Wednesday, April 24, 2024

External Storage on MacOS: A Guide to Hardware Compatibility

One of the biggest concerns for Mac users is compatibility with external storage devices. In recent years most Mac computers don’t have upgradable internal storage. With the need for more and more storage space, choosing the right external storage solution for your Mac is important. MacOS is known for its strict hardware compatibility standards, which can make it difficult for users to choose the right storage device. In this article, we will look at the three most popular topics related to external storage compatibility with MacOS.

1. Types of External Storage Devices Compatible with MacOS

When it comes to external storage devices, there are many options available for Mac users. These include external hard drives, solid-state drives (SSDs), and flash drives. Each type of device offers its own unique advantages and disadvantages, so it is important to understand your storage needs and what type of device will best suit those needs.

External hard drives are the most common type of external storage device and they offer large storage capacities at an affordable price. However, they are slower than SSDs and can be more susceptible to physical damage.

Solid-state drives (SSDs) are more expensive than external hard drives, but they offer faster data transfer speeds and are more durable. They are also more energy-efficient, making them a great option for laptop users.

Flash drives are small and portable, making them a great option for users who need to store data on the go. They are also more durable than external hard drives, as they have no moving parts. However, they have smaller storage capacities and are more expensive per gigabyte than external hard drives.

2. File System Compatibility

When choosing an external storage device for your Mac, it is important to consider the file system compatibility. MacOS supports several different file systems, including HFS+, APFS, and exFAT. HFS+ is the file system used by most Macs, while APFS is a newer file system that is optimized for solid-state drives. exFAT is a file system that is compatible with both Macs and Windows computers. Practically speaking, pretty much any external drive can be formatted according to the needs of your Mac. So there’s nothing to worry about here.

If you are only using your external drive on a Mac, it is best to choose a device that is formatted with either HFS+ or APFS. If you need to share data between a Mac and a Windows computer, then exFAT is the best option. Again, you can use MacOS to format the drive to the filesystem best suited to your needs.

3. Connection Types

Finally, it is important to consider the connection type when choosing an external storage device for your Mac. There are several different connection types available, including USB, Thunderbolt, and Firewire.

USB Connections

USB is the most common connection type and is compatible with almost all Macs. Traditionally USB provided slow data transfer speeds, but it is an affordable and reliable option for most users. These days newer versions of USB (USB 3, 3.1, and 3.2)

Specification Signaling Rate/Lane Number of Lanes Aggregate Bandwidth
USB 3.2 Gen 1×1 5 Gbps (SuperSpeed) 1 5 Gbps
USB 3.2 Gen 2×1 10 Gbps (SuperSpeed+) 1 10 Gbps
USB 3.2 Gen 1×2 5 Gbps (SuperSpeed) 2 10 Gbps
USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 10 Gbps (SuperSpeed+) 2 20 Gbps

Thunderbolt is a high-speed connection type that is available on some Macs. It provides faster data transfer speeds than USB, making it a great option for users who need to transfer large files quickly.

Firewire is a legacy connection type that is still used by some older Macs. It provides faster data transfer speeds than USB, but it is not as commonly used as Thunderbolt.

My Recommendation

For most users, with a relatively new Mac, an external SSD with a USB-C connector will be your best bet. So long as your Mac has USB-C ports. Although, you can also get hubs and adapters to go from a USB-A port to one or more USB-C ports. But keep in mind, it’s unlikely USB-A ports will take advantage of the speed capabilities of a modern USB-C (3.2) drive. If you think there’s a chance you’ll be using your drive on a newer Mac (either a future replacement to your current Mac, or another Mac you might use) then you’ll be glad to have a faster more modern USB-C (3.2+) drive. I’ll list a few at the end of this article.


In conclusion, external storage is an important aspect of modern computing and macOS provides seamless compatibility with various external storage options. While traditional options like hard disk drives (HDD) and solid-state drives (SSD) are still popular, new technologies like the Thunderbolt 3 and NVMe interfaces offer faster data transfer speeds and better performance. Additionally, the ability to use external storage for Time Machine backups and as a bootable volume allows users to easily expand their storage and protect their data.

When choosing an external storage solution for your Mac, it is important to consider your needs, such as the amount of storage space required and the desired performance. It is also crucial to ensure that the storage solution you choose is compatible with your Mac’s hardware, especially if you are using an older model. With so many options available, there is sure to be an external storage solution that meets your needs and enhances your Mac experience.

The Top External SSD Drives (as-of April 2024)

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