The problem with external hard drives…

In these days of “instant wake up” Apple silicon Macs and incredibly fast internal SSDs, I have noticed that connecting an external hard drive (eg spinning platters) creates, at the least, an annoying slowdown.

If an external HD has gone off to sleep, either because the computer itself is sleeping or because it has not been accessed and is set up / able to sleep due to inactivity, then any attempt to access the file system (eg open/save dialogs, waking from sleep, etc) will hang until the HD spins back up.

This is at best annoying, and makes me reluctant to connect a spinning drive, which is a pain given that huge amounts of external storage are cheap with a spinning drive vs an SSD.

What am I missing?


Sounds like your drive is performing normally. Under Battery/Energy Saver you have a setting “Put hard disks to sleep when possible.” that is normally on. Turn this off and your drive should keep spinning all the time. As I recall you will probably still get some lag when waking your computer and, of course, it will never respond as quickly as a SSD.

Another thing you can do is move frequently used files to your internal SSD.


This is very old but I still use it on old spinning drives with HFS+ - it may work for you also - but use at your own risk.

I set mine anywhere from 60 secs to 5 minutes depending on old spinning drive…

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great Idea.

And when I have a spinning drive mostly for backups and secondary use - I might also eject them when not in use (but leave them plugged in) and use disk UT or a script to mount them when needed…

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Yeah we have become quite spoiled… first with SSDs and now with very fast SSDs. I became similarly impatient and have now resolved that any spinning drives will not be directly connected – love my Synology for that!

I invested in Samsung T5 and T7 drives for my direct-connect needs.

Thanks for the input; much appreciated.

Yes, we have indeed become spoiled, but it is frustrating enough to watch the spinning beachball with the hard drive spins up to make me seek a solution.

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I treat my external drive as an archive of occasionally used files. If I’m working on the files again, I will copy them to my internal SSD drive.

+1 for this. Great products, especially if you can catch them somewhere on sale.

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I second the Samsung T5 and T7 drives. I have a 1TB internal SSD in my 16" MacBook Pro M1 Pro but still keep all my media (including my Photos library) on a 2TB external T5. I just purchased several T7s for work and at $250 each they are not cheap, but they are quite small and easy for me to carry anywhere.

Do you not find issues with network volumes being ‘second class’ citizens? It was years ago, but last time I tried using network drives (in fact the storage on a different Mac) I found the frequent disconnects and the lack of support for things like versioning and tags and Spotlight to be a real turn-off.

I won’t say the disconnects are frequent, though it does happen. Not bothered with the versioning or search support myself, though I can see others may need that. Can’t even say if it is still absent?

I’m doing Time Machine to it as well, which works as well as Time Machine does.

Overall you’re right though – it is not a first class experience but great for archiving large volumes of data which is exactly what spinning drives are good for. If I wanted indexed data reliably available it would be on internal storage.

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I have found that Macs also have a problem with disconnected external drives. It seems that waking from sleep is a particular problem. I had thought that part of the problem was that when the Mac awakens from sleep, it takes enough time for a spinning hard drive to awaken that he Mac sees it as disconnected, but I have found that my external SSD that I used for Time Machine, connected via USB-C, also disconnects as well. I have had this issue for 15 years, over two different Mac Pro versions (the cheese grater and the trash can), an iMac Pro, intel and M1 minis, and multiple laptops, both intel and now my 14” MBP M1Max, so I don’t think the problem was a specific hardware failure for a particular Mac or external drive. I have no idea if Windows users experience the same issues, as I only use Windows on my work-supplied-and-required laptop and have no external drives at work.

I have also seen disconnects from my Synology, but have recently been using Automounter which has worked well. As I too use my Synology for archival, TM, Clones, and services such as Plex, but not for active in use data, I don’t see issues there.

You may ask why I am looking at external drives when I have the Synology. I would note that there are really at this point three main reasons for me to think about external drives:

  1. I am considering a Mac Studio. To save cost I might go to a lower capacity internal SSD, and use an external drive for less-frequently accessed data. This is probably less crucial as said data could reside on the Synology.
  2. I use BackBlaze as (one of) my offsite backup solutions. In the past when I had a mini, I had an external 16TB drive that I cloned the Synology to, and that was backed up to BackBlaze. (There wasn’t actually 16TB of data, probably closer to 2TB that actually went to BB). That solved the difficult problem of effective cloud backup for the Synology. Yes, I know the Synology has HyperBackup, but for whatever reason I have not found that to be the most appealing solution even though I am currently using it. Plus, BB is overall a cheaper solution than paying for the additional storage for HyperBackup in the cloud.
  3. Although I do a daily clone to the Synology from the MBPro, ideally I would also have a physically connected clone as well for additional redundancy.

However, the spinning beachball on awakening just bugs the heck out of me.

And yes. Real first world problems.

Indeed. Another happy T5 user. I didn’t realize just how much difference it makes to have one of these attached to the Mac for storage. I literally don’t notice a difference in speed for my use, and space can become cavernous.

FWIW I have a QNAP DAS RAID setup, and it’s definitely slower than SSD - but I just use it for stuff that doesn’t need the rapid access.

Reading video files from the RAID array is more than fine. So Plex, iTunes, all that stuff works great. And I use it for a backup / “cold storage” type repository, both for website backups and for old customer / project archives.

Stuff that I’m working on every day lives on my Mac’s internal SSD.