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If you want the fastest external hard drive for your Mac then you need a Thunderbolt drive so we’ve looked at the best external Thunderbolt drives for Mac of 2022.

Thunderbolt is an advanced data transfer technology developed between Intel and Apple back in 2011 and all Macs now have Thunderbolt ports.

Since around 2017 most Macs have the fastest Thunderbolt 3 ports and the latest Apple Silicon Mac Studio, MacBook Pro and forthcoming M2 Macs have Thunderbolt 4 ports.

In fact, we think that Thunderbolt Drives are easily the best external hard drives for M1 Macs.

There’s no difference in speed between Thunderbolt 3 and 4 but Thunderbolt 4 is a slightly higher standard and can drive more high resolution 4K and 8K external displays on a Mac.

The advantage of Thunderbolt ports is the incredibly high data transfer rates they can achieve compared to the USB-C ports that most Windows PCs have.

You can get data transfer speeds of up to 40GB/s with Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 compared to a maximum of 20GB/s with USB 3.2 Gen 2×2, 10 GB/s with USB 3.1 Gen 2 and 5 GB/s with USB 3.1 Gen 1.

This is particularly important for video editors, musicians and graphic designers that need to edit and transfer large files in seconds rather than minutes.

It also means that using a Thunderbolt drive is the fastest way to backup your Mac via macOS Time Machine.

The fastest Thunderbolt drives are Solid State SSD drives which means they have no moving parts although not all SSD drives support Thunderbolt.

Apart from speed, other advantages of Thunderbolt over USB-C include greater bandwidth to support more than one external monitor, daisy chaining multiple hard drives together and the ability to connect eGPUs (although only on Intel Macs not M1 Macs).

In our research, we found the best thunderbolt drive for Mac is the Samsung X5 SSD for reliability, durability and incredible read speeds of almost 30GB/s.

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Thunderbolt vs USB-C

The difference between Thunderbolt and USB-C is increasingly confusing because since both ports were originally released, there have been several sub-versions since.

Visually, the ports are exactly the same oval shape and support the same cables.

The only way to tell them apart on a device is that Thunderbolt ports are labelled with the lightening strike symbol and USB-C ports are labelled by their standard such as USB 3.1, 3.2 etc.

Things get really confusing however with the multiple standards of USB-C that have been released since it was invented.

There are now 9 versions of USB-C, the latest being USB 3.1 Gen 1, USB-C Gen 2 and more recently, USB-3.2 Gen 2×2 and USB 4.

The first two standards work with Macs and deliver their maximum transfer rates of 5GB/s and 10GB/s with Thunderbolt ports on Macs.

thunderbolt vs usb-c

However the latest USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 and USB 4 do not deliver their maximum speed with Mac Thunderbolt ports.

USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 can deliver speeds of up to 20GB/s (which is half the speed of Thunderbolt but still very fast) but it needs to use both lanes of a USB-C connector to transfer data.

As yet, Macs (including Apple Silicon M1 Macs) do not support dual lane USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 transfers.

External hard drives like the SanDisk Extreme Pro support USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 and deliver transfer speeds up to 20GB/s to Windows PCs.

However, if you connect the SanDisk Extreme Pro to a Mac you will only get speeds of 10GB/s because Macs only support up to USB 3.2 Gen 2 which only utilizes one lane of a USB-C connector at 10Gbps.

So if you have a Mac, any external drive that claims to offer speeds of more than 10GB/s using USB-C 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.

USB 4 meanwhile can go up to the same speed as Thunderbolt (40GB/s) but there are very few USB 4 compatible devices on the market as yet and USB 4 is not compatible with Thunderbolt ports on a Mac.

For more on this confusing and complicated situation, check out our guide to how Thunderbolt vs USB-C and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 affect the real life speed you can expect to achieve with an external hard drive connected to your Mac.

That’s why if you need a really fast external hard drive we strongly recommend sticking to Thunderbolt which is guaranteed to work at maximum speed with Macs compared to USB-C.

The good news is that since around 2017 most new Macs have Thunderbolt 3 ports which are even faster than USB Gen 2×2 and can deliver transfer speeds of up to 40GB/s.

The latest M1 Mac Studio and MacBook Pro even 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 bottom line then is the only way to get really fast read/write speeds above on an external drive connected to a Mac is with a dedicated Thunderbolt 3 SSD drive which is why we’ve looked at the best ones.

Thunderbolt Drive Downsides

On the downside, Thunderbolt drives are some of the most expensive external hard drives on the market in terms of Terabytes per dollar.

Many of the best Thunderbolt drives also only have around 2TB of storage space although this is still enough for 65 hours of 4K 30fps compressed footage or 200K RAW images.

Most have a maximum read speed of 2800 MB/s and read speed of 2400 MB/s which equates to transferring a 15GB 4K video to the drive in 8.7 seconds and your Mac will be able to read the same video in 8.02 seconds.

If you want to see exactly how fast an external hard drive is performing, there are tools like Blackmagic Disk Speed Test which can measure the data transfer speeds of your Thunderbolt drive.

thunderbolt hard drive mac speed test

With all this in mind then, here are the best Thunderbolt external hard drives for Mac of 2022.

1. Samsung X5 Portable SSD

best thunderbolt SSD for mac

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.

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Pros:

  • The best Thunderbolt 3 drive for Mac
  • Incredibly fast read/write speeds up to 3 times faster than most SSDs
  • Manages heat to prevent damage to drive
  • Shock resistant
  • AES 256-bit encryption

Cons:

  • Price
  • Not backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 2

2. Plugable Thunderbolt Drive

best thunderbolt SSD for mac

The Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Drive is available in 512MB, 1TB and 2TB and offers read speeds of around 2400MB/s and write speeds of 1800MB/s.

The Plugable Thunderbolt Drive is both durable and portable with a full metal enclosure which quickly dissipates heat and protects the drive from over heating.

The drive also has an internal power supply so it’s not heavy or bulky at just 6.2oz. It also comes with a useful carry bag so that you can take it anywhere.

The Plugable Thunderbolt Drive is also pre-formatted in exFAT format so that it work for file transfers between macOS and Windows out of the box.

The drive also comes with a 36 month or 1900 TBW (Terra bytes Written) limited warranty.

The disadvantage of the drive is that the Thunderbolt cable is non-detachable so you can’t change it for a longer one. This is to provide the high transfer speeds that the drive promises but it is inconvenient if you can’t have it close to your Mac.

Buy on Amazon

Pros:

  • Incredibly light and portable
  • Good value for money
  • Very high read-write speeds

Cons:

  • Non detachable short Thunderbolt cable

3. G-Technology Thunderbolt G-Drive

best thunderbolt drive for capacity mac

The advantage of the G-Technology Thunderbolt G-Drive is the storage capacity it offers. The G-Technology Thunderbolt G-Drive ranges from 4TB up to 18TB.

The disadvantage is that the G-Technology Thunderbolt G-Drive is a mechanical HDD with moving parts compared to the faster and more durable SSD drives.

However, unlike many Thunderbolt drives, this one also supports USB-C (USB 3.1 Gen 1) which makes it suitable for using with Windows and macOS.

You can also daisy-chain up to 5 additional Thunderbolt drives to the Thunderbolt G-Drive which makes it ideal for those that need huge amounts of offline Thunderbolt storage capacity.

The G-Technology Thunderbolt Drive also has an aluminum case which looks good with Macs and also provides protection from damage and heat.

Buy on Amazon

Pros:

  • Up to 18TB storage space
  • Supports USB-C
  • Supports daisy chaining multiple drives for huge storage capacity

Cons:

  • Not a Solid State Drive
  • Price

4. LaCie Rugged SSD Pro 1TB Solid State Drive

most durable thunderbolt drive for mac

As the name suggests, the LaCie Rugged SSD Pro 1TB Solid State Drive is incredibly strong and durable with IP67 water resistance, three meter drop resistance and up to two-ton car crash pressure resistance.

The Lacie SSD Rugged Pro is aimed mainly at film makers and DTIs on the move that need maximum speed and durability.

The Lacie SSD Rugged Pro is fitted with a 1TB Seagate FireCuda NV Me SSD for read/write speeds of up to 2800MB/s with 4K, 6K and 8K video.

The LaCie Rugged SSD Pro is still small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and includes a Thunderbolt 3 cable which connects to both Macs and Windows PCs.

Lacie also offer a one-month free membership of Adobe Creative Cloud which gives you access to the entire Adobe CC suite including photo and video editing apps.

It also includes a five-year guarantee with a Rescue Data Recovery service if the drive fails.

The main downside is the short cable which is only a few inches long and has to be placed right next to your Mac. If you replace the Thunderbolt cable with a long one, the transfer speeds go down so it seems you’re stuck with a shorter cable on the Lacie Rugged SSD Pro.

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Pros:

  • Incredibly tough and water resistant
  • Extremely small and portable
  • Fast and stable data transfer speeds

Cons:

  • Thunderbolt cable is short
  • Get quite warm with long usage

5. SABRENT Rocket XTRM-Q 16TB

most storage thunderbolt drive for mac

The Sabrent Rocket is one of largest capacity Thunderbolt drives on the market with a maximum of up to 16TB storage space.

The Sabrent Rocket is available in two versions: QLC which offers speeds of up to 2700MB/s and TLC which offers 2400MB/s.

Both work with Macs but the main difference is the TLC version only supports Thunderbolt 3 whereas the QLC version supports both Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2.

The Sabrent Rocket uses quad-level cell and triple-level cell technology and dual disk storage to offer up to 16TB of high speed hard drive space.

It has an integrated temperature and health monitoring system that automatically protects the hard drive from over heating and degrading.

Note that since there are two SSDs in the higher capacity models, you will either get speeds of up to 1400 MB/s per single SSD or up to 2800MB/s when using both drives in RAID 0 mode.

Sabrent is also fully certified by Intel to use Thunderbolt 3 technology in their products so if you need guaranteed Thunderbolt compatibility, you’re sure to get it with the Sabrent.

The big downside of the Sabrent Rocket is the price but for those that need huge amounts of thunderbolt hard drive storage, it’s one of the only ones you can get in this range.

Buy on Amazon

Pros:

  • Storage available up to 16TB
  • Officially certified by Intel for Thunderbolt
  • Integrated health monitoring system

Cons:

  • Price
  • Does get hot
  • Maximum speed requires RAID mode

6. Fantom Drives eXtreme 2TB External SSD

most storage thunderbolt drive for mac

Fantom isn’t the most well known brand in the external hard drive market but the Fantom Drives Extreme External SSD is one of the best value Thunderbolt drives for Mac.

The Fantom Drives eXtreme Thunderbolt 3 external solid state drive can reach read speeds of over 2800MB/s and write speeds of over 2300MB/s.

What we like about the Fantom Drives eXtreme is that it often delivers these speeds in real life whereas many Thunderbolt drives don’t live up to the hype under real world conditions.

For those that want to use it with a Windows PC as well as a Mac, the eXtreme SSD is backwards compatible with USB 3.2 Gen 2 USB-C but at slower 1050MB/s read and write speeds.

The Fantom Drives eXtreme Thunderbolt 3 external solid state drive is remarkably small at just 0.5″ x 2.5″ x 4.25″ and weighs only 9ozs and that includes the internal power supply.

The Fantom eXtreme uses Thermal Dissipation Technology to keep the SSD in optimum condition and is officially licensed as a Thunderbolt 3 product.

Buy on Amazon

Pros:

  • Light and portable
  • Delivers promised read write speeds
  • Nice build finish

Cons:

  • Short Thunderbolt cable
  • Gets warm although dissipates through heat sinks

Best Thunderbolt Drives For Mac Compared

If you’re still not sure which external Thunderbolt storage drive is best for you, here’s a side-by-side comparison to help you decide.

Samsung X5 Portable SSD - 2TB - Thunderbolt 3 External SSD (MU-PB2T0B/AM) Gray/Red
Plugable 2TB Thunderbolt 3 External SSD NVMe Drive (Up to 2400MBs/1800MBs R/W)
G-Technology 4TB G-DRIVE with Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C Desktop External Hard Drive, Silver - 0G05363-1
LaCie Rugged SSD Pro 1TB Solid State Drive — USB-C Thunderbolt 3, Drop Shock Dust Water Resistant, for Mac and PC Computer Desktop Laptop, 1 Mo Adobe CC (STHZ1000800)
SABRENT Rocket XTRM-Q 16TB External Aluminum SSD (SB-DXMQ-8X2)
Fantom Drives Extreme 2TB External SSD - 2800MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 and 4, USB Type-C, Aluminum, Intel Certified, TB3X-2300N2TB
Samsung X5 Portable SSD - 2TB - Thunderbolt 3 External SSD (MU-PB2T0B/AM) Gray/Red
Plugable 2TB Thunderbolt 3 External SSD NVMe Drive (Up to 2400MBs/1800MBs R/W)
G-Technology 4TB G-DRIVE with Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C Desktop External Hard Drive, Silver - 0G05363-1
LaCie Rugged SSD Pro 1TB Solid State Drive — USB-C Thunderbolt 3, Drop Shock Dust Water Resistant, for Mac and PC Computer Desktop Laptop, 1 Mo Adobe CC (STHZ1000800)
SABRENT Rocket XTRM-Q 16TB External Aluminum SSD (SB-DXMQ-8X2)
Fantom Drives Extreme 2TB External SSD - 2800MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 and 4, USB Type-C, Aluminum, Intel Certified, TB3X-2300N2TB
Price not available
$549.00
$445.00
$389.00
$2,899.99
$449.95
-
-
-
Samsung X5 Portable SSD - 2TB - Thunderbolt 3 External SSD (MU-PB2T0B/AM) Gray/Red
Samsung X5 Portable SSD - 2TB - Thunderbolt 3 External SSD (MU-PB2T0B/AM) Gray/Red
Price not available
-
Plugable 2TB Thunderbolt 3 External SSD NVMe Drive (Up to 2400MBs/1800MBs R/W)
Plugable 2TB Thunderbolt 3 External SSD NVMe Drive (Up to 2400MBs/1800MBs R/W)
$549.00
G-Technology 4TB G-DRIVE with Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C Desktop External Hard Drive, Silver - 0G05363-1
G-Technology 4TB G-DRIVE with Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C Desktop External Hard Drive, Silver - 0G05363-1
$445.00
-
LaCie Rugged SSD Pro 1TB Solid State Drive — USB-C Thunderbolt 3, Drop Shock Dust Water Resistant, for Mac and PC Computer Desktop Laptop, 1 Mo Adobe CC (STHZ1000800)
LaCie Rugged SSD Pro 1TB Solid State Drive — USB-C Thunderbolt 3, Drop Shock Dust Water Resistant, for Mac and PC Computer Desktop Laptop, 1 Mo Adobe CC (STHZ1000800)
$389.00
SABRENT Rocket XTRM-Q 16TB External Aluminum SSD (SB-DXMQ-8X2)
SABRENT Rocket XTRM-Q 16TB External Aluminum SSD (SB-DXMQ-8X2)
$2,899.99
-
Fantom Drives Extreme 2TB External SSD - 2800MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 and 4, USB Type-C, Aluminum, Intel Certified, TB3X-2300N2TB
Fantom Drives Extreme 2TB External SSD - 2800MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 and 4, USB Type-C, Aluminum, Intel Certified, TB3X-2300N2TB
$449.95

About The Author

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One Response

  1. Andrew

    I’m curious if you investigated the OWC Envoy drives? I would appreciate knowing how they compared to the drives you tested for this article.

    Reply

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