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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.

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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

Brand name

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.

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:

  • Seagate
  • Western Digital (WD)
  • Samsung
  • Toshiba
  • Buffalo

Capacity

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.

Partition External Hard Drive For Mac Backup

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.

Performance

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.

Compatibility

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.

Hit Erase.

Once the format is complete, the drive is ready to be usedas a Time Machine backup drive.

Connector

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.

Price

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.

Pros

Speed, portability, USB, and USB-C support.

Dimensions: 57.3mm x 74mm x 10.5mm.

Cons

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.

External Drive For Mac Backup

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.

External Backup Storage For Mac

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.

External Hard Drive For Imac

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

Pros

Reliability, durability, multiple size options up to 5TB

External Drive For Mac Backup

Cons

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.

Pros

Super cheap and super reliable

Cons

Only supports USB 3

Format External Drive For Mac Backup

Learn more about Toshiba Canvio Basics On Amazon

You can use Time Machine, the built-in backup feature of your Mac, to automatically back up all of your files, including apps, music, photos, email, documents, and system files. When you have a backup, you can restore files from your backup if the original files are ever deleted from your Mac, or the hard disk (or SSD) in your Mac is erased or replaced.

Create a Time Machine backup

To create backups with Time Machine, all you need is an external storage device. After you connect the device and select it as your backup disk, Time Machine automatically makes hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for all previous months. The oldest backups are deleted when your backup disk is full.

Connect an external storage device

Connect one of the following external storage devices, sold separately. Learn more about backup disks that you can use with Time Machine.

  • External drive connected to your Mac, such as a USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire drive
  • External drive connected to an AirPort Extreme Base Station (802.11ac model) or AirPort Time Capsule
  • AirPort Time Capsule
  • Mac shared as a Time Machine backup destination
  • Network-attached storage (NAS) device that supports Time Machine over SMB

Select your storage device as the backup disk

When you connect an external drive directly to your Mac, you might be asked if you want to use the drive to back up with Time Machine. Select Encrypt Backup Disk (recommended), then click Use as Backup Disk.

An encrypted backup is accessible only to users with the password. Learn more about keeping your backup disk secure.

If Time Machine doesn't ask to use your drive, follow these steps to add it manually:

Best External Drive For Mac Time Machine Backup

  1. Open Time Machine preferences from the Time Machine menu in the menu bar. Or choose Apple () menu > System Preferences, then click Time Machine.
  2. Click Select Backup Disk (or Select Disk, or Add or Remove Backup Disk):
  3. Select your external drive from the list of available disks. Then select ”Encrypt backups” (recommended) and click Use Disk:

If the disk you selected isn't formatted as required by Time Machine, you're prompted to erase the disk first. Click Erase to proceed. This erases all information on the backup disk.

Enjoy the convenience of automatic backups

After you select a backup disk, Time Machine immediately begins making periodic backups—automatically and without further action by you. The first backup may take a long time, depending on how many files you have, but you can continue using your Mac while a backup is underway. Time Machine backs up only the files that changed since the previous backup, so future backups will be faster.

Best Backup External Drive For Mac

To start a backup manually, choose Back Up Now from the Time Machine menu in the menu bar. Use the same menu to check the status of a backup or skip a backup in progress.

Learn more

  • If you back up to multiple disks, you can switch disks before entering Time Machine. Press and hold the Option key, then choose Browse Other Backup Disks from the Time Machine menu.
  • To exclude items from your backup, open Time Machine preferences, click Options, then click the Add (+) button to add an item to be excluded. To stop excluding an item, such as an external hard drive, select the item and click the Remove (–) button.
  • If using Time Machine to back up to a network disk, you can verify those backups to make sure they're in good condition. Press and hold Option, then choose Verify Backups from the Time Machine menu.
  • In OS X Lion v10.7.3 or later, you can start up from your Time Machine disk, if necessary. Press and hold Option as your Mac starts up. When you see the Startup Manager screen, choose “EFI Boot” as the startup disk.
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