Buying an external hard drive is never an easy task, mostly because there are a crazy number of models on the market. That’s not even taking into account the fact that there are actually two completely different types of hard drive on the market.
There are HDDs — traditional hard drives that are cheaper and have more storage, but are also slower with more likelihood of breaking down. Then there are SSD — solid state storage drives — that are super fast and extremely reliable, but usually hold less and are more expensive.
So what kind of drive should you get for your Mac? It depends on what you’re going to use it for. While a voluminous HDD might not be the best thing for running programs from, it’s perfect for Time Machine backups. However, if you want to run your Photo Library from an external drive, you’ll want a speedy SSD.
While some of the talk from external drive manufacturers is just hype, there are a few that I trust to not fail, that really stand out as the best external hard drives for Mac computers:
Best External Hard Drive Overall
LaCie Mobile SSD
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 — not the fastest on this list, but unless you’re editing large files, like video or graphics, you don’t need a super-speedy drive. 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 Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C (you’ll get the best performance from the Thunderbolt port) and has its own on-board software to work with Time Machine.
Best External Hard Drive with Largest Portable Capacity
WD 5TB My Passport Ultra
Western Digital has been in the storage business since external storage was a thing. That makes recommending the 5TB drive easy to do. 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. With this much space, you’ll be able to keep months of backups at a time. It’s also about the size of a deck of cards, so it’s easily transported. Just make sure you don’t bump it around too much. Unlike similar SSD drives, HDDs aren’t shock-proof.
Best External Hard Drive with Largest Desktop Capacity
G-Technology 14TB G-DRIVE
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. The only real caveat? This is definitely an “external” drive and not a “portable” one. To support this much power, the G-Drive needs to be plugged in. Still, if your Mac’s hard drive is maxed out and you need more space, this is a great way to offload your data.
Most Stylish External Hard Drive
Seagate Ultra Touch SSD 1TB
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.
Most Secure External Hard Drive
Samsung T7 Touch
How do you ensure that someone else 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 has 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.
Most Durable External Hard Drive
LaCie Rugged SSD
The La Cie Rugged SSD is a stand-out for quite a few reasons. It’s a solid performer with a top speed of 950 MBps (using the included Thunderbolt 3 cable). It also has a USB-C cable in case you need to connect to something other than your Mac. But one glance tells you that this Rugged SSD is different. That orange casing protects the drive from up to a six and a half foot drop. It’s also water and dust proof with an IP67 rating, meaning that it can be immersed in up to 1 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.
Best External Hard Drive For DIY
OWC Envoy Pro Enclosure
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.
Fastest Thunderbolt Drive
Samsung Portable SSD X5
If the only thing you’re concerned about is speed, then the Samsung Portable SSD X5 should be at the top of your list. It uses NVMe technology to achieve speeds of up to 2800 MBps. It’s fast enough to edit video, render graphics, really do just about anything that you 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.
Best Bargain External Hard Drive
Seagate Portable 1TB
Listen, sometimes you just need a cheap drive to store stuff. You don’t care how fast it is or whether or not 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 biz. 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. With Seagate, you’ll get a very capable (if not a bit plodding) drive that will last for years.