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Best Thunderbolt External Hard Drives For Mac of 2024

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If you want the fastest external hard drive for your Mac then a Thunderbolt drive is the answer.

Thunderbolt is an advanced data transfer technology first developed between Intel and Apple back in 2009 under the project name “Light Peak” and all Macs now have Thunderbolt ports.

Since around 2017 most Macs have the fastest Thunderbolt 3 ports and the latest Apple Silicon Macs have Thunderbolt 4 ports.

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

Why Use Thunderbolt Drives?

The big advantage of Thunderbolt ports is the incredibly high data transfer rates they can achieve compared to USB-C only ports.

You can get data transfer speeds of up to 40Gb/s with Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 compared to to USB-C standards such as 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.

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 drives therefore save valuable time waiting around for transfers of large files to finish.

This is particularly important for those in creative fields such as video editing and graphic design that often require editing and transferring large files in seconds rather than minutes.

Using a Thunderbolt drive is also the fastest way to backup your Mac via macOS Time Machine as transfers take seconds rather than minutes.

In terms of durability, Thunderbolt drives are Solid State Drives too which means they have no moving parts inside and are less likely to get damaged from movement.

Apart from speed and durability, 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 on Intel Macs.

Thunderbolt vs USB-C

If you’ve already been looking for an external drive, then you may have noticed that many of them support USB-C but very few support Thunderbolt.

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

USB-C and Thunderbolt ports are exactly the same oval shape and support the same cables.

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

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

Things have gotten 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.

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 Macs) do not support dual lane USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 transfers.

External 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 it 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 10Gb/s.

So if you have a Mac, any non-Thunderbolt external drive that claims to offer speeds of more than 10Gb/s using USB-C won’t achieve them.

USB 4 meanwhile can go up to the same speed as Thunderbolt (40Gb/s) but as yet, there are no USB 4 external drives on the market yet.

For more on this confusing and complicated situation, check out our guide to Thunderbolt vs USB-C for a full explanation.

You can check whether your Mac has a Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4 port here.

If you want to see exactly how fast your current external hard drive is performing with your Mac, the best tool to use is the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test app.

With this in mind, here are the best Thunderbolt external drives for Macs of 2024.

1. SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD

best thunderbolt drive for mac

The SanDisk Professional Pro-G40 SSD was recently released by SanDisk and is the best thunderbolt drive for Mac.

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 solid Thunderbolt 3 speeds.

In our tests, it achieved incredible Write speeds of 2640 MB/s and Read speeds of 2747 MB/s via Thunderbolt 4 on an M3 MacBook Pro.

Read/Write speed of the SanDisk Pro G40.

It’s also a cheaper alternative to the popular Samsung X5 Portable which is now discontinued.

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.

It 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.

You can see just how fast it is below in our testing where it managed to transfer 20GB of data from our Mac in just 1 minute and 39 seconds.

For a more in-depth look, you can check-out our full SanDisk Pro G-40 review.

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Pros:

  • Supports Thunderbolt for transfer speeds of over 2500MB/s
  • IP68 rated with impressive durability
  • Also works with USB-C
  • Excellent alternative to the Samsung X5

Cons:

  • Price
  • Not backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 2

2. 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.

It 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.

Buy on Amazon

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

3. SABRENT Rocket XTRM-Q

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.

It 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.

Availability of the 1TB, 2TB and 4TB models is quite good but the availability of the higher storage models of 8TB and 16GB is limited and you may find they are frequently out of stock.

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

4. 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.

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.

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

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Pros:

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

Cons:

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

5. 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.

It 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

6. 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

Price Comparison

If you’re still not sure which external Thunderbolt storage drive is best for you, here’s a side-by-side price comparison to help you decide. Bear in mind that prices vary according to capacity and other sizes are available.

SanDisk Professional 2TB PRO-G40 SSD - Up to 2700MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps), USB-C (10Gbps), IP68 dust/Water Resistance, External Solid State Drive - SDPS31H-002T-GBCND
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 4TB USB 3.2 / Thunderbolt 3 External SSD (SB-XTMQ-4TB)
Fantom Drives Extreme 2TB External SSD - 2800MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 and 4, USB Type-C, Aluminum, 3D NAND TLC, TB3X-2300N2TB
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
SanDisk Professional 2TB PRO-G40 SSD - Up to 2700MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps), USB-C (10Gbps), IP68 dust/Water Resistance, External Solid State Drive - SDPS31H-002T-GBCND
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 4TB USB 3.2 / Thunderbolt 3 External SSD (SB-XTMQ-4TB)
Fantom Drives Extreme 2TB External SSD - 2800MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 and 4, USB Type-C, Aluminum, 3D NAND TLC, TB3X-2300N2TB
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
$249.99
$203.32
Price not available
$249.66
$269.99
$445.00
Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime
-
Amazon Prime
-
-
SanDisk Professional 2TB PRO-G40 SSD - Up to 2700MB/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 2700MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps), USB-C (10Gbps), IP68 dust/Water Resistance, External Solid State Drive - SDPS31H-002T-GBCND
$249.99
Amazon Prime
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)
$203.32
Amazon Prime
SABRENT Rocket XTRM-Q 4TB USB 3.2 / Thunderbolt 3 External SSD (SB-XTMQ-4TB)
SABRENT Rocket XTRM-Q 4TB USB 3.2 / Thunderbolt 3 External SSD (SB-XTMQ-4TB)
Price not available
-
Fantom Drives Extreme 2TB External SSD - 2800MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 and 4, USB Type-C, Aluminum, 3D NAND TLC, TB3X-2300N2TB
Fantom Drives Extreme 2TB External SSD - 2800MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 and 4, USB Type-C, Aluminum, 3D NAND TLC, TB3X-2300N2TB
$249.66
Amazon Prime
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)
$269.99
-
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
-

Thunderbolt External Drive Downsides

The main downside to all of these Thunderbolt drives is that they are some of the most expensive external hard drives on the market.

Mechanical HDDs are much cheaper but also much around 20 times slower.

There are cheaper SDDs too but most of the non-Thunderbolt ones only work at half the speed of a Thunderbolt SDD.

Thunderbolt drives are also limited in capacity compared to other types of dives.

Most have a maximum capacity of around 2TB of storage space although this is still enough for 65 hours of 4K 30fps compressed footage or 200K RAW images.

Formatting Thunderbolt Drives

Most Thunderbolt compatible 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.

Any external hard drive 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 Thunderbolt 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.

For more on this, check out our guide on how to format an external drive for a Mac.

What Happened To The Samsung X5?

For a long time, the Samsung X5 was our pick as the best external Thunderbolt hard drive for Macs.

The Samsung X5 was 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.

It achieved such amazing speeds by being the first Thunderbolt drive to use a Thermal Guard to prevent such blazing speeds overheating the drive and could adjust the transfer speeds accordingly to prevent damage to the drive.

However, Samsung has discontinued it with not official reason given as to why.

samsung x5 discontinued

Our recommendation is to use the SanDisk Professional Pro G-40 SSD which is the best alternative to the Samsung X5.


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