External Hard Drives For Mac Backup

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Sep 27,2020 • Filed to: Hard Drive Recovery • Proven solutions

'How to format an external hard drive Mac? What format system to use when reformatting my storage drive for a Mac?'

This is a frequent question asked by first-time, as well as the not-so-tech-savvy, macOS users. Learning how to format an external hard drive Mac is essential. Because saving all your data on the Cloud is nice and all, but physical storage is still popular. Especially if you don't have a stable internet connection or if most of your files are large.

Amazon.com: external hard drive backup mac. Skip to main content Hello, Sign in. Account & Lists Sign in Account & Lists Returns & Orders. External hard drives expand storage capacity, share data between computers, and backup files. There are several ways to use an external hard drive to keep a backup of the data on your Mac in. May 09, 2019 The Best External Hard Drives and SSDs for Mac in 2020. Looking to add storage, or for a smart way to back up your Mac? Here's what you need to know, along with our top-rated Apple-friendly drives. Jan 22, 2020 If you have a 500 GB internal drive, it would be best to get a 1TB external drive for backup. Even if you are only actually using half. If you plan on backing up multiple Mac’s then either. Get an external hard drive for each that is double the internal hard drive capacity. Discover the world of external hard drives for Mac. Compare portable, USB and external hard drive models for office and home and shop online.

Luckily, you don't have to learn rocket science to be able to format an external hard drive for Mac or PC. The operation is pretty straightforward. When it comes to your iOS device, we have listed two methods for you, read below and explore more.

Part 1: What Is the Best Format for External Hard Drive Mac?

The first step to formatting your external drive for a Mac computer is choosing the right format. There are four possible choices:

  • APFS (Apple File System)
  • HFS+ (Mac OS Extended)
  • exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table)
  • FAT (MS-DOS)

To understand which is the best for you, let's have a comprehensive overview of each of them.

1. Apple File System

The APFS was first introduced in 2017 as a replacement for the HFS+. Nowadays, all new Macs come with the operating system preinstalled on APFS, as this system is optimized for use with SSD and flash storage drives. However, it still works with traditional HDD drives too.

This is the best format to pick if you have an external SSD or USB flash drive that you don't intend to use with a Windows device.

The biggest strength of this system is the speed, as well as the encryption and metadata handling. However, you won't be able to use this system with Time Machine.

2. Mac OS Extended

The HFS+, or Hierarchical File System plus on its real name, was the main file system used for Mac until 2017.

This type of file system is suitable to use with both HDD and SDD drives, but the latter will perform slightly better with the APFS mentioned above. If you have an older Mac, though, choosing the HFS+ is your best bet.

In general, all external drives formatted to HFS+ work nicely with older Mac versions but are incompatible with Windows.

3. Extended File Allocation Table

Designed by Microsoft, the exFAT is a good choice if you plan to use the external hard drive with both macOS and Windows systems. Yet, you won't get top performance on either. This choice is more appropriate for USB flash drives, although you can still use it for SDD and HDD units too.

The main issue with exFAT is that your drive will be more prone to fragmentation when used with Apple devices and is less stable than NTFS on Windows. If you really have to share the drive between Mac and Windows machines, that's your best option though.


Macs also support FAT32 drives, marked as FAT in Disk Utility. This format should be avoided at all costs unless you're dealing with a really old Windows computer, which you really have to use in parallel with your Mac system.

Typically, there is no reason to choose this option unless you're planning to use the external hard drive on a Windows XP or earlier machine.

Part 2: How to Format an External Hard Drive Mac?

Now that you know which format to choose, it's time to learn how to format an external hard drive for Mac. There are essentially two methods, with Disk Utility or Time Machine function.

Note: If you plan to format an older external drive, perhaps one you used with another device, make sure to backup all data before proceeding. Formatting is a permanent procedure that can't be reversed. While there are data recovery software you can use if you lost data, it is always better to prevent.

That said, here's how to format an external hard drive Mac:

Method 1: Format Mac Hard Drive with Disk Utility

Disk Utility is a utility application proprietary to macOS that is used to both format and manage internal and external disks. Here's how to use it:

Step 1 Connect the external hard drive you want to format to your Mac, then start the Disk Utility app that you can find under Applications -> Utilities.

Step 2 On the left side of the Utilities screen, find the name of the external hard drive you want to format and select it. Then, on the top side under the Disk Utility, click on the Erase button.

Step 3 Follow the on-screen prompts to select the desired file system and allow the drive to format. That's it! After the process is complete, you can either start using the drive or choose to create partitions on it.

Method 2: Format Mac Hard Drive with Time Machine

Formatting an external hard drive with Time Machine is as easy as formatting it with Disk Utility. Time Machine, however, gives you the possibility to create an automatic backup of the data on your hard drive before formatting it.

Before you proceed, therefore, you should first set up the external drive to use with Time Machine. To do this, open System Preferences and select Time Machine after you've connected the external drive to your Mac.

Now, click on Select Disk and select the desired drive from the list. Click on the Use Disk button. At this point, the system will run an automatic backup two minutes after you've clicked on the Use Disk button, or you can proceed with the formatting if the hard disk is empty.

To format an external hard drive for Mac with Time Machine, you must follow the steps below.

Step 1 Open Finder, Applications, then go to Utilities and Disk Utility.

Step 2 Follow the steps above to format the drive, and then you can use it with Time Machine on your Mac system.

Part 3: Bonus Tip – Data Recovery from Formatted Hard Drive on Mac

Sometimes, it may happen that you accidentally formatted an external hard drive containing important data. Whether it's your wedding pictures or your bachelor's degree thesis, chances are you want to get that data back as quickly as possible.

If you have a newer version of Mac, you can use the Apple Time Machine to recover your canceled files, or you could choose to use external software, such as Recoverit Data Recovery.

1. Recover Data with Apple Time Machine

In the former hypothesis, you can try to recover your data with the Time Machine. This app is Apple's backup feature present on the newer systems. If you followed the steps above before formatting the hard drive with Time Machine and allowed the app to execute the backup, then there are high chances that you can recover any lost data without too much hassle.

To do so, just launch the Time Machine and browse through the folders to see if it has saved the files you require.


For easier browsing, you can use the time stamp feature on the right side of the screen and select the date or time when you executed the backup. Once you found the files, simply click on Restore to get them back.

2. Recover Data with Recoverit Data Recovery

If you didn't use the Time Machine function or couldn't find the files you need, you can try to recover any lost files with trusted third-party software, such as Recoverit - Data Recovery.

Recoverit (IS)

A Life Saver to Solve Your Data Loss Problems!

  • It allows you to recover unlimited lost or deleted files from your Mac device, including photo, video, and audio data, document files, and more.
  • It supports all types of Mac files irrespective of their extension.
  • Compatible with both internal and external drives, USB pens, memory cards, and other hardware, so you can rest assured it will retrieve your data if it's there.
  • Retrieve data from accidentally deleted files, lost or formatted partitions, data lost due to virus attacks, system crashes, or data lost by the Time Machine.
  • It is free to download and supports all leading macOS versions, including the 10.14 release.
3,165,867 people have downloaded it

This system is also very easy to use, in just three easy steps:

Step 1Install the application and choose the desired location

Download and install the software on your Mac computer, then open it and select the external hard drive, partition, or location where you want to retrieve data.

Step 2Start the scan to retrieve your lost data

Click the Start button. The software will now scan the selected drive and display all retrieved data in an easy-to-scour list.

Step 3 Preview the recovered files and save them in your chosen location

Review and select the target files, then launch the recovery process. That's it. The software will restore your lost data.


As you can see, how to format an external hard drive Mac is not particularly complicated. The Disk Utility allows you to format the desired drive to the desired system in a blink of an eye. Backing up the data on your drive with Time Machine also allows you to avoid the recovery hassle. If you still lost some data, you even know which software to use to recover all lost files.

Now it's your turn. Use this guide to format your unreadable external drive, download, and use the data recovery software if needed, and don't forget to share this article with your Mac-addicted friends. They might make good use of it too.

Keep Apple devices in sync
Enjoy full-way data transfer with AnyTrans for iOS.

There's never too many photos on iPhone, right? Wrong. When it comes to backing up your iOS device, endless photos, messages, and files can suffocate your internal storage on Mac.

The first way to solve the problem is pretty straightforward: Keep your iPhone or iPad clean. It became a bit easier with the release of iOS 13, which allows removing similar shots and clutter from your Photos gallery automatically. If you take your gallery cleanness seriously, you can go further and install a smart duplicate finder like Gemini on your phone. Whether you're an Instagram husband/wife, or simply love good photography — this is a pro-level tool to save your disk space.

iPhone Backup to External Storage

Get the best Mac apps to backup and transfer data from iPhone, iPad, iTunes, iCloud to external drives without any loss.

But what if photos are not the problem? Sometimes it's about text docs, mail attachments — lots of small files that become heavier and heavier as they pile up. It will take hours of work to free up storage space manually. So we suggest you don't. You can solve the problem by changing iPhone backup location instead.

In this guide, we'll tell you everything about where iPhone and iPad backups are stored by default, how to move them to an external drive, and what's the best Mac tool for running direct iOS backups.

How to change iPhone backup location on Mac

There are two Apple ways to backup iOS devices to Mac — using iTunes or iCloud. None of them is very easy. We've prepared detailed instructions on how to locate and move iPhone backup to an external drive both ways. If you follow these, nothing could go wrong.

Locate iOS backups in iTunes/Finder

Here's how you find a list of iOS backups if you use iTunes:

  1. Click on the Spotlight Search button in the menu bar
  2. Type the following command: ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/
  3. Hit Return.

The mechanism is a bit different if you're searching for a specific backup. In this case, go to iTunes > Preferences > Devices. Control-click the selected backup and select Show in Finder from the drop-down menu.

Note that if you're using macOS Catalina or later, you'll have to locate backups via Finder, while newer operating systems don’t have iTunes in its original form:

  1. Open a new Finder window
  2. Select Go > Go to Folder
  3. Type the command ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/
  4. Hit Go.
  5. Access your Backup folder from there.

An important thing to remember is that you shouldn't copy or extract specific files from your Backup folder — this might lead to your files being ruined. What you have to do is to copy and transfer an entire folder.

Locate iOS backups in iCloud

If you use iCloud for iPhone backups, you don't have to suffer from the low storage problem. Once your iPhone or iPad files are backed up, you can simply delete the backups. None of your valuable data will be damaged.

How to remove backups from iPhone or iPad and turn off backup for your device.

  1. Go to Settings > Your Name > iCloud
  2. Click Manage Storage > Backups for iOS 11 and iCloud Storage > Manage Storage for iOS 10.3
  3. Select your device name
  4. Delete Backup > Turn Off and Delete.

On your Mac:

  1. Apple menu > System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud
  2. Select Manage and click on the Backups
  3. With the backup selected, click Delete to remove the backup. Confirm that you would also like to turn off Backup if needed.

Backup iPhone to external hard drive

For those who backup via iTunes/Finder, the journey isn't finished. Now it's time to backup iPhone to USB drive, an external hard drive that won't affect your storage on Mac. This should be done very carefully. Any attempt to extract files from the backup folder or using the wrong name of a hard drive may end up in a failure.

Also, let us warn you in advance that you shouldn't delete a backup after you move it to the new storage location. Before you do anything to your old iOS backups, make sure you set iTunes to backup from the hard drive. Let's go through it step by step.

How to save iPhone backup to external hard drive:

  1. Connect your external hard drive to Mac and open it.
  2. Select the backup folder from the Finder window or iTunes. Usually, the name of the backup folder consists of random numbers and letters, or it's called 'Backup.'
  3. Drag the entire folder — couldn't emphasize it more — to your external drive.
  4. Type your admin password.
  5. Rename the backup folder to 'iOS_backup' and enter the admin password once again to confirm your action.

Now, the most delicate part. It's not enough to create iPhone external storage, you have to tell iTunes where it is to ensure the backups will be done externally from now on. To make that work, you should create a new path — or a so-called symbolic link — for iTunes/Finder.

Before you dive into it, make sure you allow Full Disk Access for Terminal. You'll have to enable it manually if you use macOS Mojave. In this case, go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy. Unlock by entering your admin password and click Full Disk Access. Add Terminal to the list of apps with full access permission via the plus button.

Now you're ready to work with Terminal. Make sure you pay close attention to every word you type — Terminal commands can be cumbersome. Open Terminal via Spotlight and type the following command (no rush, you might need to customize it):

ln-s/Volumes/External/ios_backup~/Library/ApplicationSupport/MobileSync/Backup/ 4f1234a05e6e7ccbaddfd12345678f1234b123f

In the command above, 'External' is the name of your hard drive. Possibly, your drive has a different name, so you'll have to change it in the command. The last part '4f1234a05e6e7ccbaddfd12345678f1234b123f' is the name of the backup folder. If you're transferring via Finder, it's very common for this folder to be named 'Backup.' Make sure they match or rename accordingly.

Once your command is accurate, hit Return and quit Terminal.

You've done everything right if you can find a newly created symlink file with the name of your backup folder in the MobileSync folder. The file icon should have an arrow in the bottom left corner.

Backing up to external drive: How to check it works?

Now when you've backed up iPhone to portable hard drive, run a test to see whether iTunes is really backing up from the new location:

  1. Connect your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Launch iTunes or find your device via Finder.
  3. Select Back Up Now.
  4. With the backup completed, open the iOS_backup folder on the external drive.
  5. Check the date and time of the last backup — it should coincide with your recent activity.

Only after the test proves successful can you delete your old backups.

How to backup iPhone directly to external drive

There are two big problems with iTunes backups. And we can understand why you say 'nay' to both of them. First of all, if you're backing up with iTunes or iCloud, you never know what files are covered. While you have to move an entire folder to your external drive, there's no way to check what's inside — not to mention selecting specific files for a backup.

Another thing is Terminal commands can go wrong — and they often do. A single mistake can break the whole process, so you'll have to start all over again. The good news is you can actually back up iPhone to external hard drive without iTunes and iCloud. The tool that you need for that is called AnyTrans for iOS.

AnyTrans is a Mac utility that handles connections across iOS, macOS, and Android devices. And by 'connections' we mean lots of useful things that built-in utilities like iTunes can't handle:

  • Transfer media files, including photos, messages, and documents from your iPhone/iPad to Mac.
  • Back up your iOS device to an external drive in seconds.
  • Preview files that you're backing up and select your custom file types if you don't want to back up everything.
  • Preview old iCloud and iTunes backups and transfer files from your old backup directly to an external drive.

As a nice perk, AnyTrans has a built-in media downloader that enables you to download video and audio from 900+ websites, including YouTube and Dailymotion.

The backup process is a four-step deal if you use AnyTrans — instead of complicated Terminal commands. Here's how you back up directly to external drive:

Internal Hard Drives For Mac

  1. Connect your iPhone or iPad to Mac and open AnyTrans.
  2. Click on Backup Manager and view the list of files that can be backed up.
  3. Tick the boxes next to specific file categories or select all.
  4. Choose your external drive as the target save location and click on the Next button to start backing up.

That's it. Everything you've backed up will now appear on your external drive. Also, check out information about what do you do if your iPhone wont turn on at all

Let's sum up with a few tips that will help you keep your iPhone data protected:

External Hard Drives For Mac Backup

Double protection

If you're determined to use the built-in tools for your iOS and iPad backups, we recommend to use both iCloud and iTunes/Finder. It's never a waste of time when it comes to ensuring your data security. So in case something goes wrong, you'll have a backup plan. Pun intended.

Move backups across storages

Maybe you have lots of data. Or, you simply prefer cloud storage to storing your files on a local drive. That's understandable. To ensure nothing gets lost in the shuffle, use CloudMounter to mount your cloud drives as local disks and thus, transfer backups across multiple storages flexibly.

There's always a way back

We encourage you to simplify things with AnyTrans. And even if you decide to go with iTunes, note that you can always delete your symlink and try an easier option. To go back to internal backups, type ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup in Spotlight and delete your symlink folder.

Two (or 162) for the price of one

Both AnyTrans and CloudMounter are available with a Setapp subscription. Setapp is a package of curated Mac utilities that solve the majority of jobs on Mac. So if you get the Setapp subscription, you'll be able to handle automatic iOS backups, move backups across storages and do 160+ other things.

Setapp lives on Mac and iOS. Please come back from another device.

Meantime, prepare for all the awesome things you can do with Setapp.

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External Hard Drive Wireless Backup Mac

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