Time Machine Backup Drive Recommendations

a person holding an external hard drive

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Time Machine is the backup software included with your Mac and I recommend you use it. Most of your important stuff is probably already stored in iCloud if you have it fully configured, but Time Machine backs up absolutely everything on your Mac and protects you from mistakes. If you delete something from your computer or make a change, it’s deleted or changed in iCloud. But Time Machine keeps a history for you to roll back. Installed a system upgrade that failed partway through or screwed everything up? Time Machine can roll your computer back! Dropped your computer in a lake? Time Machine will restore everything to a new Mac just as it was, including all of your applications, settings, etc.

Time Machine is included with every Mac. All you need to enable it is an external hard drive. I know there is a little confusion because Apple used to sell a product called Time Capsule, which was a special wireless hard drive that could be used with Time Machine. But honestly, a wired hard drive creates much more reliable backups so I can’t blame Apple for discontinuing the Time Capsule. Any brand hard drive will work but I’ll give you my specific recommendations.

How much capacity do I need?

Generally, I recommend a backup drive that is at least twice as large as the drive of the computer you are backing up. Not the amount of storage you are using, but the entire capacity of the computer as you may fill it up in the future. To find out:

  • on macOS 13 Ventura and later: Apple menu > System Settings > General > Storage
  • on macOS 12 Monterey and earlier: Apple menu > About this Mac > Storage

When possible, I recommend using an SSD drive. They back up faster, restore faster, are smaller, and are more reliable because they have no moving parts. Probably tens of times less likely to fail and literally about 100 times faster. But sizes over 2 TB can be quite costly. Fortunately, most people can get just 1 or 2 TB.

In macOS 12 Monterey and earlier, this screen shows that the storage capacity of the computer is 1 TB, which means I would recommend a 2 TB backup drive.
In macOS 13 Ventura and later, this screen shows that the computer has 994.66 GB total, which is roughly 1 TB. This means I would recommend a 2 TB backup drive.

Best backup drive for most people

What I like about this drive is that the body is made of plastic and rubber, so when you throw it in a bag with your computer it will not scratch. And Sandisk (now owned by WD) has more experience with SSD manufacturing than just about anyone else.

The Sandisk Extreme Portable v2 drive comes with a USB-C cable for newer computers, as well as a USB-A adapter for older computers, so it will work with any Mac (or iPad with USB-C or even PC, though those systems don’t use Time Machine).

  • 500 GB Sandisk Extreme Portable SSD v2 model SDSSDE61-500G-G25 is available from Amazon / Sandisk / Best Buy
  • 1 TB Sandisk Extreme Portable SSD v2 model SDSSDE61-1T00-G25 is available from Amazon / Sandisk / Best Buy
  • 2 TB Sandisk Extreme Portable SSD v2 model SDSSDE61-2T00-G25 is available from Amazon / Sandisk / Best Buy
  • 4 TB Sandisk Extreme Portable SSD v2 model SDSSDE61-4T00-G25 is available from Amazon / Sandisk / Best Buy

Recommendations for larger drives

While I recommend SSD drives because of their speed and reliability, I realize that it can get quite costly to get an SSD drive over 2 TB. For those of you who really need something huge, you can go two routes: a portable hard drive or a desktop hard drive. The difference is that portable hard drives use a single USB cable for data and power, while a desktop hard drive is physically larger, and requires a separate power adapter, but they are available in larger capacities. For those reasons, I recommend a portable drive if you need 5 TB or less, or a desktop drive if you need 6 TB or more.

For a portable hard drive, I recommend the WD My Passport Ultra. It is available in capacities of 4 TB and 5 TB (as well as smaller sizes but I would recommend the SSD above instead in that case). I like the Ultra line specifically because it has the newer, more standard, and reliable USB-C connector. If you have an older computer with USB-A they include an adapter for you.

It does not matter whether you get the Mac or PC option, as your Mac will reformat it correctly anyway. The Mac format often costs more because they know they can charge more. It’s the same product, just preconfigured differently. You can reformat any drive for Mac using Disk Utility.

For a desktop hard drive, I recommend the WD My Book. It is available in capacities ranging from 6 to 18 TB. There are capacities listed up to 36 TB, but beware of those “Duo” drives which put two drives in one box. Because there are two drives that act as one, it is twice as likely to fail. If one goes, the whole thing goes. But for those who have exceptional storage needs, it’s an option. The Duo drives alternatively can be configured so that they are redundant, but then you would get half of the advertised storage.

Further Help

If you are an existing customer who needs help with this or if you have other questions, or if you are in San Francisco and interested in becoming a client I invite you to book an appointment with me. Otherwise, you may wish to contact Apple Support or find a local Apple consultant.

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