The technology of external hard drives and connection ports is constantly changing which is why we’ve taken a closer look at the best Mac compatible external hard drives for Mac of 2020 including SSD and Thunderbolt drives.
The great thing for Mac users is that external HDDs have never been cheaper and storage sizes have never been bigger.
Less than a decade ago, you would have paid several hundred dollars for a chunky hard drive with just a few Gigabytes (GB) of storage space on.
Now you can get 5 Terabytes (TB) of portable storage (5000 GB) for little more than $100 – that’s enough to backup several Macs in one go in a portable external hard drive that can fit in your pocket.
Since it’s increasingly tricky to open up newer Macs and upgrade the internal hard drive, buying an external hard drive is a cost effective and convenient solution.
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Do You Need A Special External Drive For Macs?
Almost all external hard drives work with Macs.
However, there are definitely some external hard drives which are more compatible with Macs than others.
Most external hard drives use USB ports to connect to your Mac but new Macs also now have Thunderbolt 3 ports which complicates things a bit.
Also, some are already formatted to work with Macs but others require formatting first.
You can be rest assured however that all the external hard drive featured here work very well with all types of Mac.
If you’re in a hurry, check out the comparison table below for a quick overview of our top picks.
You’ll find more detailed reviews below and you can use the quick navigation links on the right to jump to the section you want.
Best External Hard Drives For Mac Compared
|WD My Passport||Seagate Backup Plus||Transcend Storejet M3||WD MyBook Desktop||WD MyBook Desktop Duo RAID||WD MyBook Thunderbolt Duo||OWC ThunderBay RAID||Samsung T3 Portable SSD||G-Tech Thunderbolt 3||G-Tech 2TB Drive Mobile SSD|
Here then are the best external hard drives for Mac of 2020 in order of ranking.
The Western Digital 2TB My Passport For Mac is the perfect 2TB portable external hard drive for Mac users. It’s ready formatted for use on Mac, Time Machine ready and small enough to fit in your coat pocket. With a 3 year warranty and big enough to backup all Mac hard drives, if you need a simple, fast and reliable backup solution for your Mac, you can’t go wrong with the WD 2TB My Passport.
The WD My Passport for Mac supports USB 3.0/Thunderbolt connections but it will also work with USB 2.0 connections. We recommend paying that little extra for the 5TB which is the biggest version available in the My Passport Range which ranges from 2TB-5TB.
If you’re going to carry it around a lot, we also recommend getting a proper carry case for it too.
The Seagate Backup Plus for Mac is the closest rival to the WD My Passport for Mac. The Seagate Backup Plus For Mac ranges from 1TB to 4GB and like the WD My Passport, it’s ready formatted for use on Macs and Time Machine ready for instant backups as soon as you plug it into your Mac. It also has USB 3.0/Thunderbolt connectors and includes a USB 2.0 adapter cable for older Macs.
The Seagate Backup Plus for Mac also comes with Seagate Dashboard backup software but we found it a bit bloated and hard to customize backups with. There’s really no need to use it if you’re using Time Machine for your backups. Although Seagate don’t make it very clear in the product description, the Backup Plus For Mac has a 2 year warranty which is 1 less than Western Digital.
Be aware however that although Seagate has traditionally had a good reputation in the external hard drive industry, more recently there are far more reports of hard drive problems and customer service issues with Seagate external hard drives. There are also many satisfied customers too but to be on the safe side, you might as well go with WD drives as they’re exactly the same price and in our experience, rock solid. There’s also a shockproof carry case for it and Seagate are offering 2 months free Adobe Creative Cloud subscription included.
The main selling point of the Transcend StoreJet M3 is that it’s incredibly tough. In fact, it claims to be military drop tested with an advanced 3 stage shock protection system and a durable anti-shock rubber outer case.
The Transcend StoreJet M3 also comes with its own software that can be used for one-touch backups. Just press the button on the Transcend and the software will automatically backup. However, you’re much better just using Time Machine which will automatically detect and use it for backups.
It also comes with an extra USB cable to connect to a second USB port in case your Mac can’t provide enough power for it from one connection although most Mac users shouldn’t need this.
If shock protection is important to you, the Transcend StoreJet M3 is a good choice but note that it only comes in a 1TB and 2TB version – there’s nothing bigger. To enhance protection, you can choose from a range of carry cases too.
If you don’t need a portable external drive and are happy to simply have something bigger on your desktop, then look no further than the WD My Book Desktop. We’ve used WD My Book Desktops for over 10 years and never had a problem and would not hesitate to recommend it still.
Unlike the portable version, the WD My Book Desktop has its own power supply which you connect to the mains so it doesn’t draw any power from your Mac. It has a USB 3.0 connection port but also works with USB 2.0 ports. The WD My Book Desktop also comes with its own WD Backup Software which is straightforward but you really don’t need it if you use Time Machine or another backup software. For security, the WD MyBook Desktop also features 256bit AES hardware encryption that password protects your data.
The WD My Book Desktop is available in 3TB going up to 12TB.
If you want the biggest and best encrypted external hard available on the market in 2020 at consumer prices, then go for the WD My Book Duo Desktop RAID. The Duo consists of two drives in one enclosure which can be combined as RAID drives to double capacity and speed. The 16TB drive for example is actually two 8TB WD Red HDDs packed together in one casing. By combining both drives in one, it offers super fast transfer speeds of around 324 Mbps.
The WD My Book Duo Desktop is the cheapest and most reliable external hard drive for Mac which allows you to choose RAID disks. RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is just a way of combining two hard drives into one super hard drive. You can choose between using both drives as RAID 0 (very fast) or RAID 1 (more secure) or divide them both using JBOD. By default, it is configured in RAID 0 but you can easily change it to RAID 1.
If you want to take out or replace on the drives you can also push down on the top of the enclosure and the lid will pop up allowing you to remove the drives.
However, note that you can only use the same drives with the same enclosure. If the enclosure fails for any reason, you can’t just pop out the hard drives and pop them in a new one to save them as each hard drive has a unique encryption key for each enclosure. Enclosure failure is very rare though.
WD SmartWare will automate backups for you and even integrates with DropBox for cloud backups too but you can use Time Machine or any other Mac backup software. Note that this particular WD hard drive does not come ready formatted for Mac but you can easily format it for Mac in a few minutes using Disk Utility in OS X or by following these instructions.
Although it’s a bit on the pricey side, considering you’re getting two Western Digital 8TB hard drives in one enclosure, it’s actually a very good deal. If 16TB is too big, you can also buy it in models ranging from 4TB to 24TB.
It’s also surprisingly quiet for such a large hard drive and there’s no noisy fan as it’s cooled from the bottom vents with warm air flowing out of the top vents.
Thunderbolt 3 drives are still pretty expensive in 2020 and we’d advise sticking to USB 3.0 for now since it offers by far the best value for money and can support transfer speeds of up to 5 Gbps which is more than fast enough for most needs.
However, if you want a Thunderbolt 1 (10 Gbps) or a Thunderbolt 2 (20 Gbps) external drive for Mac and are willing to pay that bit extra, here are the two best Thunderbolt external drives for Mac.
The WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo is designed specifically for Thunderbolt 1 connections delivering transfer speeds of up to 10Gbps. Like the WD My Book Duo, it’s actually two drives combined and has two Thunderbolt connections so that you can access both drives at once if you need to (although note that it only comes with one Thunderbolt cable).
The WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo is quiet and is ready formatted for use on Mac. It’s also RAID 0 ready although it can be configured for RAID 1 too. However, note that if just one drive is configured as RAID 0 and the other as RAID 1, you will lose any data on the RAID 0 drive if anything goes wrong so we strongly recommend using RAID 1 on both which treats them both separately even if it does deliver slower performance.
The WD My Book Thunderbolt duo to available in 4TB, 6TB and 8TB versions. If you want a reasonably priced Thunderbolt external drive for Mac that quiet and reliable, don’t look any further than the WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo.
The OWC ThunderBay Raid is pretty much the fastest and biggest external hard drive for Mac you can get with a maximum of a massive 40TB of storage. It’s also one of the only external hard drives to support Thunderbolt 2 which gives incredible top speeds of 1.3Gbps although in reality, you’ll probably get sustained speeds nearing to 827Mbps which is about as fast as it gets for an external mechanical hard drive at the moment. The OWC ThunderBay also supports RAID 0, 1, 4, 5 and 1+0 meaning you can use each drive separately or combine them for fastest speeds.
The OWC ThunderBay Raid is however one of the most expensive external hard drives you can get for Mac with the largest 40TB of storage costing well over a few thousand dollars. The OWC ThunderBay is mainly aimed at video editors, enterprises and small businesses that need massive storage and ultra fast rock solid performance.
The Thunderbolt 2 connection is enough for video editors to edit and stream 2K or 4K footage from although note that it doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3. Like all OWC external drives, the OWC ThunderBay 4 RAID comes with a 5 year warranty which is the longest you’ll find for a quality external hard drive on Mac.
Overall, the OWC ThunderBay Raid is easily the biggest and most reliable external storage drive for Mac available so if you need some serious storage space, it’s the ultimate external hard drive for Mac.
SSD drives offer the poorest value for money in terms of dollars per TB. They are however extremely fast and silent compared to solid state drives because like your Mac’s internal hard drive, they have no moving parts.
There are very few SSD external drives for Mac that we can strongly recommend but in our opinion, the best consumer priced SSD external hard drive for Mac you can currently get in 2020 is the Samsung T3 Portable SSD.
The Samsung T3 Portable SSD is an SSD external hard drive for Mac with read-write speeds of up to 450 Mbps which is at least twice as fast as most mechanical drives. It’s incredibly small being not much bigger than a credit card and weighs just 1.8 ounces. It works on Mac, PC and Android devices but note that it’s not ready formatted for OS X. The Samsung T3 is shock resistant and there’s less chance of it burning-out that a mechanical hard drive because there are no moving parts. In fact, Samsung claims it can withstand 1500G of G-force equivalent to being dropped from 6.5 feet.
It’s also one of the few external drives for Mac that supports USB 3.1 connections. It has a USB-C port which means you can use a Thunderbolt 3 cable with it although it can’t deliver anything close to Thunderbolt 3 transfer speeds. Note that the T3 comes with a USB-C to USB-A cable in the box.
If you’re looking for incredibly fast transfer speeds, the latest in SSD technology, portability and durability, the Samsung is the one SSD external drive for Mac we would recommend if we had to pick one.
G-Tech is a brand of Western Digital aimed specifically at the Macintosh and creative professional market. G-Tech drives are already formatted to use with Macs (although you can re-format them for use with Windows too). Like most Western Digital products, G-Tech products are reliable, solid and look good.
The G-Tech 4TB Thunderbolt 3 drive can be daisy chained to up to 5 drives and is available from 4-12TB. If you daisy chained 5 12TB drives that gives you a massive 60TB of very high speed storage space.
The Thunderbolt 3 claim is a bit misleading however. Although G-Tech drives have a Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C port with support for USB 3.1 Gen 1, the reality is it can’t achieve the maximum transfer speed offered by Thunderbolt 3. This is because inside it’s still only a 7200RPM SATA hard drive which is only capable of delivering transfer speeds of up to 180MB/s whereas Thunderbolt 3 can go up to 250MB/s.
If you really want to get anything close to Thunderbolt 3 transfer speeds, you’ll need to G-Tech SSD drives (see review below) which are more expensive and have less storage space but because they’re Solid State Drives, can achieve much faster transfer speeds.
G-Tech drives also come with a 5 year warranty so you’ll get a replacement drive within 5 years for free if it fails.
If you’re looking for the ultimate in speed, the G-Tech Mobile 2TB G-DRIVE Mobile SSD is the fastest external hard drive you can get for Mac with transfer rates of up to 560 MB/s.
In fact, it’s easily as fast as any MacBook Pro’s internal hard drive so the G-Tech G-Drive Mobile SSD is one of the few external drives out there that lives up to the Thunderbolt 3 billing.
It’s also incredibly durable with IP67 water/dust resistance, 3M drop tested and 1000lb crush resistance.
The G-Tech Mobile SSD has a USB 3.1 Gen 2 connection but also comes with a USB 3.0 Gen 1 cable for backward compatibility.
It also supports Apple File System (APFS) with encryption.
The downside is that like most SSD drives, you don’t get much storage space for your money. The G-Tech G-DRIVE Mobile SSDs are available in 500MB-2TB size but are expensive for such low capacity.
However, if you’re editing lots of video or doing lots of heavy duty creative work in your Mac, the speed and durability of the G-Tech Mobile SSD range can’t be beat.
What’s The Best External Hard Drive For Mac Time Machine?
The truth is that all of the hard drives featured here work perfectly well with Apple’s Time Machine feature in macOS. Any drive that claims to be “Time Machine” optimized is mainly marketing blurb.
However, if you want to keep things strictly Apple, then you can’t do better than Apple’s own Apple Airport Time Capsule. The Airport Time Capsule performs backups wirelessly and is designed specifically for Time Machine.
It’s available in 2TB or 3TB versions but it’s expensive compared to the other options featured here.
We hope this article has helped clarify the ever-changing and often confusing world of external hard drives on Mac.
There’s never been a better time for Mac users to extend storage capacity with an external hard drive.
External hard drives have never been smaller or cheaper although the range of reliable manufacturers has dwindled significantly.
Today, Western Digital are one of the few left that offer genuine reliability and quality which is why 4 out of our top 8 external hard drives for Mac in 2020 are Western Digital drives.
At the top end of the market, OWC external hard drives are an excellent choice as they specialize in Mac but cost a lot more.
If you’ve got any comments, experiences, issues or suggestions regarding any of the hard drives featured here, let us know in the comments below.