My Book — Reliable (for a spinning disk) and high-capacity external HDD
- Seagate Expansion Desktop — Cheaper than WD’s My Book, almost as reliably quick
- Seagate Backup Plus Portable — Compact and sleek, perfect for 4TB of portable storage
- Western Digital Elements — The smaller, less well-built, but more portable cousin to our number one pick
- Toshiba Canvio Basics — Decent performance at a pretty cheap price
Unlike our best 1TB external hard drive and best 2TB external hard drive guide, we aren’t focusing on raw speed in this one. Although performance is important, 4TB is a capacity where you start getting into true backup territory, throwing portability and speed out the window in favor of more space.
You can get the best of both worlds if you’re willing to purchase a few smaller-capacity drives, but that’s about your only option. As we saw in our best SSD external hard drive guide, flash-storage devices, such as the Samsung T5, top out at 2TB (read our Samsung T5 review). At that capacity, most portable SSDs cost more than $300, too, which is a tough sell.
Because of that, we’re going to focus on external hard-disk drives — devices that use a spinning disk to store data — instead of flashing it to a chip. Archival solutions don’t need blazing speed, so that’s not too big of a concern here. However, the drive needs to be fast enough to support writing large quantities of data to it at one time.
Although we looked at read performance — you’ll need to get your data at some point — we were more concerned with write performance. If a drive has slow write performance and you’re trying to use it for backup, that means the buffer will fill up very quickly, slowing the data-transfer rate to a crawl.
With that purpose in mind, some of the aspects we usually consider are no longer relevant. Form factor and portability aren’t high considerations, and neither is rigidity.
Overall build quality is still important — the drive needs to be at least covered in decent plastic — but the rugged build of something like the G-Technology G-Drive Mobile SSD isn’t as critical (read our G-Technology G-Drive Mobile SSD review).
Much more important than build quality are features. As archival solutions, 4TB hard drives need to include software that allows you to backup your system. Password protection, RAID support and hardware encryption aren’t essential, but they’re nice to see.
1. Best 4TB External Hard Drive: Western Digital My Book
If you’re looking for a reliable, high-capacity external hard drive, it’s hard to beat the Western Digital My Book. Although the spinning disk inside excluded it from our most reliable external hard drive guide, it still earned a spot on our fastest external hard drive list. It’s not as fast as external SSDs, but the My Book puts any other external HDD to shame.
The sequential performance is far above par, with the My Book reaching read and write speeds above 200 MB/s. Even for a desktop-based external HDD, this performance is impressive.
We usually expect 150 MB/s to 170 MB/s for desktop solutions and 130 MB/s to 150 MB/s for portable ones, putting the My Book at least 30 MB/s above the competition in sequential performance.
Random performance isn’t as impressive. The My Book slowed in random reads, clocking in at just less than 0.6 MB/s. However, the random write performance was solid. It scored around 12 MB/s for random writes, showing that the My Book is focused on backing up data above all else.
The features back that up, too. Western Digital includes a slew of free utilities to use with your My Book. The standards are accounted for, including a backup utility, but Western Digital includes some oddballs, as well. With the utility suite, you can set a password, configure advanced storage options and even set up a RAID array (read our what is RAID guide).
Other Reasons We Like the Western Digital My Book
Although this guide is focused on 4TB drives, you may want to consider other capacities if you’re interested in a My Book. The single-drive model goes from 3TB to 10TB. We disrecommend 3TB drives — read our best 3TB external hard drive guide to learn why — but the higher capacities are solid.
The dual-drive model is more interesting, though. Western Digital offers a variant of the My Book that comes with two drives instead of one, and it’s available in 12TB, 16TB and 20TB capacities. Furthermore, the two drives come pre-configured in RAID-0, allowing you to stripe your data across them for even better performance.
Plus, it’s cheap. The single-drive My Book tops out at Western Digital My Book, which, for 10TB of storage, is a crazy good deal. That said, the dual-drive versions are pretty expensive, with the 20TB variant costing $700. Even so, the dual-drive model comes with RAID-0 and official USB 3.1 Gen 1 support. You can learn more about that in our Western Digital My Book review.
- Multiple included utilities
- Available up to 20TB
- Requires external power
2. Seagate Expansion Desktop
If you like the Western Digital My Book but want to save even more money, the Seagate Expansion Desktop is for you. It doesn’t perform nearly as well as the My Book, nor does it come in a dual-drive variant, but you can get most of the features for a little less.
At 4TB, the Expansion Desktop is $20 cheaper than the My Book at the time of writing, bringing the price per gigabyte down to two cents from the My Book’s two and a half cents. You’re getting the same amount of storage space and many of the same features, but you’re trading performance in the process.
Seagate advertises a max speed of 160 MB/s, which is referring to sequential performance. However, based on our experience with our Seagate drives — read our Seagate Portable review for an example — it’s safe to expect less. The Expansion Desktop will perform better than its portable counterpart, but not on the level of the Western Digital My Book.
Thankfully, you’re getting many of the same features. As is the case with all Seagate drives, you have access to Seagate Toolkit. Although not as robust as the utilities Western Digital includes, Toolkit has a lot of functionality. With it, you can backup or mirror an existing hard drive, as well as configure the schedule and backup type.
Other Reasons We Like the Seagate Expansion Desktop
The Seagate Expansion Desktop is plain when it comes to looks. The all-black box stands on its side with a unique-pyramid design on one side. Outside of the drive itself, all you get is a 18-inch USB 3.0 cable, a power adapter and quick-start guide.
You probably won’t need it, though. Seagate offers a wonderfully fluid setup across all of its products, including the LaCie Rugged Mini (read our LaCie Rugged Mini review).
After plugging the drive in, you’ll find a preloaded application, which will direct you to Seagate’s website. There, you’ll be able to register the drive, download Toolkit and purchase a Rescue Data Recovery plan, should you want it.
Thankfully, you don’t have to go through this process if you don’t want to. Seagate makes it convenient to use the drive in the way you see fit, all while providing tools to support your product. Although it doesn’t perform as well or come with as many features as the My Book, a Seagate Expansion Desktop is still a great deal.
- Available up to 10TB
- Very inexpensive
- Comes with Seagate Toolkit
- A bit slow
3. Seagate Backup Plus Portable
The Seagate Backup Plus Portable is a slimmed-down version of the Expansion Desktop, but with even more features. Seagate actually sells an Expansion Portable drive, too, but seeing as it doesn’t perform as well as the desktop version and is more expensive, we’re omitting it from this guide.
Replacing it is the Backup Plus Portable, which is not only cheaper, but comes with more features. Seagate sells three versions of the drive, but only one is available in 4TB. The drive is available in 1TB, 2TB, 4TB and 5TB capacities, with the first two being offered in a Slim model and the second two in the standard form factor.
There’s also the Ultra Touch version, which, unfortunately, is only available up to 2TB. Even so, if you decide you don’t need the extra storage, the Ultra Touch drive is a great option. It’s the same drive in looks and performance, but comes with AES-256 encryption and USB-C support (read our description of encryption).
As for the features you get across all versions, Seagate still includes Toolkit, which will allow you to backup or mirror a drive on your local machine. Additionally, Seagate usually includes some sort of offer with the drives it sells.
For instance, our Backup Plus Portable came with two months of Adobe Creative Cloud Photography for free (read our best photo editing software guide).
Other Reasons We Like the Seagate Backup Plus Portable
Speed-wise, the Backup Plus Portable is unimpressive, taking after the Expansion Desktop. We noted seqneitual read speeds of 129.6 MB/s, sequential write speeds of 136.9 MB/s and random reads and writes of 1.3 MB/s.
By every metric imaginable, this is bog-standard performance, despite the fact that the random read speed was faster than the Western Digital My Book.
Performance isn’t a main selling point of the Backup Plus Portable. Features, design and price are. With the Backup Plus Portable, Seagate is offering a drive that looks better than the competition — with a slew of color options, each coming with a complimentary woven fabric top — while costing the same price or even cheaper.
You’re trading off a few megabytes per second in the process, but on this level of performance, that doesn’t make a big difference. The features, build quality and price make the Seagate Backup Plus Portable worth it. You can learn more in our Seagate Backup Plus Portable review.
- Excellent build quality
- Comes with Seagate Toolkit
4. Western Digital Elements
The Western Digital Elements gets to the core of what a hard drive is. It’s a disk that isn’t focused on performance or features, but rather raw capacity. Although that isn’t ideal when compared to our top picks, you should still consider the Elements, especially if you want a portable drive.
Compared to, say, the SanDisk Extreme Portable, the build quality is a joke. However, when put up against other black-box external hard drives, it’s pretty good (read our SanDisk Extreme Portable review).
The plastic shroud is reinforced with a heavier plastics, there’s four rubber pads on the bottom to protect against vibration and the drive doesn’t give off any flex, unlike the ADATA SD600 (read our ADATA SD600 review).
The highest capacity the Elements is available in is 4TB. The capacity is important here because that’s all the Elements really brings to the table.
You’re missing features seen with the Western Digital My Book, such as backup software and password protection. If you’re in the market for those features, you’d be better off with a Western Digital My Passport
The simplicity of an Elements drive is attractive, though. It works out of the box with Windows, and needs a simple reformat with macOS (read our how to format an external hard drive guide). All you need to do is plug in the included USB cable to transfer your files.
Other Reasons We Like the Westen Digital Elements
Being a drive that is focused on the basics of storage, the Western Digital Elements isn’t great when it comes to performance. However, like its bigger sibling, the Western Digital My Book, it has a particular focus on backup.
Our testing produced sequential read speeds of 131.3 MB/s and sequential write speeds of 127.4 MB/s, which isn’t impressive compared to our other options. However, the random performance mirrors the My Book. We noted random reads of 0.55 MB/s and random writes of 10.11 MB/s.
That means writing new data to the disk will be much faster than reading data from it. Our random results come from a test that had a queue depth of eight, with eight simultaneous threads, showing that an Western Digital Elements can handle multiple tasks at the same time. You can learn more about it in our Western Digital Elements review.
- Solid random-write performance
- Decent build quality
- Lacking features
5. Toshiba Canvio Basics
It’s easy to overlook the Toshiba Canvio Basics. Unlike the options above, it isn’t built well, it doesn’t come with any features and it’s not too easy on the eyes, either. However, despite all the signs pointing down, the Canvio Basics is an impressive drive. It delivers solid performance while being cheaper than the competition.
Let’s start with the build quality. Unsurprisingly, Toshiba uses an all-plastic shroud, but it’s more flimsy than Western Digital Elements and Seagate Backup Plus Portable. Toshiba seems to know how flimsy it is, too. Instead of shipping the drive in a molded plastic casing, it’s packaged with a firm bubble holder, similar to how standard hard drives are packaged.
It’s a portable drive, but not one you should take on the go with you too often. Dropping it a few times will likely render it useless, so be sure to treat it with care. Even so, it’s easy to look past the build quality when price is considered.
The Canvio Basics at 4TB costs around $90, depending on where you purchase it from, which is a steal. Although the Seagate Expansion Desktop is $10 or so cheaper, it doesn’t offer the portability that the Canvio Basics does. The Expansion Desktop doesn’t perform as well, either.
Other Reasons We Like the Toshiba Canvio Basics
It would seem that the Canvio Basics is just Toshiba’s version of the Western Digital Elements, and although that’s true in terms of build quality and features, it isn’t true in performance. The Canvio Basics wipes the floor with other external HDDs, showing off sequential speeds near 150 MB/s.
That performance is on par with the Expansion Desktop. Full-form factor external HDDs usually perform better, as there’s more room inside the drive for the read-and-write head to move around and fewer platters, overall. The fact that the Canvio Basics can reach those levels — and at an affordable price — is incredible.
Random performance, however, isn’t great. The Toshiba Canvio Basics struggled to produce 5 MB/s random writes in our test using a queue depth of eight, with eight threads. The single-threaded tests produced much better results, around 7 MB/s. You can see more of our test results in our Toshiba Canvio Basics review.
- Available up to 4TB
- Solid performance
- Lacking features
- Subpar build quality
If you’re in the market for a 4TB external hard drive with the intention of backup, it’s hard to beat the Western Digital My Book. It offers a long list of features, high capacity and excellent speed at a reasonable price. That said, there are other options.
The Expansion Desktop drops some speed, but makes up for it with a lower price tag. Additionally, the Backup Plus Portable is much slower, but comes with the convenience of portability. If none of the options above seem like your game, be sure to read our other external hard drive reviews.
What 4TB external hard drive are you using? Why did you pick it? Let us know in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading.