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Portable Hard Drive - Mac Compatibility?

Discussion of general issues, not related to a specific Mac or iDevice operating system.
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Portable Hard Drive - Mac Compatibility?

Post by » Fri Nov 09, 2012 10:32 pm

I am looking for a backup drive for my 2011 iMac running OS 10.6.8. When searching the on-line vendors, sometimes the product description includes reference to PC platform, Windows operating system, Mac platform, or no reference at all. Is it necessary to get a drive that is specifically Mac compatible, or can any drive be made to run with a Mac? I am looking at a Seagate Backup Plus (Mac compatible) $90, a Western Digital My Passport (Mac) $100, and SiliconPower Rugged Armor A80 (mentions formatted in FAT32, but no mention of platform) $90

Any suggestions which would be the better bet?


Paul V Hansen

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Richard Serkes
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Re: Portable Hard Drive - Mac Compatibility?

Post by Richard Serkes » Fri Nov 09, 2012 11:21 pm

Any external hard drive can be formatted for the Mac. Get the size you want for the price you like then use Disk Utility to format it for your Mac.

You can't go wrong with Other World Computing for external drives and other peripheral gear.
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Stephen Hart
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Re: Portable Hard Drive - Mac Compatibility?

Post by Stephen Hart » Sat Nov 10, 2012 9:56 am

As Richard says, a drive is a drive, and all can be reformatted for Mac. Whether the drive works on the Mac out of the box or not, you should partition the drive before using it.

There are a few things to consider with external hard drives though:

1. The free software that comes with some drives could be Windows-only software. Generally, my advice is to throw this away. Why trust your backups to some no-name free backup software when you have Time Machine built in? If you also want a bootable clone (highly recommended), Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper! are both excellent and not too expensive. If you want diagnostic and repair software, pay for DiskWarrior.
2. Any buttons on the drive: My advice is to disable these and ignore them. I have not kept up with current drives, but in the past some drives with buttons could not be used for booting a Mac because the chip that ran the buttons was permanently assigned as the first "drive," which the Mac always checked first when looking for a bootable drive. The best drives, in my humble opinion, have only an on/off switch.
3. The connections on the drive case. If you have a Mac with a FireWire 800 port, it will work much faster than USB 2. If your Mac and your drive have USB 3, that's probably good enough. If you have a new Mac, it'd be nice to have a drive with Thunderbolt, but I don't know if there are any yet.
4. Ease of replacing the drive mechanism. You may want to replace the drive in an external case with a larger drive or a newer one even if the drive itself doesn't fail. And it could fail. Some cases are difficult to open.
5. Price. Like Richard, I buy drives from Other World Computing. But they're not the cheapest. I wouldn't hesitate to buy whatever Costco has for sale if I were in a hurry.

I really recommend Time Machine for regular backups. For extra security, you can have two Time Machine drives and swap them every once in a while. In addition, I use Carbon Copy Cloner to occasionally make a bootable clone of my Macs. With a bootable clone, you can be back at work in minutes if the internal drive in your Mac fails. From there, let your paranoia be your guide. I usually have two bootable clones, but haven't been updating them as often as I should. Some people schedule their clones. Lots of people use cloud backup services, which isn't a bad idea at all for certain crucial files. You could also save certain files to yet another hard drive. This is a good idea for photos, for example.
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