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.
1. SanDisk Extreme V2
The original SanDisk Extreme had been on our list of best SSDs for the past couple of years, and the new V2 model is even better.
The basic design hasn’t changed, sticking with the same highly compact, grey lozenge that measures just 9mm thick, 52.5mm wide and 100.5mm long.
It’s slim and light enough to carry around in your pocket when you’re travelling with your laptop, and there’s a handy little cut-out loop in one corner so that you can keep it safe with a carabiner clip.
It’s seriously sturdy too, and SanDisk says that the rubber-wrapped casing is shock resistant for drops from a height of two metres, and rated IP55 for water and dust resistance. And there’s a final layer off protection as well, with the ability to set a password to protect your important files.
The main difference with this V2 model is that SanDisk claims that it’s twice as fast as its predecessor – a fact borne out by our test results, which produce a write speed of 938MB/s and read speed of 908MB/s. And, with storage ranging from 500GB to 4TB, the Extreme Portable V2 provides enough storage even for backing up desktop Macs as well.
There’s also a ‘Pro’ model available too, which doubles the speed yet again (and costs about 30% extra).
Be careful when buying as the original ‘V1’ version of this drive is still on sale, so make sure you check which of the three models you’re about to purchase before you break out the credit card.
2. LaCie Rugged SSD Pro
LaCie’s Rugged drives have been popular with Mac users for many years, thanks to their combination of high-performance and that now-familiar orange sleeve that helps to keep the drive safe when you’re working outdoors. However, the Rugged range has mostly used conventional hard drives in the past, which are slower than the latest solid-state drives, as well as being bigger and heavier. Welcome the Rugged Pro SSD, which is primarily aimed at creative users.
The Rugged SSD range starts at around £180 for a model with 500GB storage, but we were able to review the SSD Pro, which stands out from the rest of the range with its matte-black sleeve. It’s pretty expensive, costing £400/$419 with 1TB of storage, and a hefty £700 for the 2TB model, but it justifies that price with an even tougher design and the latest, super-fast solid-state drives designed for professional video work.
Switching to a solid-state drive means that the SSD Pro is now the smallest model in the Rugged range, measuring just 98mm long, 65mm wide and 17mm thick. It only weighs 0.1kg, so you can easily slip it into your pocket or bag when you’re travelling and barely even notice that it’s there.
Despite its compact design, that new black sleeve is seriously tough and rated IP67 for resistance to water and dust, allowing it to survive in 1m of water for up to 30 minutes. It can cope with being dropped from a height of 3m, and can even resist the weight of a two-tonne car driving over it. It includes a five-year warranty in case anything does go wrong, which includes one visit to LaCie’s data-recovery labs if you need to retrieve important data.
The Rugged SSD Pro includes just a single Thunderbolt 3/USB-C interface, but most of its high price is down to the use of the latest NVMe solid-state drives, which provide top performance for high-end video applications, such as editing 8K or super-slow-motion video files (which can be enormous, as they shoot at up to 240 frames per second on the latest iPhones). The drive didn’t disappoint, recording consistent write speeds of 1780MB/s, and an even faster 2480MB/s for read speeds – with both figures leaving just about every other SSD drive we’ve ever tested trailing in its wake. And, when backing up our iTunes music library, the Rugged SSD Pro blew us away by backing up 5GB of music files in just five seconds – look away for a couple of seconds and you’ll miss it!
Of course, not everyone will need that sort of performance – especially at this price – but if you work with high-res video and need a fast, tough drive for outdoor work then the Rugged SSD Pro is in a class of its own.
3. G-Technology G-Drive Mobile SSD
You may not have heard of G-Technology, but it makes one of the best portable SSDs around. Not only is this one of the most Mac-centric models you can buy, it’s among the toughest, too.
The Mac angle is not obvious in the G-Drive Mobile SSD‘s design, though. A big silver G on the front and hints of bright blue under a faux grille make this drive look more like a movie prop than a natural fit for a minimalist MacBook home office.
At least it’s not boring, though, right?
The G-Technology G-Drive Mobile’s shape is similar to SanDisk’s. This drive is taller than it is wide. It’s pocketable, but chunkier than most drives on test at 1.45cm thick.
The slight extra bulk is more than justified. This is one of the toughest SSDs available, and there’s no price jump over non-rugged alternatives. The G-Drive Mobile is certified to IP67, meaning it can be submerged in water at a depth of 1m with no ill effects.
It doesn’t need a rubber bung over the USB-C port to achieve this, either. Like the charge sockets on some higher-end phones, it’s water-resistant by design.
The G-Technology G-Drive Mobile’s impact and tensile strength are better than the competition too. It’s drop-tested to 3m, rather than the 2m seen elsewhere, and can take 1,000lb of pressure without breaking. None of this is obvious from the feel, as the outer is all plastic. That includes, sadly, the top cap, which looks like aluminium.
This drive is tougher than the SanDisk Extreme SSD, much as that drive’s design seems better prepped for a life outdoors. SanDisk’s finish will look better after a drop on gravel.
Short USB-C and USB-A (full-size USB) cables are included, letting you plug the G-Drive Mobile into any MacBook or iMac. Unusually, the drive also comes ready-formatted just for macOS, rather than using the cross-platform ExFat. This offers slightly better performance with certain kinds of file juggling, although you can reformat it using Disk Utility if you need it to bridge Mac and Windows systems.
The G-Drive Mobile SSD’s performance is comparable with that of the Samsung T5: they are both USB-C Gen 2 devices and have similar SSD hardware inside. It reads at up to 530MB/s and writes at 479MB/s, a whopping 3MB/s more than we recorded with the Samsung.
G-Technology also makes a ‘Pro’ version of the G-Drive Mobile with speeds of up to 2800MB/s. This sort of speed demands a Thunderbolt 3 port, added to MacBook Pro models in 2016. However, the drive is also almost twice the size. And four times the price.
The standard G-Drive Mobile’s price is entirely reasonable, but as there’s no 250GB option those wanting to spend under £100/$100 need to look elsewhere. There are currently only 500GB, 1TB and 2TB models. This is the most rugged drive on test, although it’s you’ll see the effects of bumps and scrapes more than in the SanDisk Extreme SSD.
4. WD My Passport SSD
Western Digital’s Passport drives have always provided portable, lightweight designs, and the My Passport SSD combines compact design with strong performance and additional security features.
Available in a variety of colours, the My Passport SSD provides up to 4TB of solid-state storage, although the 1TB model that we review here costs £159.99.
The drive measures just 9mm thick, and weighs 46g so it’s small enough to slip into a jacket pocket when you’re on the move. However, it’s also tough enough to survive being dropped from a height of two metres.
The drive is equipped with a USB-C interface, but WD includes a USB-C cable and a USB-A adaptor with the drive, so you can still use it with older Macs that don’t have USB-C. The solid-state drive provides good performance too, recording a write speed of 935MB/s and read speed of 908MB/s, making it a great option for backing up your important files on the move.
It’s secure too, as WD’s Discovery app allows you to set a password for the drive in order keep your files safe. There’s a second app as well, called WD Unlocker, which is built into the drive itself, and allows you to enter the password so that you can use the drive with another Mac or PC if you need to.
When the drive was first introduced there were complaints that the WD apps hadn’t been properly updated to 64-bit code for the latest versions of the macOS, but we tested the drive with our office Macs running both Catalina and Big Sur and didn’t encounter any problems.
5. LaCie Mobile SSD
LaCie’s Mobile Drive is already on our list of best hard drives, so it’s not surprising that the SSD version get the thumbs up as well.
Unsurprisingly, the design of the two drives is very similar, with the same sharply angular corners and edges, and an tough aluminium casing that is sturdy enough to cope with a few knocks when you’re travelling.
The drive has a USB-C interface, but LaCie includes both USB-C and USB-A adaptor cables, so you can use it with any Mac or PC.
The use of solid-state storage means that the Mobile SSD is a little slimmer and lighter than its hard drive stablemate, measuring just 9mm thick, 78mm wide and 99mm long, and weighing a mere 100g, so it’s easy to carry around in your pocket or in a bag with your laptop.
And, of course, the Mobile SSD is faster than the hard drive version. It couldn’t quite match LaCie’s quoted figure of 540MB/s for data transfer, with our tests recording write speeds of 445MB/s and read speeds of 225MB/s, but that’s still fine for backing up your work files and regular Time Machine backups.
It’s a bit more expensive than some rival SSD drives – possibly because it’s only sold via the always-expensive Apple Store – but we like the fact that LaCie offers a three-year warranty with a data recovery service available in case anything goes wrong.
6. Minix Neo Storage
The Neo Storage measures just 44mm wide, 115mm long, and 11mm thick, so you can easily slip it into a jacket pocket or a backpack or briefcase when you’re travelling with your laptop. The case is made out of aluminium, which looks smart alongside your Mac and is tough enough to cope with a few bumps on the road.
It’s a really affordable option as well, as the Neo Storage costs just £70 with 120GB of solid-state storage, or £90/$99.90 with 240GB.
You’re not going to get super-fast performance at that price, and there are faster SSD rivals available if speed is your top priority. However, the Neo Storage still manages respectable write and read speeds of 350MB/s and 370MB/s respectively, which is fine for quick back-ups when you’re on the move with your laptop. Backing up a 5GB batch of iTunes music files takes 20 seconds, which again is a little slower than some of its rivals, but that’s still a lot faster than a conventional hard drive and perfectly acceptable for a device in this price range.
And, of course, the Neo Storage has those handy extra ports built into it as well – which will be particularly useful for Mac users, as Apple laptops do tend to be a bit short on expansion ports and connectors. There’s a USB-C cable directly attached to one end of the unit, which is used to connect the Neo Storage to your Mac. Some people might have preferred a detachable cable, but that would be easy to lose and is one more annoying cable to remember when you leave home.
Running along the back of the device you’ll see one USB-C port, an HDMI connector, and two USB 3.0 ports. The HDMI port supports 4K output – but only at 30Hz, which might be a deal-breaker for some people. However, it manages 60Hz with a standard HD display (1920×1080), so it’s a quick and easy option for connecting your laptop to an external monitor at home or in an office.
The two USB 3.0 ports will be handy for connecting older accessories, such as a desktop hard drive or printer (especially as Apple charges £19/$19 for just a single-port adaptor). The only minor disappointment here is that the USB-C port on the Neo Storage can be used to charge your laptop, but it can’t be used for transferring data from other storage devices, or for connecting other USB-C accessories. But, at this price, the USB and HDMI ports are really just a nice bonus, and the Neo Storage is a good option for anyone that wants an affordable and versatile back-up device for their USB-C laptop.
7. Samsung T5
Samsung makes many of the most popular SSDs. Its Samsung T5 is like a shrunk-down version of the 2.5in model you might put into a desktop.
This is a smart, no-nonsense portable SSD with great performance and tough build. Its frame is a ‘unibody’ piece of curved aluminium, with plates of soft touch plastic on each end.
Samsung says the T5 is drop-tested from 2m height, and the shell feels like it could take being trodden on. Even the idea of this makes us wince, though.
Like other aluminium finishes, knocks and scrapes will damage the paint job. The Samsung T5 can handle punishment, but it doesn’t welcome it like SanDisk’s SSD.
The colour also depends on the model you choose. Ours is a 1TB, which comes in black, like the 2TB version. Lower-capacity 250GB and 500GB versions use a bright blue shade.
With a footprint a little smaller than a business card and 10.5mm thickness, this feels like the perfect fit for a smart laptop bag. It’s 74mm long and 57.3mm tall.
However, it’s not water-resistant. This is a portable SSD for work commutes, not trekking across jungles.
In the box you get two 40cm-ish cables. One has a USB-C connector at the end, the other a traditional USB. You can file the one you don’t need away in that box of assorted cables and adapters many of us have in a cupboard somewhere.
As it’s exFat-formatted, the Samsung T5 works with Macs as soon as you plug it in. There’s also software on the drive. This simply lets you password-protect the entire drive’s contents, using 256-bit encryption. It’s either on or off: you don’t create a virtual protected ‘vault’ of encrypted files, so many of you won’t want to use this feature.
The app only recognised the drive when we used Samsung’s supplied cable, failing to do so when we tried a phone’s charge cable. It was only the app that had the issue, though. The drive itself functioned perfectly fine with the ‘intruder’ wire.
There’s even an app for phones too, with the same security measures. However, it’s for Androids, not iPhones.
Used over a USB 3.1 Gen 2 compatible socket we recorded read speeds of 525MB/s and writes of 478MB/s. As such it’s on par with the other top portable SSDs you can buy right now.
What else sets it apart? The Samsung T5 has a little blue LED by the connector that shines when the drive is connected. It sits under a layer of plastic, though, so is not at all distracting.
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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