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The 6 Best External Hard Drives for Mac

The 6 Best External Hard Drives for Mac

As a Mac user, having a reliable external hard drive is essential for backing up your data and expanding your storage capacity. But with so many options on the market, how do you choose the best external hard drive for your needs? This comprehensive guide will walk you through the key factors to consider and provide recommendations for the best external hard drives for Mac users to suit different budgets and requirements.

What to Look for in an External Hard Drive for Mac

Wd My Passport Hard Drive Review

Compatibility

The most crucial factor is ensuring the external hard drive you select is designed to work with Macs out of the box. Most external hard drives are formatted to work with both Windows and Mac. But some cheaper options are Windows-only. Always check product descriptions to confirm compatibility before purchasing.

Hard Disk Drive vs Solid State Drive

The main options for Mac external hard drives are traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) or Solid State Drives (SSDs). HDDs have moving parts, making them slower and more prone to failure if knocked. But per GB, they are much cheaper than SSDs. SSDs have no moving parts, making them faster, smaller, and more durable. But they are significantly more expensive.

Storage Capacity

Consider how much extra storage you need now, plus potential future needs. Storage capacities for external hard drives range from 500GB to 10TB+. 1-4TB is ideal for most home users to back up essential files and media collections. Professional creatives working with huge files may need higher capacities.

Connectivity

The latest Macs only have USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports. So, choose a drive with USB-C or Thunderbolt for direct plug-and-play connectivity. Some HDDs still use older USB 3.0/3.1, so would require a compatibility adapter. This won't impact speeds but is a bit clunky. Wireless external SSDs offer cable-free flexibility but are pricier.

Transfer Speeds

USB 3.0 and 3.1 offer decent speeds of up to 5Gbps for HDDs. Whereas USB-C can reach 10Gbps. For SSDs, Thunderbolt 3 maxes out at blazing 40Gbps speeds. Always check benchmarks from independent testing sites to verify manufacturer speed claims. Faster drives allow quicker file transfers and backups.

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Security

Select an external HDD or SSD that offers data encryption and password protection if storing sensitive documents. Some drives come with this built-in. Or you can manually encrypt drives for free using Disk Utility in MacOS. An encrypted drive means if lost or stolen, your data remains secure.

Size and Portability

Standard external HDDs are typically larger and heavier than slim and light portable SSDs. An SSD can easily throw an external drive into your bag to transport files. But a larger HDD is OK if it mainly lives on your desk. Having decent drop protection also matters for frequently moved drives.

The 6 Best External Hard Drives for Mac in 2024

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Overall Best – Samsung T7 SSD

For the best balance of speed, security, portability, and price – the Samsung T7 Portable SSD is hard to beat. With read speeds up to 1,050MB/s, this palm-sized, super lightweight SSD enclosure delivers blazing performance. The durable design includes up to 6 feet of drop protection, a dynamic thermal guard to control heat levels, and integrated password and AES 256-bit hardware encryption to keep your data secure. It’s compatible with Macs, iPads, Windows PCs, and Android via the USB 3.2 Gen2 interface. Available in capacities from 500GB right up to 2TB.

SaleBestseller No. 1
SAMSUNG T7 Shield 1TB, Portable SSD, up to 1050MB/s, USB 3.2 Gen2, Rugged, IP65 Rated, for Photographers, Content Creators and Gaming , External Solid State Drive (MU-PE1T0R/AM, 2022), Blue
  • GO THE DISTANCE: Withstand whatever adventure with the wildly reliable T7 Shield; It’s designed for the elements with water1, dust2 and drop3 resistance—all, of course, at lightning speeds
  • YOUR CONTENT CAPTURED: Take on the project, then transfer all your heavy files within seconds with the USB 3.2 Gen 2 Portable Solid-State Drive; Compatible with PC, Mac, Android devices, gaming consoles and more
  • SHARE IDEAS IN A FLASH: The T7 is embedded with PCIe NVME technology that brings you fast read and write speeds up to 1,050/1,000 MB/s4, making it almost twice as fast as the T5

Runner Up – WD My Passport HDD

The latest version of the popular WD My Passport external drive offers high capacities ranging from 1TB to a massive 5TB. The compact 2.5-inch form factor means it’s easy to transport when needed. But it’s still noticeably more significant than an SSD. Speeds max out at around 150MB/s, but performance remains very respectable. Optional automatic backup software helps safeguard your files. And there’s built-in 256-AES encryption plus compatibility across devices—great value for money.

Sale
WD 5TB My Passport, Portable External Hard Drive, Black, backup software with defense against ransomware, and password protection, USB 3.1/USB 3.0 compatible – WDBPKJ0050BBK-WESN
  • Slim durable design to help take your important files with you
  • Vast capacities up to 6TB[1] to store your photos, videos, music, important documents and more
  • Back up smarter with included device management software[2] with defense against ransomware
  • Help secure your important files with password protection and hardware encryption
  • 3-year limited warranty

Best Budget – Seagate Backup Plus Slim HDD

If you want plenty of affordable storage, Seagate has you covered. Their new Seagate Backup Plus Slim clocks in at just 159g with dimensions of 4.47×2.99 inches. So, it still slips into pockets when needed. Up to 5TB capacity means there’s storage room to grow into. With a max 120MB/s data transfers via USB 3.0, it handles full HD video streaming and image backups with no issues. Support for Time Machine backups is handy. It includes helpful utilities for social media and cloud backups, too.

Seagate Backup Plus Slim for Mac 1TB External Hard Drive HDD – USB 3.0, Time Machine Compatible 2 Months Adobe CC Photography (STDS1000100)
  • The stylish external hard drive MacBooks, Backup Plus Slim for Mac makes it easy to store and access 1TB of content on the go.
  • The perfect compliment to personal aesthetic, this USB drive features a minimalist metal enclosure
  • Simply plug this external hard drive for Mac and Windows into a computer via the included USB 3.0 cable to back up files with a single click or schedule automatic daily, weekly, or monthly backups. Reformatting may be required for use with Time Machine.

Best Performance – G-Technology G-Drive SSD

Demanding intensive tasks like 4K video editing and 3D graphic design require next-level speeds. The G-Technology G-Drive SSD delivers precisely that – with blistering rates up to 2,800MB/s read and 2,500MB/s write when hooked up via Thunderbolt 3. Storage options range from 500GB to a monstrous 15TB to suit varying project sizes. It has durable aluminium housing to withstand life on the road. It also utilises dual Thunderbolt 3 ports for Daisy Chaining's extra peripherals. Professional grade performance comes at a steeper price. But for smooth editing of ultra HD footage, it’s worth it.

G-Technology 1TB G-DRIVE mobile SSD Durable Portable External Storage – USB-C (USB 3.1), Up to 560 MB/s – 0G06053-1, black
  • A durable design with IP67 water/dust resistance, 3M drop tested, and 1000lb crush resistance
  • Super fast transfer rates up to 560MB/s
  • Latest generation USB C connectivity (USB 3.1 Gen 2)
  • Shock and vibration resistant solid state drive
  • With capacities up to 2TB in a small, light package (As used for storage capacity, 1 gigabyte (GB) = 1 billion bytes and 1 terabyte (TB) = 1 trillion bytes; Total accessible capacity varies depending on operating environment.)

Most Reliable – LaCie Rugged SSD Pro

The LaCie Rugged SSD Pro is specially constructed for utmost resilience when working in challenging environments. Its rubber sleeve and aluminium corning provide all-terrain drop, crush, rain, and dust protection without compromising style. Both Thunderbolt 3 and USB Type-C deliver speeds above 950MB/s. Seagate Secure AES-256 encryption plus required password access keeps confidential data ultra-secure. With up to 2TB capacities, it also has ample room for memory-intensive media folders. Paying extra for supreme reliability gives invaluable peace of mind.

LaCie Rugged SSD Pro 1TB Solid State Drive — USB-C Thunderbolt 3, Drop Shock Dust Water Resistant, for Mac and PC Computer Desktop Laptop, 1 Mo Adobe CC (STHZ1000800)
  • Harness top Thunderbolt 3 speeds with the 1TB Seagate FireCuda NV Me SSD for playback/recording of up to 2800MB/s on 6K, 8K, and super so-so video
  • Tackle any terrain with extreme IP67-rated water resistance, three-meter drop tolerance, two-ton car crush resistance, and dust resistance in a palm-sized external SSD Drive
  • Includes a Thunderbolt 3 cable for easy connectivity with USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 on IPAD, Mac and Windows computers

Best Wireless – SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD

The SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD removes cable limitations by supporting fast WiFi speeds of up to 550MB/s. That’s quick enough for streaming 4K video. At the same time, the durable silicon shell, IP55 rating for dust/water resistance, and up to 2- 2-meter drop protection allow it to thrive in demanding environments. Compatible across Mac, Windows, Android and iPadOS. Capacities range from 500GB to 2TB—factor in the high price for cutting cords. If you value flexible wireless use, it’s a justifiable expense.

SaleBestseller No. 1
SanDisk 1TB Extreme Portable SSD – Up to 1050MB/s, USB-C, USB 3.2 Gen 2, IP65 Water and Dust Resistance, Updated Firmware – External Solid State Drive – SDSSDE61-1T00-G25
  • Get NVMe solid state performance with up to 1050MB/s read and 1000MB/s write speeds in a portable, high-capacity drive(1) (Based on internal testing; performance may be lower depending on host device & other factors. 1MB=1,000,000 bytes.)
  • Up to 3-meter drop protection and IP65 water and dust resistance mean this tough drive can take a beating(3) (Previously rated for 2-meter drop protection and IP55 rating. Now qualified for the higher, stated specs.)
  • Use the handy carabiner loop to secure it to your belt loop or backpack for extra peace of mind.

Essential Factors When Deciding the Right External Hard Drive for Your Needs

1. Storage Capacity

Consider your current and likely future storage requirements, e.g., the number of photos, videos, and project files. And buy an external drive that comfortably exceeds this rather than skimping. As drives fill up and free space declines, performance notably decreases. So, building in overhead capacity is advised.

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2. Security

All external drives have inherent risks of failure, corruption, loss, theft or accidental damage. So, having backups of your data is crucial for avoiding catastrophe. Consider an additional external drive purely for making regular backups stored safely offsite. Encrypting drives also adds essential security if they fall into the wrong hands.

3. Transfer Speeds

Faster drives with USB-C, Thunderbolt 3 or WiFi 6 allow you to move files on and off the drive quicker. Handy for transferring batches of large photos or videos. Or editing very high-resolution footage smoothly directly from the drive. A more affordable HDD is OK for extra document/media storage. Professional media creators need cutting-edge SSD speeds.

4. Physical Durability

Standard external HDDs and SSDs have enclosures to protect the drive internals from light knocks. But for frequent transport, consider a rugged drive with rubber or metal shielding plus dust/splashproofing to survive inevitable drops and spills when mobile. Regular backups to another drive also protect if a hardware failure occurs.

5. Drive Format

External drives formatted specifically for Windows won’t work on Mac and vice versa. Most drives are pre-formatted to FAT32 or exFAT to work universally across both. Always check before buying. If a drive is Windows only, you can reformat using Mac Disk Utility, but it involves wiping data.

Frequently Asked Questions About External Hard Drives for Mac

Why do I need an external hard drive for my Mac?

Macs have limited internal drive capacity. An external drive gives you supplemental storage to accommodate your expanding needs over time, e.g. for backups, file sharing, storing creative projects, or archiving older files that aren’t needed on your primary internal drive.

How do I choose the suitable external hard drive capacity?

Consider both your current storage requirements and likely future needs. Photos, videos and project files consume much more capacity over time. So, go more significant than existing needs to build in room to grow. 1-2TB suits most needs today. Creative pros require larger 4-6TB+ drives.

What’s the difference between HDD and SSD drives?

HDDs use older mechanical spinning disk technology, making them more prominent. But it's cheaper per GB. SSDs are faster, smaller, and more durable using integrated circuits rather than moving parts—a significant difference in $ per GB. HDD is great for backups. SSD is better for active projects.

Is Thunderbolt 3 faster than USB-C external drives?

Yes. Both Thunderbolt and USB-C connectors are used on the latest Macs. But Thunderbolt 3 runs at speeds up to 40Gbps versus 10Gbps max for USB-C Gen 2. This makes a big difference when regularly transferring huge files. Thunderbolt 3 drives allow smoother video editing and graphic design work directly from the drive. USB-C suits more straightforward needs.

How do Time Machine backups work on an external drive?

Apple’s built-in Time Machine software lets you incrementally backup all internal drive contents to prevent data loss. Just designate an external drive as the Time Machine destination in System Preferences. Automatic backups then continuously sync in the background to this drive. Restoring data is straightforward if disaster strikes the main drive.

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Can I use a single external drive between a Mac and Windows PC?

Many external drives are preformatted to work on both operating systems without reformatting. Or you can format a drive in either Mac Disk Utility or Windows Disk Manager to suit both, e.g. exFAT. Remember, once partitioned and formatted for either Mac or PC, you typically can’t change it without wiping contents.

Summary

Investing in a quality external drive tailored to your needs and budget is a smart way to safeguard valuable data. Always check storage capacity, speeds, connectivity, durability ratings, and security encryption capabilities match how you realistically plan to utilise the drive.

For maximum resilience, having two external drives is advisable – one for backups, plus another for actively editing projects directly off the drive if needed. Shop around for deals and independent product reviews. But don’t risk a bargain basement no-name drive that could fail and lose all your files. Paying more for recognised quality brands with more extended warranties brings valuable peace of mind your data remains protected long-term.

Last update on 2024-06-13 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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