USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt?
Many hard drive enclosures have Firewire, USB, Thunderbolt or a combination of interfaces for connecting the hard drive to your computer. Any of these interfaces will work fine for backing up and safeguarding your data, though Firewire and Thunderbolt are the most reliable interfaces for booting a Mac. We generally recommend purchasing an enclosure that offers multiple interface options (e.g. Firewire+USB or Thunderbolt+USB). If your Mac does not offer native USB 3.0 support (e.g. it's older than 2012), a USB device may boot your Mac, but performance will be considerably slower than your Mac's internal hard drive.
Most hard drive enclosures will work just fine for your backups, however, some cannot function as a bootable device. It would be nearly impossible for us to curate an exhaustive list of every enclosure/Mac combination that does and does not work. However, we frequently get asked for a recommendation, so here's a list of some hard drive enclosures that we have tested with good results. Performance and price go hand-in-hand. If you opt for a USB-only device, pre-2015 Macs will be slower when booting from that device. USB-C equipped Macs can work well from a USB-C (USB 3.1) equipped hard drive, especially if the disk inside of the enclosure is an SSD.
USB 3.1, Portable External SSD
These devices offer a moderate amount of storage and excellent performance. This is our top pick for a bootable backup device:
USB 3, Portable External Hard Drive
USB 3, Desktop External Hard Drive
Thunderbolt, Desktop External Hard Drive
USB 3, External Hard Drive Enclosure (without a disk)
Samsung T5 Portable SSD: We love these snappy little devices, but many people have reported (to us, and generally on the Internet) that the Samsung T5 introduces a lengthy delay to the beginning of the startup process. This delay can occur whether you're trying to boot your Mac from the T5, or even when you're booting your Mac from its internal disk. Especially if you were planning to use an external SSD as a primary startup disk, or if you tend to reboot your Mac a lot, we recommend that you avoid using the Samsung T5 Portable SSD.
USB "Thumb" drives: Despite being based on flash storage, which you'd think would be faster than rotational storage, USB thumb drives are generally quite slow. We don't recommend using USB thumb drives for backing up any substantive amount of data, and definitely not for creating a bootable backup of your startup disk.
The backup volume should be at least as large as the amount of data that you want to copy to it. If you're planning to make regular backups to this volume, a good rule of thumb is that the backup volume should be at least 50% larger than the amount of data that you're initially backing up to it. This allows for a modest amount of data growth and room for temporary archiving of modified and deleted files.
We strongly recommend that you find the means to dedicate a volume to the task of backing up your irreplaceable data.
If you have data on your backup volume that exists nowhere else, it is not backed up! Whenever you target a volume for use with Carbon Copy Cloner, there is a risk that some files will be removed for one legitimate reason or another. CCC offers options and warnings to protect your data from loss, but nothing can protect your data from a misuse of CCC or a misunderstanding of the functionality that it provides.
NAS devices are very trendy these days; many people find the convenience of a wireless backup to be alluring. Based on user feedback, however, we discourage people from relying on NAS devices for their primary backup for several reasons:
- Write performance to a NAS device is typically, at best, comparable to writing to a USB 2.0 HDD
- Performance of a NAS accessed via WiFi can be 10-100 times slower than the average locally-attached hard drive
- Periodically validating the integrity of data on a NAS device may be impractical due to network performance.
- WiFi backups are only as reliable as the network connection and macOS's network filesystem client
- Filesystem transactions on a network filesystem incur a lot more overhead than filesystem transactions on a locally-attached filesystem, leading to very long backup windows when your data set has lots of files (e.g. > 250K files)
For primary backups, we recommend that you procure a USB, Thunderbolt, or Firewire hard drive and create a bootable backup on that locally-attached disk. Local, bootable backups are much simpler and more reliable, and a lot easier to restore from should your Mac's startup disk fail. The logistics of restoring the operating system from a disk image on a network volume are pretty complicated if you don't have a functional startup disk. Providing that functional startup disk is the primary appeal of the CCC backup solution.
NAS devices that we specifically do not recommend
Western Digital MyCloud Home: The "Home" model of this NAS device requires the use of WD-proprietary software to access the storage securely; direct access to the storage via SMB is only available with Guest privileges. Users report that performance of the storage while using WD's software is subpar in comparison to Guest access via SMB, and other users have reported to us that macOS is unable to create or mount disk images on the storage when mounted via Western Digital's software.