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Ultimate Mac External Storage Guide: Which One Should You Get?

Storage is very important your internal storage can be very precious. If you're looking to get a new mac and you're struggling between maybe a couple of terabytes or 256, 500 gigs of SSD storage. Well, that's gonna run you a lot of money. That is why a lot of people myself included pick up an external storage option. So you can save costs on internal storage on your Mac. With the amount of photos, videos, apps, and other items we store on our computers. It's easy to run out of room quickly. When this happens external storage is a great way to add extra storage.

Looking for a storage solution for your computer?

Well, in this article, I’m going to discuss 3 popular storage methods and their pros, cons, price, and help you decide which one is best for you. Even though you’ll mainly see Macs in this article, these storage options work perfectly with PCs as well. Let’s introduce our contenders, shall we?

Starting with the cheapest and easiest storage solution.

We have the trusty hard drive.

Ultimate Mac External Storage Guide: Which One Should You Get?

Cheap, slow, with a large capacity, you’re already probably pretty familiar with these external hard drives, but maybe not our next option, which is SSD.


SSD stands for “solid-state drive”, and its huge advantage over traditional hard drives is its speed. If you're looking for some reliable and fast external storage SSDs are the way to go. It doesn't matter if you're just gonna use them to copy some files to work from them, for example, or to keep your games on. They're just such a useful tool to have.

However, its capacity is usually more limited due to the more expensive pricing compared to hard drives. This brings us to our final option, which is NAS.

NAS or network-attached storage

This bad boy can hold tens of terabytes of data and is great for data hoarders or simply those who want to consolidate a whole bunch of hard drives into one place. We’ll examine these options in greater detail.

Let’s break this article into sections

Starting with speed

It’s no surprise that your typical hard drive is going to be quite slow with a read and write speed of around 100 MB per second. This is because the hard drive is an actual magnetic disk, with a spindle head mechanically moving around and reading data. Think of it like a record player.

Hard drives have been around for a long time, and they’re old technology, which means you can buy high-capacity drives for very cheap. However, the problem is that they’re very sensitive to movement and external conditions like heat, and are very slow to read or write large amounts of data. Again, due to them having moving parts.

This is where SSDs come in.

Like the name suggests, they are solid-state drives. There are no moving parts. This results in vastly increased speed, and the ability to resist vibrations and movement. Take a look at just how fast they are in this graph. Even an entry-level, budget SSD blows your typical hard drive out of the water. The great part about SSDs is there are lots of different options.

Ultimate Mac External Storage Guide: Which One Should You Get?

You can get a budget SSD with fairly good speeds, or go all out on a premium one which is just as fast as the internal SSD on the latest MacBooks. Or, you can even make your own. SSDs are perfect for transferring large amounts of data quickly or even storing high-resolution video footage on to edit in real-time off the SSD itself.

So where does a NAS fit into all this?

If you’re the type of person to download and store movies, or you take a lot of videos and photos on each vacation and want to keep all that data in one place, for example, a NAS is perfect. A NAS is essentially an enclosure containing multiple hard drives linked together via software. You can connect it to your computer using either a network cable or via a wifi network.

You can scale its capacity and speed up and down too. Most NAS setups are built for high storage capacity and are often relatively slow, around 100mb/s - but you can configure it to be super fast as well, up to 1000mb/s with the right parts. My current NAS is from Synology and I have a 10GBe network card inside, allowing me to get a consistent 500-600mb/s read and write speed.

Ultimate Mac External Storage Guide: Which One Should You Get?

This allows me to keep all of my high-quality video footage on my NAS and edit directly from it.

Storage capacity

You can get anything from 500 MB up to 16TB. There are a lot of different capacity options and the larger the drive capacity is, the lower the price per gigabyte is.

SSDs are a little different. Generally, the capacity is smaller, so they often start around 250 MB and usually go up to around 4TB. You won’t find many people using 4TB or larger external SSDs because of the price, but they do exist.

Now, a NAS is unique in that you can usually start a NAS at the smallest possible size, say 2TB, but you’re also able to simply add additional drives to the NAS to increase storage, or swap out existing drives for higher capacity drives. I’m using a 6 bay Synology NAS, which means I could have up to 80TB of storage space if I wanted by using six 16TB NAS hard drives. The total storage available depends on your choice of RAID, but I’ll cover that in a different article.

Ultimate Mac External Storage Guide: Which One Should You Get?

There are also many different NAS enclosure options, you can get 2, 4, 6, or 8 by NASs or even large server-level NASs with tens of drives within them.

So what about pricing?

As we’ve discussed previously, hard drives are very cheap. Hard drives can be found for reasonable prices. The best way to determine the value is to divide the cost of the hard drive by the amount of gigabytes of storage. For example, a 5 terabyte or 5000-gigabyte hard drive that costs 120 dollars, means you're paying less than two and a half cents per gigabyte of storage. Smaller capacity drives are going to cost you next to nothing, while the larger capacity drives such as 4, 8, or even 16TB are more expensive, but still much cheaper compared to SSDs.

SSDs are more expensive than mechanical hard drives but keep in mind a 500-gigabyte external SSD will cost you less than $110 or 100 euros. So there is no reason to go for a mechanical hard drive unless you really need a ton of external storage. SSDs can start at the budget level, like a Samsung T5, and go all the way up to a Sabrent Rocket XTRM Thunderbolt 3. There are a lot of options in between so you have a lot of choices.

Ultimate Mac External Storage Guide: Which One Should You Get?

A NAS is similar.

A very basic NAS setup could be as simple as a 2 bay enclosure with 2 moderate capacity hard drives, all the way up to a specced out 8 bay NAS with 8, 16 TB hard drives, 32GB of RAM, and a 10GBe network card. This allows you to scale the price to your exact needs and budget.

What about Portability?

Smaller capacity hard drives are relatively small and portable, but like I said before, they don’t like to be moved or knocked, or exposed to vibrations. Once you start getting to 4TB and above, the physical size becomes very large and portability decreases drastically.

SSDs on the other hand are often very small and can be easily stored in a pocket or card sleeve in a bag. You can even velcro it to the back of your laptop screen and use it on the go. Keep in mind that the SSDs do have a couple of advantages. Now they're much lighter and smaller, therefore, they're more portable. They're much less noisy. They're much much faster and they're more resistant to drops and bumps, therefore, they're much less likely to break and you're much less likely to lose your data. So there's definitely something to think about.

A NAS is unfortunately not very portable at all, however, depending on the physical size, can still be moved with relative ease if you need to move it to another location for example. Just know that it needs to be fully powered down before you move it.

So which storage option should you choose?

I recommend the hard drive if you’re after a cheap, simple way to expand your storage, and you’ll be using it mostly to store data on at home.

Don’t get a hard drive if you need it to be portable, or you intend to regularly read or write large files to it, such as video footage from a camera and speed is also a factor.

I recommend an SSD if you want to be able to take it almost anywhere such as work or school. SSDs are usually very small and portable and even come in rugged configurations if you require. The fact that they have no moving parts means you can even leave it hanging from its cable while connected to your computer. Their prices are also usually quite affordable, especially if you don’t need the blazing fast speeds of the premium models.

For example, the 1TB Samsung T5 is only around $120, much less if you can get it on sale.

I recommend a NAS if your total storage requirement is over 4TB.

Once you start getting to this amount of data, it’s much safer and economical to use a NAS. You can easily expand storage in the future if you require it, and it also adds the option to store your data safely.

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What do I mean by this?

Well, if you’re the type of person to store your data on a single hard drive if that drive fails, you lose everything. With a NAS you can set up a RAID configuration that will spread the data across one or more drives, so if one drive in your NAS fails, you still have all of your data intact. If you’re interested in a specific article on my Synology NAS that allows me to edit high-quality 4K and 6K footage in real-time, comment down below and let me know.

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