What to Know When Buying an External Hard Drive for Your Mac

Finally, you have chosen to back up your files for your Mac.

Your five gigabyte iCloud storage account is almost full to the brim and you are tired of having to deal with the down times wherein your computer would create virtual backups of your files. Sometimes when people ask me if they should purchase an external hard drive, I’ll tell them it really depends on what you are going to use it for. To the video editor that is going to need to storage massive amounts of data: absolutely. For anyone who just doesn’t have the bandwidth to upload gigabytes of data (or the wallet to afford the cloud a monthly basis for that matter) I highly recommend picking up an external hard drive.

Having one around guarantees an *almost* unlimited storage option that you can quickly access just by plugging it in to your Mac.

Despite all of the conveniences that come with buying an external hard drive, not everything is fun and games: there will be tough choices that you need to make and a few reminders you need to keep in mind.

Why do you need one?

Let’s assume that you aren’t using cloud storage and you are just relying on your built-in hard drive. Let’s just say this: leaving data with no backup on your computer is a huge no-no. Even if you have a new Mac, you run the risk of losing all your files because of a hard disk failure or when someone decides to steal your computer from you.

Also, extra space occupied by files in your hard disk can cause a log jam, thus slowing your computer down. Multimedia files, such as photos, videos, and songs are primary antagonists in this one – you rarely use and access them, but they will arguably take up most of your storage space.

Yes, you will need to transfer or copy them to another location. Do you want your computer to be held back by the files you do not use?

Different varieties

Now that we have established why you need to have an external hard disk around, let’s take a look at some of the different types.

The storage capacity of these hard disks vary: there are some that provide as little as 128 gigabyte (which is now considered tiny in today’s standards) to over 20 terabyte (one terabyte is equal to 1000 GB). Anyway, you can easily pick one according to your needs. If you just need to store a documents and a few multimedia files, you won’t need a terabytes of storage space – safe to say that a 500 GB external hard disk would suffice.

Anyway, there are different types of hard disks and these include the following:

  • External Sold State Drives – also known as SSDs, these types of hard disks are among the most durable – and expensive. This is due to them having fewer moving parts. SSDs are your best choice if you value security above all else.
  • 3.5 inch desktop hard drives – this is the most common variety, usually found on both homes and offices. These disks require a power source to use – you can’t just plug it in to your computer and expect it to power on.
  • 2.5 inch portable hard drives – unlike their desktop counterparts, these can be carried around and require no power source. They usually don’t have as much space as their desktop counterparts, but they can be plugged in and used immediately.

There are also wireless varieties and those connected to a LAN – something that is a common fixture in offices.

Data transfer speeds

Let’s say you’re transferring a hundred gigabytes of data and you are in a rush. If situations like these are fairly common, you will need to pick a hard drive with interfaces that suit your demands. Basically, each interface has different data transfer speeds. Among these include:

  • Thunderbolt – arguably the fastest in the bunch and is present in later versions of the iMac and MacBook. Its data transfer speed on an average of 10 GB per second. This suitable for users who constantly transfer large files.
  • USB 2.0 – this is equipped in most computers and supports transfer speeds for up to 480 MB per second.
  • USB 3.0 – it’s an upgraded version of USB 2.0 and supports data transfer speeds for up to five gigabytes per second.
  • Firewire – it was once the iPod’s mainstay in transferring music files back in the day. Its speeds range from 400 MB to 800 MB per second.

Though you can’t exactly choose which data transfer interface you will need, it’s better to suit it according to what you regularly work on. For example, it is best to use Thunderbolt if you’re constantly working on and transferring video files.

Another specification to consider is the RPMs or Spindle speed. These range from 3,600 to 10,000 RPM. The higher the RPM, the better the performance. However, SSD hard drives do not have this.


There are a few stand outs in the external hard drive market. Some of these include:

Toshiba Canvio Slim II


This hard drive should be your go-to hard drive if you are looking for portable storage. It boasts one terabyte of storage space, features a USB 3.0 interface, and a sleek design. However, it’s quite thick, which is surprisingly a big deal to many.

It’s priced at $100 and perfect for anyone looking for quick and easy storage.

Seagate Backup Plus Desktop

This is basically a desktop external hard disk and is available in several capacities, the lowest being two terabytes and the highest at five terabytes, priced at $220. It’s also quite fast, being armed with a USB 3.0 interface.

LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt

This hard drive is available in shocking orange and looks quite attractive. However, don’t let its looks fool you: it is extremely durable, being highly resistant to shock, dust, and water. Though we you’re not likely to bring this when you go hiking, it’s a great option if you’re prioritizing physical durability and protection above all else, especially if you’re pretty clumsy.

It has a USB 3.0 connection – guaranteed to connect to any computer – and can transfer files up to 387 megabytes per second. Its SSD variants are available in 250 GB, 500 GB, and 1000 GB variants, while the none SSD ones range from one to two terabytes.

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