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Best Mac external hard drive: storage & back-up for a MacBook, iMac or Mac Mini

Best Mac external hard drive:
(Image credit: LaCie)

The best Mac external hard drive means you no longer have to clutter up your iMacs, MacBook or Mac Mini with big files that slow everything down. Instead, you can move everything to an external device that lets you can access them whenever you like. In this guide, we'll help you choose the best Mac external hard drive for your needs, at the best price. 

• See also: Best monitors for MacBook Pro (opens in new tab)

These desktop-mounted hard drives are powered by a mains AC outlet and attach to your Mac via a USB or Thunderbolt connection. Capacities range from 4TB up to 30+TB, giving you plenty of space for high-res RAW files or high bit-rate 4K video.

While pretty much any hard drive can be made to work with a Mac, some hard drives come set-up for exclusively Windows compatibility out of the box and would need to be reformatted to work with a Mac. This is a simple process, but on this list we're only featuring hard drives that come pre-formatted to work with both Windows and Mac straight away: no special set-up required. 

Alternatively, if you'd rather move everything to the cloud, we've also got a guide to the best cloud storage providers to check out. Now, on with our list of the best Mac external hard drive options available today...

The best Mac external hard drive in 2022

(Image credit: WD)
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1. SanDisk G-DRIVE Pro with Thunderbolt 3

The best Mac external hard drive overall

Specifications

Capacity: 4-18TB
Technology: 7200RPM hard disk drive
Interface: USB 3.1 Gen 1, Thunderbolt 3
Speed: Up to 255MB/s

Reasons to buy

+
Fast Thunderbolt connectivity
+
Up to 18TB of storage
+
Gorgeous exterior

Reasons to avoid

-
Not SSD fast
-
Costly for high capacities

An external hard drive for a modern Mac really needs Thunderbolt 3 connectivity to ensure the best possible performance. And with a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports, this device from SanDisk is just the ticket. The sleek matte metal enclosure also looks the part alongside Apple hardware, and it hides some serious capacity.

The Thunderbolt 3 G-Drive is available with up to a whopping 18TB of storage, though capacities down to 4TB are also available, with more accessible pricing. The G-Drive is pre-formatted to work flawlessly with Mac devices right out of the box, and it's Time Machine compatible.

If you do buy a smaller capacity and find you need additional space later on, you can use that second Thunderbolt 3 port to daisy chain an additional G-Drive, so you won't need to use up another Thunderbolt port on your Mac.

(Image credit: SanDisk)
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2. SanDisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD V2

The best Mac external hard drive for an M1 iMac or MacBook

Specifications

Capacity: 500GB-2TB
Technology: NVMe SSD
Interface: USB 3.2 Gen 2x2
Speed: Up to 2000MB/s

Reasons to buy

+
Incredibly quick
+
Portable, and powered by USB

Reasons to avoid

-
Needs an M1 Mac to really shine
-
Only 2TB max capacity

If you have one of the latest M1 MacBooks or iMacs, you're able to connect a hard drive using the latest Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 interface. Sadly, buying a hard drive that can utilise this tech is currently almost impossible, but this SanDisk drive is the next best thing. 

Although strictly speaking this is a portable hard drive, rather than a device that lives on your desk, there's no reason why it can't be used in place of a bigger external desktop hard drive.

And while most external drives use older, slower mechanical hard disk drives to store your data, the Extreme Pro Portable SSD V2 is based around a blazing fast NVMe SSD. This is linked to your Mac via the short-lived USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 connection: the USB generation that directly preceded the current USB 4 standard. But the USB 4 ports on an M1 Mac are backward compatible with USB 3.2 Gen 2x2. That means this SSD can still unleash its maximum speed potential of up to 2000MB/s, really putting the 'extreme' in Extreme Pro.

Capacities range from 500GB to 2TB, which isn't all that much by today's standards. But the payoff is that this is one of the very fastest external hard drives for an M1 Mac. 

If you're using an older Intel-powered Mac, then we'd recommend the cheaper  SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD V2 (non 'Pro') as a portable option. 

It's slower on paper, but will operate at similar speeds to the Extreme Pro when connected to a USB 3.2 port.

Also bear in mind that both these drives will be pre-formatted to work with both Windows and Mac. However, if you want to use them with Time Machine, they'll need to be reformatted, but it's a simple procedure.

(Image credit: WD)
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3. WD My Book

The best Mac external hard drive for value

Specifications

Capacity: 4TB-18TB
Technology: Hard disk drive
Interface: USB 3.0
Speed: Not stated

Reasons to buy

+
Accessibly priced
+
Up to 18TB of storage

Reasons to avoid

-
Not very fast

If you're just after a serious storage upgrade for your Mac, without spending a fortune, this external hard drive from one of the biggest brands in the business is ideal. It's based around a conventional hard drive rather than a super-fast SSD, so don't expect it to set any speed records. But the upside is you pay far less per GB of capacity, and you'll still find transfer speeds plenty quick enough for transferring high res images and HD video without too much waiting around.

The drive does require a separate power source, but this is the case for most external desktop hard drives. Capacities range from 4TB to a humongous 18TB, and all are well priced for the capacity you get, but we reckon the 8TB version is a decent price/capacity compromise.

(Image credit: LaCie)
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4. LaCie 2big Dock Thunderbolt 3

A Mac external hard drive with extra features

Specifications

Capacity: 8TB-36TB
Technology: Hard disk drive
Interface: USB 3.1, Thunderbolt 3
Speed: Up to 440MB/s

Reasons to buy

+
Safety of dual hard drives
+
Built-in card reader & USB hub
+
Lots of capacity options

Reasons to avoid

-
Pricey, especially for high capacities

LaCie's '2big' external desktop drives each contain not one but two hard drives, with the idea being that your data is automatically copied onto both drives within. This means that should one drive fail, you'll still have a copy of your data on the other one. It's a technology called RAID: Redundant Array of Independent Disks.

The 2big Dock goes a step further by also including SD and CompactFlash card slots, so you can upload images and video directly to the 2big, or import them to editing software without the need for a separate card reader. There's also a USB 3.1 port for even greater data transfer versatility, while the dual Thunderbolt 3 ports allow for super-fast transfer speeds up to 440MB/s, as well as DisplayPort compatibility for supplementing your Mac's monitor with an additional 1080p or 4K display.

Capacities range from 8TB up to a huge 36TB, and all are backed by an impressive 5-year warranty.

(Image credit: Synology)
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5. Synology DiskStation DS218play

An external hard drive on steroids

Specifications

Capacity: 4TB-16TB
Technology: Hard disk drive or SSD
Interface: USB 3.2 Gen 1, RJ-45 ethernet
Speed: Depends on installed drives

Reasons to buy

+
Accessible via local network and internet
+
Media streaming features
+
Not the fastest USB connection

Reasons to avoid

-
Hard disks are extra, adding cost
-
Some learning required

A NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive is essentially an external hard drive on steroids. It allows your entire photo and video collection to be stored in one physical location in your home or studio, just like a conventional external hard drive. But unlike a normal external hard drive, a NAS drive adds a network connection, so it can be linked via your internet router to your home network and the web. NAS drives are also loaded with a simple computer operating system, allowing you to browse their file contents, view photos and videos, all from a remote location. 

Synology has a reputation for producing top quality NAS devices, and the DiskStation DS218play is a great option for amateur photographers. While offering typical NAS options, it's also a versatile home media hub that's able to stream images and video to computers and mobile devices, as well as Apple TV. The versatile built-in multimedia players - Video Station, Photo Station, and Audio Station, each of which having a companion mobile app - make it effortlessly easy to access and view your media files.

Just bear in mind that, unlike a conventional external hard drive, NAS drives are generally supplied without hard disks inside, so you'll also need to factor in the extra cost of two hard disks to make the DS218play operational.

Read more: The best NAS drives (opens in new tab)

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