With the growing popularity of SSD drives, the average Mac has less storage than it used to, making an external drive handier than ever. They’re useful for storing files you don’t need to keep permanently on your computer, for transferring files between computers, and for keeping backups of your Mac’s internal storage.

time machine backup drive

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In our review of the best Mac backup software, we recommend every Mac user should use Time Machine to back up Mac data to an external hard drive. In this guide, we’ll recommend a number of the best drives to consider.

One hard drive solution won’t suit everyone. Desktop users may prefer to max out the storage with a larger 3.5-inch drive, while laptop users will appreciate a smaller 2.5-inch drive that doesn’t need to be plugged into mains power. Heavy users of portable drives may prefer a ruggedized version that’s less susceptible to damage.

For desktop Mac users we love the look of the Seagate Backup Plus Hub for Mac. There are large capacity options that are quite inexpensive, it includes a USB hub for your peripherals and memory sticks, and even include cloud storage. The company’s portable drive also offers exceptional value, though if you prefer a more rugged solution, you can’t go past the ADATA HD710 Pro.

In my opinion, these offer the best value for money for most Mac users. But they’re not your only options. You may prefer to spend a little more for a high-speed drive, even higher capacity, or a sturdy metal case that will match your Mac and look incredible on your desk. Only you know your priorities.

Why Trust Me for This Guide

My name is Adrian Try, and I’ve been using external drives since before USB existed. I’ve been diligently backing up my computers for decades and have tried a wide variety of backup strategies, software, and media. I currently use Time Machine to back up my 1 TB internal iMac drive to a 2 TB HP SimpleSave 3.5-inch external USB drive.

But that’s not my only external drive. I use a Seagate Expansion Drive on my Mac Mini media computer to hold a large iTunes library and have several Western Digital My Passport portable drives in my desk drawer. All of these drives have been working flawlessly for many years. I’m currently considering upgrading my iMac’s backup drive to a larger-capacity portable drive to free up a PowerPoint in my office.

I’ve also helped a number of businesses and companies set up backup systems. I remember some years ago going shopping for an external drive with Daniel, a client who is an accountant. When he saw the LaCie Porsche Design desktop drive he couldn’t believe his eyes. It was gorgeous, and as far as I know, he’s still using it today. If you’re like Daniel, we’ve included a number of attractive drives in our roundup.

Every Mac User Needs a Backup Drive

Who needs an external hard drive for Time Machine backup? You do.

Every Mac user should own a good external hard drive or two. They’re an essential part of a good backup strategy, and they’re handy for storing files you don’t have room for on your internal drive. After all, my current MacBook’s SSD has far less capacity than the spinning hard drive I was using a decade ago.

You don’t have one? Well, before you go shopping, let us help you narrow down your choices.

Best Time Machine Backup Drive: Our Top Picks

Best Backup Drive for Desktop Mac: Seagate Backup Plus Hub

Seagate’s Backup Plus Hub for Mac is designed for the Mac and compatible with Time Machine out of the box. Four and eight terabyte versions are available, more than enough for most people. Amazon’s price for the 8 TB version makes it a no-brainer—that’s less than most other companies’ 4 TB drives. But there’s more.

This drive includes two integrated USB 3.0 ports that will charge your phone or connect your peripherals and USB sticks to your Mac.

At a glance:

  • Capacity: 4, 8 TB,
  • Speed: 5400 rpm,
  • Max data transfer: 160 MB/s,
  • Interface: USB 3.0,
  • Case: white plastic,
  • Features: two integrated USB 3.0 ports, comes with cloud storage.

Seagate drives have a reputation for reliability. The first hard drive I bought was a Seagate, way back in 1989. The Backup Plus Hub is designed for the Mac and is the most affordable 8 TB drive, followed by the WD My Book. The included hub will give you much easier access to USB ports, which is handy when connecting peripherals, copying files to a Flash drive, or just charging your phone.

Some limited free cloud storage is included with the drive. A 2-month complimentary membership to Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan is included and must be redeemed by a specified deadline.

Best Portable Backup Drive for Mac: Seagate Backup Plus Portable

The Seagate Backup Plus Portable is also a bargain. It’s the most affordable portable drive we cover in either the 2 TB or 4 TB capacities. The drive is mounted in a sturdy metal case, and the 4 TB case is a little thicker than the 2 TB version.

At a glance:

  • Capacity: 2, 4 TB,
  • Speed: 5400 rpm,
  • Max data transfer: 120 MB/s,
  • Interface: USB 3.0,
  • Case: brushed aluminum.

This portable drive doesn’t include a hub like Seagate’s desktop drive, but it’s slim and housed in an attractive, sturdy metal case. If you prefer the slimmest drive, go for the 2 TB “Slim” option, which is a significant 8.25 mm thinner.

Since the switch to SSDs, many Mac laptops have significantly less internal storage than they used to, so portable hard drives are handier than ever. Most MacBook users should find that 2-4 TB is more than enough to back up their computer and also store additional files they don’t need permanently on their computers. For best practice, buy two drives, one for each function.

Unlike a desktop drive, portable drives don’t need an additional power source. And like the desktop version, a 2-month complimentary membership to Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan is included and must be redeemed by a specified deadline.

Best Rugged Backup Drive for Mac: ADATA HD710 Pro

Of the four rugged external hard drives we cover, only two come in a 4 TB capacity. Of the two, the ADATA HD710 Pro is significantly more affordable. It’s even cheaper than some of the non-ruggedized portable drives we cover. How rugged is it? Extremely. It’s waterproof, dustproof, and shockproof and exceeds military-grade standards. It comes with a three-year warranty.

At a glance:

  • Capacity: 1, 2, 4, 5 TB,
  • Speed: 5400 rpm,
  • Interface: USB 3.2,
  • Case: extra-rugged triple-layered construction, various colors,
  • Drop resistant: 1.5 meters,
  • Water resistant: up to 2 meters for 60 minutes.

If you regularly use an external hard drive in extreme conditions, or if you’re just very clumsy, you’ll appreciate a ruggedized portable drive. The HD710 Pro is extremely rugged. It’s IP68 Waterproof, and has been tested being submerged in two meters of water for 60 minutes. It’s also IP68 military-grade shockproof and IP6X dustproof. And to demonstrate the company’s confidence in its own product, it comes with a three-year warranty.

For durability, the casing has three layers: silicone, a shock-absorbing buffer, and a plastic shell closest to the drive. A number of colors are available.

Other Good External Drives for Time Machine Backup

Desktop Drives Worth Considering

WD My Book

I’ve owned a number of Western Digital My Books over the years and found them very good. They’re also very affordable and missed out on the win by a whisker. Seagate’s 8 TB drive is significantly cheaper, but if you’re after a 4 or 6 TB drive, a My Book is the way to go.

My Books are available in more capacities than the Seagate Backup Plus, which only comes in 4 and 8 TB models. So if you’re after some other capacity—large, small or in between—WD’s drives may also be a better choice for you. However, they don’t include a USB hub like the Backup Plus does.

At a glance:

  • Capacity: 3, 4, 6, 8,10 TB,
  • Speed: 5400 rpm,
  • Interface: USB 3.0,
  • Case: plastic.

LaCie Porsche Design Desktop Drive

If you’re willing to pay more for a luxurious metal enclosure that will match the good looks of your Mac, LaCie’s Porsche Design desktop drives fit the bill. When my fashion-conscious friend Daniel saw one it was love at first sight, and he had to buy it. The Amazon link below goes to the USB-C version of the drive, but the company also offers a version for USB 3.1 drives.

Since 2003, LaCie has been collaborating with design house Porsche Design to produce external hard drive enclosures that look like works of art. It’s a modern, minimalist design with rounded corners, high-polish beveled edges, and sandblasted finish. Apple approves and sells LaCie drives in their store.

Besides its good looks, LaCie’s desktop drive has a number of other features. First, an adaptor is included in the box, so you can use the USB 3.0 version in a USB-C port and vice-versa without additional cost. Second, like the Seagate drives, it includes a 2-month complimentary membership to Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan. (This must be redeemed by a specified deadline.) Finally, it will charge your laptop while it’s plugged into the drive.

At a glance:

  • Capacity: 4, 6, 8 TB,
  • Speed: 5400 rpm,
  • Interface: USB-C, USB 3.0 adaptor included. A USB 3.0 model is available separately.
  • Case: aluminum enclosure by Porsche Design.

Fantom Drives G-Force 3 Professional

Finally, the most high-end drive we cover is the Fantom Drives G-Force 3 Professional. It’s the only high-speed 7200 rpm drive included in our review, features a sturdy black brushed-aluminum case that can be stored vertically to save some desk space, and comes in a wide range of capacities from 1-14 TB.

You’ll pay more for the G-Force than our winner, but it’s superior in every way. The high-speed drive is 33% faster than the other drives we review. That’s significant if you regularly save huge files, say video footage. The brushed black (or optional silver) aluminum casing looks good and is sturdier than the plastic cases of most of the competition. And the integrated stand allows you to store the drive vertically, which may save you some desk space.

There are also ten different storage capacities available, from 1 TB all the way up to 14 TB. While 2 or 4 TB will suit most users, if you need additional space the G-Force offers it in spades, but at a price. In summary, if you’re willing to pay for the best external hard drive out there, this is it.

At a glance:

  • Capacity: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 TB,
  • Speed: 7200 rpm,
  • Interface: USB 3.0/3.1,
  • Case: black aluminum (a silver version is available at a premium).

Portable Drives Worth Considering

WD My Passport for Mac

I own a number of WD My Passport drives and love them. But they cost more than the Seagate Backup Plus Portable and have a plastic case rather than a metal one. Western Digital does offer a more expensive model with a metal case—the My Passport Ultra.

The My Passport for Mac is designed for the Mac and is Time Machine ready. A number of colors are available, and the cables match.

At a glance:

  • Capacity: 1, 2, 3, 4 TB,
  • Speed: 5400 rpm,
  • Interface: USB 3.0,
  • Case: plastic.

LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive

LaCie’s Porsche Design Mobile Drives look as good as their desktop counterparts, and are your best choice if you don’t mind paying more to make your external drive match your MacBook. While it doesn’t offer as much protection as a rugged drive, the case is made of 3 mm thick solid aluminum which certainly helps.

LaCie drives are designed for the Mac. They’re available in space gray, gold and rose gold, and come set up to work well with Time Machine. But they’ll work with Windows too. Like other options, drives with 4 TB and greater are significantly thicker.

At a glance:

  • Capacity: 1, 2, 4, 5 TB,
  • Speed: 5400 rpm,
  • Interface: USB-C, USB 3.0 adaptor included,
  • Case: aluminum enclosure by Porsche Design.

G-Technology G-Drive Mobile

Like the LaCie Portable and Slim, the G-Technology G-Drive Mobile is mounted in an aluminum case that comes in three Apple colors. It costs about the same but comes in USB 3.0, USB-C and Thunderbolt versions. And like LaCie drives, Apple likes the look of them and sells them in their store.

At a glance:

  • Capacity: 1, 2, 4 TB,
  • Speed: 5400 rpm,
  • Transfer speed: 130 MB/s,
  • Interface: USB-C (USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt versions available),
  • Case: aluminum,
  • Colors: silver, space gray, rose gold.

Rugged Drives Worth Considering

LaCie Rugged Mini

The LaCie Rugged Mini is designed for all-terrain use. It’s shock-resistant (for drops of up to four feet), and dust and water-resistant. It’s available in USB 3.0, USB-C, and Thunderbolt versions. It’s the most expensive rugged drive we cover in this Mac backup drive review.

The aluminum case is protected by a rubber sleeve for extra protection. The drive inside is from Seagate, and it comes formatted for Windows, so it will have to be reformatted to work with your Mac. A zip-up case is included and features an interior strap to secure your drive in place.

At a glance:

  • Capacity: 1, 2, 4 TB,
  • Speed: 5400 rpm,
  • Transfer speed: 130 MB/s (510 MB/s for Thunderbolt),
  • Interface: USB 3.0 (USB-C and Thunderbolt versions available),
  • Case: aluminum,
  • Drop Resistant: 4 feet (1.2m), dust and water-resistant.

Silicon Power Armor A80

With “armor” in the name, the Silicon Power Armor A80 is waterproof and military-grade shockproof. It’s not available in a 4 TB capacity, but the 2 TB drive is the least expensive we include in this review.

A layer of shock-resistant gel is placed inside the housing to add an extra bumper for full shock protection. The drive passed the US military MIL-STD-810F transit drop test and functioned perfectly after surviving falls from three meters.

At a glance:

  • Capacity: 1, 2 TB,
  • Speed: 5400 rpm,
  • Interface: USB 3.1,
  • Case: shock-resistant silica gel,
  • Drop resistant: 3 meters,
  • Water resistant: up to 1m for 30 minutes.

Transcend StoreJet 25M3

Another drive with a maximum capacity of 2TB, the Transcend StoreJet 25M3, is affordable, has excellent anti-shock protection, and is available in two colors.

The drive features a three-stage shock protection system that includes a silicone rubber case, an internal shock-absorbing suspension damper, and a reinforced hard casing. It meets the US military drop-test standards to protect your data.

At a glance:

  • Capacity: 1, 2 TB,
  • Speed: 5400 rpm,
  • Interface: USB 3.1,
  • Case: silicone rubber case, internal shock-absorbing suspension damper, reinforced hard casing,
  • Drop resistant: US military drop-test standards.

Best Hard Drive for Time Machine: How We Picked

Positive Consumer Reviews

I find consumer reviews helpful, so use them to add to my own experience using external drives. They’re from real users about their good and bad experiences with drives they bought with their own money and use every day. We’ve only considered hard drives with a consumer rating of four stars and above that were reviewed by hundreds of users or more.


How large a drive do you need? For backup purposes, you need one large enough to hold all of the files on your internal drive, plus different versions of the files you have changed. You may also want some additional room to store files that you don’t need (or don’t fit) on your internal drive.

For most users, a good starting point would be 2 TB, though I believe a minimum of 4TB will give you a better experience with room to grow in the future. In this review, we cover capacities of 2-8 TB. Some users, for example, videographers, could do with even more storage.


Most hard drives today spin at 5400 rpm, which is fine for backup purposes. You normally perform a full backup or clone backup when you’re away from your computer, possibly overnight, so a bit of extra speed won’t make a difference. And after your initial backup, Time Machine can easily keep up with those files you change during the day.

Faster drives are available but cost more. We’ve included one 7200 rpm drive in our review—the Fantom Drives G-Force 3 Professional. It’s 33% faster, but costs 100% more than the Seagate Backup Plus Hub for Mac.

For applications where high speed is crucial, you may prefer to choose an external Solid State Drive (SSD). Read our review of the best SSD for Mac here.

Apple Compatible

You need a drive that’s compatible with Apple’s HFS+ and ATFS file systems and USB 3.0/3.1, Thunderbolt and USB-C ports. We’ve chosen drives specifically designed for Apple devices, or that explicitly state that they work with Macs. Most external hard drives use a USB 3.0/3.1 port. These should work with any Mac, though you may have to purchase a cable or adaptor if your Mac has Thunderbolt or USB-C ports. If you prefer a drive to work specifically with your computer, some products we list provide options for each type of port.

Desktop, Portable or Rugged

Hard drives come in two sizes: 3.5-inch desktop drives that require to be plugged into a power source and 2.5-inch portable drives that run from bus power, and don’t need an additional power cable. Some companies also offer ruggedized portable drives that are less susceptible to damage from shock, dust or water.

If you use a desktop computer, you may prefer to choose a 3.5-inch drive. These are worth considering because larger capacities are available and they may cost less money. You won’t have to carry the drive around, so you won’t mind the larger size, and you’re likely to have a spare powerpoint in your office. We cover four of these in our review:

  • WD My Book,
  • Seagate Backup Plus Hub for Mac,
  • LaCie Porsche Design Desktop Drive,
  • Fantom Drives G-Force 3 Professional.

But if you’re a laptop user, or you’re running out of room on your desk, you may prefer a 2.5-inch external drive. These are bus-powered, so you won’t need to carry an extra power cord, and they’re significantly smaller. However, it’s difficult to find drives with more than 4 TB of space available. We cover four of these in our review:

  • WD My Passport for Mac,
  • Seagate Backup Plus Portable Drive for Mac,
  • LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive,
  • G-Technology G-Drive Mobile.

If you regularly use your portable drive on the go—especially if you’re outside—you may like to spend a little more on a rugged hard drive. These are tested to be drop-resistant, dust-resistant and water-resistant—often with military-grade tests—offering additional peace of mind that your data will be safe. We cover four of these in our review:

  • LaCie Rugged Mini,
  • ADATA HD710 Pro,
  • Silicon Power Armor A80,
  • Transcend StoreJet 25M3.


Some drives offer additional features that you may or may not find useful. These include a hub to plug your peripherals into, cases made of metal rather than plastic, a greater focus on design, and included cloud storage.


Affordability is an important differentiator since the quality and functionality of each drive is similar. Each of these drives has been highly rated by hundreds or thousands of consumers, so value for money was a major consideration when choosing our winners.
Here are the cheapest street prices (at the time of writing) for the 2, 4, 6 and 8 TB options of each drive (if available). The cheapest price for each capacity in each category has been bolded and given a yellow background.

Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in this table is subject to change, and reflects the cheapest street prices I could find at the time of writing.

That wraps up this guide. Hopefully, you’ve found a hard drive that’s best for your Time Machine backup needs.