Like most Apple products, Mac laptops aren’t really meant to be upgraded. Because of the way they’re designed, laptops in general are usually a pain to upgrade compared to PCs. With Macs, both the difficulty and price of upgrading your hardware grows exponentially. The accessibility of hardware is one of the main reasons why there are more Android than iOS users. However, if you happen to be stuck with a low storage capacity from when you bought your device – say 256 or 512 GB – then increasing your storage is a necessity.
The optimal way to increase your storage is to find the best external hard drive for Mac. This is a cheaper alternative to upgrading; instead of the hassle of replacing your existing storage, you simply increase it according to your needs. However, many questions remain. Should you go with HDD or SSD? Which format and file system is ideal? How important is the Thunderbolt 3 connection? In this article, we answer these questions and more, as we do our best to help you discover what’s the best external hard drive for Mac.
- Thunderbolt 3 port
- Formatted for Mac
- Beautiful design
- Ultra small and light
- Top-class security
- Good read/write speeds
- Immense amount of storage
- Great dollar-to-gigabyte value
- Comes in macOS and Windows versions
Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt
The search for the best external hard drive for Mac with a Thunderbolt connection can be a grueling affair due to the sheer scarcity of these drives. The Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt is the second entry in the Thunderbolt-compatible bus-powered series. This hard drive rocks a sleek, silver look that will match perfectly with your Mac laptop. It’s cheaper than most other Thunderbolt-ready drives, has great read/write speeds, and is compatible with Time Machine.
If you’re looking to impress those around you by brandishing a stylish portable hard drive, look no further than the Buffalo MiniStation ThunderBolt. The drive has a fancy silver-and-white finish. These design decisions suggest that the hard drive was made with Mac users in mind, which is why it features on most lists of the best external hard drive for Mac in 2020. The drive’s design is otherwise minimalistic, with ports being the only thing standing out on the surface.
This Mac-compatible external hard drive comes with two ports – one Thunderbolt and the other USB 3.0. As we mentioned before, new Mac laptops come with a Thunderbolt port. With this type of connection, you can get double the transfer speeds you’d get with USB-C. If your Mac doesn’t have a Thunderbolt port, worry not, as you can use the USB 3.0 connection and still enjoy decent transfer speeds. Unfortunately, the MiniStation comes with only one Thunderbolt port, meaning it can only be used as the end point in a daisy chain setup.
This hard drive comes with the best format for a Mac external hard drive, meaning Mac customers can start using it immediately. Windows users need to reformat the drive before use.
The Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt is a pretty speedy drive, clocking 110 MB/s read speeds, and 95 MB/s for writing. This is pretty quick for an HDD drive, but it can’t match SSDs in this department.
The Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt comes in three variants: 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB. When it comes to HDD drives, this is a pretty small amount of storage (apart from the 2TB one), and it does not come cheap. The price of the 500GB version is currently unavailable. The 1TB drive costs $117.55, while the 2TB variant will set you back $169.85.
In your search for the best 1TB external hard drive for Mac, you can definitely find cheaper options. However, the reason for the slightly inflated price is the Thunderbolt connection. If you’re buying a new portable drive, paying a bit more for this is worth it. If you’re looking to upgrade, the Thunderbolt connection alone rarely warrants paying $100+.
The Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt is clearly built for Mac users. It’s got a Thunderbolt 3 port, has Time Machine backup compatibility, and its design goes in lockstep with that of Apple products. Mac users looking for a fast external hard drive will be pretty happy with the MiniStation Thunderbolt if they don’t mind paying over $100 for an HDD.
Lexar SL100 Pro
Not everyone is ready or able to shell out over $200 for a decent SSD. That’s why Mac users on a tight budget looking for the best solid-state external hard drive for Mac might want to look into the Lexar SL100 Pro. A cheapish SSD, it offers great performance, file encryption, and excellent durability. On a strict dollar-to-performance scale, it’s probably the strongest SSD you can get in this price range.
Let’s start with the visuals. The Lexar SSL100 Pro is aluminum-made and predominately black. Having reviewed a lot of hard drives, we consider this design fairly stale; it can hardly be differentiated from most other portable hard drives out there. Still, it’s easy on the eye, and users who prefer a sleek, minimalistic design will probably like it. Otherwise, this SSD is small and light, but still larger than the T7 Touch for example.
Why is this drive on our best portable hard drive list? Firstly, it performs very well. The drive’s maximum read speed is 950 MB/s, while the top write speed is 900 MB/s. It’s not the quickest out there, but you’ll struggle to find a faster one for this price. This is a USB-C external hard drive, meaning you’ll get great transfer speeds and can connect it to Thunderbolt 3 devices, or use USB 2.0. The drive also works with USB Type-C to Type-C cable and USB Type-C to Type-A cable, which is always great to see.
The format is exFAT, the best format for an external hard drive for Mac. With this format, you can use it on both Windows and Mac computers without a problem. The drive also boasts AES 256-bit encryption. This is considered the strongest encryption currently in use and will keep your files safe and secure from intrusion.
The Lexar SL100 Pro is available in 500GB and 1TB versions. Currently, the 500GB version is listed for $99.99 on Amazon, while the 1TB option will set you back between $179 and $199, depending on the vendor. For an SSD, this is pretty cheap.
Is this the best external SSD for Mac? Probably not. However, unless you’re a power user, bent on getting the maximum possible speeds or a massive amount of storage, then the Lexar SL100 Pro has everything you might need: good security, great speeds, and affordable pricing
Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch
Privacy-concerned users browsing for the best SSD external hard drive for Mac should definitely consider the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch. Its standout feature is its fingerprint reader, which adds biometric security to your files. Besides top-notch security, this series of hard drives goes up to 2TB in storage, which is a lot for SSDs. These drives also come with three-year warranties and perform admirably on most speed tests.
Samsung’s external SSD for Mac was clearly made with maximum portability in mind. Lightweight and small in size, the drive can easily fit into your pocket. It’s slim as well, taking up as much space as your wallet might. As such, it’s ideal for frequent travelers or those who regularly commute between their office and home, using the SSD to store important work-related files.
The best external hard drive for Mac needs to have a decent level of security. Some years ago, security measures such as encryption weren’t considered important for portable storage. However, over time cyber threats such as viruses and ransomware have become more common and evolved, prompting companies to incorporate protection on their hard drives. This usually involves encryption and password protection. The T7 Touch goes one step further, adding fingerprint verification.
During the first-time setup, you’ll be prompted to put your finger on the fingerprint scanner multiple times from multiple angles. After the system gets a full scan, you’re ready to go. This is a superior solution to passwords, which can be lost or leaked. That’s why this is the most reliable external hard drive on the market. Around the scanner is the LED indicator, which shows whether the drive is reading/writing, connected, or idle.
The drive ships in the exFat format, meaning that you can use it with any operating system. The Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch uses a USB 3.2 Gen 2 port. This means you’ll be getting good transfer speeds, and this port is compatible with most newer USB or Thunderbolt technologies.
This Samsung external hard drive reaches 1,050 MB/s read speeds and 1,000 MB/s write speeds, which is more than enough for most users. With such speeds, many consider this Samsung drive the best external hard drive for video editing on Mac.
This drive comes in three variants: 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB. The price is fairly steep, but that’s what you’d expect from an SSD hard drive that comes with fingerprint scanning. The prices are as follows (at the time of writing):
500GB – $109.99
1TB – $199.99
2TB – $329.99
The Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch features great speeds, offers high-capacity storage, and boasts unmatched security. However, it is expensive, and you need to install specific fingerprint reading software in order to use the scanner.
WD My Passport 5TB
Hailing from Western Digital, the My Passport series regularly features on the external hard drive for Mac best buy lists. This hard drive series enjoys immense popularity, and the 5TB version we’re reviewing here is big enough to satisfy even the most storage-hungry users. With this amount of storage, you can do pretty much everything, but the fact that this Western Digital external hard drive comes with backup software indicates this is the optimal way to use this piece of hardware.
The incredible popularity of the My Passport series stems from its perfect combination of storage capacity, durability, and affordability. Sure, there are quicker drives out there – after all this is not an SSD. One could also find cheaper gigabyte-per-dollar drives, but rarely do they combine all the qualities one can find in My Passport drives.
This is the largest external hard drive you can find if movability is key, as 5TB is the upper limit on storage for portable drives. This hard drive comes in two versions – one formatted for Windows and the other for Mac. Thankfully, file system formatting isn’t set in stone, and you can easily format it to be compatible with the other operating system.
This Western Digital hard drive comes with a Micro-USB Type-B connector running USB 3.2 protocols. As is usual, you can plug in USB 2.0 cables as well, just expect the transfer speed to drop considerably. Unfortunately, there’s no Thunderbolt 3 support here.
One of My Passport’s standout features is its AES-256 bit encryption – one reason why it’s considered to be the best portable hard drive for Mac by many. This will help protect your files from unwanted intrusion – a godsend for users who keep sensitive data like work-related documents or financial information on their portable drive.
This drive clocks read/write speeds from 110 to 115 MB/s, depending on the test. This puts it in the middle tier when it comes to HDDs.
Visually, the hard drive won’t turn any heads, but the added ripples on the surface add to the style and make holding the HDD easier. Otherwise, the plastic hard drive is small and light, which makes it ideal for use as a portable drive.
So, how much do you need to pay for the best external portable hard drive for Mac? Thankfully, not too much, even for the 5TB version we decided to review. The price of this drive is currently $109.99. Do note that in some cases the version formatted for Mac can be slightly more expensive. If this is the case and you’re on a tight budget, you can get the Windows one then reformat it.
The moniker ‘My Passport’ truly fits this hard drive. With it, you can carry any files you might need for your travels knowing that your data is secured by encryption and passwords. If you’re looking for affordable high-storage drives that work with both major operating systems, look no further.
Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch
If you’re looking for an affordable HDD with solid storage capabilities, the Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch is definitely worth checking out. As the name suggests, this hard drive is best used for backing up your files. When you add in file encryption and a fancy factory finish, the Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch becomes a more-than-decent choice for external Mac storage.
The main allure of this external hard drive is purely a cosmetic one. That’s not to say that Seagate’s hard drive doesn’t deserve a spot on our best external hard drive for Mac backup list from a purely technical perspective. But the first thing you’ll notice is its woven fabric coat, which separates it from its drab, predominantly black, visually unimaginative cousins.
The woven overcoat comes in either gray or black and feels nice to the touch. However, the material used can be slightly slippery, so make sure you carry it carefully. The hard drive is otherwise small and light, making it ideal for use as a portable drive.
This Seagate hard drive comes in 1TB and 2TB variants. We focused on the 2TB version in this review, as among non-SSDs, it’s probably the best 2TB external hard drive for Mac. Both versions are cheap, and there’s really little to no reason to shell out a couple of bucks more in order to get double the storage. While 2TB is nothing to write home about, it’s a solid amount of storage that will most probably fulfill your needs, unless you solely wish to store 4K videos or huge file formats.
When it comes to connection, this Seagate drive supports USB 3.0. Don’t worry – it’s also USB-C compatible, and you can even use USB 2.0, although that will result in a much slower throughput. Unfortunately, there’s no Thunderbolt 3 support. However, the Ultra Touch is perhaps the best external hard drive for Mac and Windows, as its connection type and exFAT file system format make it compatible for both operating systems. The drive can also be reformatted if needed.
One field where this hard drive truly excels is security. Firstly, you can set up a password in order to protect your files. The password is chosen during the initial setup process. Make sure you memorize the password or save it in a safe place, as there’s no password restore option. In case you can’t remember the password, the only choice left is to reset the drive, losing all the files on it in the process. Even the best external hard drive for both Mac and PC isn’t worth much if you lose access to its stored files, especially if it’s a backup drive.
In addition to password protection, all the files stored on this drive are protected by AES-256 encryption.
The price for the 2TB version of this drive is currently $77.99 on Amazon. If you go with the 1TB option, you’ll have to pay $62.49. With such a small price difference between the two, there’s really no reason to go with the 1TB drive.
The Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch is a great budget drive. While it isn’t too quick and isn’t that big on storage, it’s cheap, secure, can be used on both Windows and Mac, and has a fancy fabric coat.
As you might have assumed by now, getting external storage for Macs isn’t really as simple as just finding a drive with the amount of storage you want and plugging it in, as you would with a PC. Usage of iOS devices is on the rise, and so is the number of peripheral devices connected to it. Finding the best-rated external hard drive for Mac is a more difficult process, mainly due to the fact that new Mac laptops come with Thunderbolt 3 ports. Hence, if you have one of the newer Macs, you need to find a Thunderbolt 3 hard drive if you want to reach the maximum possible bandwidth speed.
Other factors that come into play mainly depend on what you need the extra storage for. Here, we’ll go through the evaluation methodology that we rely on in our reviews. At the same time, it can act as a buyer’s guide, helping you choose which hard drive to go with.
SSD vs HDD
One of the core dilemmas most hardware buyers encounter, not just those looking for the best buy external hard drive for Mac, is whether to go with an SSD or HDD.
HDDs or hard disk drives are the old-school storage devices most of us have been using in recent decades. These drives are also referred to as spinning disk drives, due to the circular platter they contain. The speed at which data is read from HDDs is dependent on how fast the disk spins. Due to their architecture, the reading speed you can reach with them is limited and cannot compete with SSDs. However, they are considerably cheaper and typically offer more storage than their speedier counterparts.
There are plenty of HDD contenders for the best 4TB external hard drive for Mac title, and even those with 8TB of storage can be purchased at an affordable price. SSDs on the other hand don’t usually go above 2TB, and the prices for SSDs of this size are often astronomical.
Solid state drives (SSDs) are a newer addition to the storage family, but they’ve been around for a few years now. An SSD drive has no moving mechanical parts like the spinning disks found in HDDs; instead, they rely on NAND flash memory. This affords them greater durability and lets them achieve much greater speeds. The more memory chips the drive has, the greater its storage capacity.
Finding a cheap SSD drive isn’t that difficult, but they are still considerably pricier on a dollar-to-gigabyte ratio than HDDs. If you want an SSD with a terabyte or more, be prepared to shell out at least $100, probably much more. The extra money is worth it, though, as SSD speed is unmatched; while HDDs have an average reading speed of 80-160 MB/s, newer SSDs have a much greater range, with many exceeding 500 MB/s.
So, which option should you go with? The answer to this question lies primarily in what you intend to use the external drive for. If you’re looking to store a massive quantity of files that you don’t need to access or move often, then HDD is the optimal choice. For those searching for the best external hard drive for Mac Time Machine backup, HDDs are also a smarter buy, as they’re cheaper and bear more storage.
On the other hand, users who wish to run software or games straight from the hard drive will find SSDs a lot better suited for this role due to their reading speeds being up to 50 times better than that of HDDs. Additionally, photography enthusiasts who wish to access their photos regularly will probably find HDDs too slow. Basically, an external SSD is ideal for any files that you have to access or move often.
Hard drives are, of course, storage devices, so it’s to be expected that storage capacity is one of the main concerns when purchasing one. In our search for the top external hard drives, we look to find hard drives that combine solid storage capacity with other features like reading speed or encryption.
These days you’ll be hard-pressed to find external storage drives under 512GB on any top lists. While some users might want smaller hard drives, there’s really no reason not to shell out a few more bucks and get something that won’t fill up after you’ve put a few 4K videos on it.
The decision on how much storage to purchase should depend on your needs, but at the end of the day there’s not too much wisdom to it; the more the merrier is the best philosophy. Just bear in mind that in some cases, slightly less storage could be better if the drive is quicker, lighter, or has better encryption.
The best external hard drive for photographers on Mac needs to be a lot quicker than a backup drive, for example. While you won’t care much about slower reading/writing speeds on hard drives you use for backup or to store files you rarely access, it can absolutely make your life miserable if you’re trying to access or copy those files on a daily basis.
Nowadays, most modern PCs and laptops use SSDs, at least for their operating system. If you recall how long it took to boot up Windows on older, slower HDDs, you can get a feel for how grueling it might be to use a Mac external hard drive for accessing high-quality photos regularly. Hence, when browsing for the best portable external hard drive for Mac, pay special attention to read/write speeds.
Hard drive reading and writing speeds are represented in megabytes per second (Mbps). There’s really no situation in which you want reading and writing speeds to be low. Whichever hard drive type you’re aiming for, including HDDs, you want to keep read/write speeds in mind when comparing different models.
Thunderbolt 3 Compatibility
Thunderbolt 3 represents the latest step in USB port technology. Why is that important in your search for the best external hard drives? Well, there are two main reasons. The first is that Thunderbolt 3 technology is currently the most powerful around when it comes to data transfer. The USB-C, the most widely used new port type, has a throughput of 20 Gbps. Thunderbolt 3 is twice as fast, working at 40 Gbps. This will allow you to rapidly send data to and from your peripheral.
The second reason is that all new Mac laptops come with Thunderbolt 3 ports. These ports are physically the same as USB-C ones, meaning that you can plug any USB-C device into a Thunderbolt 3 port and it will work like a charm. However, in order to make the most of your computer’s Thunderbolt 3 capabilities, you need to look for the best Thunderbolt external hard drive for Mac.
Unfortunately, Thunderbolt-compatible hard drives are few and far between at the moment. Still, it’s worth devoting time to finding a Thunderbolt external hard drive, as you’ll be able to transfer files between the drive and your Mac at lightning speed.
Pricing for Mac external hard drives can vary greatly. The cheaper HDD drives start at around $80, while high-capacity SSDs go for several hundred bucks. In our reviews, pricing is one of the core metrics we look at. However, it’s far from being the only one or the dominant factor, as there are many equally important considerations. Furthermore, hard drive prices in most cases accurately reflect the quality of what you’re getting. If you’re looking for the very best options, be prepared to open that coin purse.
Best External Hard Drive for Mac Top 5 List
- Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch
- WD My Passport 5TB
- Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt
- Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch
- Lexar SL100 Pro
Which is the best external hard drive for Mac?
If money’s not a problem, the best external drive we’ve reviewed here is the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch.
Do any external hard drives work with Mac?
That depends on the port compatibility between the drive and your Mac device, as well as on the format type of the drive. In most cases, the drive can be reformatted and you can purchase adapters to make different ports compatible.
What is the best backup device for a Mac?
The best external hard drive for Mac with Time Machine compatibility needs to be reasonably quick and offer excellent storage capabilities. Of those we’ve reviewed, the WD My Passport 5TB drive and the Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch are probably the best choices for backup.
Which brand of external hard drive is the best?
Samsung is widely considered to have the most powerful external hard drives around.
Is Thunderbolt external hard drive worth it?
If you need to regularly transfer huge files between your Mac and the hard drive, then it’s definitely worth purchasing one that works with Thunderbolt. If the drive is just for backup, then it might not be worth paying extra just for the Thunderbolt 3 port.
Do I need a special external hard drive for Mac?
Mac hardware is not as exclusive as Mac software. While a Mac antivirus is built on completely different architecture, it’s much easier to find a dedicated Mac peripheral, with just a few small differences. As we’ve mentioned previously in our best external hard drive for Mac article, you just need to watch out for port and formatting compatibility. With the right formatting and physical connector, any hard drive can be connected to a Mac laptop.