The Search For The Best Portable Hard Drive

Backing up your data is never more important than when you're on the road.

Walk through the computer department at the local big box store, and you'll be greeted with a veritable flood of little, USB-powered rectangles begging to be crammed full of your photos. Which ones deserve a spot on your bag? We took a look at some of the most popular options, filled them with some files and admired them from our desk chairs. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference.

Storage options: 250GB, 320 GB, 500GB

Storage Tested: 500GB

Good: There are only a few white lights to let you know it's working, rather than an annoying, blinking Pink Floyd laser show on some back-ups. The "Live Backup" and "Imation Button Manager" software is easy to install and customize; The Drive Gauge, which is a meter in your right taskbar, is a simple way of checking how much storage you have left; It's light and portable. The three-year warranty is also above average.

Bad: Despite the software's ease of use, we still found it faster and more convenient to explore the C drive and drag and drop the files we wanted to move.

Looks: The best part of the whole drive. The Apollo Expert UX has incredible style. The most innovative feature is the oblong-shaped integrated stand that allows horizontal or vertical placement. It also comes with a diagonally-stripped rubber case to prevent scratching.

Verdict: This is a great-looking and sturdy drive that provides ample storage, fast transfer and portability all in a device that could be considered a work of modern art.

Storage options: 250GB, 320GB, 400GB and 500GB

Storage tested: 500GB

Good: The included back-up software is fairly robust, even offering some utilities that don't actually apply to the drive itself, like allowing you to back up your e-mail contacts onto your iPod. It also allows for remote access if you're a MioNet user. The included Sync software is also pretty handy if you move around from computer to computer a lot and don't want cyber bad guys poking through your beach pictures or worse.

Bad All those features come at a price, making the WD one of the more expensive drives in the test.

Looks: There are six color options to choose from, each coming with a "luxurious" soft-touch finish that makes them easier to grip. When sitting on a desk, it almost looks like a wallet because it's so flat and smooth. That's definitely a good thing.

Verdict: While you're paying a little more, you're also getting a little extra. If you're only going to use one drive across many computers, this is a great pick.

Storage options: 250GB, 320GB and 500GB

Storage tested: 500GB

Good: The Seagate name carries a lot of weight in the hard drive world because they have been making quality hard drives for a long time. The FreeAgent Go feels extremely solid in the hand and comes with an adequate suite of easily-installed software including a sync system and basic encryption tools. The 5400 RPM drive is fast and quiet, regardless of whatever crazy angle it may find itself in on your desk.

Bad: If you're a Mac user, you're going to have to opt for the special Mac version, otherwise the software will serve only to take up space on your drive.

Looks: PC users can choose from up to 10 different colors, while Mac users get brushed metal and that's it. It's a very stylish-looking drive that doesn't try to hide the fact that it's a piece of computer hardware. It actually gets better looking when you put it in the dock (sold separately). Though it might not look good enough to warrant the extra expenditure.

Verdict: Seagate is standing behind this little drive 100%, releasing several peripherals for it to play nicely with. That makes is a great option for people who travel occasionally, but spend the majority of their time at one or two machines.

Maxtor Black Armor, $135
Storage options: 160GB and 320GB
Storage tested: 320GB

Good: There's plenty of normal good stuff to mention, like a quiet 5400 RPM drive and some automated backup software, but the real draw here is the security. The encryption is so strong that Maxtor claims even professional data recovery services won't be able to chop through it. That means you won't be in trouble when you leave it on the bus and your boss at the Pentagon finds out.

Bad: As stated before, the encryption is strong that it can't be broken even by a professional data recovery service. That means, if someone hits you on the head and you forget your password and never wrote it down, you can kiss its contents goodbye.

Looks: Different textures ranging from glossy black to matte silver accompany blue lights to make this professional-looking, but interesting at the same time. We could actually use a little less of the blue light, but we're not fans of things that constantly glow anyways. Must be something from our dark room days.

Verdict: You can be sure that no one will be getting at your data if it's stored on this thing, but it might be overkill for a casual user just preparing for the next inevitable laptop hard drive crash.

Iomega Prestige Portable**, $149**
Storage options 160GB, 250GB, 320GB and 500GB
Storage tested: 500GB

Good: The aluminum case feels extremely solid, and the Drop Shock technology is nice for a little peace of mind. Software plays nice with both Mac and PC and includes 2GB of online storage for backing up your stuff.

Bad: While it feels strong, it also feels a little bulkier than some of the others we tested. Actual transfer times weren't the fastest out of the drives we tested.

Look: This drive is aluminum and proud of it. Plus, the bottom panel makes it look a lot like the MacPro towers. The rounded edges make it look a little like a flask, too.

Verdict: While it's not the smallest drive in the test, it's one of the most portable, thanks to its toughness. Set up was a little more complex than it was with the others, but if you're willing to put the time in, you'll have a fairly robust back-up system on your hands.