Best Backup Storage For Mac

Posted By admin On 16.02.22

Your guide

  • Justin Krajeski

  1. After 20 hours of new research and testing, we found that the best external desktop hard drive for most people is Western Digital’s 4 TB My Book.The My Book is reliable, fast, and less expensive than the other desktop drives we tested, plus it has enough space for your future storage needs and a long, three-year warranty.
  2. Seagate Backup Plus Hub. This one is the best for high-capacity home storage (and also the best overall). Desktop-style hard drives may not seem that appealing when relatively high-capacity.

The Best External Hard Drives for Mac Looking to add storage, or for a smart way to back up your Mac? Here's what you need to know, along with our top-rated Apple-friendly drives. However, an external drive might not be the best choice for you if you only have a few files that need storage, or if you already have a backup of your computer for example via backup software. In that case, using a small flash drive or an online cloud storage provider might be the better option.

After 18 hours of new research and testing, we found that the 2 TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim is still the best portable hard drive for most people. It’s reliable, it’s one of the lightest, thinnest hard drives we tested, and it was faster than the competition in our backup and file-transfer tests.

Our pick

2 TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim

The Seagate Backup Plus Slim is reliable, thin, and light, and it offers fast speeds at a reasonable cost.

Buying Options

The Slim has been one of our top picks for the past four years, and it’s the only portable hard drive that we’ve tested that doesn’t sacrifice size, speed, or reliability. Every other 2 TB portable hard drive is significantly larger, performs slower in our tests, or has a failure rate that’s too high to recommend. The Slim has an acceptable 9-percent reported failure rate among nearly 2,701 user reviews. We recommend the 2 TB model because it’s a great value. Seagate includes handy backup software, too.


Also great

4 TB Seagate Backup Plus Portable

The 4 TB Seagate Backup Plus Portable is a reliable drive that offers more storage space for less money per terabyte than our pick, but it’s larger and heavier.

Buying Options

If you want more storage and don’t mind a larger, heavier drive, we continue to recommend the 4 TB Seagate Backup Plus Portable, which costs less per terabyte than the 2 TB Backup Plus Slim. It was faster at sequential reading in our HD Tune test, but it was slower in our other testing. It’s twice as thick as our top pick and almost twice as heavy, too. (Make sure not to buy the 4 TB Seagate Backup Plus Fast by mistake—that’s a different drive that we do not recommend.)

Everything we recommend

Our pick

2 TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim

The Seagate Backup Plus Slim is reliable, thin, and light, and it offers fast speeds at a reasonable cost.

Buying Options

Also great

4 TB Seagate Backup Plus Portable

The 4 TB Seagate Backup Plus Portable is a reliable drive that offers more storage space for less money per terabyte than our pick, but it’s larger and heavier.

Buying Options

The research

Why you should trust us

Wirecutter has researched and recommended hard drives since early 2012, and our PC team has over eight years of combined experience testing hard drives and solid-state drives. I’ve spent the last two years reviewing hard drives and SSDs. We’ve collectively spent nearly 200 hours researching and testing portable hard drives in just the past four years.

Who this is for

If you’re not backing up the important documents and photos on your computer, you should start. Your computer's internal drive will stop working someday, and unless your data is backed up, it'll be gone forever. Fortunately, backing up your data is easy and getting started takes only a few minutes: Read our advice and set up a system that will back up your files automatically both to an external hard drive and the cloud. Just backing up to one or the other isn't enough; having both onsite and cloud backups ensures that your data stays safe from localized threats such as fire, theft, or natural disaster, as well as Internet outages or disruptions to the cloud backup provider. A portable hard drive is a great local backup for a computer you take from your house to the coffee shop, on business trips, or on vacations.

You should consider replacing your backup drives between the third and sixth year of use. If your drive dies and you have a cloud backup, you won’t lose data, but restoring from the cloud will take a very long time. According to statistics from cloud backup service Backblaze, hard drives are most likely to fail either within the first 18 months of use or after three years. About 5 percent of drives fail in the first 18 months of use, and the failure rate lowers to about 1.5 percent for another 18 months. At three years of service, the failure rate jumps to almost 12 percent. At the four year mark, the failure rate is 20 percent. Based on five years of data, Backblaze estimated that more than half of hard drives will last six years.

You should consider replacing your backup drives between the third and sixth year of use.

If you frequently move between different locations and need a drive to keep in your bag and use to back up photos and other data while you’re traveling, you should get a portable external drive like the ones we recommend in this guide. But if you spend most of your time working from one desk, a desktop external drive is the better choice. They’re less expensive per terabyte and a bit faster than portable drives, but desktop external hard drives are bigger and heavier than portable ones and require an additional power adapter. And although one bump can still lead to failure, portable hard drives are designed to withstand a little more abuse than desktop hard drives. If you can afford to pay around three times more for a smaller, lighter, more durable and much faster portable drive with hardware encryption, we recommend a portable solid-state drive.

How we picked

Ideally, a portable hard drive is something you don’t notice much. It should sit on your desk, quietly storing and backing up your data. And if you want to throw it in your bag (carefully), that shouldn’t be a problem. These are the features you should look for in a portable hard drive, in rough order of importance:

  • Reliability: Although reliability is the most important factor for any storage device, solid information on reliability can be hard to come by. Only three companies still manufacture hard drives—Seagate, Western Digital, and Toshiba—and all of them make reliable hard drives. But all hard drives die. While the vast majority of drives from these manufacturers will be fine until you upgrade to a faster, more spacious drive in a few years, it’s still possible to buy a bad egg that will die too soon.
  • Build quality: Your portable hard drive should be able to withstand normal wear and tear from being handled and thrown into your bag often. Rugged portable drives are bulkier and more expensive than the portable drives we recommend for most people. (You can read more about rugged drives in the Competition section.)
  • Physical size and weight: The smaller and lighter, the better. Your portable hard drive should also draw all the power it needs from the USB port, no power adapter necessary.
  • Speed: Even though portable hard drives are generally slower than their desktop brethren, speed is still important. You’re more likely to use a portable drive to transfer large files between different computers, so a faster drive will save you time. We considered only those drives with USB 3.0 connections. Anything faster isn’t necessary for hard drives, because they’re limited by disk speed, not the USB interface.
  • Price: We found that most people buy 2 TB and 4 TB drives by looking at Amazon reviews for our top picks. While a higher-capacity drive is more cost-effective per terabyte, 4 TB portable hard drives cost nearly twice as expensive as 2 TB drives and supply more storage than most people need. Since many portable drives nowadays have similar performance, lower-cost options are better.
  • Capacity: We recommend getting the largest capacity you can afford right now because you’ll amass more data over time and larger drives generally have a better price-per-terabyte value. We focused on 2 TB drives because of their balance of value and total cost. We also have a 4 TB pick for people who need more portable storage and don’t mind the larger size.
  • Warranty and customer service: A good warranty is important in case you get a lemon. While the majority of portable hard drives we tested have two-year warranties, a couple have three-year warranties. Responsive customer service is important, too, in case you have trouble backing up your data.
  • Backup software: While backup software is a nice perk, you can find lots of free alternatives and other great options for online backup services. If you don’t need the extra features provided by the software, it’s not worth the time and effort to set it up on every computer you use. Dragging and dropping files works just fine for manual backups, and your OS’s built-in backup utility suffices for automatic ones.

How we tested

For our 2018 update, we narrowed down our list of contenders by price and capacity and tested six 2 TB models and one 4 TB model. For each portable hard drive, we ran HD Tune Pro, a benchmarking program that tests sequential transfer speeds and random access time across the entire disk. You can read a more in-depth explanation of the program at the HD Tune website. We also timed the file transfer of a 45.5 GB rip of a Blu-ray movie from start to finish, running each transfer three times and determining the average to rule out performance hiccups. Finally, we timed how long it took each external hard drive to back up 38.5 GB to Time Machine on a 2016 MacBook Pro.

To spot any widespread reliability issues, we read through Amazon reviews for each of the drives we tested and counted the number of reported drive failures. This method has shortcomings. For one, people are more likely to post a review when they have a problem. Also, because of the limited information available in some reviews, it can be hard to differentiate between hardware failures and software issues or user errors that could cause problems with a drive. But this approach is the best we have for now.

We also looked at Backblaze’s hard drive reliability ratings from 2017, which are based on more than 90,000 drives used in its cloud backup servers. Backup servers are a very different environment than a box on your desk—bare drives in servers are accessed more often and are subject to more vibrations and more heat; drives in enclosures have more potential points of failure between the USB connector and the USB-to-SATA logic board. The hard drives Backblaze uses are desktop hard drives, not portable hard drives, with some drives pulled from external enclosures. Even so, the Backblaze study is the largest, most recent sample of hard drive failures we have access to, and it’s always a fascinating read.

Our pick: 2 TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Our pick

2 TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim

The Seagate Backup Plus Slim is reliable, thin, and light, and it offers fast speeds at a reasonable cost.

Buying Options

The 2 TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim is the best portable hard drive for most people because it’s reliable. It’s lighter and smaller than most of the other hard drives we tested, was consistently faster than most of the competition in our tests, and is one of the least expensive drives per terabyte we tested. The Slim also comes with handy backup software.

The Slim has been one of our picks since April 2014 because it continues to be the most reliable drive (based on the largest sample of Amazon reviews) while still providing fast performance. In May 2018, we recorded 249 failure reports out of 2,701 user reviews for the 2 TB model, giving the Slim a 9-percent reported failure rate—that’s pretty good for a drive that’s been around for four years, since drive failure rates start going up after three. During our years of testing, we’ve found that reported failure rates below 10 percent aren't cause for concern.

The Slim (bottom) is just barely thicker than the thinnest drive we’ve tested, the Ultra Slim (top). Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

The Slim (top) is much thinner than most of the other drives we tested, like the WD Elements Portable (bottom).Photo: Rozette Rago

The Slim (bottom) is just barely thicker than the thinnest drive we’ve tested, the Ultra Slim (top). Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

The Slim (top) is much thinner than most of the other drives we tested, like the WD Elements Portable (bottom).Photo: Rozette Rago

Multiple Wirecutter staffers have been using the Seagate Backup Plus Slim for all kinds of things with few to no issues. Lead editor Kimber Streams has been using the drive “to store and transfer personal files, work photos, and test data for about four years,” and has “never used the included software or the app,” but notes that “the drive still works great!” Staff writer Thorin Klosowski has been using the drive with a PlayStation 4 for about a year to store games and data, “and it’s ticking along just fine, even though the PS4 has a knack for requiring a database rebuild if you don’t power it down right.” And senior staff writer Joel Santo Domingo has been using the drive for Time Machine backups and other data storage for two years. He writes, “it’s fast enough to use on a day-to-day basis, and in that time, I’ve yet to fill it up.”

The Seagate Backup Plus Slim is one of the thinnest and lightest portable hard drives we tested. It’s less than half an inch thick—0.48 inches, to be exact—and it weighs just 5.6 ounces, making it easy to throw into a bag when you’re on the go. It’s 4.47 inches long and 2.99 inches wide. Most drives we tested were similarly speedy but were much thicker, which is why the Slim is our pick over anything else. The only 2 TB drive that’s lighter and thinner than the Slim is the Ultra Slim, which we discuss more in the Competition section.

The Toshiba models had the fastest speeds in our Blu-ray transfer test, but the Seagate Backup Plus, our pick, was not far behind. Shorter bars indicate better performance.
The 2 TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim was one of the fastest portable hard drives we tested at creating a backup with Time Machine. Shorter bars indicate better performance.

The Slim was roughly as fast as the competition at reading and writing Blu-ray video, and it was even faster in our Time Machine testing. It was firmly in the middle of the pack for our Blu-ray testing, reading and writing our files in 6 minutes and 33 seconds, and it measured as one of the fastest portable hard drives we tested with Time Machine, writing 38.5 GB to our MacBook Pro in 24 minutes and 9 seconds.

The 2 TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim gave us the best combination of HD Tune read and write speeds. The Toshiba models we tested had faster read speeds, but their write speeds were low and their performance inconsistent. Longer bars indicate better performance.

In HD Tune write testing, the Slim was the fastest portable hard drive we tested, measuring 86.4 MB/s, although its margin of victory fell within the margin of error of our measurements of other portable hard drives’ speeds. Its HD Tune read speed, 88.1 MB/s, was one of the fastest speeds we tested.

The Seagate Backup Plus Slim’s sturdy plastic case doesn’t flex or creak under pressure like many other drives do. It also stands up well to light scratches from keys—only the glossy black sides dinged up in our tests. Although our pick will hold up well to normal bag friction, it isn’t rated to survive any significant shocks.

We recommend the 2 TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim because it’s less expensive per terabyte than the 1 TB model and it’s the highest capacity option the Slim has. (If you need more space, consider the 4 TB Seagate Backup Plus Portable.) Even if you have only a terabyte of data right now, your needs will expand over the drive’s lifespan, and having room to grow is better than buying multiple drives and spending more in the long run. The Backup Plus Slim was on the cheaper end of the portable hard drives we tested; while the WD My Passport and WD Elements cost about the same, everything else cost at least $2.50 more per TB.

Seagate’s software allows you to back up your PC, mobile devices, and social media.

The user-friendly Seagate Dashboard interface lets you back up your PC, mobile devices, and social media, or it can restore from an existing backup. The Seagate Mobile Backup app for iOS and Android also backs up contacts, messages, photos, and other data from your smartphone to your hard drive via Wi-Fi or your phone’s data connection as long as the drive is plugged into a computer running the Dashboard software.

Seagate’s mobile app can also back up data from your smartphone.

The Seagate Backup Plus Slim hasn’t been reviewed recently, but CNET and StorageReview both praised its performance and value when the drive was released in 2014. It has a 4.1-star rating on Amazon out of 15,892 reviews—a larger pool of reviews than any other portable hard drive we’ve tested.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

As PCSTATS notes, the Backup Plus Slim’s USB port wobbles up and down when pressure is applied to the cable more than with other drives. Always disconnect the cable before stashing the drive in a drawer or bag. The USB connection is the weakest point in the external drive, and if you break the port, you won’t be able to access your data until you find a new enclosure.

The Backup Plus Slim’s USB connection can be wobbly, so be sure to unplug the cord before transporting the drive.Photo: Daniela Gorny

The Seagate Backup Plus Slim comes with a two-year warranty—Western Digital, Seagate’s biggest competitor, usually provides three-year warranties—and our perusal of Amazon reviews turned up more complaints about Seagate’s customer service than about WD’s. However, a two-year warranty should be sufficient, and several drives we’ve tested have only one-year warranties, so we don’t think this is a dealbreaker.

Seagate also sells two- and three-year data recovery plans, but we’ve seen several reviewers complain about long waits and a lack of communication from Seagate customer service. Instead, we recommend taking 15 minutes to set up an automatic backup that sends your files to an external drive and encrypted cloud storage without any regular action from you. Data recovery plans never guarantee success, and a thorough backup system is the only way to prevent data loss.

Our pick doesn’t have encryption to protect your data from prying eyes. While the option to encrypt would be nice, it isn’t a dealbreaker for most people. If you really need encryption, use an encryption utility like Veracrypt (or Bitlocker) or consider a portable solid-state drive.

More storage, less portability: 4 TB Seagate Backup Plus Portable

Photo: Daniela Gorny

Also great

4 TB Seagate Backup Plus Portable

The 4 TB Seagate Backup Plus Portable is a reliable drive that offers more storage space for less money per terabyte than our pick, but it’s larger and heavier.

Buying Options

If you care more about price and storage space than size, you should get the 4 TB Seagate Backup Plus Portable. It costs less per terabyte than the 2 TB Backup Plus Slim, and it was about as fast when reading and writing HD Tune transfer tests. The 4 TB model was slower in our other tests though, and it’s much thicker and heavier than the Slim. (But don’t buy the 4 TB Seagate Backup Plus Fast by mistake. We don’t recommend that drive, because with two 2 TB drives inside, it has higher potential to fail.)

Seagate sells a 5 TB model that’s the same dimensions and weight as the 4 TB version, and we found the larger capacity to be about 5 percent faster in our 2016 tests. It’s about the same price per terabyte right now, so you should buy it if you need the extra space in a portable drive. But if you want the fastest, most cost-effective drive and don’t care about portability, take a look at our desktop hard drive pick instead. It’s cheaper per terabyte and faster than the Backup Plus Portable, though it requires an AC adapter.

The 4 TB Seagate Backup Plus Portable was nearly as reliable as our top pick: We found a 10-percent failure rate out of 1,477 Amazon reviews. It costs around $40 more than the 2 TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim, making it considerably cheaper per terabyte, too.

The Backup Plus Portable was a little faster than the Backup Plus Slim in the HD Tune benchmark, achieving results of 101.1 MB/s read and 88.1 MB/s write—13 MB/s and 1.7 MB/s faster, respectively, than the Slim. (Its write speed is not fast enough to separate it from the Slim, though.) The Portable performed respectably in our Blu-ray and Time Machine tests, but the Slim made better time. Both models are fast and reliable, and you should expect to see similar everyday performance from these drives.

The Portable’s USB port can wobble like the Backup Plus Slim’s can. Don’t store the drive with the cord attached.Photo: Daniela Gorny

The Backup Plus Portable (bottom) is thicker and heavier than the Backup Plus Slim (top).Photo: Daniela Gorny

The Portable’s USB port can wobble like the Backup Plus Slim’s can. Don’t store the drive with the cord attached.Photo: Daniela Gorny

The Backup Plus Portable (bottom) is thicker and heavier than the Backup Plus Slim (top).Photo: Daniela Gorny

The extra capacity comes with a minor downside: The Portable is larger and heavier than the Slim. Measuring 4.51 by 3.07 by 0.81 inches and weighing 8.6 ounces, the Portable is almost twice as thick and heavy as the Slim. Otherwise the Portable’s build quality is identical to the Slim’s, down to the slightly wobbly USB port.

The Backup Plus Portable comes with the exact same software as the Slim, and you can read our thoughts on that in the section above.

PCMag gave the Portable an Editors’ Choice awardin January 2016, and AnandTech called it “one of the most cost-effective and easily portable storage media” in August 2015. The 2 TB and 4 TB Slim models share a review pool on Amazon; they have a 4.1 star rating out of 15,892 reviews.

What about wireless portable hard drives?

We don’t think wireless portable hard drives are useful for most people, but the WD My Passport Wireless Pro 2 TB is our pick for professional photographers on the move. The drive’s SD card slot (a feature other wireless hard drives lack) can automatically copy the contents of a memory card to its internal hard disk, and built-in Wi-Fi makes the images available to devices running iOS, Android, macOS, or Windows. It’s also available in a 3 TB capacity.

What to look forward to

Seagate released new versions of the Backup Plus Slim (STHN2000) and Backup Plus Portable (STHP4000), as well as the all-new Backup Plus Ultra Touch (STHH2000), which includes hardware encryption and a USB-C dongle. The new Plus Slim (STHN2000) and new Plus Portable (STHP4000) both performed slightly better than the current picks in this guide. The new Plus Slim (STHN2000) averaged 5 percent faster in read speeds and 9 percent faster in write speeds than the previous Plus Slim (STDR2000). We had similar results with the 4 TB Plus Portable, with the new Plus Portable (STHP4000) averaging 8 percent faster in read speeds than the old Plus Portable (STDR4000), but the two had nearly identical write speeds.

However, our current picks have far more Amazon reviews at this writing—think thousands compared to tens—which gives us a much better idea of a drive’s failure rate. Until we have more reliability data, we still recommend the older versions. If speed is the most important factor for you, pick up a portable SSD instead.

Toshiba has also released a new Canvio Slim. We have not tested the 2 TB model yet, but it has the same small-review-pool problem as the Seagate models. We’ll take a look at it again once it has more reviews.

The competition

A bunch of the portable hard drives that we tested in 2018, including our top picks, the Seagate Backup Plus Slim (front left), and the Seagate Backup Plus Portable (front right).Photo: Rozette Rago

The Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim was briefly our top pick from November 2016 to late January 2017 because it was the lightest, thinnest, fastest portable hard drive we’d tested, and it had a reported failure rate of just 4.2 percent. Since then, however, the failure rate has gone way up: In early May 2018, we calculated a rate of 18.5 percent based on Amazon reviews. Anything above 10 percent is cause for concern, and we can’t recommend it based on that failure rate.

The 2 TB Western Digital My Passport and 2 TB WD Elements are bigger than the Slim by 0.2 inches wide and nearly 0.4 inches thick, and they’re heftier by around 3 ounces. They were slower in most of our file transfer tests, too, although they were about as fast as our top pick in Time Machine testing.

Like the other WD drives we tested, the 2 TB Easystore was bigger than the Slim. It fell behind the Seagate Backup Plus Slim in HD Tune write tests by about 4 MB/s, and it was a little slower in Blu-ray tests, although its differences fell within normal variability. It was as quick as the Slim in Time Machine testing, too. But it’s only available only at Best Buy, and the price fluctuates more than we’d like.

The 2 TB Toshiba Canvio Premium and 2 TB Toshiba Canvio Advance are both as thin as our top pick, but their speeds were wildly inconsistent in our tests—both gave us some of the best Blu-ray scores and the very worst Time Machine speeds—and we have serious concerns about the drives’ performance.

The Seagate Expansion is a decent choice if you want to expand your gaming console’s storage or don’t need software, but in our tests, the Seagate Backup Plus Slim was faster and costs the same per terabyte. Plus, the Expansion is larger and heavier than the Slim, and it comes with a short one-year warranty.

We haven’t tested the Seagate Game Drive for Xbox, but it’s frequently more expensive than the Seagate Backup Plus Slim, it’s a little bigger on all sides, and it weighs about an ounce heavier, too. It has a 10-percent reported failure rate. We don’t love its bright green color scheme for most people, but we’ll look into testing it for our next update.

Free Backup Storage

Transcend’s 2 TB StoreJet 25M3 is larger, heavier, and more expensive per terabyte than our top pick, the Seagate Backup Plus Slim.

WD’s My Passport X is a gaming-focused drive with a short, one-year warranty and no software. Of all the drives we tested in 2015, it had the slowest HD Tune reads and writes—82.5 MB/s and 77.4 MB/s, respectively—and it’s larger and heavier than our picks.

The Toshiba Canvio Basics has a one-year warranty, no software, and a bulkier design than the Slim.

Two of the rugged hard drives we threw into a pool to test their water-resistance ratings.Photos: Kimber Streams

At the end of 2016, we tested three promising, affordable rugged hard drives: the Silicon Power Armor A80, Silicon Power Armor A65, and Silicon Power Armor A85. All three drives are rated to survive going up to 1 meter (about 3.3 feet) underwater for up to 30 minutes, and rated to survive 26 drops on their various surfaces from 4 feet, but none of them survived these conditions in our real-world testing. We don’t recommend paying extra money for a bulkier, heavier drive that doesn’t protect your information like it says it will. We eliminated 10 other rugged drives in our previous update that lack both water and drop protection, which left us with the G-Technology G-Drive ev ATC, the ioSafe Rugged Portable, and the LaCie Rugged RAID, all of which cost too much for most people.

LaCie’s Rugged Triple and Mini are both too expensive to compete with our top pick, and they lack the water protection necessary to consider them for a rugged option. The LaCie Rugged USB-C fails to qualify for a rugged pick on the same grounds.


  1. In late 2016, the Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim beat out the Slim as our top pick, and the Slim became our runner-up. But three months later, when the Ultra Slim’s reported failure rate skyrocketed, we restored the Slim as our top pick.

    Jump back.


  1. Max Page, Seagate Backup Plus Slim External USB 3.0 2TB Hard Drive Review, PCSTATS, September 21, 2016

  2. Dong Ngo, Seagate Backup Plus/Slim portable drive review: A fast portable drive with massive storage space, CNET, March 21, 2014

  3. Lyle Smith, Seagate Backup Plus Slim Portable Drive Review,, March 21, 2014

  4. Joel Santo Domingo, Seagate Backup Plus Portable Drive, PCMag, January 21, 2016

  5. Ganesh T S, Seagate Backup Plus Portable 4 TB USB 3.0 Drive Review, AnandTech, August 4, 2015

  6. Alan Henry, Windows Encryption Showdown: VeraCrypt vs Bitlocker, Lifehacker, May 22, 2016

When you purchased your computer, you thought it had plenty of space. Or at least, it seemed like it did… until photos, videos, programs, documents, and other files began crowding the disk space.

Whether desktop or laptop, 10 years old or only 2, running out of storage on your Mac or PC is a widespread problem with an easy solution.

For a lot of people, the go-to is cloud storage services such as iCloud or Google Drive, but these aren’t a great fit for everyone, especially if you have a lot of files or need to access them offline on both your mac and PC.

In this case, an external drive that’s Mac and PC interchangeable is the best option, because you’ll have all your files on hand at all times and it can store significantly more data than a cloud drive.

In this article, we’ll help you better understand the use cases of a physical drive, and round up the best Mac & PC compatible external drives for backup and storage purposes.

Quick Summary

Tired of learning all the “techy” terms related to hard drives? We understand. Here’s a brief of our recommendations to save you time exploring.

For Mac users: G-Technology Portable External Hard Drive 2TB

From the sleek design to the pre-formatting, this terabyte-sized drive is perfect for Mac users who need a little extra space and offers the transfer rate up to 140MB/s for accessing all your files.

For Windows PC users: WD 2TB Elements Portable

At 5400 RPM but only around 3″ x 4″, this tiny drive packs a real punch. You can get it in sizes from 1 to 4 TB, all of which are equally portable and will allow you to access your files with speed and efficiency wherever you go.

For the best of both worlds: Samsung T5 Portable SSD

Whether you simply prefer the speed of an SSD or use both Mac and PC on a regular basis, this drive offers formatting that works everywhere you go and top notch read/write rates. The drive is small, portable, and sleek (available in multiple colors!)

Who Should Get This?

You don’t have to be a power user to make use of an external drive, but if you aren’t sure you need one, here are some considerations:

  • Has your computer slowed down due to being stuffed with files you aren’t necessarily using all the time?
  • Do you need to backup your computer, especially if you’re worried about a crash soon due to the age of the machine?
  • Are the fees for your cloud storage service not worth the amount of storage you get?
  • Do you want to clean up old files that you only occasionally reference?
  • Need a better place to run large applications from, or have programs you want to run on more than one computer?

If you’re saying yes to any of these, then there’s a good chance you would benefit from an external drive. It’ll give you space and security that you need.

However, an external drive might not be the best choice for you if you only have a few files that need storage, or if you already have a backup of your computer for example via backup software. In that case, using a small flash drive or an online cloud storage provider might be the better option.

External Drive for Mac and PC Compatible: What to Look for?

File Capacity

The number one consideration when buying an external drive is how much space it has to offer. Depending on what type of files you’ll be storing and how long you want the drive to last, you may want more or less space. However, when buying an external drive you should be getting at minimum 128GB, as anything less will be better served by a flash drive. Many people will be much more satisfied with closer to 1 TB of storage though since space tends to disappear faster than you would think.

Type: HDD and SSD

External drives come in two types: HDD and SSD. The former is what is normally referred to as a “hard drive”, since it uses a physical spinning disk to read and write data, while the latter, sometimes called a solid-state drive, actually uses flash memory and stores everything electronically and has no moving parts. An HDD tends to be cheaper, but SSDs are faster and more reliable.


An external drive is typically formatted for either MacOS or PC use. While there are some drives that work on both, most tend need to be reformatted to be functional on the opposite system, and that will erase all your data. Formatting in the first place can also be difficult, so look for a drive that’s already formatted to work with your computer and know that you will only be able to access your files on machines of the same type.


All external drives are rated for read-and-write speeds, which is how fast they can store, retrieve, and display information. Higher speeds are better, but a small difference won’t be noticeable. An HDD is generally not capable of the higher speeds of an SSD, but they do tend to be much cheaper.

Best External Drive for Mac and PC Interchangeable: Our Picks in 2019

1. G-Technology Portable External Hard Drive 2TB

Using a Mac? This drive is preformatted just for you, offering a high transfer rate for fast file access and connects easily via USB-C. It will definitely stand up to regular use of creative editing applications and store files/backups well if you’re using in a more long-term frame.


  • 2TB is a fair amount of storage space for any user, and this drive is available in larger sizes as well.
  • The transfer rates up to 140 MB/s means you can easily access your files without sacrificing any time spent loading or waiting for files to transfer.


  • Pre-formatted for Mac, but can be reformatted to Windows.
  • Not cross-compatible.

2. WD 2TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive

If you’re an avid PC user, this HDD drive from Western Digital has you covered. With sizes from 1 to 4 TB and plug-n-play functionality, you’ll start with your feet on the ground. USB 3.0 allows you to transfer files at up to 5MB/s, and the drive overall runs at 5400 RPM.


  • A high RPM means you don’t have to worry about sitting in front of your computer waiting for files to load, while the slim 3″ by 4″ design is super portable, perfect for taking files to and from work or another setting.
  • Can even be used to backup games on your console.


  • Only for PC, unless you want to separately reformat to use with Mac.

3. Samsung T5 Portable SSD

Available from the smallest 250 GB size all the way up to 2TB, this external SSD from Samsung writes at 540MB/s, which is a stellar rate. It normally uses a USB-C cable, but if your computer doesn’t yet support this, a standard USB-A cable is also provided. This product also ranks in our best portable SSD drive review.


  • Formatted to work on Mac and Windows and even Android!
  • A variety of storage options makes it easy to find the right size for you.
  • The sleek drive is also very sturdy and fits into the palm of your hand.


  • Transfer speeds may be slightly lower if you can’t make use of the included USB-C cable.

Useful Tips

Don’t forget to get an external drive case (like this one from Amazon), which will help protect your drive from potential damage caused by accidental scratch or dropping. It also allows you easily pack it into backpack or briefcase.
Want to format your external drive for Mac and PC compatibility? Check out this step-by-step tutorial we created earlier.

To extend the life of your storage drive, it’s a good practice to always put it on a flat and stable surface and away from heaters, humidifiers or air conditioners. Also, when you’re done with data backup or file transfer, make sure to properly eject the drive before plugging it out.

Still can’t decide between an HDD or SSD external drive? Check out this guide from PC World, which will help outline which is best depending on your situation. Alternatively, if you aren’t sure about getting an external hard drive at all, you can always try out a web-based cloud service first to see if it gives you space and flexibility you want.

Google Drive, OneDrive, or Dropbox are great places to get started since they offer free options at the lowest tier, and paid users can get more than 1TB of storage space.

Final Words

Whether you prefer HDD or SSD, you’re looking for your first drive or your third, an external drive is usually a great solution for data backup and file storage on both your Mac and PC. Moving files off your computer will also help tune up your PC a little bit and will protect your important files from potential damage.

Are you using both a Mac and PC, and how much space do you need for your external drive? Leave us a comment below and tell us how you’re making the most of your external drive!

Influenced by the startup culture in the Silicon Valley, Jessica loves building things from zero to one and is keen on following news related to the Big Five tech giants and many SaaS startups.