SSDs (Solid State Drives) are the best external hard drives for Macs and so here we’ve looked at the best external SSD for Mac of 2023 including for the latest M1 and M2 Macs.
SSDs used to be the most expensive hard drives on the market and while they’re still more expensive than mechanical HDD external hard drives, they’re a lot cheaper than they used to be.
The SATA internal hard drives in all new Macs use SSD technology because unlike mechanical drives, SSD have no moving parts meaning they’re far faster, quieter, more efficient and durable.
This is because where HDD drives use spinning platters to save data, SDD drives use NAND memory chips instead.
This also makes them much faster as the average SSD drive can write at up to 1000MB/s which is roughly twice as fast as mechanical HDD drives that write at around 540MB/s.
External SSD drives are therefore ideal for transferring and working with large files for use with video editing software, music production software and powerful graphic design software.
SSDs will also backup your Mac quicker than mechanical drives with apps such as Carbon Copy Cloner or macOS Time Machine.
Not only this but SSDs are much smaller, lighter and stronger than mechanical drives which are far more susceptible to damage from being moved around, knocked or dropped.
Finally, SSD drives also require less cables as they usually take their power from your Mac’s small oval shaped Thunderbolt port (the same port connector as USB-C) so there’s no need for clunky power packs.
In our research, we found the best external SSD for Mac is the Samsung T7 Portable SSD thanks to a combination of speed, reliability, durability and portability.
You May Also Like:
- Best External Hard Drives For Mac
- Best Thunderbolt Drives For Mac
- Thunderbolt vs USB-C & USB 3.2 Gen 2×2
- Thunderbolt & SSD Drives
- Formatting SSD Drives For Macs
- SSD External Drive Downsides
- 1. Samsung T7 Portable SSD 2TB
- 2. Samsung T7 Shield Portable
- 3. SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD
- 4. LaCie Portable SSD
- 5. VectoTech Rapid 8TB External SSD
- 6. WD 4TB My Passport For Mac SSD Portable
- 7. SanDisk 4TB Extreme Pro Gen 2
- 8. Seagate One Touch SSD
- 9. Samsung X5 Portable SSD
- Best SSDs For Mac Compared
- Thunderbolt Ports vs USB-3.2 Gen 2×2
- Can You Use an External SSD Drive as a Boot Drive?
- Do These SSD Drives Work With iPads and iPhones too?
Thunderbolt & SSD Drives
Macs since around 2017 have Thunderbolt 3 ports which are even faster than USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 and can deliver transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps.
The latest M1 Mac Studio, MacBook Pro and M2 Macs have Thunderbolt 4 ports although there’s no difference in transfer speed between Thunderbolt 3 v 4.
You can check whether your Mac has a Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4 port here.
The only way to get read/write speeds above 1000mb/s on an external SSD connected to a Mac is with a dedicated Thunderbolt 3 SSD drive..
Currently, the best external Thunderbolt 3 SSD drive for Mac is the SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD which can read-wrote at speeds of around 2500MB/s via Thunderbolt 3.
Formatting SSD Drives For Macs
Some SSD drives are already formatted for use with Macs but some are only formatted for Windows out of the box.
Since macOS High Sierra, macOS no longer uses the old HFS+ format and now macOS uses Apple File System (APFS) which works across macOS and iOS.
However, any external hard drive that is formatted with HFS+ still works on the latest versions of macOS but using APFS provides better security and cross compatibility with iOS.
If you just intend to use the SSD drive with your Mac and iPad or iPhone then formatting the drive in HFS+ or APFS is fine.
However, if you want to be able to transfer files back and forth between a Windows PC and your Mac then you’ll need to format the hard drive with the exFAT file system.
This is because HFS+ and APFS are not compatible with Windows.
However, it’s easy to reformat any external SSD drive to use with a Mac by following these instructions.
- Open Disk Utility in the Utilities folder under apps.
- Select the Disk and and Click the ‘Erase’ tab at the top.
- You can then select to reformat the drive in 3 different formats:
– Apple File System (APFS): The file format used by macOS 10.13 or later including Big Sur and Monterey
– Mac OS Extended: The file format used by macOS 10.12 or earlier
– MS-DOS (FAT) and ExFAT: The file format that works on both macOS and Windows
If you need more help on reformatting an SSD drive check out our guide on how to format an external hard drive.
SSD External Drive Downsides
The main disadvantage of SSD drives vs standard mechanical external HDD drives is the price as you pay more for less storage space.
SSD drives are usually at least twice as expensive as mechanical HDD drives.
For example, whereas the mechanical WD My Passport For Mac HDD 5TB drive costs just over $100, the WD MyPassport 2TB SDD Drive costs almost $300 for less than half the capacity.
However, SSD drives are definitely worth the extra cost.
External SSD drives also have less capacity and usually only go up to a maximum of around 4TB whereas you can find external HDD hard drives of 18TB or even more.
However, there are some drives such as the VectoTech Rapid External SSD drive that go up to 8TB.
In terms of durability, although SSD external drives are more durable and last longer than mechanical HDD drives, the memory cells in SSD eventually age and die although you should get at least 5 years of usage out of one and probably much more.
This is because Solid State Disks have a maximum number of writes or “endurance” which is referred to as TBW (terabytes written) and is typically 65 to 150 TBW.
With this in mind, here are the best external SSD drives for Mac of 2023.
1. Samsung T7 Portable SSD 2TB
The Samsung T7 Portable SSD TB is overall the best external SSD drive for Mac thanks to incredibly fast read-write speeds of up to 1050 Mbps, portability and reliability.
The Samsung T7 is incredibly small at just 85mm x 57mm x 8mm and weighs just 58 grams so it’s small enough to take anywhere.
The Samsung T7 reads up to 1,050 MB/s and writes up to 1,000 MB/s on USB 3.2 Gen 2 supported devices which includes Macs with Thunderbolt ports.
The Samsung T7 Portable is shock resistant and Samsung claims it can withstand 1500G of G-force equivalent to being dropped from 6.5 feet.
One clever feature is that if the Samsung T7 Portable detects that the SSD drive is getting too hot, it slows down transfer to reduce the risk of damage to the drive and preserve the lifetime of it.
You can also format the Samsung T7 in multiple formats and partitions so for example, you could have half the drive formatted in APFS and the other half in exFAT.
If you want added security, there’s also the Samsung T7 Touch which is exactly the same but includes a fingerprint scanner to unlock it.
The only downside is the Samsung software that comes with it which you don’t have to use but is supposed to help you manage the disk more easily. However, Samsung are often slow to update it for new versions of macOS and it often doesn’t work well with Macs.
If you’re looking for incredibly fast transfer speeds, the latest in SSD technology, portability and durability, the Samsung is the best SSD drive for Mac all round performance and value for money.
- Incredibly fast
- Allows you to partition the drive
- Manages heat to prevent damage to the drive
- Shock resistant
- Samsung software that comes with it
2. Samsung T7 Shield Portable
The Samsung T7 Shield Portable is a tougher, more rugged version of the T7 Portable with a stronger rubber sleeve for outdoor use.
It works out a bit more expensive that the standard Samsung T7 Portable but is a better option if you’re going to be on the move a lot, particularly outdoors.
Samsung claim that the T7 Portable can withstand being dropped from a height of 3 meters and it is IP65 rated for dust and water resistance.
The Samsung T7 Shield Portable is available in 1TB, 2TB and 4TB versions and like the standard version, can be used with the Samsung Portable SSD app for Macs to password protect and encrypt the drive.
The Samsung T7 Shield Portable has a USB-C port and cable but also includes a USB-A adapter for connecting to older Macs.
The dimensions of the Samsung T7 Shield Portable are slightly bigger than the standard T7 model but it still fits into a coat pocket or backpack easily.
With a USB-C connection connected to your Mac, you will get read-write speeds above 1000MB/s with the Samsung T7 Shield Portable which makes transferring files back and forth extremely quick.
- Extremely durable
- Water and dust resistant
- Drop resistant up to 3 meters
- Very portable
- Bit more expensive than the standard T7 model
3. SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD
The SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD was recently released by SanDisk and offers a cheaper Thunderbolt alternative to the Samsung X5 (see review below).
Because it uses Thunderbolt rather than USB-C and you will enjoy read-write transfer speeds of at least 2500MB/s which is roughly twice as fast as most USB-C SSD drives.
Note that although it will work with Thunderbolt 4 connections on the latest Macs, it doesn’t have full Thunderbolt 4 support but you’ll get the maximum Thunderbolt 3 speeds available.
The SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD is therefore aimed at creative users such as video editors and graphic designers that transfer several GB of data regularly.
The SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD is surprisingly durable too with an IP68 rating for water resistance and drop resistant up to 3 meters according to SanDisk.
The SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD is available in 1TB, 2TB and 4TB versions with the biggest version costing around $799.
However, because it’s a Thunderbolt SSD with incredibly fast transfer speeds and impressive durability, the SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD is worth it for those that don’t have time to hang around.
- Supports Thunderbolt for transfer speeds of over 2500MB/s
- IP68 rated with impressive durability
- Also works with USB-C
- No Thunderbolt 4 support
4. LaCie Portable SSD
In terms of speed, the LaCie Portable SSD gives the Samsung T7 Portable a real run for its money with the same maximum read speeds up to 1050MB/s and write speeds up to 1000MB/s.
It’s also just as portable as the Samsung with dimensions of 80mm x 50mm x 106mm with a moon silver finish which suits the look of Macs like the MacBook Pro.
The LaCie Portable SSD feels durable although doesn’t claim to be “shock-proof” like the Samsung does and doesn’t manage heat like the Samusung T7.
You can partition the LaCie Portable SSD into different partitions so that you can have both APFS and exFAT partitions on the same drive.
For those that use Adobe Creative Cloud, Lacie also offer a one month free subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud with every purchase of the LaCie Portable SSD 2TB (although Seagate products offer a free 4 month subscription if this is important to you).
It also comes with a generous 3 year warranty should the hard drive fail for any reason.
- Incredibly fast
- Portable and durable
- 3 year warranty
- Supports partitioning
- Short USB-C cable
- No internal heat management
5. VectoTech Rapid 8TB External SSD
The VectoTech Rapid External SSD is one of the only external SSD drives with a capacity of up to 8TB.
While most external SSD drives have a maximum of 4TB space, the VectoTech Rapid External SSD offers an 8TB model for those that need extra storage space in an SSD.
It has a USB-C port although because it only supports USB 3.2 Gen 2, the maximum transfer speed is a bit slow at 540MB/s for an SSD but if this is not an issue for you, the extra storage space is a huge plus.
The other big plus is that the VectoTech Rapid External SSD doesn’t require an external power supply as it’s powered by the USB-C port.
The aluminum casing is surprisingly durable with drop resistance up to around 1.8 meters (6 feet) and doesn’t get hot to the touch.
Like most SSDs, it’s also incredibly quiet with no moving parts inside like you get with HDDs.
Finally the VectoTech Rapid External SSD works out of the box with Macs as it’s formatted in exFAT format so you can start transferring files or use Time Machine to back-up immediately.
- 8TB of storage available
- No external power supply needed
- Durable and reliable performance
- Relatively slow transfer speed for an SSD
6. WD 4TB My Passport For Mac SSD Portable
WD make some of the best external hard drives on the market and it’s no surprise the WD 4TB My Passport SSD Portable is one of the best SSD external drives for Mac.
The WD My Passport For Mac SSD is the solid state drive version of the incredibly popular WD My Passport For Mac HDD which is the slower mechanical version of this drive.
One thing we like about WD is that they work straight out of the box with Macs so there’s no need to format them first. Just plug it in and Time Machine will start backing-up right away
The WD My Passport SSD can achieve read speeds of up to 1050MB/s and write speeds of up to 1000MB/s although it’s likely you’ll get a little less than this in practice.
The WD My Passport is drop resistant up to 6.5ft (1.98m) and is cross compatible with USB 3.2 Gen-2 and USB-C (USB-A for older systems).
The WD My Passport SSD drive has a USB Micro-B port and comes with two cables: USB-A to USB Micro-B and USB-C to USB Micro-B.
Since Macs have Thunderbolt-3 which uses a type-C port, it works perfectly well with Macs although you won’t quite the speeds of a dedicated Thunderbolt connection.
If you want a reliable, fast and durable drive that works out of the box with Macs, the WD My Passport SSD is one of the best SSD drives for Mac you can get.
- AES-256 encryption
- 3 year warranty
- Up to 4TB storage capacity
- WD backup software
7. SanDisk 4TB Extreme Pro Gen 2
The SanDisk Extreme Generation 2 is not only of the biggest capacity SSD drives on the market with a 4TB version but also the fastest external SSD for Mac on the market.
The SanDisk 4TB Extreme Pro Generation 2 can read at an amazing 2000MB/s (2GB/s) which is 16Gbps compared to most external SSDs that read at 1050MB/s and write at up to 1000MB/s.
This is twice as fast as the older SanDisk Extreme which is not to be confused with this faster Extreme Pro model.
Unfortunately, Mac users can’t enjoy the maximum speed of the SanDisk 4TB Extreme Pro because currently Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 ports do not support the maximum speed of the USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 standard.
The SanDisk Extreme Pro does however still work with Macs but only at around half the advertised transfer speed but if you need a fast external SSD to use between Mac and PC, it’s the perfect choice.
It’s also one of the strongest external SSD drives on the market with up to 2 meter drop protection and IP55 water and dust resistance.
To protect your data, there’s also the option to add a password to it with 256‐bit AES hardware encryption although if you want security, the Samsung T7 Portable Touch includes more secure fingerprint activation.
- Unbelievably fast read/write speeds
- Available in 4TB version
- IP55 water & dust resistant
- 5 year warranty
- Maximum transfer speed not possible with Macs
- Gets hot with intensive use
8. Seagate One Touch SSD
The Seagate One Touch is one of the smallest and lightest SSDs on the market at just 50mm x 70mm x 10.6mm weighing just 74g.
It also claims to be shock proof from a height of 2 meters so it’s pretty robust for such a small device too.
The Seagate One Touch is available in 500MB, 1TB and 2TB versions and comes with a rather short 9 inch USB-A and USB-C cable for both Mac and PCs.
You can use the Seagate One Touch with Time Machine although it also includes its own “ToolKit” backup utility which seems aimed mainly at PC users.
The Mylio Create software that comes with it to manage photos feels also designed more for PC users than Mac users but you don’t need to use it.
With speeds of up to 1000MB/s (1GB/s) it’s also incredibly fast although in practice you it will depend on your Mac and setup whether you achieve these speeds.
Like most Seagate products, the Seagate One Touch SSS also includes 4 months free subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud.
- Very small and lightweight
- Shock resistant up to 2m
- Good value for Time Machine backups
- 4 month Creative Cloud subscription included
- Short 9 inch cables
- Photo management and backup software that comes with it
9. Samsung X5 Portable SSD
If money is no object and you need the fastest speeds for transferring large files from your Mac or the quickest backups, then the Samsung X5 is the fastest and best external Thunderbolt SSD drive for Mac on the market.
The Samsung X5 is a popular choice with video editors that use Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premiere due to its amazing Thunderbolt supported speeds.
The Samsung X5 is the first-ever NVMe-based portable SSD from Samsung with Thunderbolt 3 technology with read and write levels of up to 2,800MB/s and 2,300MB/s respectively.
That’s read speeds almost 3 times quicker than the average SSD and write speeds more than twice as quick as most external SSD drives.
This means it’s capable of transferring a 20GB 4K UHD video from your Mac to the X5 in an incredible 12 seconds.
The Samsung X5 also uses a Thermal Guard to prevent such blazing speeds overheating the drive and will adjust the transfer speeds accordingly to prevent damage to the drive.
The Samsung X5 has a solid metal body with a useful non-slip bottom mat to keep it stable wherever you put it. Even if you do drop it, it’s shock-resistant for drops of up to 2 meters.
You can also protect your data on the Samsung X5 with AES 256-bit encryption.
Note that the Samsung T5 only works with Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 ports. It is not backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 2 ports so make sure you check here whether your Mac has a TB3 ot TB4 port before buying.
- The best Thunderbolt 3 drive for Mac
- Incredibly fast read/write speeds up to 3 times faster than most USB-C connected SSDs
- Manages heat to prevent damage to drive
- Shock resistant
- AES 256-bit encryption
- Not backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 2
Best SSDs For Mac Compared
Although we can’t compare them all in one table here, here’s a side-by-side comparison of the top six best external SSD hard drives for Mac.
Thunderbolt Ports vs USB-3.2 Gen 2×2
The different ports and connectors on external drives is increasingly confusing for Mac users especially when understanding data transfer speeds.
Macs have Thunderbolt ports and most external SSD drives now have USB-C ports with the USB-3.2 standard which connect to Thunderbolt ports but can’t deliver Thunderbolt level speeds.
Some drives like the SanDisk Extreme Pro claim to support speeds of up to 2000mb/s but that’s only for computers that have dual-lane USB 3.2 Gen 2X2 ports which use both lanes of a USB-C connector to deliver transfer speeds up to 20Gbps (2500MB/s).
At the moment Apple Macs including the latest M1 & M2 Macs such as the M1 MacBook Pro or Mac Studio do not support the new USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 standard.
Macs only support USB 3.2 Gen 2×1 which only has one lane at 10Gbps (or 1.25GB/s).
So if you have a Mac, all non-Thunderbolt SSD drives that claim to achieve speeds of more than 1050mb/s won’t achieve them on a Mac because they require USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 ports which only some PCs have at the moment.
For more on this confusing and complicated issue, you can check out our comparison of Thunderbolt vs USB-C connections.
Can You Use an External SSD Drive as a Boot Drive?
Most Mac users buy an external SSD drive for extra storage space but some people want an external SSD drive to boot their Mac from.
This is because using an external SSD as your Mac’s boot drive will make your Mac faster, especially if you’re using an older Mac.
All of the external SSD drives reviewed here can be used as a boot disk with your Mac.
Do These SSD Drives Work With iPads and iPhones too?
All of the SSD drives featured here work with iPad and iPhones as they can be formatted in the APFS format which works on both macOS and iOS.
I’m surprised that you didn’t mention the Sandisk Professional PRO-G40 line. It’s Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C with a price point far lower than the Samsung X5 which seems to be on the way out (it was quite price prohibitive). My guess as to why these Thunderbolt 3 drives would not be downward compatible with Thunderbolt 1 or 2 would be lack of power delivery through the required TB3 to TB2 adapter. Also, 8TB SSD drives are available in SATA 2.5″ form (Samsung QVO) and you can buy an enclosure for them. I’ve been using a USB-C 3.2 enclosure by Cable Matters and it’s working quite well.
The reviews have been updated since it was originally published to include the SanDisk Pro G40 which offers a cheaper alternative to the less available Samsung X5. It’s just a shame it doesn’t fully support Thunderbolt 4 in the latest Macs. Your guess regarding the backward compatibility and power throughput with TB1 and TB2 is correct. Regarding SATA drives, you are also correct although most users don’t want to mess around having to buy a separate enclosure and set them up externally (or have the technical know-how to do so). There is also the VecoTech Rapid SSD external SSD which goes up to 8TB.
Fantastic article — thank you! Question: What about NVME m.2 drives in an external enclosure? Supposedly crazy-fast, but I’m not sure. Have you heard of this or would you have any advice on that type of setup?
Using an NVME m.2 drive is more complicated than getting an SSD drive for a Mac due to the fact that you need to buy the drive and the enclosure. However it would probably work out cheaper per TB although we’ve never tried it yet. It’s likely that there are few that would support Thunderbolt 4 too although there are Thunderbolt 3 options available.
I bough a 16 TB external SSD from Aliexpress. The Windons based laptop see it, but my MacBook Pro late 2018 doesn’t. I proved with disk utility, Tuxera… but the result is the same – it doesn’t work on mac. What I do?
You need to make sure that the SSD is formatted in exFAT format so that it can be recognized by both Windows and macOS.
But Windows 11 see it. Mac OS – nope.
Same happened to me. I returned it after many attempts on a variety of macs! Sure would like a work around!