The best external hard drive for Macs

Allen Foster

One of the best, most affordable ways to protect your Mac is to use an external hard drive with Time Machine to back up your computer.

Everyone should have an external hard drive for their Mac. It doesn't matter if you still have memory or if you use the cloud, an external hard drive dynamically increases the limits of what your machine is capable of doing while protecting all your files.

In order for it to be the best choice for you, an external hard drive must have adequate storage capacity for your files. Western Digital's My Passport, for instance, is an excellent choice as it features a streamlined design and 4TB of storage. To learn more about what to look for in an external hard drive for your Mac, keep reading.

Considerations when choosing external hard drives for Macs

Storage capacity

When shopping for an external hard drive for your Mac, first and foremost, you must decide how much storage you need. After that, every other feature just adds to your user experience.

If you want an external hard drive to store photos or music, you're not going to need nearly as much space as someone who wants to create and edit films and music. Likewise, if you just want to have a secure place for your most valuable documents, you need a fraction of the space an individual needs for backing up an entire computer for restore purposes.

It is important to note that storage capacity is directly tied to cost. If you want something small (1TB or less), you only need to spend around $50. If you want 4TB or more, you're looking at $100 and up.

It is always better to overestimate your needs and get more storage than it is to underestimate your needs and run out of space. Additionally, most external hard drives are like buying in bulk: as you purchase more memory, the price per TB decreases.



There are two ways to power an external hard drive for a Mac: through the data cable or through a cord that plugs into an outlet. The data cable is much more convenient, but some larger hard drives only work with an outlet.


Some manufacturers sell hard drives that are already formatted for a Mac. Purchasing a hard drive that needs to be formatted takes extra time in the beginning and may cause a little bit of confusion for some, but in general, it's not a big deal.


Most Macs are flexible with the type of connectors you can use, and even if you don't have the right port, you can find an adapter. However, it's best to go direct, using the proper connector. Your choices are USB (the slowest), USB-C, or Thunderbolt (the fastest).


If you use your external hard drive in an environment where you want your data to remain secure, look for a hard drive that offers password protection with hardware encryption.


Size is only one element of portability. If you carry your external hard drive around with you, it needs to be small enough to fit in your pocket, or at least to slip into your backpack. Additionally, you want a durable unit that can withstand a few bumps and bangs.


Q. Can I just unplug my external hard drive when I'm done with it?

A. No. On a Mac, you need to first drag the hard drive's icon to the trash (which turns into a "media eject" icon -- a triangle over a bar) and wait for the hard drive icon to disappear before unplugging it. Otherwise, you risk corrupting the data.

Q. Do hard drives last forever?

A. Unfortunately, they do not. Because hard drives have moving parts that eventually wear out, three to five years is the average lifespan of an external hard drive.

Q. Are there signs that let me know my external hard drive might be failing?

A. Any change in normal operation can be a sign that it's time to consider purchasing a new external hard drive. Specifically, look for frequent freezes, crashes, or corrupted data warnings.

External hard drives for Macs we recommend

Best of the best: Western Digital My Passport

Our take: A top choice for Mac users that is backed by reliable performance history.

What we like: Western Digital's My Passport features a slim design and an impressive 4TB storage capacity. It includes auto-backup software and offers password protection with hardware encryption.

What we dislike: Before using with a Mac, you must reformat this hard drive.

Best bang for your buck: Toshiba Canvio Basics

Our take: A sleek 2TB external hard drive that is easily portable.

What we like: The unit is powered through the data cable so it doesn't need to be plugged into an outlet. It is compatible with USB 3.0 and backward compatible with USB 2.0.

What we dislike: Before using with a Mac, this external hard drive requires reformatting.

Choice 3: Silicon Power Rugged External Hard Drive

Our take: A military-grade shockproof external hard drive that is designed specifically for portability.

What we like: This unit is scratch-resistant and features an LED indicator to let you know when the hard drive is connecting and transferring data. The ingenious design lets you attach the cable directly to the hard drive case for ease of transport.

What we dislike: This hard drive only has 1TB of storage, which is an issue if you need to store or back up a large amount of files.

Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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