Best External Hard Drives for Time Machine
Time machine is an in-built backup program developed by Apple and it copies the files on your system to a destination you designate which could be an external hard drive, a network server, Apple’s new Time Capsule device, or a second drive inside your Mac. There are several options. However, most people choose an external hard drive as their preferred backup option for a number of reasons.
All external hard drives aren’t made equal and you can’t just use any external hard drive with time machine. I’ve been using Mac for a while and have tried multiple hard drives with time machine. So, I think I’m in a very good position to give you advice about the type of external hard drives to use with time machine. It took losing some files for me to understand the importance of choosing a quality external hard drive for time machine. And I wouldn’t want you to make the same mistakes I made back then.
People not familiar with the time machine will also be learning a few things about the program later on in this article. So let’s get straight to it and take a look at some of the best external hard drives for time machine. And I can assure you that you’ll find an external hard drive that meets your needs on this list.
The Best External Hard Drives For Time Machine
Best overall: Samsung T5 SSD
The Samsung T5 SSD is a wonderful external hard drive to use with time machine. The compact and portable design of this external hard drive is one of the main reasons behind its popularity. The T5 can easily fit inside your shirt pocket, no kidding! Thus drive comes with two USB cables – the standard USB and USB-C cables – which I think is very thoughtful as they can be used with both old and new Macs.
Being an SSD drive, the T5 is blazingly fast, so fast you can run the Virtual Box image directly from this external hard drive. Try doing this with some other external drives and you will find them to be too slow.
I also think I should talk about the durability of this external hard drive. Durability is something I always look out for in products. No matter how amazing the performance of a product is, if it isn’t durable, then I’m not buying. The T5 will not disappoint you when it comes to durability. You’ll be using this drive for a long time and you’ll definitely get value for your money. There’s also the AES 256-bit hardware encryption which keeps your personal and private data more secure
You can check out Samsung T5 SSD on Amazon.
Budget pick: Toshiba Canvio Basics
Everybody loves a bargain, right? Well, if you are looking for a bargain external hard drive for time machine, here it is. This external hard drive sells for under $100 and when you consider the price and its performance, you’ll realize you are getting good value for your money.
This drive has a whooping capacity of 4TB which should be more than enough for most users. The Toshiba Canvio Basics is also easy to use as all you have to do is to plug it and then start copying files. No installation software needed.
The portable design is another point in favor of this external hard drive making it very travel-friendly. There’s no reason for you to put this external hard drive at home when traveling. Just put it in your pocket or bag. You can also use this drive with both USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports. It’ll be great if your Mac has a 3.0 port as that will result in faster transfer of files to and from this hard drive.
Best for photo and video pros : LaCie Rugged RAID Shuttle
This drive is specially designed for professionals – ranging from photographers to filmmakers, musicians, and so on – that work in the field and deal with large amounts of data they can’t afford to lose. For this reason, this external hard drive is super durable thanks to the crush-resistant grey brushed aluminum case.
There are actually two physical drives inside this device. You have the 8TB fast performance drive and the safer $TB drive. A copy of your file is saved on both drives making it difficult for you to lose your files. This drive is rated to be IP54 dust and water-resistant and can also withstand a 4-foot fall. This external hard drive can easily fit a gear bag and even a padded overnight express envelope. This allows pros to be able to send files to their offices in situations where internet connections are slow or even non-existent.
This external hard drive comes with two cables – a USB Type-C connector at each end and a USB Type-C-to-Type-A. There’s also the power block that comes with interchangeable plug modules that can be used with a variety of domestic and foreign power outlets. As you can see, this external hard drive is fully tailored to meet the needs of professionals out in the field.
You can check LaCie Rugged RAID Shuttle on Amazon.
Best for large multimedia collections – WD My Passport (5TB)
The large storage capacity if this external hard drive should tell you why I’m recommending it for people with large multimedia collections. My passport also works with both USB 3.0 and USB-C ports and it comes with two cables of these types. And this means you’ll always have a cable compatible with a port on your Mac.
The speed of this external hard drive is also impressive. You can get a max speed of 10.0 Gbit/s with the 3.0 port while the USB-C port has an even better speed with a max of 40.0 Gbit/s. Overall the read and write speed of My Passport is around 110 MB/s.
I like that this external hard drive is already preformatted for macOS. Just a simple plug and play is what you need to start using this drive. You can protect your files by using the AES-256 hardware encryption and password protection which is essentially unbreakable if implemented properly. To do this, you’ll have to use the WD Security app that comes with the drive to set up a password as well as a password hint. This way, you can be assured of the security of your files should this drive be ever stolen or lost.
You can check out WD My Passport on Amazon.
Best for security-conscious frequent travelers – Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch
If you are someone that travels frequently or takes security very seriously, then this is the external hard drive you’ve been looking for. The unique feature of this drive is a fingerprint reader which I think is an innovative solution to the issue of security of the vast amount of data many of us have on our external hard drives. The Samsung T7 is the first drive I’ve encountered to feature fingerprint security.
There is also the small and compact design of this drive. In fact, the T7 is about the size of a credit card which is great for travelers. You won’t appreciate the compact design of this hard drive until you’ve had to put your external hard drive at home when going on a trip because it is too bulky. The read and write speed of T7 is impressive, almost double of the corresponding values of T5: up to 1000 MB/s for both reads and writes.
You’ll need to install the Samsung Portable SSD software to set up the T7’s encryption and register your fingerprint. The drive is also already preformatted for macOS, so you just need to plug and play to start using it. Samsung includes both USB Type-C cable and Type-C-to-Type-A cables in the package. While this is a thoughtful addition, it’s totally expected when you consider the price of the drive.
You can check out the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch on Amazon.
Best for grab-and-go storage – Lexar SL100 Pro
This is a tough and sleek external hard drive that performs reliably and is good for grab-and-go storage. This drive is more suited for media pros and casual users. Opening the box, you’ll see the Lexar SL100 Pro in all its glory as well as two USB cables – a USB Type-C and a USB Type-A cable.
This external hard drive can be used with USB 3.1 ports which will bring about an increase in transfer speed. If your Mac has an earlier version of USB, don’t fret. This drive will still work.
This drive comes with 256-bit data encryption which helps protect the file on the drive. Out of the box, this external hard drive comes formatted in exFAT, which isn’t compatible with macOS. Worry not friend, you can easily format this drive and make it compatible with your operating system. However, remember to copy any provided utility software first before formatting so you can place it back on the drive when the process is complete.
This drive doesn’t have a lot of cons. Perhaps the only issue with this drive is that the cables are a bit short. The length of the cables (9 inches) isn’t going to be a problem with laptop users but the same is not true for people working on desktops.
You can check Lexar SL100 Pro on Amazon.
Best for maximum flexibility, data protection – LaCie 2big RAID
Videographers, musicians, and creative pros in general that regularly deal with vast amounts of data will find this external hard drive useful. This device combines two hot-swappable, high-capacity drives and comes with a wide variety of settings for maximum flexibility and data protection.
I like the appearance of this drive and some may describe it as aesthetically pleasing. The eye-catching grey and black case contains two spinning-platter drives. It’s possible for you to configure this external hard drive in such a way that your system sees it as either two separate 4TB drives, a 4TB drive that’s automatically mirrored or backed up to the second, or as a single 8TB drive with faster performance.
You can check the LaCie 2big RAID on Amazon.
How to choose hard drives for Time Machine
I think it’s important I take you through the criteria I used to select the best hard drives for time machine. So here they are.
I think the most important thing one should look for when finding external hard drives for any backup is reliability. The appearance and even performance of the drive don’t matter if it fails you when you need it.
The bitter truth is that all hard drives fail. You can’t find a model that is 100% fail-free. That’s why you’ll always find a number If bad reviews on an Amazon product no matter how good it is. So what we are looking for here is models or brands with very low failure rates.
Let me also remind you that not all Amazon reviews are real. I’ve been using Amazon long enough to know this. Sometimes, you see thousands of reviews on a product/brand that’s totally unknown while some good and reputable brands only manage to get a couple of hundred reviews.
This is why I put brand name/reputation first when finding the best external hard drives for time machine. Some reputable hard drive brands include Samsung, Western Digital, Seagate, Buffalo, Toshiba, and so on. Those are the ones that came to me right now.
Storage capacity is the next thing to consider after the brand name. It’s normal for you to want to get as much storage as you can. But at the same time, you have to be practical as more space means more money. And this means you need to achieve a balance between storage capacity and price.
A question people regularly ask me is “What’s the best size for the Time Machine backup drive?” It’s a totally valid question and my answer is that you should bet a drive that’s at least twice the size of the primary storage of your Mac. This means someone with a Mac system of 128GB disk size should get a drive of at least 256GB with 1TB being the ideal choice.
Time machine makes a full backup of the data on your system the first time you run it. After that, the program keeps deltas – files that have changed. Also, time machine takes local and hourly snapshots for the last 24hrs, daily, and even weekly snapshots as storage permits. The moment your backup disk, in this case, external hard drive, gets full, time machine will start deleting your oldest snapshots. And this will limit your ability to go back.
One of the biggest criticisms of Apple’s time machine is that the program is slow, or at least slower than other commercial backup solutions. This is understandable when you consider that the program operates in the background and doesn’t affect the performance of other programs you are running.
A way to speed up time machine is to get an external hard drive with a high transfer speed. This means you have to take note of the read and write performance of your drive. Writes are important for fast backup while reads will influence the speed of restoration.
It’s important any drive you are buying is compatible with the platform you’ll be using it on, in this case, macOS. The good thing is that many external hard disks on the market are already preformatted for PC or Mac, and you just need to plug them into your system and start using them right away.
Time machine only recognizes drives that are formatted as Mac OS Extended (Journaled) or HFS+. The program will require you to reformat the drive if it comes in a different format.
You can use any external hard drive with your Apple computer as long as it has the proper connector. Newer Mac computers come with USB-C ports while older models have either USB 2.0, 3.0, or 3.1 or Thunderbolt. Just make sure the external drive you are getting supports the Mac ports.
I also put the price into consideration and I placed reliability above the price when choosing the external hard drives for time machine. While it’s normal for you to want to save money, still buy a drive from a reputable brand.
Buying some cheap no-name brands will result in drives that will fail quickly. At the end of the day, you’ll realize you didn’t get value for your money.