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Best External Hard Drives For Mac of 2024

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External hard drives are an easy and cost effective way to increase the storage space of your Mac but with so many on the market, it can be confusing deciding which one to go for.

We therefore reviewed the best Mac compatible external hard drives of 2024 to help make choosing one a bit easier.

It’s now pretty much impossible to upgrade the storage internally on the latest Apple Silicon Macs and so using an external hard drive is a quick and easy solution.

The great thing is that the cost of all types of hard drives is constantly falling and you now get more bang for your buck than ever before.

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 up 5 Terabytes (TB) of portable storage (that’s a whopping 5000 GB) for little more than $100.

However, not all external drives work as well with Macs as others and the constantly evolving standards of connection ports means there are some booby traps for Mac users to be aware of.

Here we explain all the things to look for when using an external drive with a Mac and outline which we think are the best ones.

All of the drives we’ve looked at are suitable for all models of Macs including MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac Studio.

HDD, SSD & Thunderbolt

Before we dive in, it’s important to understand that there are basically three types of external drive on the market that can be used with Macs.

  • HDDs (Hard Disk Drives also known as mechanical drives) which are the cheapest but slowest because they have moving parts inside which we’ve mainly focused on in these reviews. The typical read/write speed for these drives is around 115 MB/s.
typical external hdd read write speeds
The typical read/write speed for an external Hard Disk Drive (HDD) is around 115 MB/s which is much slower than an SDD.
  • SDDs (Solid State Drives) which have no moving parts inside so they are faster but more expensive. The typical read write/speed of an SSD is around 1050 MB/s. However, since most of them use USB 3.2 Gen 2.2 connections, Mac users will only typically see just over half of this. If you only want an SSD then we recommend reading our guide to the best SSDs for Mac instead.
typical speed of an external sdd with a mac
SDDs can read/write at up to up to 1000 MB/s via USB 3.2 Gen 2 connections and 2000 MB/s via USB 3.2 Gen 2.2. However, since Macs don’t fully support the USB 3.2 standard, you’ll get speeds of more like 650 MB/s with a USB 3.2 Gen 2 device and around 1250 MB/s with a USB 3.2 Gen 2.2 device.
  • Thunderbolt drives which are all SSDs but are the fastest and most expensive drives due to Thunderbolt transfer speeds. The typical read/write speed of a Thunderbolt SSD is around 2500 MB/s. That’s around 50GB of data transferred in less than a minute. If you want the very fastest hard drives you can get for a Mac then we strongly recommend checking-out our guide to the best Thunderbolt drives for Mac.
typical read write speed of a thunderbolt ssd with a mac
Thunderbolt SSDs are the fastest drives available and you can expect read/write speeds of around 2500MB/s when connected to a Thunderbolt 3 or 4 port.

Thunderbolt vs USB-C

All Macs have Thunderbolt ports which use the same oval USB-C ports that you get on PCs and other devices.

So any external hard drive that supports connecting via USB-C or Thunderbolt will work with a Mac.

Thunderbolt and USB-C use the same ports on Macs – but deliver very different transfer speeds with external hard drives.

However, as explained above, the transfer speeds you get from a USB-C only external hard drive won’t be as fast as a Thunderbolt drive due to technical limitations between USB-C and Macs.

For more on this, check out our guide to USB-C vs Thunderbolt.

If you want the maximum data transfer speeds possible, we strongly recommend looking for an external drive that supports Thunderbolt.

With this in mind, here is our selection of the best external hard drives for Macs of 2024.

1. WD My Passport For Mac HDD

wd my passport for mac

We think the Western Digital My Passport For Mac is the best overall external hard drive for Macs due to a solid combination of reliability, value for money and portability.

Western Digital are the biggest name in external storage and now own other popular brands such as SanDisk and Hitachi storage devices.

For those that want a drive for backups, the WD My Passport For Mac is ready formatted for use on Mac and Time Machine ready out of the box.

For those that want portability too, the WD My Passport is small enough to fit in your coat pocket.

If you’re going to carry it around a lot however, we also recommend getting a proper carry case for it too as because it’s an HDD with moving parts inside, it’s more prone to damage than an SSD.

There is also however an SSD version of this drive available but it’s more expensive and only goes up to 4TB.

5TB is the biggest version available in the My Passport Portable HDD range although the cheapest starts at just 500GB.

The drive supports USB-C connections but it will also work with older USB 2.0 connections which makes it compatible with both older Intel Macs and newer Apple Silicon Macs.

The one slight drawback of the product is the optional WD Discovery software used to manage it does not work natively on Apple Silicon Macs.

It still works using Rosetta in macOS but the performance can be unstable although you really don’t need to unless you want to set a password or download your social media data onto it.

You can also check out our full WD My Passport For Mac Portable review for a more in-depth look.

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Pros:

  • Very reliable
  • Works with both older Intel Macs and Apple Silicon Macs
  • Ready formatted for Macs
  • Good value for money
  • Supports USB-C connections
  • 3 Year Warranty

Cons:

  • Limited to maximum of 5TB
  • WD Discovery software
  • Slow compared to SSD drives

2. SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD

SanDisk Professional Pro-G40

The SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD is the fastest external drive we’ve ever used on a Mac and our pick as best external Thunderbolt drive for Macs.

Because it supports Thunderbolt rather than just simply connecting via USB-C, it’s capable of ridiculously fast transfer speeds of at least 2500MB/s.

That’s around 50GB of data transferred in less than a minute.

The SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD is mainly aimed at creative users such as video editors and graphic designers that transfer several GB of data regularly.

It’s surprisingly durable too with an IP68 rating for water resistance and drop resistant up to 3 meters according to SanDisk.

In addition, it is available in 1TB, 2TB and 4TB versions with the biggest version costing around $399.

The SanDisk Pro G40 is also an excellent, cheaper replacement for the Samsung X5 which used to be the best Thunderbolt drive out there but is now discontinued.

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Pros:

  • Supports Thunderbolt for transfer speeds of around 2500MB/s
  • IP68 rated with impressive durability
  • Also works with any computer with a USB-C port
  • Cheaper alternative to the discontinued Samsung X5

Cons:

  • Price

3. Samsung T7 Portable SSD

Samsung T7 Portable SSD

The Samsung T7 Portable SSD is the best external SSD for Mac we’ve seen outside of the incredibly fast Thunderbolt SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD.

The Samsung T7 SDD has a USB-C connection which will connect to any Thunderbolt port on a Mac but also comes with a USB-C to USB-A cable in the box for backwards compatibility.

The Samsung T7 Portable can read/write at up to 1050 MB/s although because it’s not Thunderbolt and relies on USB 3.2 Gen 2.2, Mac users will only see around 650 MB/s.

It can be used with Mac, PC and Android devices although it’s not ready formatted for macOS out of the box so you’ll have to format it yourself.

In terms of size, the T7 is incredibly portable as it’s not much bigger than a credit card, weighing just 58 grams.

Although this also makes it easy to drop, the Samsung T7 is shock resistant and Samsung claims it can even withstand 1500G of G-force, equivalent to being dropped from 6.5 feet.

If you want a fast, portable SSD that doesn’t come with a Thunderbolt price-tag, the Samsung T7 is an excellent external drive for Mac users.

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Pros:

  • Super fast SSD drive technology
  • Silent hard drive
  • Incredibly small and compact
  • Shock resistant

Cons:

  • Price compared to external mechanical HDD drives
  • Samsung software that comes with it
  • Doesn’t support full Thunderbolt speeds

4. Transcend StoreJet 25M3C HDD

Transcend StoreJet 25M3C

The best thing about the 4TB Transcend StoreJet is that it’s incredibly tough which makes it ideal for using on the move.

For those that need a storage or backup device to use out in the field such as photographers and video makers, it’s the most durable hard drive we’ve seen.

In fact, Transcend claim that the StoreJet is military drop tested with an advanced 3 stage shock protection system thanks to an incredibly strong anti-shock rubber outer case.

The Transcend StoreJet 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 your data although it also works with Time Machine.

Although there is an older USB 3.0 version of the StoreJet, the 25M3C model also has a USB-C port so it can also be used with Apple Silicon Macs.

The slight drawback is that its not ready for Macs out of the box so you must format it first although this is very easy to do.

In tests, we’ve seen read/write speeds of around 115MB/s with the StoreJet 25M3C which is typical for an HDD.

If you’re going to using an external storage device outside, the Transcend StoreJet is the strongest external hard drive for Mac we’ve seen.

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Pros:

  • Incredibly strong and durable
  • One touch backup system
  • Encrypts files and folders

Cons:

  • Requires formatting first to work with Macs
  • Slow compared to SDDs

5. Seagate Ultra Touch HDD

Seagate Ultra Touch HDD

Seagate is one of the biggest names in external hard drives and also the most environmentally conscious offering an “eco-friendly” 30% recycled version of its hard drive.

The Seagate Ultra Touch HDD features a USB-C connection that will connect to any Apple Silicon Mac with capacities going from 500GB to 5TB.

The smaller capacity models are available in white while the bigger ones are available in grey.

It’s also formatted out of the box for use on Macs and Time Machine ready for instant backups.

It also comes with the Seagate Dashboard backup software although its quite bloated and hard to customize so we recommend sticking to Time Machine for backups.

The Ultra Touch HDD is ultra-portable and light enough to put in your coat pocket or backpack.

However, it’s not drop resistant although you can also get a shockproof carry case for it.

Users in the USA can also take advantage of Seagate Rescue Services to try and recover data if the drive gets damaged.

You should get read-write speeds of around 130MB/s which isn’t bad for a portable HDD although this is painfully slow compared to an SSD.

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Pros:

  • Works out of the box with Macs
  • Compatible with Thunderbolt ports via USB-C
  • Time Machine ready
  • Very portable

Cons:

  • Seagate backup software
  • Slow compared to SSDs

Price Comparison

Here’s how these external drives compare in price. As you can see, HDDs are considerably cheaper than SSDs but as we’ve already covered, much slower too.

Western Digital WD 4TB My Passport for Mac, Portable External Hard Drive with backup software and password protection, Blue - WDBA2F0040BBL-WESN
SanDisk Professional 2TB PRO-G40 SSD - Up to 3000MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps), USB-C (10Gbps), IP68 dust/Water Resistance, External Solid State Drive - SDPS31H-002T-GBCND
SAMSUNG T7 Portable SSD, 2TB External Solid State Drive, Speeds Up to 1,050MB/s, USB 3.2 Gen 2, Reliable Storage for Gaming, Students, Professionals, MU-PC2T0H/AM, Blue
Transcend TS4TSJ25M3C 4TB USB 3.1 StoreJet Type-C Rugged External Hard Drive
Seagate Ultra Touch HDD 5TB External Hard Drive - 15mm, Pebble Grey, Post-Consumer Recycled Material, 6mo Dropbox and Mylio, Rescue Services (STMA5000400)
Western Digital WD 4TB My Passport for Mac, Portable External Hard Drive with backup software and password protection, Blue - WDBA2F0040BBL-WESN
SanDisk Professional 2TB PRO-G40 SSD - Up to 3000MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps), USB-C (10Gbps), IP68 dust/Water Resistance, External Solid State Drive - SDPS31H-002T-GBCND
SAMSUNG T7 Portable SSD, 2TB External Solid State Drive, Speeds Up to 1,050MB/s, USB 3.2 Gen 2, Reliable Storage for Gaming, Students, Professionals, MU-PC2T0H/AM, Blue
Transcend TS4TSJ25M3C 4TB USB 3.1 StoreJet Type-C Rugged External Hard Drive
Seagate Ultra Touch HDD 5TB External Hard Drive - 15mm, Pebble Grey, Post-Consumer Recycled Material, 6mo Dropbox and Mylio, Rescue Services (STMA5000400)
$119.99
$250.94
$199.99
$141.97
$164.97
Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime
Western Digital WD 4TB My Passport for Mac, Portable External Hard Drive with backup software and password protection, Blue - WDBA2F0040BBL-WESN
Western Digital WD 4TB My Passport for Mac, Portable External Hard Drive with backup software and password protection, Blue - WDBA2F0040BBL-WESN
$119.99
Amazon Prime
SanDisk Professional 2TB PRO-G40 SSD - Up to 3000MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps), USB-C (10Gbps), IP68 dust/Water Resistance, External Solid State Drive - SDPS31H-002T-GBCND
SanDisk Professional 2TB PRO-G40 SSD - Up to 3000MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps), USB-C (10Gbps), IP68 dust/Water Resistance, External Solid State Drive - SDPS31H-002T-GBCND
$250.94
Amazon Prime
SAMSUNG T7 Portable SSD, 2TB External Solid State Drive, Speeds Up to 1,050MB/s, USB 3.2 Gen 2, Reliable Storage for Gaming, Students, Professionals, MU-PC2T0H/AM, Blue
SAMSUNG T7 Portable SSD, 2TB External Solid State Drive, Speeds Up to 1,050MB/s, USB 3.2 Gen 2, Reliable Storage for Gaming, Students, Professionals, MU-PC2T0H/AM, Blue
$199.99
Amazon Prime
Transcend TS4TSJ25M3C 4TB USB 3.1 StoreJet Type-C Rugged External Hard Drive
Transcend TS4TSJ25M3C 4TB USB 3.1 StoreJet Type-C Rugged External Hard Drive
$141.97
Amazon Prime
Seagate Ultra Touch HDD 5TB External Hard Drive - 15mm, Pebble Grey, Post-Consumer Recycled Material, 6mo Dropbox and Mylio, Rescue Services (STMA5000400)
Seagate Ultra Touch HDD 5TB External Hard Drive - 15mm, Pebble Grey, Post-Consumer Recycled Material, 6mo Dropbox and Mylio, Rescue Services (STMA5000400)
$164.97
Amazon Prime

What’s The Best External Hard Drive For M-chip Macs?

All the external hard drives we’ve looked at here work with M-series chip Macs as they all connect via USB-C or Thunderbolt connections that are present on Apple Silicon Macs.

The fastest hard drives for M-series Macs are Thunderbolt drives though and our top Thunderbolt pick was the SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD.

What External Hard Drive Does Apple Recommend?

Apple doesn’t manufacture it’s own external hard drives and doesn’t recommend any particular models to Mac users.

The only officially Apple endorsed hard drive is the Apple Airport Time Capsule but it was discontinued in 2018.

Time Capsule worked over your WiFi connection so backups were performed wirelessly when used with macOS Time Machine.

However, we don’t recommend getting a refurbished Apple Airport Time Capsule for a couple of important reasons.

The main reason is that it’s discontinued by Apple and nowadays you can only buy refurbished ones.

Another reason is that the Airport Time Capsule only offers a maximum of 2 or 3 TB of storage space depending on which model you get.

Finally, backing-up via WiFi is also much slower than using an external hard drive connected with either a USB-C port or Thunderbolt connection.

Our advice is all of the external drives we’ve looked in this article offer much better alternatives to the Airport Time Capsule for backups and external storage.

Do All External Hard Drives Work With Macs?

Almost all external hard drives work with Macs but there are a few important things to be aware of to avoid disappointment.

Formatting

Firstly, although many external hard drives are already formatted to work out-of-the-box to plug-and-go with macOS, not all are.

Some require formatting first and the file format you use will depend on whether you want to use the drive on Apple only products or transfer files between macOS and Windows.

If you want the drive to work with both Mac and Windows PCs then you need to format it in the exFAT or FAT32 format which works with both machines.

FAT32 however is limited to file transfers of 4GB so almost all drives that are to be used with both macOS and Windows need to be formatted in drives in exFAT format.

If you’re only going to use the drive with Macs using macOS High Sierra or later, then Apple’s APFS format is the best format to use.

Fortunately, it’s very easy to format an external hard drive to work with Macs.

Speed Limitations

Most external hard drives nowadays use USB-C ports (which are confusingly subdivided into USB 3.1 Gen 1, Gen 2 and Gen 2×2).

There is also now USB 4.0 which offers the same speeds as Thunderbolt 3 and 4 although at the moment, there are no external hard drives that support USB 4.0 for technical reasons.

Most Macs since around 2017 have Apple Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 ports which support more than twice the transfer speed than USB-C 3.2 ports can.

The fastest and arguably the most Mac compatible external hard drives are therefore dedicated Thunderbolt hard drivesbut they are also the most expensive.

There’s no difference in transfer speeds between Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 but Thunderbolt 4 ports have stricter standards with slightly more flexibility and power when it comes to connecting external monitors.

You can however plug any USB-C external drive into a Thunderbolt port on a Mac as they use exactly the same port but there is a catch to be aware of for Mac users.

However, you won’t be able to enjoy the maximum speed advertised by the manufacturer with a Mac due to limitations between USB-C vs Thunderbolt.

Mac External Hard Drive FAQ & Tips

If you’ve still got some doubts and questions about buying an external drive for your Mac, here are a few things to consider.

Reliability

Manufacturers rate the reliability of their hard drives with “Annualized Failure Rates“. However, these figures should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Although many manufacturers quote an Annualized Failure Rates of less than 1% (AFR is a percentage of total hard drives sold that fail annually) everyone uses hard drives in different ways.

For example, those that leave their external hard drives switched on all the time or use it constantly for video editing are going to experience more frequent failures than those that only switch them on occasionally for backups.

Most manufacturers will guarantee at least two years of reliability and some offer up to five year guarantees although in reality, all external hard drives should outlast this with moderate use.

Of course, any such guarantees are little compensation in terms of your precious data in the case of failure.

You will have lost all of your files anyway but at least you’ll get a free replacement from the manufacturer.

If you want to learn more about why hard drives fail, you can find an interesting look at hard drive reliability here.

Use A Second Backup Solution

If you’re using an external hard drive on your Mac for performing backups, you should also consider using a second backup solution.

The chances of two external hard drives failing at the same moment are extremely slim so if your backups are really important, using two drives is the best thing you can do for backups.

If you don’t want to purchase a second drive, alternatively you can make sure you’re using a cloud backup solution in tandem with your external hard drive.

WD products for example also allows you to backup to it’s own Cloud service Western Digital MyCloud although this of course costs extra.

For Mac and iOS users however, the easiest solution is to backup using Apple’s iCloud alongside your external hard drive.

You get 5GB of free online storage with iCloud with plans starting at just $0.99 per month for up to 50GB of storage.

Handling The Drive

External Mechanical HDD drives have moving parts which read the magnetic surface of the drive.

It’s therefore important never to move an external HDD when it is switched on.

There is a danger that the read/write heads can move and make contact with the hard drive in which case, it will break immediately.

This is not a problem however with Solid State Drives (SSD) which have no moving parts inside.

The internal hard drive on all Macs are SSD drives which is why it’s perfectly safe to carry around a MacBook even when it’s switched-on and not worry about damage from movement.

How Much Storage Is Enough?

External hard drives now offer massive amounts of storage space and the starting point in most external hard drives is now generally at least 1 Terabyte or more.

1 TB equals 1000GB and is roughly equivalent to 488,000 photos and 220 full length movies so a 5TB hard drive could be enough for a lifetime of photos or music for most people (see the table below).storage comparison table

There’s no right or wrong answer when it asking yourself “how much storage storage space do I need?”.

Our advice is simply to buy the biggest you can afford.

Cloud storage solutions are certainly reducing the need for physical storage but the bigger your external storage device is, the more it can grow with you.

As photos and videos increase in size (most digital cameras can film in 4K and iPhones can even film in 8K nowadays) which eats massive amounts of hard drive space so the bigger the better.

Connection Ports & Speeds

The business of connection ports on Macs can be extremely confusing as USB-C standards constantly change and Apple seemingly keeps changing ports on every new generation of Mac.

Data transfer speeds are measured in “Megabits per second” (Mbps) or “Gigabits per second” (Gbps). 1000 Mbps equals 1 Gbps.

Connector Speed
Firewire 400 400 Mbps
USB 2.0 480 Mbps
Firewire 800 800 Mbps
USB 3.0 5 Gbps
USB 3.1 10 Gbps
USB-3.2 Gen 2×2 20 Gbps
Thunderbolt 1 10 Gbps
Thunderbolt 2 20 Gbps
Thunderbolt 3/4 40 Gbps

Since 2012, Macs ditched Firewire in favor of Thunderbolt 3 connections offering staggering maximum data transfer speeds of up to 40 Gigabits per second (Gbps).

The latest Apple Silicon Macs have Thunderbolt 4 ports which offers the same speed as Thunderbolt 3 but more power when it comes to driving external monitors.

There are now an increasing number of Thunderbolt external drives on the market which are the fastest external drives for Mac you can get.

However, it is still USB-C connections that are used by most external drives.

USB-C ports are the same size as Thunderbolt and are interchangeable with Thunderbolt cables and devices .

However, USB-C does not offer the same speeds as Thunderbolt as explained here.

Power Surge Protectors

Finally, one thing that can instantly destroy your hard drive is a power surge in your home or office electricity supply.

However, you can easily protect against this with a cheap Surge Protector Power Strip which is well worth the investment (and for your Mac too).


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