It’s fair to say that a lot of modern laptops are slimming down their internal storage, both to reduce cost and unit weight. Popular laptops such as the Macbook Pro only come with a relatively limited amount of SSD storage. This is super speedy when it comes to booting into the OS but pretty much useful if you want to use the Mac for what it’s actually really good at – content creation of any sort.
Pretty much as soon as you get it out of the box, you are going to need some form of external storage solution. This can be annoying if you travel around with your Macbook a lot, as it something else to carry and potentially drop. It’s far from ideal. The prospect of losing all your work to a damaged drive is not an enticing one.
Even if you use a desktop-based Mac you will soon find the need to add some extra storage to the mix. Here issues such as portability and resilience might not be as important to you but speed of data transfer could well be.
Here is our pick of the five best external hard drives for Macs.
The best external hard drive for Mac in 2021
Lightning-fast via Thunderbolt
This is an article about the best external hard drives for Macs, so let’s start with the one that really takes advantage of Apple’s Thunderbolt port. If you need to transfer files about a lot then look no further, the Thunderbolt connection provides speeds up to twice as fast as USB 3.0.
We are still in that odd space where mechanical drives are the sweet spot for price, even though they are not really ideal in a portable solution because of their fragility, but they do offer larger capacities too.
The Buffalo MiniStation is sturdy in construction and also features a USB 3.0 port on the back as well as the Thunderbolt so it can be used elsewhere at standard USB speeds. Would we like to ultimately see an SSD version so we could truly see fantastic transfer rates, sure we would, but until that time this is out and out the best external hard drive for your Mac, especially if you need a larger capacity to fit your workload on.
It comes in both 1Tb and 2TB flavors to provide a little extra versatility too.
USB-C is fast
If you have always wanted to own a Porsche here’s your chance, and while this might not highlight your mid-life crisis quite as much, it will undoubtedly enable you to give your precious Mac the extra storage it craves.
This Porsche-designed external drive comes from LaCie in a 4TB configuration, which means it’s not an SSD, rather a traditional mechanical HDD, but there are smaller versions that obviously reduce the cost a little.
The biggest bonus is the super-fast USB-C connection, although there are more standard USB connectors on board too, in case you don’t have USB-C. Recent Macbooks do however, and this drive takes great advantage of that extra speed.
The size of the drive must the styling and high-end partnership with Porsche mean you will be paying more for this drive than other 4TB options, but the USB-C connection to your Mac lift it above the majority of the competition.
It looks great and nicely matches Apple’s styling. It certainly doesn’t look out of place sat next to your shiny pride-and-joy. If you have a Mac with USB-C, this comes highly recommended.
Average read/write performance
You wouldn’t necessarily expect a product that is branded as ‘Ultra’ these days to appear in the Best Value category anywhere, but this large-capacity 4TB unit from Western Digital comes in at a very reasonable price under $100.
It can also be bought in variants between 1TB and 5TB so you could trim the cost even further or maybe pick up a couple of smaller sizes to create your own backup solution.
There is nothing out of the ordinary about the My Passport Ultra. It looks nice enough and has a Type C USB connection and comes with WD’s My Passport software, which has cloud storage and high-level encryption for your files.
It is a solid performer, and its price bracket brings it into the range that should definitely consider if you are not overly concerned about speed performance.
This Samsung T5 narrowly missed out on being one of our best picks. It’s the only SSD here which propels it into the stratosphere in speed tests compared to the traditional mechanical hard drives on show. However that SSD-ness also propels it up dramatically through the price barriers.
While you can get a 500GB version for around $100, you are getting close to $300 for the 2TB option, and it is kind of difficult to justify unless speed really is of the essence to you when you can pick up larger storage options for a third of the price.
Where we do love the Samsung T5 though is resilience – we are big fans of no moving parts to break, and this fits that bill perfectly. It might be that it is worth the extra money to you if you work on the move a lot too, and you could always use a more traditional HDD to back up to.
It’s also very portable and much lighter than the other offerings, which again could be useful for folk who need portability.
In short, we haven’t really got a bad thing to say about it other than the price, and that is down to where the industry is at with SSD pricing at the moment, rather than any gouging by Samsung.
Not silent by any means
G-Technology’s offering to the market looks suitably industrial with a metallic grill over the front and a nice logo emblazoned right in the middle of it. Despite this, it is remarkably slim.
A host of connections are present – USB 3.0, eSata and FireWire (remember that?), meaning you can get some pretty impressive speeds from this mechanical drive. It is all cased in aluminum which not only makes things look nice but also shields the innards from light knocks and bashes.
The opening at the front means you can hear the drive clicking and whirring, which some may find irritating, but in truth, it soon fades into all the background noise of your environment.
The 4TB option means you should be covered for storage for some time to come too. It’s a nice drive, the extra ports and design lift it above most of the competition out there today.
Things To Consider
It’s a sad fact of life that mechanical hard drives break. They also aren’t fond of being bashed around. We are in a technological hiatus at the moment where the majority of external storage options are still mechanical drives and will be until the price of large-capacity SSD falls enough, which brings into the conversation the thorny topic of backing up.
Rarely anybody does, but if you need your external HD for your work, just stop to consider the prospect of losing everything on it. Potentially not just the project you are working on, but assets you reuse time and time again, logos, images, and so on. Not nice. It could really be a show stopper for your business.
With that in mind, you might consider buying two, say 2TB models rather than a 4TB, and using one as a backup drive. Either that or invest in a solid cloud-based backup solution for your essential files. If there is one thing sure in life, you will need to restore it at some point in the future!
Do I need it to Mac formatted?
There is a little bit of marketing spin around this area. Many of these drives reviewed here proudly state they are formatted for Mac, and they are, but all that really does is save you a little time and effort. With a little (and we mean little), know how you can format any external drive to work on any system. You can even format them so they work on both simultaneously. So this ‘feature’ is purely one of convenience. Vice versa, you can also take one of the pre-Mac formatted drives and easily format it to work on your PC. Don’t believe the hype people.
The Buffalo MiniStation is a great external hard drive at a reasonable price. Its Thunderbolt connector makes it highly suited to an Apple environment, and this is where it shines. It might not be an SSD – if you specifically want that option look no further than the Samsung T5 on show here – but it still zips along at a tremendous speed thanks to the proprietary connection. I would always point to the Things to Consider box regarding finding yourself a decent backup solution too.