Mac portable USB drive roundup: The best little drives for your Mac

Mac portable USB drive roundup: The best little drives for your Mac

When it comes time to buy an external hard drive for your Mac, you can really buy anything — just about any external hard drive equipped with USB 2.0 or 3.0 will work. But sometimes you're more comfortable dealing with a vendor that actually has a special focus on the Mac, so I've rounded up five of the best I've found.

All the drives I've recommended are reasonably portable, and could be put in a backpack or briefcase easily alongside a laptop Mac like a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro. All of them should come formatted for OS X, and most of them include special driver or application software that may give you special functionality like file security, additional backup options and more. All of them will also do great as Time Machine backups.

For the sake of narrowing the comparison a bit, I'm focusing on USB 3.0 drives this time around — to the exclusion of more expensive systems that support other interfaces like FireWire and Thunderbolt (I'll get to those in the future).

G-Tech G-Drive mobile USB

G-Tech G-Drive mobile USB

G-Technology makes really great RAID and Thunderbolt drives. They've extended their expertise to craft a very nice portable USB drive for use with Macs and PCs called the G-Drive mobile. It's small — 5.08 x 3.23 x 0.51 inches — and is available in 500 GB and 1 TB versions.

LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive

LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive

Slim, lightweight and clad in aluminum, this USB drive is available in capacities from 500 - 2 TB. I've had one of these myself for about a year and I quite like it - it's quiet, fast and efficient. I've used it for everything from Time Machine backups to clones to external bootable volumes, and it's always worked well. They're available in 500 - 2 TB capacities; LaCie make a similarly designed Slim variant with 120 GB and 250 GB SSDs, also.

LaCie Rugged Mini

LaCie Rugged Mini

If you plan to travel with your hard drive and want to take no chances with protecting the delicate mechanism inside, LaCie's Rugged Mini is a good choice. That bright orange bumper it's surrounded by gives it more than the look of a life raft: It's a tough little drive, able to withstand shock, resistant to drops, rain resistant and pressure-resistant too: LaCie claims you can run it over with a car. Supports USB 3.0 and includes custom drivers to hasten data transfer and protect your files (doesn't need to be used, if you don't want it).

The drive comes in a variety of capacities from 500 GB to 1.5 TB; we've linked to the popular 1 TB model.

Seagate Backup Plus Slim for Mac

Seagate Backup Plus Slim for Mac

Seagate's tiny Backup Plus Slim is available in 500 GB, 1 TB and 2 TB capacities, and measures a scant 4.4 x 3 x 03.8 inches, making it a pocket-sized drive for most of us. Seagate's Mobile Backup App is installed, and the software helps you back up data from your Mac, social media accounts like Facebook and Flickr, and helps you share content on YouTube as well.

Western Digital My Passport Air

Western Digital My Passport Air

As the name implies, Western Digital designed the My Passport Air to suit the design of the MacBook Air. It measures about 11 mm thick, so it's very easy to stow away when you're not using it. It's powered using a single USB cable, and it's clad in alumin(i)um, just like your Mac. Western Digital kindly includes utilities and security software, though they're not necessary to use.

Available in 500 GB and 1 TB capacities.

Your picks?

As I said at the outset, you can really use any USB 2.0 or 3.0 drive and expect it to work on the Mac, so don't think you're limited to just these, or that whatever drive you buy has to say "Mac" on the box in order for it work. But these vendors all offer products especially tailored for Mac users, which may give some Mac owners a bit more security and peace of mind.

Anyway, these are my picks — I'm curious about yours. What are your favorite external portable USB drives for the Mac? Sound off in the comments.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Peter Cohen

Mac Managing Editor of iMore and weekend Apple Product Professional at a local independent Apple reseller. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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Reader comments

Mac portable USB drive roundup: The best little drives for your Mac


been using the g-tech for time machine on our family iMac been very happy to find out it comes imore recommended!

Not ALL Perform The Same! Tried them all ....

Ended up buying 2 of LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive! One for MacBook Pro at home and the other one my office PC running Win7! They ROCK! FASSSST!

Just ordered the Seagate 2tb from Amazon two days ago, it seemed the best value at the time. Hope it works as good as I've read and observed from various sources. Thanks for the reviews, again iMore is all over it.

Good catch!

Peter - Thanks for the article.. I have been contemplating for long now which one to buy and this article has certainly helped me!

Would it be possible to write an article saying which drives can be used with OS X and windows at the same time? Because some seagate drives seem to be able to do that. Unless I missed something

The basic issue is driver support, because Windows and OS X support different partitioning schemes. Seagate makes available software for Windows computers to read the HFS+ format used by OS X disks, if I remember correctly. Conversely, Paragon Software makes NTFS driver software for OS X that makes it possible for Macs to read and write disks formatted for Windows.

I wish the Porsche design wouldn't be so expensive and be compatible with OSX and windows. Because it does look amazing.

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Seagate Backup Plus Slim for Mac is my choice. I have all mt music and video on it. I went so far as to Velcro it to my Pro retina so it stays with me always.

LaCie Rugged for me.The speed is blistering and for someone who's lost a lot of drives to drops. The rugged build brings a certain piece of mind.

I would argue against using LaCie anything. They used to be one of the best, but for years they have been junk for the most part.

Also, the fact is that you *can't* really use just any USB drive on a Mac, because quite a few of them come with software on the disk, hidden partitions, and formats that are all designed for Windows drives and the average person doesn't know how to get rid of that junk or reformat it for a Mac.

Some of LaCie's products in particular come with a hidden and completely unremovable (even with Disk Utility etc.) partition that has their software on it.

What you really want is just a bare drive formatted for a Mac. I recommend getting an empty USB 3 housing from the local electronics store (they are really cheap) and just putting your own hard drive inside. It's like, three screws and your done. And you can replace the drive with a larger one anytime you want.

I would go with the G-Tech or the Western Digital. G-Tech uses Hitachi drives (same company?), and Hitachi and WD have the best reliability ratings. I own several G-Tech drives and none has ever failed me over the last several years.

Seagate has a history of deceptive business practices and high HD failure rates, and they now own LaCie. Plus anecdotally, I've had three Seagate drives fail over the last several years including the one in my iMac. So for me at least that rules out both LaCie and Seagate.

(Sorry for the multiple posts. Apparently there's a time limit for editing.)

I had to go out and get an emergency drive recently. Just picked up a Toshiba Canvio Connect on sale for fifty bucks. I plan on getting a G-Tech, but they don't sell them where I live, and I had to have a backup before I sent my Pro in for servicing.