I’ve often written about the benefits of Chromebooks: affordability, portability, and usability. Today, we’re going to discuss one of the drawbacks: limited storage space. Chromebooks come out of the box with only a little storage space because the entire Chromebook concept is built around storing things in the cloud. To fix this, use a Chromebook compatible external drive.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase.

Chromebook Compatible External Drives

These are my top three picks. You can read a lot more detail about each type of external disk drive below.

What is an External Drive? Are there Different Types?

An external drive is simply a hard drive that exists outside of your computer. Typically, they come in one of three forms:

Thumb Drive

Sometimes called a “flash drive” or a “USB stick,” these drives became widely used in the last decade. They are the most portable option, since they fit on a keyring or in a pocket.

Continuing advances in storage space make thumb drives attractive, as well. You can easily find affordable thumb drives up to 500GB.

However, they have generally fallen out of favor due to security concerns. In fact, some businesses (and the entire US military) forbid their employees from even having one in the building, much less plugging one into a computer. Since it’s pretty unlikely that you will be working with classified info, you’ll find one reviewed below.

“Spinning” Hard Drive (HDD)

Originally, computers stored data on spinning “platters” with “read arms” that moved inside the device. It was a tremendously bulky way to store data. In fact, one of the first office computers held just enough data for one MP3 song–but it took the equivalent of two refrigerators’ worth of space to store all the platters!

Thank goodness, we’ve gotten more efficient over time. They are now quite portable, but the moving parts inside make them vulnerable to accidents. These Chromebook compatible external drives will be designated HDD below, for Hard Disk Drive.

Solid State Drive (SSD)

Eventually, we figured out how to store data on a series of interconnected flash chips, rather than on a spinning drive. These SSD drives are more efficient than HDDs in both power consumption and physical space.

There are SSD drives now that will hold multiple terabytes of data, which makes those refrigerators in the previous paragraph look ridiculous. Additionally, SSD drives boot much faster and are well on their way to being the standard in most laptops and desktops.

Why do I Need a Chromebook Compatible External Hard Drive?

Well, you might not. For many users, the storage on the Chromebook itself, plus the 100GB of free cloud storage, proves sufficient. However, you may have files you simply don’t want floating around the internet.

If your Chromebook and Google account were acquired through your employer, then all the information on the Chromebook and account may revert to the them if you ever leave the job. In that case, it may be helpful to keep all your personal files or information you might need long-term on your own backup location.

Or you may need an efficient way to get information back and forth from your Chromebook to other devices, and email isn’t always a good option–particularly for larger graphics or media files.

How to Choose an External Drive for a Chromebook

Pretty much any external drive will work with Chrome OS. Just make sure it connects using USB.

Some drives come with software that adds features. That software will not work on Chrome OS. Any drive you get will just be a blank storage area for you to save files.

Which Chromebook Compatible External Drive Should I Buy?

Here are my favorite choices for each type of drive:

USB Thumb Drive

The SanDisk Extreme CZ80 is the best intersection of price, speed, and capacity. At under 30 bucks for 64GB of storage, it will easily hold plenty of information. 64 GB is enough to hold about 13,000 photos or 5 hours of video, so if you need a Chromebook compatible external drive for work-related media files, you’re not going to run out of space.

I also love both the design and the capacity of this 128GB Sandisk drive, but it’s actually so small I found myself worrying constantly about losing it. I switched to a less “micro” solution. If you’re just looking to boost the capacity of your Chromebook, and you don’t plan to move the drive around between computers, this would be a great option.

HDD External Drive

I like the Seagate Backup Plus 4TB model. Seagate has long been a go-to name in external drives. The first external drive I ever bought for work was an old Seagate 32GB for my dinosaur desktop. It costs about twice as much as the 64GB USB drive above, but 4 TB is enough space to store basically anything you’ve ever created in your lifetime.

You may encounter faster “hybrid” models, which divide the read / write process across two drives working in tandem. However, the faster HDDs with two drives are twice as likely to fail, since there are twice as many drives enclosed. In my opinion, it’s worth sacrificing some speed to pick up more reliability and affordability.

SSD External Drive

SSDs in the terabyte range are still (for me) prohibitively expensive. In my theoretical dream backpack, I have this 2TB Samsung model, which costs…a lot.

But in the real world, I’m not going to spend that much. Instead, this 500GB Samsung T3 Portable SSD costs a fraction as much. It’s still a bit spendy. The increased efficiency, speed, and reliability of an SSD drive makes it worth losing some capacity.

Since SSDs don’t have moving parts (like HDDs), this drive could still be working when your grandkids find it in the attic one day. And 500 GB is still more than enough space for most users. Unless you’re editing feature-length films, you should be fine with this option.

How do I Use My External Drive with My Chromebook?

Step 1: Plug it in to the USB port.

Step 2: Open the Files program through the Launcher to see the files.

Step 3: Eject the drive when you are finished.

Thanks to the wonderful people at Google, this part has exactly one step: plug it in. There are no drivers to install. The drive is powered via the USB slot, so there are no extra cords to worry about. And your Chromebook will format the drive properly the first time you plug it in.

You can access the files through the “Files” tab under the Launcher. The external drive functions just like a hard drive on any other computer. You can break it down into folders, subfolders, and individual files using whatever system works best for you.

Just remember to “eject” the drive before you unplug it. The “eject” button should be next to the device name in the Files window. This makes sure you don’t unplug the drive while the Chromebook is still writing data to it. That could damage both the Chromebook and the external drive.

The Best External Drive for Chromebooks

There you have it: five separate options. My preference is for the Seagate Backup Plus 4TB model. I love the truly massive capacity of 4TB of data for a reasonable price.

I only need a Chromebook compatible external drive to safeguard crucial files I keep from past jobs, family photos, and other things that I rarely move around. For that reason, my preferred choice right now is the Seagate. It’s got low cost and huge capacity going for it. It’s not as portable as the other options, but that’s not as important to me.

If portability is your primary goal, perhaps one of the other options would work best for you.