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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.
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
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:
- Western Digital (WD)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once the format is complete, the drive is ready to be usedas a Time Machine backup drive.
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.
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.
Speed, portability, USB, and USB-C support.
Dimensions: 57.3mm x 74mm x 10.5mm.
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.
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.
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.
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
Reliability, durability, multiple size options up to 5TB
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.
External Hard Drive For Mac Not Showing Up
Super cheap and super reliable
Only supports USB 3
Learn more about Toshiba Canvio Basics On Amazon
Get a data lifeguard for Mac
Most of the time, when you connect an external hard drive to your Mac’s USB port, you soon see it mount on the desktop. Apple likes to ensure these are easy to find, so they also appear in the Finder in the left-hand column under Devices, since Mac’s treat them the same way as another computer.
However, sometimes, an external hard drive doesn't show up. It’s annoying, especially when you need to transfer something right then. And besides, there can be a risk that data on the external USB pen, hard, or flash drive is corrupt, which means you can’t transfer what you need between devices at all.
Corrupt data can be one reason your Mac won't recognize an external drive, but there are other reasons too. Let’s take a look why this is happening and how you can get an external drive to appear on your Mac and get recover data to access to your documents.
How to fix an external disk drive that won't show up on a Mac
Why an external disk drive is not showing up? There could be a few reasons why a USB flash drive isn’t making an appearance.
Open an External Drive Not Showing on Mac
Get a huge set of top utilities for troubleshooting external hard drives not mounting on a Mac
Start with the basics:
- Check whether the drive is properly plugged in. It sounds obvious, but since this relies on a wire - either a USB cable or HDMI cable - if it’s not connected properly then it won’t appear on your desktop.
- Faulty cable. Assuming it’s plugged in correctly, not wobbly or loose, the cable could be at fault. Try connecting the same device with a different cable.
- Damaged USB or flash drive port. It could be a hardware issue with the Mac. If you’ve got another port, try connecting the device to that one.
- Reboot your Mac. Sometimes, if a USB disk won't boot, the cause is macOS issue. Hopefully, some data damage that can be fixed by restarting. Choose the Apple menu > Restart. Or press and hold the power button and, when a dialog box appears, click the Restart or press R. Restarting your Mac essentially clears your macOS’s memory and starts it up fresh.
- Incorrectly formatted drive. Not every external drive is optimized for Macs. It could be that you are trying to connect something only fit to interact with Windows devices. If you’ve got a PC or laptop, it’s worth connecting and seeing if you can access the files through another device. The best way to look for an incorrectly formatted drive is to go to
Apple (in the top toolbar menu) > About This Mac > Storage.
See if the external drive shows up here. For more information, go to the same menu option, then select System Report.
- Mac not formatted to display external drives on the desktop. It could be that your Mac already recognizes the device, but just isn’t showing its icon on the desktop screen. Even if that is the case, the drive will still appear in the left-hand column of the Finder menu under Devices. You should be able to access your drive that way, and, in the Finder menu under Preferences > General, you can check External Drives to ensure that from now on it shows up on your desktop too.
- Reset NVRAM. To do this, shut down or restart your Mac, switch it back on and immediately press these four keys together for at least 20 seconds: Option, Command, P, and R. It should look as though your Mac has started again; if it has, release the keys when you hear the second startup chime. Hopefully, the hard drive has shown up now.
- Check Apple’s Disk Utility to see if an external drive is showing up. Disk Utility is within System Preferences, or you can find it using Spotlight. If it is visible, then click the option to Mount, which should make it visible on the desktop and in the External Drives option in the Finder menu.
Unfortunately, if none of those options has worked and the external drive still isn’t visible, then it could have crashed, or be well and truly broken. But there might still be a way you can recover the data on the external drive.
How to show connected devices in Finder
- Go to the Finder menu and select Preferences (Cmd+comma).
- From General tab tick External disks to ensure that from now on it shows on the desktop.
In the Sidebar tab you can choose which folders and devices will be shown in the left-hand column of the Finder window.
How to add cloud storages to Finder
You can also mount cloud storage as local drive on your Mac. By connecting Google Drive, Dropbox, or Amazon to your computer, you get more space for securely accessing and sharing files. For your ease, add cloud drives to Finder with CloudMounter app, so that you keep them close at hand. You can read detailed instructions on managing cloud storage as local drives here.
Repair the failed external drives with First Aid
If your drive is having problems, you can try to fix them yourself with First Aid and therefore get access to your files. First Aid tool will check the disk for errors and then attempt a repair as needed. It helps to verify and repair a range of issues related to startup HD and external drive problems. If you are able to fix the hard drive or SSD in your Mac (or an external drive) using Disk Utility you will hopefully be able to recover your files.
To run Fist Aid on an external hard drive:
- Open Disk Utility. You can searching for it using Spotlight Search or via Finder > Application > Utility
- Check on your external hard drive, click the First Aid tab and select Run to start running diagnostics.
If First Aid successful in fixing errors, the external drive should be available to mount. If the utility unable to repair issues, your drive truly is broken or formatted using a file system that the Mac cannot read - in this way we suggest you follow the next steps to recover data from a damaged disk drive.
How to recover data from a crashed drive
Thankfully, there is an app for that. Disk Drill is the world’s premier data recovery software for Mac OS X. Powerful enough to retrieve long-lost, mistakenly deleted files from Macs, external hard drives and USB drives and camera cards.
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An easy way to recover lost files on an external hard drive
Providing you already have Disk Drill Pro version, which you can get automatically by downloading from Setapp:
- Connect your drive to the Mac.
- Quit all other applications on the Mac, especially those that may be trying to access the external drive (e.g. iPhoto, Words)
- Launch Disk Drill.
- Click on the external drive that you are trying to recover files from. If it has partitions, you will see all of them. If, however, you still don’t see any volume to the external drive then you may need to try some of the steps above again or read the Disk Drill Scanning FAQs.
- To avoid the external drive being accessed during the recovery process, click Extras next to the drive or drive partition or file, then select Remount Volume As Read Only. A padlock will appear, protecting the drive during the process.
- Now click Rebuild (or Recover) next to the file(s) you are trying to recover. Once the scan is finished - it may take some time if the files are large - a list of files will appeal.
- Next, click Mount Found Items as Disk button on the bottom-left below the scan results.
- Disk Drill “strongly suggest saving the files to a different drive than the one you are trying to recover files from. Saving to the same drive substantially lowers your chances of recovery.”
- A drive icon will appear, which once you double click will give you the option to open the files as you would do before they were lost. Drag them to another location, such as your desktop or a folder on your Mac.
- Open the files to ensure they have been recovered properly and safely eject the external drive.
Disk Drill does have other ways to recover lost files but assuming there aren’t complications, this method is the most effective. Disk Drill Pro recovery app is available from Setapp, along with dozens of Mac apps that will make your life easier. Never have to worry about a crashed or corrupted external drive again.
A few more tips on getting your files back
- Macs and third-party apps that look after Macs, such as Disk Drill and iStat Menus come with a S.M.A.R.T. (also known as Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) status monitor. If a SMART check reports errors, then it could mean the hard drive is at risk of failing completely. Within Disk Utility and Disk Drill, there are several solutions for this: Repair Disk Permissions and Repair Disk. If neither work, it’s recommended that you backup all of the data from the disk, erase, then run a SMART check again. The external hard drive should show up as Verified.
- Partitions can get lost within hard drives, temporarily hiding all of the information contained within. Disk Drill can help to identify and restore this information.
- Within Disk Drill, you can restore data when a hard drive is damaged or add formatting, which is also something Disk Utility can help with.
- CleanMyMac, another useful app available from Setapp, can help you identify external hard drive errors and repair them. It is an essential tool worth trying when you’re having external hard drive difficulties.
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Alternative ways to recover data from an external hard drive
Reset the System Management Controller (SMC) if your Mac shuts down when you plug in an external hard drive. Then use a different port to connect the external hard drive. If you’ve got a battery that you can’t remove:
- Shut down and unplug the power adapter
- Press Shift-Control-Option and the power button at the same time. Do this for 10 seconds
- Release all keys
- Plug the power adapter back in and switch your Mac back on
For Macs with removable batteries, you need to switch them off, remove the battery, then press and hold the power button for 5 seconds. After that, put the battery back in, plug in the power adapter and switch the power on again.
What’s your file format? One reason your Mac isn’t recognizing the hard drive is the file format. Windows uses NTFS file formats, while Macs, up until the introduction of Sierra, have used HFS+. Now, Apple has introduced the Apple File System (APFS) for newer operating systems. It is possible to format a hard drive so it can be read on Mac and Windows computers, providing you format using exFAT. However, if you’re having problems accessing the files and the issue is due to formatting, you will need to connect it to a device it can be read on, and then format the files correctly for the computer you are going to use it on next.
How to make Ext2/Ext3 drives readable on Mac
The common issue is Ext2- and Ext3-formatted drives are not readable on macOS. There are two ways to access such external drives on your Mac – via Linux OS or FUSE system. The easiest would be installing Linux to a secondary drive or virtual machine.
If you go with Linux installation, dual boot your Mac with Linux on another drive and use FAT32 as a transfer intermediary. If you don’t have a drive to install Linux to, use virtual machine as an interface for it. Transferring can be done the same way – with FAT32, or via network.
Another option for reading Ext2/Ext3 disks is mounting disk with Filesystem in Userspace (FUSE). Basically, it works as an extra interface enabling file system access via specially installed modules. Here’s how to mount drives with FUSE:
- Install FUSE for macOS or MacFUSE as well as fuse-ext2 module.
- Use the following Terminal command to enable Disk Utility’s debug menu and see all partitions: defaults write com.apple.DiskUtility DUDebugMenuEnabled 1
- Attach your Ext2/Ext3 drive and locate the device name via Disk Utility.
- In your user account, create a folder to be used as a mount point.
- Use the following Terminal command to mount the drive as read-only: fuse-ext2 /dev/disk2s2 /Volumes/mountpoint
- For write support, use the command: fuse-ext2 -o force /dev/disk2s2 /Volumes/mountpoint
And that’s not the only case where Terminal helps you access external drive.
Employ the handy all-powerful Terminal, which always comes forward with solutions for difficult problems. Especially if System Information does recognize the USB or hard drive, but continues to hide it from you, disconnect the drive and try to find it using the Terminal, which you can find in Applications > Utilities.
- Once in the Terminal, type in the command diskutil list
- A list with information about volumes and drives should appear
- Look for a section labelled /dev/disk_ (external, physical)
- Make a note of the whole line after the word disk
- Now put the following command into the Terminal diskutil info disk followed by the number or digits assigned to that disk
- Now you should see detailed information about the drive, therefore confirming that your Mac can and does recognize it
- Eject using the Terminal by entering the command diskutil eject disk followed by the number or digits assigned to that disk
- Physically remove the disk from you Mac
- Plug it back in and your Mac should recognize it
Console is also reliable when it comes to solving tricky problems, although it isn’t always that easy to use. You can find Console under Applications > Utilities > Console. Console shows if an external drive or any error is detected under the Errors and Faults tab. If no errors show up, then the problem is not caused by the device.
To sum up, there are lots of potential solutions for a Mac not reading an external hard drive. If we were to pick one, Disk Drill seems to be the most well-rounded, offering plenty of customizations and power in an easy-to-use interface. Disk Drill Pro recovery app is available via Setapp, along with 150+ Mac apps that strive to make your life much much easier. At the very least, you’ll never have to worry about a crashed or corrupted external drive ever again.
Meantime, prepare for all the awesome things you can do with Setapp.Read on