When you purchased your computer, you thought it had plenty of space. Or at least, it seemed like it did… until photos, videos, programs, documents, and other files began crowding the disk space.
Whether desktop or laptop, running out of storage on your Mac or PC is a widespread problem with an easy solution.
For many, the go-to is cloud storage services such as iCloud or Google Drive, but these aren’t a great fit for everyone, especially if you have a lot of files or need to access them offline on both your Mac and PC.
In this case, an external drive that’s Mac and PC interchangeable is the best option, because you’ll have all your files on hand at all times and it can store significantly more data than a cloud drive.
In this article, we’ll help you better understand the use cases of an external hard drive, and round up the best Mac & PC compatible external drives for backup and storage purposes.
Tired of learning all the “techy” terms related to hard drives? We understand. Here’s a brief of our recommendations to save you time exploring.
For Mac users: G-Technology Portable External Hard Drive 2TB
From the sleek design to the pre-formatting, this terabyte-sized drive is perfect for Mac users who need a little extra space and offers a transfer rate of up to 140 MB/s for accessing all your files.
For Windows PC users: WD 2TB Elements Portable
At 5400 RPM but only around 3″ x 4″, this tiny drive packs a real punch. You can get it in sizes from 1 to 4 TB, all of which are equally portable and will allow you to access your files with speed and efficiency wherever you go.
For the best of both worlds: Samsung T7 Portable SSD
Whether you simply prefer the speed of an SSD or use both Mac and PC on a regular basis, this drive offers formatting that works everywhere you go and top-notch read/write rates. The drive is small, portable, sleek, and available in multiple colors!
Who Should Get This
You don’t have to be a power user to make use of an external drive, but if you aren’t sure you need one, here are some considerations:
- Has your computer slowed down due to the lack of available storage?
- Do you need to back up your computer, especially if you’re worried about a crash soon?
- Are the subscription fees for your cloud storage service not worth the amount of storage you get?
- Do you want to clean up old files that you only occasionally use?
- Need a better place to run large applications from, or have programs you want to run on more than one computer?
If you’re saying yes to any of these, then there’s a good chance you would benefit from an external drive. It’ll give you the extra space and security that you need.
However, an external drive might NOT be the best choice for you if you only have a few files that need storage, or if you already have a backup of your computer via backup software like Get Backup Pro.
In that case, using a small flash drive or an online cloud storage provider is a better option.
Best External Drive for Mac and PC Interchangeable: Top Picks
Here’s a list of our top recommendations, along with a quick review of each drive so you get to know its pros and cons before making a decision on which one to buy.
Note: some hard drives are not pre-formatted with exFAT, a file system that works with both macOS and Windows. If so, refer to this tutorial on how to reformat it.
Using a Mac? This drive is preformatted just for you, offering a high transfer rate for fast file access and connecting easily via USB-C.
It will definitely stand up to regular use of creative editing applications and store files/backups well if you’re using it in a more long-term frame.
- 2TB is a fair amount of storage space for any user, and this drive is available in larger sizes as well.
- The transfer rates up to 140 MB/s means you can easily access your files without sacrificing any time spent loading or waiting for files to transfer.
- Pre-formatted for Mac, but can be reformatted to Windows.
- Not cross-compatible.
If you’re a Windows PC user, this HDD drive from Western Digital has you covered. With sizes from 1 to 4 TB and plug-and-play functionality, you’ll start with your feet on the ground.
USB 3.0 allows you to transfer files at up to 5MB/s, and the drive overall runs at 5400 RPM.
- A high RPM means you don’t have to worry about sitting in front of your computer waiting for files to load, while the slim 3″ by 4″ design is super portable, perfect for taking files to and from work or another setting.
- Can even be used to back up games on your console.
- Only for PC, you’ll need to reformat it to go with the Mac.
Available from the smallest 500 GB size all the way up to 2TB, this external SSD from Samsung writes up to 1,000 MB/s, which is a stellar rate.
It normally uses a USB-C cable, but if your computer doesn’t yet support this, a standard USB-A cable is also provided. This product also ranks in our best portable SSD drive review.
- Formatted to work on Mac and Windows and even Android!
- A variety of storage options makes it easy to find the right size for you.
- The sleek drive is also very sturdy and fits into the palm of your hand.
- Transfer speeds may be slightly lower if you can’t make use of the included USB-C cable.
How to Choose an External Drive for PC and Mac
When you are about to purchase an external drive that’s for both Mac and PC, make sure to take these factors into consideration. They’ll help you narrow down the choices without spending too much time.
The number one consideration is how much space the drive offers. Depending on the type of files you’ll be storing and how long you want the drive to last, you may want more or less space.
However, when buying an external drive you should be getting a minimum of 500 GB these days, as anything less will be better served by a flash drive.
Many people will be much more satisfied with closer to 2 TB of storage though since storage tends to use up faster than you might think.
Type: HDD or SSD
External drives come in two types: HDD and SSD. The former is what is normally referred to as a “hard drive”, since it uses a physical spinning disk to read and write data, while the latter, sometimes called a solid-state drive, actually uses flash memory and stores everything electronically and has no moving parts. An HDD tends to be cheaper, but SSDs are faster and more reliable.
An external drive is typically formatted for either macOS or Windows. While there are some drives that work on both, most will need to be reformatted to be functional on the opposite system. Some don’t require formatting at all.
Drive formatting in the first place can be difficult, so look for a drive that’s already formatted to work with your computer system and know that you will only be able to access your files on computers of the same operating system.
All external drives are rated by read-and-write speeds, which is how fast they can store, retrieve, and display data. Higher speeds are better, but a small difference won’t be noticeable.
Don’t forget to get an external drive case, which will help protect your drive from potential damage caused by scratches or dropping. It also allows you easily pack it into a backpack or briefcase.
To extend the life of your storage drive, it’s a good practice to always put it on a flat and stable surface and stay away from heaters, humidifiers, or air conditioners.
Also, when you’re done with data backup or file transfer, make sure to properly eject the drive before plugging it out from your computer.
Still can’t decide between an HDD or SSD external drive? Check out this video, which will help outline which is best depending on your situation.
Alternatively, if you are still unsure whether to get an external drive or not, you can always try out a web-based cloud service first to see if it gives you the space and flexibility you want.
Google Drive, OneDrive, or Dropbox are great services to get started since they offer free options at the lowest tier, and paid users can get more than 1TB of storage space.
Whether you prefer HDD or SSD, you’re looking for your first hard drive, or your third, an external drive is usually a great solution for data backup and file storage on both your Mac and PC.
Moving files off your computer will also help tune it up a little bit and will protect your important files from getting lost.
Are you using an external drive that’s both Mac and PC compatible? Leave us a comment below and tell us how you’re making the most out of it!