Best External SSD For Mac 2021

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Storage devices show how far miniaturisation has come over the years more than almost any other area of tech. We have memories from the 1990s of installing applications on fistfuls of 1.44MB floppy disks. Nowadays, a microSD fits 400GB into the size of your thumbnail.

However, portable SSDs (solid-state drives, or flash drives) offer the best combination of portability and performance if you want a drive to plug into your machine. They are one of the most effective ways to upgrade and speed up a Mac.

SSDs are the key to truly fast day-to-day navigation of an operating system: the solid state drives in the latest MacBooks are up to 30 times faster than a hard drive. So in this article we round up the best SSDs for a Mac owner. After the individual product recommendations we offer general buying advice that will help you come to the right decision.

Best SSD for Mac

1. SanDisk Extreme V2

SanDisk Extreme V2

2. LaCie Rugged SSD Pro

LaCie Rugged SSD Pro

3. G-Technology G-Drive Mobile SSD

G-Technology G-Drive Mobile SSD

4. WD My Passport SSD

WD My Passport SSD

5. LaCie Mobile SSD

LaCie Mobile SSD

6. Minix Neo Storage

Minix Neo Storage

7. Samsung T5

Samsung Portable SSD T5

How to choose an SSD: Buying advice

You’ve read our recommendations of the best SSDs for Mac owners on the market right now. But how did we reach these decisions, and what general advice should you follow when selecting an SSD?

SSDs vs hard drives

Cost per gigabyte is the main stumbling block. You might pay £340 for a 1TB portable SSD, whereas a 1TB external hard drive costs around £50.

That’s 34p per gigabyte in SSD land, or 5p with a hard drive.

This is because hard drives use relatively cheap spinning platters to store data. SSDs employ NAND memory chips. They are pricier, but also faster and allow for much smaller enclosures.

If you decide in favour of hard drives, see our roundup of the best Mac hard drives.

2.5in or ultra-portable?

SSD performance varies from around 300-500MB/s read speeds all the way up to 3000MB/s, but there are three basic physical forms of SSD. And two can be considered portable.

‘Naked’ SSD boards plug directly into PCIe or SATA interfaces. These are the kind you might use to replace the SSD in a laptop, or add to a desktop. They are not really portable.

2.5in SSDs offer a mix of portability and internal use, and are the cheapest way to get a portable drive. They have a plastic casing, avoiding damage to the components, but use SATA connectors rather than USB.

You can buy an enclosure to get more protection and that all-important USB or Thunderbolt interface, or even just use a SATA-to-USB cable. We use one of these cables in the office to ferry around test files on a 2.5in SSD.

For the ultimate portable experience you need a ‘pocket’ SSD, though, not one based on 2.5in drive dimensions. These are designed to be used with USB or Thunderbolt connectors, not those found inside a Mac or MacBook.

You’ll mostly find this kind below. They are incredibly small and convenient. However, they are more expensive than 2.5in-style drives, so you may want to consider the larger type if lower spend is a top concern.

Shock-proof, and rugged?

SSDs are more durable than hard drives. They have no moving parts, and won’t be damaged if they are moved or knocked while writing data. While modern hard drives have some level of shock protection, it’s still a big issue.

You can treat an SSD pretty mean before it starts complaining.

Some portable SSDs even offer water resistance. You can also get ruggedisation in a specialised drive enclosure, if you choose to go down the 2.5in drive route.

This is a huge portability benefit. But if they are sat still all day, are SSDs more reliable than HDDs? Hard drives tend to fail mechanically. For example, the motor that spins the platters might burn out. SSDs’ memory cells age, which can lead to failure. Both kinds require specialist recovery. As ever, back up important data.

However, for our purposes, as people who occasionally have to fling drives in rucksacks and plug them in while sat in an airplane seat, SSDs are the clear winner.

Matching SSD performance to your connectors

How fast can you expect SSD file transfers to be? The top external SSDs can read and write at up to around 550MB/s.

However, to get these speeds you need a port on your Mac or MacBook that can handle this bandwidth.

If you’ve got a recent model with a Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port, you’re set. While external SSDs use USB 3.1 standards rather than Thunderbolt, the port also supports USB 3.1 Gen 1 and Gen 2, which is what we’re after.

Have an older machine with USB 3.0 or USB 2.0 ports? You’ll see some speed compromise.

USB 3.0 can hack most of an external SSD’s speed, with theoretical max of 625MB/s, or a chunk lower in real-world use. Think twice if your computer is rather old, say a 2011 MacBook Pro, and only has USB 2.0 ports. These max out at 60MB/s, which just can’t do justice to these ultra-fast SSDs. In that case, consider a hard drive instead.

How much storage do I need?

Recent external SSDs tend to come in three or four capacities: 250GB, 500GB, 1TB and in some cases 2TB.

You’ll want to think carefully about the capacity you need, as the cost difference between 500GB and 1TB models is usually stark. There aren’t the same relatively minor price leaps seen in 1-4TB hard drives.

We can’t answer this one for you, but it’s a good idea to do a quick mental calculation. For example, 4K footage from a Panasonic Lumix GH4 camera eats up 4GB every five minutes. Video editors who work in 4K need a lot of storage.

However, if you just need to back up or carry around some movies and photos, a smaller-capacity model may well do the trick. Check out your Mac’s own storage capacity and use that as a guide.

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