The Best External Hard Drive Enclosures in 2021
Storage is such an important part of our lives. Whether we use it to collect precious memories or to save work-related files, storage is an essential element in any desktop or mobile system. While storage has become more affordable, recycling existing drives is a great way to save a fair chunk of cash and to prevent electronic waste. That’s where the best external hard drive enclosure comes into play.
The best enclosure should allow you to just pop in one or multiple older drives and connect them to your PC in an easy fashion. No tools, no drops in performance, no hassle. But why wouldn’t you just pop in an older drive in an unpopulated SATA port? Great question!
Older drives lack two things: speed and flash memory caches. Adding an older, cacheless 5400 RPM HDD to your system will cause a slight decline in performance because the data you access caches much slower into your other components (RAM, CPU).
This also works with 2.5-inch HDDs and SSDs, so if you have an older SATA SSD or a laptop HDD and still want to get some mileage out of it, then getting an external drive enclosure is the best thing you can do.
Additionally, external drives can be great if you’re looking to backup files from your system. You can either do it via software or pick up an enclosure that’s designed with offline cloning. That being said, here are some of the best external drive enclosures for bulk storage and backing up data.
- Compatible with a wide range of OS
- Easy to use, toolless design
- USB 3.0 and backwards compatibility with 2.0 and 1.1
- Fits standard 2.5-inch HDDs and SDDs
When you’re looking for a good external drive enclosure, you’re looking for a low price (otherwise you can just get a new drive), an ergonomic design, and, why not, an attractive look. Despite its name, the Sabrent EC-UASP ticks off all of these boxes. It comes in a slick black case, has a toolless design, USB 3.0, and can hold one single 2.5-inch SATA I, II, III drive.
Whether you’re looking to add an older 2.5-inch HDD or a SATA SSD, this is a great choice for you. It’s plug-n-play, so you don’t need to install any drivers. Just pop the USB in your laptop or desktop, and revisit long-lost pictures, access older projects, all with a few clicks.
The USB 3.0 port allows you to reach around 5 Gbps transfers (at max), so you’ll be able to access files pretty quickly. If you want to run the software, then you might have a problem, even when using a USB 3.0 connection. The 5 Gbps is the burst transfer rate (this is something you’ll see with every drive) and is not sustainable for longer transfers.
It’s backwards compatible with USB 2.0 and 1.1, although transfer rates will severely drop, and it supports all Windows versions from XP and above. It also supports MAC OS X and higher. Overall, it’s a really good enclosure, very affordable, the only downside being that it doesn’t support USB 3.1 or above for that extra bump in performance.
- Very affordable
- Good-looking design
- No USB 3.1 for 6 Gbps transfers
UGREEN 2.5″ USB C 3.1 Gen 2 to SATA III Enclosure
Best Value Hard Drive Enclosure
- USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C
- Automatic shutdown after inactivity
The UGREEN 2.5’’ external drive enclosure brings an increase in performance. With USB C 3.1 Gen 2 support, you’re looking at transfers as high as 6 Gbps and support for SATA III drives.
Supporting systems that run Windows 2000 or higher, just about anyone can make use of this tool. The included USB 3.1 – UASP 3.1 Type C (Gen 2) ensures that you’re taking advantage of all the speed right out of the box.
If you’re using an HDD, you have sticky foam pads to glue your enclosure and prevent it from rattling and making noise. The LED indicator lets you know when the enclosure is active and when it’s not. It’s designed to go in idle mode when you’re not using it, to avoid hindering your system’s performance.
While USB 3.1 does provide a good rate of transfer, you’ll still experience bottlenecking when trying to run software, so we recommend that you just keep the drive for storage and light, portable programs.
- Nice design
- Shock-proof measures
- USB 3.1 – up to 6 Gbps transfers
- A bit flimsy
Toughest Hard Drive Enclosure
- Rubberized, shock-resistant exterior
- USB 3.1 Gen 2
- IPS54 waterproof rating
- SATA III
If you’re a youngster, then ADATA might seem like a no-name brand, but if you’re a veteran, like me, you’ll remember ADATA as being one of the leading manufacturers in the CD and floppy disk industry. Now, they’re back at it with the ED600, a very user-friendly external hard drive enclosure.
The ED600 is a very sturdy external drive enclosure. The tough design has IPS54 waterproof rating and has a rubberized, shock-resistant casing. This’ll allow you to store precious data that you want to protect.
As with the other products we’ve featured, this is also a plug-and-play enclosure. It’s compatible with Windows XP and higher, MAC OS X 10.6 or above, and even Linux, with Kernel 2.6 or newer.
The SATA III gives you the ability to plug in newer, higher-capacity drives, and the USB 3.1 Gen 2 connection gives you superb transfer rates. Overall, it’s one of the best enclosures you can find for the money.
- Great for storing precious data
- USB 3.1 Gen 2 connection
- SATA III, USB 3.1, 3.0, 2.0, 1.1
- Compatible with Linux, Windows, and MAC OS X
- No activity LED
- Not the best-looking design
Rosewill RX-358 U3C BLK
The Best 3.5 Hard Drive Enclosure
- Up to 16 TB Drive Capacity
- 3.5-inch support
- USB 3.0 and eSata
- Fan, on/off buttons for activity and fan control
So far, we’ve talked about kiddie stuff, but now it’s time for the big boys. If you’re looking to add bulk storage to your PC but don’t have or don’t want to take up more SATA ports, this is the best choice for you.
The Rosewill RX-358 U3C Black is a beefy, SATA III drive that can hold up to a 16 TB 3.5-inch drive. While it does come with USB 3.0, Rosewill also equipped it with an eSATA option. You can get more consistent transfer rates using the eSATA connection, and effectively store programs, files that you use in work, or anything that you would store on an internal drive.
The case is durable. It’s not exactly toolless, you do have some screws, but the tradeoff is that you get a fan for good cooling. It takes 12V to power this puppy, but it already comes with an adapter.
The high capacity and compatibility with SATA I, II, and III makes it ideal to use in home servers if you’re looking to add bulk storage. We think it’s a great product and we highly recommend you use it.
- Good build quality
- Integrated cooling for HDDs
- Industrial design
- eSATA – 6 Gbps transfers
Cheapest External Hard Drive Enclosure
- USB-UASP with USB 3.0
- ABS exterior
- Up to 4 TB SATA III drives
If you’re looking for something ultra-portable and on the cheaper side, the ORICO 2189U3 is the way to go. It has an internal shock pad, made using steel-finished ABS, and supports up to 4 TB SATA I, II, III drives.
You can hot-swap drives without any tools, you have an LED indicator to show disk activity, and you’re getting those sweet USB-UASP transfer rates. It’s also compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux, so no matter what you’re running, you’re covered. No software required.
Overall, the ORICO 2189U3 is a great value choice. You’re getting most of the features you get on more expensive enclosures at half the price. The build quality is not the best, but if you’re not planning on moving it around too much, you’re fine.
- Build quality is not the best
The Best Drive Enclosure for Older Systems
- Support for Win 98 and up
- USB 3.0
- UASP support
Everything we’ve seen so far is solid, but they’re all useless if you want to add storage to a vintage system. The Inateck FE2002 supports systems as old as Win98, so if you’re a collector and are looking to add some more storage, then this is the best drive enclosure for you.
Note that you should have a USB card added to your vintage motherboard for this to work. Other than that, you’re getting the same generic features you find in most 2.5-inch enclosures. ABS composition, LED activity indicator, and an integrated power switch. Overall, a very solid external drive enclosure.
- Great for transferring files in vintage computers
- Portable and lightweight
- Kind of frail
AmazonBasics 3.5-inches SATA HDD Hard Drive Enclosure
Budget Hard Drive Enclosure Available In 2.5” and 3.5” Sizes
- Available In 2.5” And 3.5” Sizes
- Uses USB 3.0 Standard (5Gbps Max Transfer Rate)
- Plug And Play
AmazonBasics is known for its cheap but usable products that have questionable build quality. And this hard drive enclosure fits right into the mold. It’s affordable (but not the cheapest enclosure on the market), simple to use, available in both 2.5” and 3.5” sizes, and it doesn’t look that bad.
The device uses USB 3.0 standard for transferring data with speeds reaching up to 5Gbps. That’s enough for any hard drive out there and for the vast majority of SATA SSDs. Some models won’t be able to reach their max speeds, but the performance difference won’t be noticeable for most users.
While this enclosure is easy to use and while it does come in two sizes, its build quality is below par. The device looks cheap and is made completely of plastic. That won’t affect its performance but if you want an HDD or SSD enclosure you can carry around, get another one.
- Extremely Simple To Use
- Max Transfer Speed Is Enough For An Average SATA SSD
- Competitive Price
- Subpar Build Quality
- Not Made To Be Carried Around
How to Pick the Best Hard Drive Enclosure
So the main thing you need to take away in terms of transfer rates is that they’re measured in Gigabits per second. 8 bits = 1 byte. So to see the real transfer rate in terms of MB/s, you’ll have to split a gigabit by 8.
Additionally, while the USB 3.1 standard is rated to transfer up to 10 Gbps, you can’t reach that speed because of the SATA limitations. SATA’s transfers are capped at 6 Gbps, so you’ll only see a 1 Gbps improvement if opt for 3.1 over 3.0. While it is a 20% increase, you should only grab the upgrade if it’s at a reasonable price.
The advertised transfer speed is also the burst transfer speed. The ideal scenario. It’s not sustainable. USB transfer rates will decline based on how many USB devices are active in your system. If you have multiple USB devices running in sync, the motherboard will split the transfer between them. This also happens with the eSATA format.
2.5 and 3.5-inch drives. That’s all you need to know. 2.5-inch drives are notebook HDDs or SATA SSDs. 3.5-inch drives are the de-facto format of desktop-grade HDDs. If you want to put an older drive to use, you can find its dimensions on the label.
Because we’re talking about a relatively rudimentary product, you won’t be seeing a lot of features. Activity LEDs are standard, so you can see if the information is being accessed on the external drive. All enclosures come with on/off switches to avoid using energy and to keep your hardware safe.
Some enclosures support multiple drives with backup features. Offline cloning, for instance, is an amazing feature to have if you’re looking to move information passively from a drive to another. Just pop the drives in and you’ll create a backup without freezing your performance.
You should also keep an eye out for the rated capacity. Your system will basically treat it as a flash drive, and if it’s coded to work with only 4 TB but you pop in a larger HDD, then you won’t be using all of your available storage.
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