Best External Hard Drive For Mac 2021

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It’s never been easy to upgrade the memory or storage in Macs, so it’s always a good idea to buy an external drive to provide extra storage for all your work files, photos, videos and games. And, of course, you should always have an external drive available for making Time Machine back-ups in case anything ever goes wrong.

Modern solid-state drives (SSD) are the best option as they’re really fast, reliable and compact. However, SSDs are still relatively expensive, with 1TB drives costing around £150, whereas a basic hard drive with a USB interface will only cost around £100 for 4TB of storage (although drives with high-speed Thunderbolt ports tend to be more expensive). Admittedly, hard drives are slower than SSDs, but if you need lots of storage for your important files and back-ups then a good old-fashioned hard drive is still the most affordable option. (If it’s an SSD you are after read Best external SSD for Mac.)

There’s plenty of choice too, with compact, portable hard drives designed for use with laptops, and larger desktop drives going up to 16TB or 18TB if you really need a lot of storage. Some hard drives also provide additional features, such as built-in docks with lots of Thunderbolt and USB ports, or perhaps allowing you to open up the casing of the drive and insert a new drive for an instant upgrade.

Below the reviews we’ve got general buying advice that explains what you should be looking for.

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1. LaCie Mobile Drive – Best for travellers and best overall

LaCie Mobile Drive

2. Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch – Best for MacBook owners

Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch

3. WD My Passport – Best budget portable

Western Digital My Passport

4. LaCie 1big Dock – Best for pro and creative users

LaCie 1big Dock

5. Seagate Firecuda Gaming Dock – Best for desktop storage and connectivity

Seagate Firecuda Gaming Dock

6. G-Tech G-Drive USB-C – Best for massive media files

G-Drive USB-C

7. WD_Black D10 – Best budget performer

WD_Black D10 - Best budget performer

Western Digital’s WD_Black drives are primarily aimed at gamers who want a fast drive to boost loading times for their games – which explains why the menacing black design of this D10 desktop drive looks like a piece of heavyweight munitions from the Call Of Duty games.

But, of course, a fast drive will also appeal to anyone that has a lot of photo, video and audio files that they want to store on their Mac, and the D10 has other features that can come in handy too.

Some aspects of the design are a little odd – there’s only one version available, with 8TB storage, although its £199.99 price tag is still competitive for a fast drive such as this. Note that it’s only equipped with an old USB A interface (even though it is USB 3.2) perhaps to provide compatibility with older games consoles too – so you’ll need an adaptor if your Mac only has USB-C.

As you might expect, its 7,200rp drive provides very good performance, reaching read and write speeds of 245MB/s and 240MB/s respectively. The D10 requires a mains power supply, so it’s very much designed for desktop use, but it also has two additional USB 3.2 ports on the back of the drive that can provide power to other devices, such as an iPhone or iPad. These ports are only for charging, though, so you can’t use the D10 as a dock for connecting peripherals such as a printer or memory stick.

How to choose the right Mac hard drive

We’ve rounded up the best Mac hard drives above, but before making a buying decision you need to think about how you’ll be using the device. To find the best hard drive for your needs, you need to answer a few questions.

How much storage do I need?

Hard drive storage is relatively cheap. Unless you are really out to save your pennies, the smallest size of hard drive we’d recommend is 1TB.

Upgrades to 2TB, 3TB and even 4TB are also cost-effective, often making the bump up to the next model a good idea. Each terabyte can store around 11,000 music albums at 192kbps quality, but such storage doesn’t seem so grand when you start archiving 4K video.

1GB of data will store as little as three minutes of 4K video shot with an iPhone 8.

Unless you’re happy to have a digital bonfire every year, you also need to consider your future use. We’ll use more data in the coming years, not less.

Portable or desktop?

If you think you’ll be happy with a 1-4TB hard drive, you can buy a portable drive. These use small 2.5in disks, and as such they fit happily into a coat pocket.

They are usually bus-powered too. This means you just need to plug them into your desktop or laptop, no separate power supply required. There’s just one cable, and the drive will barely take up any space.

If only an ultra-high capacity hard drive will do, consider a desktop unit. These use larger 3.5in drives, and tend to cover capacities from 4TB to 12TB.

They’ll need to be plugged in for power. That’s fine if they’ll stay at home 95 per cent of the time, but they are not portable.

Ruggedisation

The choice is clear for those after a drive that can be connected anywhere. You need a 2.5in portable model.

Some of these also offer ruggedisation. Shock protection is the most important kind for a hard drive, as unlike an SSD they have moving parts that can be permanently damaged following a drop.

Rugged drives usually have some form of rubber coating that soaks up impact force, and a toughened enclosure that won’t dent, crack or collapse under any normal amount of pressure.

A few also have water resistance. While few are rated IP68 like an iPhone 11 Pro, meaning they can be submerged in water without damage, several can handle rain or water jets/splashes.

What extra features do you need?

Buy a larger drive, though, and you’re more likely to get other features. Desktop units may have a built-in “hub”, letting you plug in memory cards or peripherals using USB ports.

These are particularly useful if your current setup has limited connectivity, or the USBs you do have just aren’t that handy.

Which connector do you need?

Matching the hard drive’s connector to those of your laptop is desktop is also essential. You’ll get a cable in the box, but it will either terminate with a USB-A or USB-C shaped plug, as seen here:

Which Cable Mac

Unless you have an old Mac or MacBook that only offers the old USB-A port, you’ll will want the newer USB-C connector, which also doubles up as Thunderbolt. Every Mac sold by Apple in the past few years features a USB-C style connector, although some Mac desktops still offer the older USB standard as well. 

Not all USB-Cs are the same, though. The USB-C port on Macs also supports Thunderbolt 3 and in some cases Thunderbolt 4. USB-C is based on USB 3.1 and offers up to 10Gbps. Thunderbolt 3 offers up to 40Gbps. Thunderbolt 4 also offers 40Gbps, but has a few other advantages, including a 32Gbps data rate, which will be a benefit to anyone who needs to transfer large video files to from the drive to their desktop for editing. There’s also a new USB 4 standard that offers between 20Gbps and 40Gbps bandwidth that you will see alongside the newer Thunderbolt 4 standard, but note that USB 4 doesn’t offer all the features of Thunderbolt.

It’s clear that Thunderbolt is a better option than USB if you are looking for the best interface for your hard drive, but Thunderbolt options are likely to be more expensive than their USB counterparts.

Wireless and NAS

Not every hard drive needs to be plugged in: you can also opt for a NAS drive which enables to to wirelessly transfer files and backups.

These network-attached storage drives connect to your home Wi-Fi to share their data with other devices in your home. That might be a smart TV, Apple TV, a tablet or laptop.

A NAS is particularly useful if you want to set up a media server at home. This is like a wireless jukebox you can fill with videos, photos and music. Read our best NAS drives feature for more.

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