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The best external hard drives can add more storage to almost any Mac.
Adding an external hard drive to your Mac is a cost-effective and easy way to expand your storage capacity. Not only is it simply a matter of plugging the drive into a free USB port on the computer, but it’s almost always a lot cheaper than upgrading your storage when you buy the Mac. And if you need a lot of storage space—like many terabytes for video storage—an external drive may be the only way to pack all those bits and bytes into a MacBook.
Buying a hard drive can seem harder than it should be, though. You have to choose between two kinds of drives—HDDs and SSDs—as well as the interface (USB or Thunderbolt). And some drives support esoteric technology like RAID.
So what hard drive should you get for your Mac? That largely depends on how you plan to use it. While a voluminous HDD might not be the best thing for running programs from, it’s perfectly suitable for Time Machine backups. But if you want to access your Photo Library or edit raw 4K video from an external drive, you’ll want a speedy SSD—and probably Thunderbolt 3 if your Mac supports it. We’ve rounded up some of the very best external hard drives for Macs. Scan the list below and be sure to refer to the FAQ at the end of the article if you need help understanding which kind of drive is right for you.
It’s hard to find an SSD over 2TB, so finding a drive model that comes in capacities ranging from 500GB all the way up to a massive 8TB is remarkable. Sabrent’s Rocket line of external SSD hard drives is more than just sheer capacity, though. It’s also among the fastest drives money can buy when paired with your Mac’s Thunderbolt 3 port as it delivers sustained transfer speeds up to 2,700 MBps. Of course, you can also use it with a USB 3.2 port for the slower but still impressive 900 MBps.
The drive comes in a tiny aluminum enclosure—it’s just four inches long and 1.77 inches wide—designed for durability and heat dissipation, and has integrated temperature and health monitoring to ensure it performs well.
The LaCie 2TB Mobile SSD drive is an external USB-C drive with more than enough space for all of your digital files. An Apple Store exclusive, its brushed aluminum exterior makes it look like it was made by the gang in Cupertino. Its performance is a respectable 540 MBps—far from the fastest on this list, but adequate for routine productivity tasks.
If you’re editing large files like video or graphics though, you should definitely look elsewhere—the real appeal here is the drive’s aesthetics, which is no doubt what landed it in the Apple store. You want a drive that’s reliable, quiet, cool (literally and figuratively) and can last years longer than similarly-sized traditional hard drives since it has no moving parts. It works with any USB-C port ort a USB 3 port and has its own on-board software to work with Time Machine.
Western Digital is one of the most iconic names in storage; it has been making hard drives since external storage was a thing. This drive benefits from that history. It’s USB 3.0 and USB-C compatible and comes pre-formatted so that you can start streaming Time Machine backups to the drive right out of the box. It’s also about the size of a deck of cards, so it’s very portable. Just make sure you don’t bump it around too much. Unlike similar SSD drives, HDDs aren’t shock-proof, so your data is a little more fragile.
Clocking in with a jaw-dropping 14TB of space, the G-Technology 14TB external drive leaves the other drives on this list with serious storage envy. Is 14TB not enough? You can daisy chain up to five devices for an incredible 70TB of space. To get the same capacity in an SSD… well, you can’t.
It supports USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt 3, so you’ll be able to take advantage of the fastest port on your Mac with transfer speeds up to 250 megabytes per second. The only real caveat? This is not a portable drive—to support this much storage capacity, the G-Drive needs to be plugged in, and it’s too bulky and heavy to move very often. Nonetheless, if your work includes video production or other projects that demand enormous amounts of storage, this is a logical choice.
This diminutive drive from Seagate stands out not because of its performance—it tops out at 400 MBps—but because of its looks. The textile finish of the Seagate Ultra Touch SSD is unique in a field dominated by metallic finishes. Instead of trying to look like it was made by Apple, the Seagate drive stands out. That’s actually a big plus when it comes to portability. You don’t want to waste time trying to find your drive when you’re heading out the door. The other plus is that, if you have an Android phone, you can upload files directly to the drive with the included USB-C connector.
How do you ensure that someone isn’t accessing your data if your drive gets stolen? Samsung has a solution with their T7 Touch. The black or silver aluminum casing has a square “Motion LED” on the top of the unit that lets you know when the drive is in operation and also houses a built-in fingerprint scanner. It also features good, old-fashioned password protection and AE 256-bit hardware encryption for extra security.
The T7 Touch is considerably faster than previous Samsung SSD devices with a top read speed of 1,050 MBps and a write speed of 1,000 MBps. The drive comes with USB-C and A cables and is compatible with Windows, Mac and Android.
The LaCie Rugged SSD Pro is a stand-out for multiple reasons. First and foremost, the Thunderbolt 3 compatibility means it’s one of the fastest external drives around, offering a top speed of 2800 MBps. But as you can tell from the name, this drive is also plenty rugged.
The rubberized casing offers an IP67 rating, which protects the drive with a 3-meter drop tolerance, two tons of car crush resistance and protection from more mundane risks like dirt and dust, plus the ability to withstand being immersed in up to a meter of water. The LaCie Rugged drive is more expensive but the physical security you get for your data is worth it if you’re looking for a true “emergency” drive.
Not everyone has a spare Apple SSD sitting around, but if you do (say in a retired MacBook or iMac), then you can repurpose that drive and create your own external SSD. The OWC Envoy Pro’s chipset is specially made to work with Apple’s SSDs (and Apple SSDs only). The enclosure is fanless and completely silent. The brushed aluminum exterior pairs perfectly with your Mac and has a bright (maybe a little too bright) white activity LED. It’s USB 3.0-powered, so it’ll reach speeds up to 500 MBps and doesn’t require an external power source. For $90, you really can’t beat the price.
If the only thing you’re concerned about is speed, then the Samsung X5 should be at the top of your list. It uses NVMe technology and a Thunderbolt 3 interface to achieve speeds of up to 2,800 MBps. It’s fast enough to edit video, render graphics and just about anything else you might want. It’s maybe even faster than the internal drive on your Mac. It reaches these speeds without cooking itself thanks to a beefy heat sink that makes up a large portion of the drive. It’s all enclosed in a race car-inspired enclosure that’s shock resistant up to a 6-foot drop.
Listen, sometimes you just need a cheap drive to store stuff. You don’t care how fast it is or whether it will last for decades. The Seagate Portable 1TB drive, however, is a rare combination of a drive that won’t break the bank and is from a reliable manufacturer with experience in the external hard drive storage business. At under $50, this is one of the least expensive storage options out there. You could find something less expensive from a no-name company, but you risk losing your data if their reliability is unproven. With Seagate, you’ll get a very capable (if not a bit plodding) drive that will last for years.
There are two fundamental “flavors” of hard drives: Hard Disk Drives (HDD) and Solid State Drives (SSD). It’s important to know the differences if you want to get the most out of your storage.
An HDD is a traditional hard drive. It is a mechanical device that relies on spinning platters and a magnetic read/write head that resembles a phonograph tone arm. HDDs are a very mature technology; they’re inexpensive to manufacture, cheap to purchase and available in very high capacities (you can get consumer-grade HDDs as large as 16TB, for example). On the other hand, they are slower than SSDs and, as mechanical devices, are prone to mechanical failure as they age.
In contrast, an SSD is similar to a USB flash drive—with no moving parts, it’s just a large memory chip. Much faster and far more reliable than HDDs, they can move large files in seconds that it would take mechanical hard drives minutes to do. On the other hand, they tend to come in smaller capacities and cost relatively more. The price varies by brand, capacity and performance, but as a ballpark estimate, you can expect to pay about 50% more for a comparably sized SSD.
Generally, yes—for the most part, a hard drive is a hard drive, and any hard drive you buy for a Windows PC should work fine on a Mac as well. The difference is that hard drives packaged for PCs come formatted with the NTFS file system for Windows, so you’ll need to use the MacOS Disk Utility app to format it for your Mac, an operation which removes all data. Otherwise, any hard drive with a USB connection should have no trouble working on a Mac.
Most modern hard drives use a standard USB-A connection and transfer data at speeds up to 10Gbps. If you have an older Mac, you might have a Thunderbolt 2 port—it can connect to Thunderbolt 2 hard drives that has a top transfer speed of 20Gbps. But recent-model Macs come with Thunderbolt 3 ports. Thunderbolt 3 looks just like typical USB-C port but has the potential to be dramatically faster—up to 40Gbps. Thunderbolt 3 drives, paired with the Thunderbolt 3 port on a Mac, is the fastest external hard drive you can currently buy.
I’ve been writing about technology, gadgets, and pop culture back before Apple had even thought of the iPhone. I’ve seen the rise and fall (and rise again) of Apple. I’ve
Dave Johnson has been a tech journalist since the days of the Palm Pilot and Windows 95. He’s the author of about three dozen books about tech, digital photography, small