5 Types of External Drives for Your Mac

Upgrading a Mac with an external drive is easy

Typing on Mac laptop
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Your Mac came from Apple equipped with at least one internal hard drive. Depending on the model you have, it could be a 3.5-inch desktop platter drive, a 2.5-inch laptop drive, or a 2.5-inch SSD (Solid State Drive). Apple offers optional, additional storage banks for some Macs, including specific models of the iMac, Mac mini, and Mac Pro. At the least, they have room for the end user to add more space.

But when it comes right down to it, the 2006-2012 Mac Pros are the only Intel-based Mac models that have easily user-upgradeable drive space. If your Mac isn't a Mac Pro, it's likely that if you need more storage space, you're going to go with an external drive.

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Increase Storage With an External Drive for Your Mac

Apple superdrive external hard drive.

Evan-Amos/Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

External drives are available for many purposes. You can use one for backup, primary data storage, secondary storage, a media library, and even as a startup drive. They're also portable, and you can easily move them to another compatible Mac. This versatility makes external drives the popular choice for upgrading storage.

External drives are available in many styles, including single-drive enclosures, multi-drive enclosures, prebuilt enclosures, bus-powered enclosures (no external power supply needed) and DIY enclosures.

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Build Your Own External Hard Drive

Bus powered external drive.

Karen/Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Taking a DIY approach and building your own external drive for your Mac lets you pick the enclosure you like, with the interface you need, and install the type of drive you want. And in some cases, you can do this less expensively than buying a pre-built, off-the-shelf model.

You will have to spend some time looking for the best enclosure for the project, as well as decide which drive you want and where to purchase it. In the long run, it takes more time than just buying a ready-to-run solution.

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Where to Buy External Drive Enclosures

OWC ThunderBay 4 mini.

MacSales.com

You can check with a few manufacturers when you're in the market for a ready-to-go solution. That's where you buy the external drive enclosure, the drive, and any necessary cables, already assembled.

The advantage is that you end up with a quick solution to your storage expansion needs. Remove the drive from the shipping box, plug it into power and your Mac, flip the switch, format the drive, and you're ready to go.

Dealers you should check out include:

  • Buffalo Technology
  • G-Technology
  • LaCie
  • Other World Computing
  • Promise Technology
  • Seagate
  • Western Digital
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Your Home Folder Doesn't Have to Be on Your Startup Drive

Moving the home folder on your Mac.

Coyote Moon, Inc.

Now that you have an external drive, you may want to consider moving your home folder there to free up space on your Mac.

You'll especially want to do this if your Mac has an SSD for a startup drive, since they generally have less space available than other storage options. Moving your user data will provide a lot of free space on the SSD.

Only move this folder if your Mac will always be connected to the external drive. If you leave home without it, you'll be leaving all your user data behind.

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Using macOS Disk Utility

Disk Utility Information.

Coyote Moon, Inc.

When you purchase a new external drive, chances are you’re going to need to use Disk Utility to format or partition the drive to meet your needs.

Disk Utility is the Mac's built-in system for formatting, erasing, and repairing drives. You should acquaint yourself with it whether you're setting up a new storage solution or maintaining your existing one.