How To Choos An External Hard Drive For Mac Title Image

Are you finding the task of picking an external drive for your Mac exhausting?

It can seem like that when it’s your first time. And you’re feeling technical challenged.

Luckily, Macs are designed to be easy to use.

And will use any drive.

With a few pointers you’ll be picking out your new external drive in a flash.

Let’s start from scratch. Here are your tips on choosing an external drive for you and your Mac.

How To Choose Your Mac’s External Drive

Before you get your money out to buy your Mac’s external drive.

Take a moment …   What Mac do you have?

MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac?

And how old is it?


1. Pick An External Hard Drive With The Right USB


Well, if your Mac is older.

It’ll have USB 3.0 or USB 2.0 ports.

Ports? This is where you plug in your external hard drive.

So What?

Macs with USB 2.0 ports talk to their external drives. And that means read and write to there drives slower than a Mac with a USB 3.0 port.

Your newer Mac will have USB C ports.

They look different. And those ports are faster. A speed boost of 3 or more x faster.

Luckily the USB standard is backwards compatible.

So pick a drive with the right USB ports for your Mac.

Or one with he right physical cables. Or adaptor cables. Or buy yourself the right cables for your new drive and your Mac.

To Find Out What Ports You Have

Look at the side of your Mac.

USB C ports look like this.

USB C Thunderbolt 3 Ports
USB C Thunderbolt Ports

And USB 2.0 and 3.0 (also known as USB A) look like this.

USB Type A Ports on the Mac
USB Type A Ports On A Mac

Once you know what ports you have then make sure the external drive you buy has the right cables. Or you buy an adaptor when you buy the drive.

Or look at a USB hub if you’re struggling with lack of spare ports. The Satechi Multiport Adaptor is one to look at. Click the link to go to a review.

2. Do You Opt For An External Drive That’s ‘Made For Mac’?

When you buy an external drive it comes with a file format on it.

Some are already formatted by the manufacturer for Macs. These tend to come with a more expensive price tag for those versions.

Other’ external drives you’ll need to format before you use on your Mac. Or to share between a Mac and a PC.

But the thing is Mac’s are pretty picky about their external drive formats.

And you can have trouble with a ‘For Mac’ formatted drive from the manufacturer. Odd errors that you can’t quite put your finger on.

You’ll find it’s always better to format any external drive on your Mac for what you want it to do.

Don’t worry. This is an easy job. Even for a non techie. Want to know how to format an external drive? Look at this post here.

3. What Speed Do You Need From Your Mac’s External Drive?

Are you editing photos or HD movies on your external drive?

Then you’re going to need an external drive with grunt.

A Solid State Drive (SSD) is better for this kind of work. A drive like the Samsung T5 or the SanDisk Extreme would be good drives to look at. The links will take you to their reviews on this site.

Do you want extra storage for your everyday files. Or photos?

Then drive space is key and speed isn’t as crucial.

Then a drive like the Seagate Expansion may do. Because you’ll get better price performance. You can check out a post on the Seagate Expansion here.

Looking for an external drive for backup on your Mac? Then you’ll find here a post that goes into the key points to consider there. Check it out.

How fast your external hard drive works is linked to the speed of your Mac.

Do you have an older Mac?

A Mac with a USB 2.0 port isn’t going get the full speed out of an SSD drive.

But you’ll get a speed bump.

How To Choose An External Hard Drive Out And About

4. Pick An External Drive To Cope With Where You Want To Use It

Say what?

Are taking your hard drive with you?

Are you a professional taking photos. Or video’s outside. And you need a drive that can come with you?

Then a high quality, more rugged drive would be what you need.

Or do you need a drive to take with you between your office and home?

Then a portable lightweight drive, rather than a desktop is for you.

Say a drive like the WD Elements, that’s cost effective yet portable. You can have a look at the WD Elements review here.

5. Should You Choose An External Hard Drive or an External SSD For Your Mac?

External hard drives are mechanical drives. And they have moving parts inside them.

So what?

Moving parts wear over time. And how quickly depends on how often you use your drive. And for how long.

At the low cost end of the hard drive market, you’ll see drive described as basic drives. And they are mechanical drives that are cost effective for the capacity you get.

But even the portable external hard drives have moving parts.

And moving parts don’t like being jiggled and jogged while working.

Solid State drives store your files electronically. There are no moving parts. But buying one is more expensive. And you get less drive space for your money compared to hard drives.

But they are more robust. And work faster than hard drives. And that’s what you get for your dollars.

Then there are desktop drives. They aren’t designed to be portable. They can be hard drives or SSD’s. They generally come with a lot of drive space. And are more reliable than portable hard drives and can last you for years and years.

How to choose an external hard drive files and photos

6. Select An External Drive To Match What You Need It For

Is your external drive for extra storage? For your files, photos, movies, music?

And so the top end speed isn’t as important to you.

Or is your drive for backup of your Mac, using Time Machine?

So it may not matter that you get yourself a blazing fast backup.

Or is it for sharing between your Mac and a Windows PC?

So what?

Well if your budget is tight. And you don’t need the fastest of drives. Then a basic portable external hard drive will give you the most bang for your bucks.

But if you’re a heavy user of your, external drive. Doing video or photo editing. Or large intensive spreadsheets, then you’ll be happier with an SSD external drive.

5. Should You Pick A Big Brand Name External Drive For Your Mac?

Is it all in the name?

A well known manufacturer. With a good reputation in the external hard drive marketplace should be at the top of your mind.

Companies like Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba, Samsung or LaCie. Sell thousands of drives and have great reputations.

They have invested in their brand and have a vested interest in keeping their user base happy.

So yes, it pays to go with a well known brand. You’ll thank yourself for it.

6. Pick An External Drive Based On It’s Warranty?

Between you and me. The more reliable the external hard drive. The keener the manufacturer is to give you a longer warranty. 

Mechanical parts wear out.  SSD’s lose their electrical charge (the thing that keeps your files on the drive).

This may sound like a boring subject to bring up. But you can tell a lot from the warranty offered by the manufacturer.

The least you should expect is 1 year’s warranty.  Preferably 2.  On the most reliable and quality drives the manufacturers aren’t afraid to offer 3-5 years warranty.

How to choose an external hard drive how much space

7. Select An External Drive By How Much Extra Space You Need On Your Mac?

Got a farm of photos or movies.

Needing an external drive to back up a single Mac. Or more than one.

Or you need to share your new external hard drive between your Mac and a PC.

Then you’ll need a pen and paper.

So go get some.

Add up the amount of drive capacity you plan on storing. And then give yourself 50% head room to grow into.

8. Should You Pick An External Drive With Hardware Encryption?

Are your files. Or your backup filled with info you wouldn’t want anyone to get to?

Then you might want an external hard drive on your Mac with hardware encryption.

But just keep a few things in mind.

Is the hardware based encryption designed for a PC?

Double check I’ll work on your Mac.

How to pick an external hard drive for Security

And often you’ll need special software to use the hard ware encryption. And you’ll need that software on each Mac you plan to use that drive on.

And then Apple upgrades your Mac OS. And now you have to wait until a compatible version comes out. And you can’t upgrade your software. Because you risk not getting to your files till you get a version that works on your Mac.

Or horror.

Your Mac fails.

Ok no problem. You have a backup.

But your backup is on your encrypted external drive. The drive that needs that software that’s on your failed Mac. Oops.

If it’s encryption you want for your external drive then Mac OS has you covered.

It has security and drive encryption as part of the OS.

And you can set that up on a hard drive yourself using Disk Utility in a few minutes.

And that means you buy even the cheapest basic drive and protect your files.

9. Choose An External Hard Drive On Looks For Your Mac?

Is the look of your external drive key to you?

You’ve a stunning looking Mac, so why not?

How about checking through all the points earlier in this post.

And if the pool of drives on your shortlist tick all those boxes. Then what the hell. Go for the one with the best design.

External drives come in all shapes and sizes, and color ways.

In Closing

If you’re still not sure, go over the pointers above one at a time.

Put them into your own priority list of what’s important to you.

And if what’s crucial to you is covered. Then throw in some nice to haves when you pick your next external drive.

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