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I’ve been using Time Machine, a built-in backup programdeveloped by Apple since I bought my first Mac. I tried multiple external harddrives, and I believe I know a thing or two about the process and type ofhardware that works best with the Time Machine.
I can’t tell you how many times I was able to recover my Macs after experiments I run in order to write articles on my site.
I intentionally infected my poor MacBook with malware, installed keyloggers, deleted parts of the operating system, and did other things that normal people usually avoid. I reported my findings on macmyths.com, and many readers were able to avoid the mistakes they would make otherwise.
During my experiments, I wasn’t afraid to cause any damage(excluding physical) to my Macs because, after each test, I restored the lastimage from my Time Machine drives.
Unfortunately, not all backups I made were successful. In several cases, I had to use older backups from my secondary drives because my primary drives had failed.
And after going through the school of hard knocks, I realized how important it is to pick a write hard drive for Time Machine.
Here I present my top recommended products, so you can learn from my mistakes.
Table of Contents
- How to choose hard drives for Time Machine
- My Recommendations for the Best External Hard Drive for Mac Time Machine Backup
How to choose hard drives for Time Machine
There are certain qualities that I look for when considering hard drives for any backup. The main factor in selection is reliability. It doesn’t matter how fast the disk is, how sleek it looks, or how good the discount was on Amazon.
If the drive fails when you need it, then it’s not worth even a penny.
The thing is that all hard drives fail. There is not asingle model that is 100% fail free. The difference is the failure rate.Devices produced by well known established companies have lower rates compared todrives from unknown manufacturers.
If Amazon is your choice when it comes to purchasinganything online, be aware that not all user reviews are real. So many times,I’ve seen several thousands of 5-star reviews on noname devices, and at thesame time, good devices get a couple of hundreds of reviews, and the average is3.5.
How is it possible? I think we all know the answer.
So, what’s my point? If you get anything from this article,I want to remind you that brands matter when reliability is the most importantfactor in choosing a backup drive.
Best Hard Drives For Mac Time Machine
If you are not familiar with which manufacturers have beenon the market for decades, here is the list (not complete) of companies whichproduce quality hard drives:
- Western Digital (WD)
The second most important factor is storage capacity. Ideally, you want as much storage as you can get. However, we need to be practical, because extra bytes come with extra price.
When the difference in price between 1TB and 2TB may not be too high, when we are moving up in size, doubling the storage comes with more than double price. We want to keep a balance between capacity and the price, if possible.
So, what’s the best size for the Time Machine backup drive? The minimum size for a Time Machine backup drive should be at least twice the size of the Mac primary storage. For instance, if MacBook’s disk size is 128GB, then 256GB will be minimum for a backup, and 1TB would be the best choice.
In other words, the best size for Time Machine backup drive 4x to 8x of the size of the primary disk, when 2x is a minimum.
When Time Machine runs for the first time, it takes the full backup of data on the disk. After that, it keeps deltas (only files that have changed).
Time Machine keeps local snapshots, hourly snapshots for the last 24 hours, daily, and weekly snapshots as storage permits. If the backup disk gets full, the Time Machine starts deleting the oldest snapshots.
This means if you don’t have enough space, your ability to go back will be limited.
One of the biggest complaints about Time Machine is the fact that it is slow. It is much slower than other (commercial) backup solutions because it runs on the background, so it doesn’t impact any programs you are using at the time the backup process runs.
If you want to know how to speed up the backup process, check my article here.
One of the ways to improve the time it takes to backup isgetting a faster drive. Pay attention to write and read performance. Writes areimportant when taking backups, and reads are significant when restoring.
When browsing various drives on Amazon or Best Buy, you can see that some of them marked as compatible with Macs. Contrary to what you might think, this does not mean that you cannot use drives described as PC drives.
This really means that the disk was preformatted for either PC or Mac, and you can use it right away with the corresponding computer.
However, almost all drives can be used with Macs as long asthey have proper connectors. You just need to know how to prepare the drive forMac, i.e., format it.
What disk format is best for Time Machine? Time Machine only recognizes the drives formatted as Mac OS Extended (Journaled), also known as HFS+. If the drive is formatted with different format types, the Time Machine will offer to erase the disk and reformat before use.
To know the current format of the external drive, use theDisk Utility app. One way to start it is by using Spotlight Search: holdCommand and hit Spacebar. In the search bar type “Disk Utility” andhit Enter.
In the Disk Utility app, select the drive on the left. Onthe right, under the name of the drive, there will be information about thecurrent format. To reformat the disk in a new format, click on the Erase iconat the top. Note that all information on the disk will be wiped out.
In the pop-up window type in the new name for the drive (orkeep the old one). And pick Mac OS Extended (Journaled) as Format choice.
Once the format is complete, the drive is ready to be usedas a Time Machine backup drive.
As mentioned above, all drives are compatible with Applecomputers as long as they have proper connectors.
So, check your Mac for extension ports. If you have a newerMac, then you need USB-C hard drive, older ones support USB (2.0, 3.0, or 3.1)or Thunderbolt. Pick the drive that supports the Mac ports.
And last, but not the least – price. Yes, price isimportant, but I want to reiterate the importance of reliability over theprice. If you want to save on price, then go with a slower drive, but don’t gowith a cheap noname brand.
My Recommendations for the Best External Hard Drive for Mac Time Machine Backup
Best overall: Samsung T5 SSD
The device is so small that it can fit in your shirt pocket.It’s a little bigger than a matchbox and weighs just 51 grams.
As any SSD drive, T5 has no moving parts. It has a sturdy metal body, so it can handle drops of up to 2 meters.
It comes with two cables: USB and USB-C, which is superhelpful if you have old and new Macs. So you can use the USB cable with oldMacBook, copy data on it and then plug into a new MacBook with TouchBar andcopy again.
And T5 is crazy fast. I was able to run the Virtual Boximage directly from Samsung T5. I never thought it would be possible because Itried to run VMs from external drives before, and they were super slow, evenunusable.
With T5, however, I didn’t even know that I am running VM on the external hard drive. Partially, it was due to fast SSD inside and partially due to the USB-C connector.
According to the manufacturer, the transfer speed is up to 540MB/s. Don’t forget to buy a hard travel case when buying T5 to keep the cables together.
Samsung T5 is backed by a 3-year limited warranty.
Speed, portability, USB, and USB-C support.
Dimensions: 57.3mm x 74mm x 10.5mm.
Size limited to 2TB, which means if you have a 1TB on your Mac, this won’t work for you.
Learn more about SAMSUNG T5 On Amazon
Samsung T7 Touch
Do you want even more speed? Then check out Samsung T7. It’s a new drive from Samsung that continues the legendary line of SSD hard drives T3-T5.
The read and write speed of T7 is almost double of corresponding values of T5: up to 1000 MB/s for both reads and writes.
Additionally, T7 comes with fingerprint security, which is very important for someone who’s doing Time Machine backups. T7 supports up to 4 fingerprints and works similar to MacBook Touch ID.
Learn more about SAMSUNG T7 Touch On Amazon
Runner up: WD My Passport
If you need a larger drive than T5, then check out Western Digital My Passport for Mac Portable External Hard Drive. Its upper limit is 5TB.
Let’s start with the following fact: My Passport supportsboth USB 3.0 and USB-C ports. It comes with two cables, and depending on whichport you have on your Mac, you can use one or the other.
The transfer speed of USB 3.0 is limited to 10.0 Gbit/s max.The max speed for USB-C is 40.0 Gbit/s, four times faster thansecond-generation 3.0.
Overall the read and write speed of My Passport is around110 MB/s.
The best thing about My Passport for Mac is that it alreadypreformatted for macOS. You can start using the drive as soon as you plug itin. No need to mess with disk utilities and other stuff. However, it also meansthat it is not compatible with Windows.
My Passport is a little bigger than T5 and has the followingdimensions:
- Depth 4.22 in/10.71cm
- Width 2.95 in/7.49cm
- Height 0.75 in/1.91cm
- Weight 0.51 lb/0.21kg
Reliability, durability, multiple size options up to 5TB
Slower than T5
Learn more about WD My Passport On Amazon
Budget pick: Toshiba Canvio Basics
If you need a reliable external hard drive under $100, thenconsider Toshiba Canvio Basics 4TB Portable External Hard Drive USB 3.0.
This is not the fastest drive, but it’s reliable and cheap.You can buy a 4TB drive for less than $100, and in my opinion, it’s a greatdeal.
I use this device for my archives. If I have files that I amnot going to use for a while, then instead of deleting them, I shove them to myToshiba drive. You never know when you will need that old VM, and it’s nice tonot waste prime drive space either.
Note, however, this comes only with a USB cable, so if youhave a new laptop with USB-C ports, you will need to buy an adapter as well.
Super cheap and super reliable
Only supports USB 3
Learn more about Toshiba Canvio Basics On Amazon
Make your Mac invincible
If there’s one thing you need to remember when dealing with high-tech devices, such as laptops and desktops, is that you should always have a recent backup on hand. While it’s true that Macs are as dependable as computers go, no one is protected from their processor overheating, battery dying, files being corrupted by malware, or just a spilled cup of coffee.
External hard drives have been around for decades. First they connected to your computer through USB-A ports and could hold just a few dozen gigabytes. Eventually, they learned to transfer files over WiFi and grew up in size to a few terabytes — becoming de facto the best personal cloud storage available to most people.
Get the best backup app
Keep data safe, whatever hard drive you use. With Get Backup Pro, there’s zero chance you lose anything important on Mac.
But with the explosion of smartphones and streaming services, the amount of media data being saved on our devices has greatly exceeded what regular hard drives can offer. Today, most of us need a robust and expendable home cloud storage solution that’s able to protect our data seamlessly in the background.
What Is A NAS Hard Drive?
NAS (or network attached storage) in many ways is just the right answer for those who want to upgrade from outdated external hard drives and beginner My Cloud app look-alikes.
A network attached storage device is not only capable of wirelessly storing everything you’ve ever created (they generally start at about 2 TB) but also divide its capacity between a few people (so every family member could have their own drive, for example), stream media to Apple TV or Bluetooth speakers directly, and act as a central hub for all storage, with all your other hard drives connected to it.
So let’s look at the best NAS for Mac on the market in 2020, covering every target audience segment.
Best External Hard Drive Backups
Simple: Western Digital My Cloud Home
When you just want to graduate from an external hard drive to a network attached storage for Mac, there’s no better candidate than WD My Cloud Home.
Western Digital doesn’t even call this network storage a NAS drive but rather addresses it as a personal cloud storage device. Still, My Cloud Home encompasses all the attributes of grownup NAS drives without the price tag. It goes from 2 to 8 TB in storage capacity, can save all your information via WiFi automatically, allows remote access through a My Cloud app, features shared folders as well as individual volumes, and is capable of streaming to Sonos, Google Chromecast, and more — all starting at just $159.99.
Best Hard Drives For Macs
Powerful: Western Digital My Cloud Expert Series EX2 Ultra
If you want to combine the ease of use we’ve all come to expect from WD devices with a power of true NAS storage, take a look at the WD My Cloud Expert series.
The EX2 Ultra is a real NAS drive that could come unpopulated (without hard drives) so you can install your own storage or take up to 28 TB right from the manufacturer. Unlike My Cloud Home, EX2 Ultra introduces RAID (redundant array of independent disks) options that let its two hard drives clone each other and carry the same information for maximum protection.
In addition, WD My Cloud Expert EX2 Ultra is powered by a dual-core processor for ultra-fast streaming and encrypts your hard drive volumes by default.
Affordable: Buffalo LinkStation 220D
In some cases, you might care less about how intuitive your NAS storage is, what you’re really after is a cheap NAS with good security built in. That’s where you should try Buffalo LinkStation 220D.
While LinkStation 220D might not win any awards for its user-friendliness, it’s a straightforward unpopulated NAS for Mac that starts at $119.99 and includes RAID support (with an additional USB-A on the back) as well as drag-and-drop backups.
You could set up a shared folder through Buffalo’s Navigator app, but it would be more difficult than you think. Same with getting your iTunes streaming server to work. Overall, good enough for straightforward tasks.
Advanced: Synology DiskStation DS218
Stepping into high-end but still consumer-oriented NAS storage solutions, we can find Synology DiskStation DS218. It comes unpopulated to let you combine your own storage devices and features a Gigabit Ethernet port for connecting to your router as well as three USB-As for any other storage volumes you might be using.
DiskStation DS218 is RAID-enabled and can act as a media server with real-time 4K video transcoding to Apple TV or any other player — all running on a quad-core 1.4 GHz processor. Some would say DiskStation might simply be too much for a casual user, and they will be right. But for some, it’s just what they were looking for all along.
Professional: Drobo 5N2
Those who work in the fields of photography, animation, or video production know how much unique data could be worth. 24me for pc. From that perspective, Drobo 5N2 is not an expensive device at all, although it starts at about $550 unpopulated.
Drobo 5N2 features five hard drive slots, some of which can be used for RAID and some for actually expanding the NAS storage capacity. Two Gigabit Ethernet ports can be combined into one to provide astonishing transfer speed for the high-end devices that can handle it. This NAS even features its own internal battery for a complete fail-proof setup.
How to properly back up your Mac
Whether you’re using NAS or a regular external hard drive for your backup plan, you need to know how to approach backups in a comprehensive manner, so you don’t forget any important files.
Get Backup Pro is one of the most versatile backup managers you can find. It instantly connects to your NAS drive and offers incremental backups on a set schedule or cloning options that allow you to reboot your Mac from an external drive should it break. Get Backup Pro’s speed and reliability are unparalleled, far exceeding those of Time Machine, for example.
How to recover lost files from an external drive
Mistakes happen and regardless how robust your backup solution is, there would be a moment when you’d accidentally delete a file not backed up anywhere else, be it from your Mac or an external drive. What do you do now?
Disk Drill is master data recovery software that’s able to get into the deepest corners of your data volumes and retrieve information that you thought was forever gone. Your best friend here is to act quickly and launch Disk Drill right after you saw a much-needed file disappear — that’s why keeping this app in your toolkit at all times is a true secret lifesaver.
How to make the most out of home cloud storage
Nowadays, most of us have already signed up for all the free tiers at all the most popular cloud storage providers: DropBox, Box, OneDrive, Google One, and so on. Some of us even have paid plans. The problem is all of them being scattered in various places and easy to forget.
CloudMounter offers a genius solution to gathering your cloud network storage solutions (from Amazon S3 to Backblaze) in one place by mounting them on your Mac as real hard drives, essentially folders like any other. This provides you with a new world of possibilities when it comes to searching through your files, ensuring proper encryption, and effectively transferring data.
As you can see, picking the best NAS hard drive has a wealth of advantages over using a regular external hard drive. What’s better, you can enhance this experience even further by mounting all cloud network storage as local drives with CloudMounter, backing up files securely with Get Backup Pro, and recovering anything that’s lost with Disk Drill.
Best of all, CloudMounter, Get Backup Pro, and Disk Drill are available to you absolutely free for seven days through Setapp, a platform of more than 170 outstanding apps for your Mac. And you can try them all today at no cost to see how else you can improve your daily life without any effort on your part.
Meantime, prepare for all the awesome things you can do with Setapp.Read on