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Use an External SSD to Speed Up Your Mac

Solid-state drives, also known as SSDs, are becoming more commonplace in consumer-grade computers. Not only are they commonly featured in desktop systems, particularly those meant for gaming, but they're routinely used in laptops as well. In fact, using an SSD to store your computer's operating system files can make a tremendous difference in the overall speed of your system – and it doesn't matter if you're using a Mac desktop or laptop.

They can even be used externally. Many external SSDs are already available on the consumer market, some of which are specifically made with Mac users in mind, and third-party external enclosures can be paired with most SSD brands.

Regardless of whether you use it internally or externally, or even whether you choose to host your operating system files on it, a SSD can have a dramatic impact on your Mac's performance. However, there are some nuances to consider when using an external SSD.

Comparing SSD and HDD Technology

To better understand the benefits of SSD over hard disk drive (HDD) technology, it's helpful to know how the two formats differ.

Traditional HDDs are your basic, disk-based hard drives. They're used in both desktop and laptop systems. If you've ever owned a computer that came out in the 90s or early 2000s, you're probably already familiar with the technology.

Conversely, solid-state drives are rather new. Instead of relying on a mechanical, disk-based system to process data, like traditional HDDs, SSDs rely on NAND-based flash memory. While the technology is similar to that in USB thumb drives and flash drives, modern SSDs are far more reliable and typically boast larger capacities than the alternative.

Unfortunately, SSDs still can't match the capacity of modern HDDs. Although current SSDs are available in much larger capacities than in years past, HDDs are still increasing in capacity as well. Although both are more affordable than ever before, HDDs are generally more inexpensive.

In nearly every other category, however, SSDs are far superior to their disk-based counterparts. Not only are they faster when reading and writing data, due to the lack of mechanical features, but they're also more reliable. Again, much of this is attributed to the lack of moving or mechanical parts.

Using an External SSD Device With your Mac

An external SSD device is a great way to add speed and reliability to your system without installing a brand new drive. However, your actual speeds might be limited due to the type of connection used.

Generally speaking, most consumer SSDs are connected to your system via USB. While the latest standard, USB 3.0, is usually good enough to experience a speed increase, modern SSDs are actually capable of operating beyond the speeds of USB 3.0. In most uses, however, the difference is negligible.

There are also issues when trying to use an external SSD to store operating system files. Although this is one of the most common uses of internal SSDs, it's typically not recommended when using an external SSD device. If you install your operating system to an external device and try to boot your Mac without it plugged in, or if your device suddenly fails for one reason or another, you might be left without access to your entire system.


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