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.
1. LaCie Mobile Drive – Best for travellers and best overall
LaCie’s range of Mobile Drives provide a much wider range of options, as well as a ‘diamond cut’ design.
Rather than the neon-orange rubber bumper of the Rugged drives, the new Mobile Drives are wrapped in smart aluminium. They’re available in two colours: ‘moon silver’ and, of course, ‘space grey’ that is intended to match the latest Mac models. The ‘diamond cut’ design simply refers to the exaggerated angular edges and corners; looks aside, the aluminium casing feels really sturdy – in fact, the 5TB model that we tested weighs in at 400g, and could give someone a serious concussion if you whacked them over the head with it.
There are smaller and lighter alternatives, though, depending on how much storage you need. Those two drives measure just 10mm thick, 88mm wide and 122mm long, and weigh a more modest 200g.
The 5TB model is twice as heavy and twice as thick (20mm), and costs more. There’s also a 4TB model, which is the same size and weight, but slightly less expensive.
The Mobile Drive has a single USB-C port on the back, but LaCie includes cables for both USB-C and the older USB 3.0, so you can use the drive with any Mac or PC.
The drives can be used with Time Machine for Mac backups, but LaCie’s ToolKit app also allows you to ‘mirror’ individual folders. This is a good option if you use your Mac at work, and have individual projects organised in their own folders. Any folder that is ‘mirrored’ is automatically backed up and updated as soon as you make any changes to any file within that folder. This ensures that your backups are always up to date with the most recent versions of your files (whereas Time Machine still leaves a one-hour gap between backups).
Our only complaint here is that LaCie’s skimpy manual doesn’t provide much information about the ToolKit app, or the various formatting options for the drive, simply leaving you to wade through a bunch of FAQ files on its website.
That’s our only complaint, though, and the Mobile Drive provides good performance, with write and read speeds both averaging out at 132MB/s in our tests – almost identical to the Rugged Secure drives – while backing up a 5GB batch of iTunes songs took exactly one minute.
2. Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch – Best for MacBook owners
Seagate has recently overhauled the Backup Plus range, putting more emphasis on portable drives for laptop users.
The new models are all compact, portable drives, although they offer a number of different designs and features. If you just want lots of extra storage at a competitive price then the Backup Plus Portable Drive offers either 4TB or 5TB. Those large drives are a bit on the chunky side – 21mm thick – so Seagate also offers the Backup Plus Slim with either 1TB or 2TB storage instead. The Slim drives measure just 12mm thick, and has 1TB storage or 2TB capacities.
However, the top-of-the-range model is the new Backup Plus Ultra Touch. Like the Slim drives, the Ultra Touch is available with either 1TB or 2TB storage. It’s slightly more expensive, but has a stylish design that makes it a good companion for your MacBook, and also offers encryption to provide extra security for your important files and data.
The Ultra Touch measures just 12mm thick, 78mm wide and 115mm long, and weighs 151g, so you can easily slip it into a jacket pocket or a bag when you’re travelling with your laptop. It’s available in either black or white, and finished off with a smart woven fabric that makes a nice change from the dull monochrome colours of most hard drives. There’s a standard USB 3.0 port on the back of the drive, and a USB 3.0 cable that will work with any Mac or PC, but Seagate also includes a USB-C adapter so that you can use it with new computers that have USB-C as well.
The Ultra Touch includes the same ToolKit app that is used with the LaCie Mobile Drive that we also review in this group test. The drive can be used for automatic Time Machine backups on your Mac, but you can also use the ‘mirror’ option in the ToolKit app to automatically back up individual folders so that they’re always right up-to-date (and don’t have to wait for Time Machine’s hourly backups).
The ToolKit app also handles the encryption process for the Ultra Touch, although we found Seagate’s manual – or lack thereof – to be rather unhelpful, leaving us to look around for FAQs and information about this encryption and other features on the company’s website.
Performance is respectable enough, although the Ultra Plus won’t win any awards for high-speed backups. It recorded write and read speeds of 125MB/s and 130MB/s in our tests, and took 110 seconds to back up a 5GB batch of iTunes music files. Even so, that performance will be fine for routine backups when you’re travelling, and the encryption option will be really useful if you want to make sure that your private data stays private even if the drive is lost or stolen.
3. WD My Passport – Best budget portable
There’s a somewhat confusing selection of drives in Western Digital’s Passport range, including the My Passport Ultra equipped with USB-C, the rugged My Passport Go for outdoor use, and even a wireless model too. However, we’re happy to opt for the basic My Passport drive, which provides plenty of portable storage at a competitive price.
The My Passport starts at just £49.99 for 1TB storage, going up to £119.99 for 5TB, so it’s a really affordable back-up option if you’re on a tight budget.
The size of the drive depends on the amount of storage you choose – our 4TB drive measured a chunky 19mm thick, 75mm wide, and 107mm deep, but the 1TB and 2TB models are just 11mm thick. Our 4TB drive was still small enough to slip into jacket pocket with no trouble at all.
It’s very solidly built too, so we’d be happy to use it in outdoor locations with our MacBook if we needed to.
Admittedly, the drive is showing its age a little, using ye olde USB 3.0 interface, so you’ll need an adaptor if your Mac only has USB-C. Its read and write speeds of 108MB/s and 100MB/s aren’t going to win any awards either, but the My Passport will still be fine for the occasional Time Machine back-up when you’re on the move with your laptop.
There’s also a model called My Passport For Mac that includes extra cables for both USB 3.0 and USB-C, and is pre-formatted in Apple’s HFS+ format, but that’s slightly more expensive so it’s not essential unless you’ve got a bit of extra cash to spare.
4. LaCie 1big Dock – Best for pro and creative users
As the name suggests, LaCie’s 1big Dock is more than just a straightforward hard drive. It starts at £319.99 for a drive with 4TB storage, going up to £709.99 for 18TB, and its 7,200rpm ‘Iron Wolf’ hard drive provides strong performance with read and write speeds of 235MB/s via its Thunderbolt 3 port. That makes it a good option for anyone that needs a fast back-up drive for large video, photos and audio files.
The primary Thunderbolt port also provides power for charging a MacBook laptop as well. You even have the option of popping open the front panel to swap out the standard hard drive and insert a new drive to provide an instant upgrade.
But the thing that really makes the 1big Dock stand out from most of its hard drive rivals is its built-in hub and connectivity features. There’s a second Thunderbolt port that will allow you to connect additional Thunderbolt and USB-C devices, and a DisplayPort interface for an external monitor.
The front of the drive also provides a standard USB 3.0 port and slots for both SD and CompactFlash (CF) memory cards, making it a great option for creative users who need to import files from cameras and other devices.
There’s also a version of the 1big Dock available that uses faster solid-state storage too – although, of course, that’s quite a bit more expensive.
5. Seagate Firecuda Gaming Dock – Best for desktop storage and connectivity
Seagate’s Firecuda range of storage devices is very much aimed at PC gamers, and its new Gaming Dock is festooned with the glowing lights and eye-candy that you might associate with gaming gear. It’s not just for gamers, though, as the Gaming Dock is a seriously versatile storage device and Thunderbolt dock that has a lot to offer owners of the latest Macs with Thunderbolt 3.
It is, admittedly, a bit on the bulky side, measuring 270mm wide, 135mm deep, and 51mm high. It weighs 2.67kg – which is more than most Apple laptops – and also includes a separate power brick for mains power. Fortunately, its low-profile design does at least allow you to place it underneath the screen of an iMac or desktop display without taking up too much space.
And while the Gaming Dock is a lot more expensive than a conventional hard drive, it is packed with useful features. The size – and the need for a mains power supply – is due to the fact that it contains both a 4TB hard drive and an additional expansion slot that allows you to upgrade your storage by installing one of the latest NVMe solid-state drives. By default, the 4TB hard drive uses the NTFS format for Windows PCs, but there’s a Help file included on the drive that provides information for Mac users so that you can reformat the drive and set it up for your Time Machine backups. There’s also a download link for the Mac version of Seagate’s Toolkit app, which controls the fancy lighting effects and other features.
In addition to its built-in storage, the Gaming Dock also includes an impressive selection of ports and connectivity features that will be really useful for modern Macs that only have Thunderbolt 3 ports – especially models like the MacBook Air that is limited to just two ports. Tucked around the back are two Thunderbolt 3 ports – one for connecting the Dock to your Mac, and a second port for additional Thunderbolt peripherals. There’s a DisplayPort connector for an external monitor and Ethernet for a wired network connection. There are three USB 3.1 ports on the back, and two more on the front, along with two 3.5mm audio connectors for headphones and a microphone. The only real disappointment here is the lack of HDMI, and the fact that the Gaming Dock can’t charge a laptop via its Thunderbolt connection (possibly because the Dock’s internal hard drive uses up too much juice).
The internal hard drive is a good performer too. It obviously can’t compete with the latest solid-state drives, but it achieved consistent speeds of 240MB/s for both read and write performance, and took just 25 seconds to back up our 5GB batch of iTunes songs. That’s faster than most of the conventional hard drives we’ve tested recently – and, of course, the Gaming Dock gives you the option of installing an additional SSD module if you need even stronger performance in the future.
6. G-Tech G-Drive USB-C – Best for massive media files
G-Tech has always focused on providing high-performance storage devices for creative users who work with lots of photos, video and audio files, and the G-Drive USB-C is an affordable desktop drive that provides good performance and bucket-loads of storage space.
The G-Drive is neatly designed with a smart, sturdy aluminium casing, and it starts with a minimum of 4TB storage, going right up to 18TB, which should be enough even for professional users working with 8K video.
There are USB-C and USB-A cables included in the box, so it’ll work with older Macs that don’t have USB-C without needing an adaptor.
The drive’s high capacity means that it requires a mains power supply, but the USB-C port on the back of the drive also provides 45W pass-through power, so you can use it to charge a laptop without needing a separate power supply for the laptop as well.
Performance is good too, with our 4TB model recording read and write speeds of 170MB/s with the Black Magic Disk Test. There’s also a version of the G-Drive that has both USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports, but that’s a lot more expensive, so this USB-C model is the best option if you simply want lots of hard drive storage at an affordable price.
7. 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.
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.
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:
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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