Storage on the go: We test five fast portable hard drives

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For system backup, archiving, or simply carrying around large data sets, 2.5-inch portable hard drives rule the roost. Competing flash drives are super portable and convenient, but they top out at 128GB; and at larger capacities, they cost a whopping one buck per gigabyte.

By comparison, each of the five portable hard drives we tested in this roundup cost about 10 cents per gigabyte—and some cost even less. All five units also feature USB 3.0 interfaces, making them considerably faster than previous-generation drives.

While any of the models we tested will fit easily in a jacket pocket, they vary more than a little in both physical size and maximum available capacity. The My Passport Edge and Seagate Slim have a significantly thinner profile than the other drives, but offer only 500GB of storage. The standard My Passport is a bit thicker, but is available with 2TB. The 500GB Satellite was the largest drive physically, but that's due to the internal Wi-Fi electronics and battery used for creating a mobile hotspot. The 500GB Lancer LX is also on the large side, but it's ruggedized and has dual FireWire 800 ports in addition to one USB 3.0 port.

Each of the five drives proved to be capable, turning in nearly identical performances reading our mix of files and folders—basically the most frequent task a drive is asked to perform. Overall, however, the Western Digital drives outpaced the competition by 6MBps or more. Seagate's Satellite Mobile Wireless was quite a bit slower than the other four drives when it came to transferring large files, but its ability to stream audio and video files via Wi-Fi connectivity earns it a pass; besides, it's still fast compared to USB 2.0 models.

When all was said and done, each drive had something that set it apart from the competition: Style, performance, or a unique feature. Here are links to each of the reviews, followed by two charts that report on their read/write speeds.

Rocstor Lancer LX (500GB) Packaged in a ruggedized enclosure.

Seagate GoFlex Satellite Mobile Wireless Storage (500GB) Creates its own Wi-Fi hotspot.

Seagate Slim (500GB) Slim and sexy.

Western Digital My Passport (2TB) The top performer in this roundup.

Western Digital My Passport Edge (500GB) WD's take on a thin external drive.

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