In an age where music, photo and video collections are often saved on computers rather than in hard-copy form on discs and as prints, computer storage is a highly valuable commodity. However, adding storage to your Mac can be a difficult and expensive process, particularly if you're using an older machine. Sometimes, you need an external location to back up the files on your computer in case it is damaged physically or by a virus. Thanks to advances in technology, you can now find Mac hard drives that offer terabytes of storage space at an affordable price.
Finding the best external hard drive for Mac that suits your needs and is compatible with your existing machine and software often requires some research and technical knowledge. In this ranking, you'll find the best Mac external hard drive comparisons and reviews, such as our top three products, the Iomega Mac Companion, Iomega eGo and My Book for Mac. For tips and more information, read our articles on external hard drives for Mac that will help you learn how to best utilize your new product.
Of course, there is a wide variety of available external hard drives for Mac, and they are not all created equal. For instance, some are designed for portability but not for storing large quantities of data. All have certain requirements regarding software and compatibility with other equipment. If you look for the features below, you're sure to find a product that's worth its salt.
Features & Performance
Certainly the most important things you should look for in your Mac external hard drive are the variety of features it offers and the performance it is capable of. Check its storage capacity; many external drives offer at least one terabyte (TB) of storage space, and many offer 2TB or 3TB.
Drive speed and transfer speed are also important, and can spell the difference between a speedy backup and a long, arduous chore. Pre-installed software, or an included disc with software, will help you create automatic backups, although you should also look for a product that is compatible with Apple's Time Machine if you are using Mac OSX 10.5 or later.
Other important features include LED indicator lights, cooling fans, hardware- or software-based encryption to protect your data and password protection. If you use multiple computers and operating systems, a PC-compatible device will come in useful, as will one that offers multi-device syncing options. Finally, a drive with sleep mode will help you conserve electricity, and a security slot will allow you to lock the device to your desk for extra protection from thieves.
Though it may seem a bit vain, design is important when it comes to Mac external hard drives. After all, you wouldn't want to put an ugly piece of machinery next to your beautiful, sleek Mac computer, would you? A slim design and low weight will complement the simplicity of your computer. However, other aspects such as a sturdy casing and drop protection are quite useful if your desk is in a high-traffic area. Also, check to see whether the device is bus-powered – through the USB connection – or if it requires a separate power supply.
Firewire was once the Mac standard, but many models increasingly rely on USB 2.0 and 3.0 for ultimate compatibility. ESata is an emerging connection format that is useful, but not as necessary as USB. Thunderbolt, Mac's newest I/O technology developed through a collaborative effort with Intel, is the fastest option available.
Ease of Use
Your device should be ready to use right out of the box thanks to plug-and-play operation. Additionally, you should look for a product that has drag-and-drop functionality and customizable backup settings for easier transfers. An automatic backup setting is even better, and a power switch will help you conserve energy with ease.
Help & Support
Check the warranty for your product in case it malfunctions. The manufacturer's website should offer data-recovery services should you lose the information due to device failure. Technical support options such as email, a phone number, a user forum and FAQs are also important. Your device should absolutely come with a user manual for quick set up and advanced use.
If you find a device with most or all of these features, you will be protecting your data and clearing your computer's internal hard drive in no time. Of course, not every person will need every single feature listed here, so figure out which ones are most important to you before you check out our side-by-side comparison of the best Mac external hard drives.
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