Best Portable External Hard Drive For Both Mac And Pc

For those who use both Microsoft Windows and Apple macOS, having a single external hard drive that is compatible with both operating systems could be very beneficial. The problem with this is that by default, Windows and macOS use different formatting styles that aren't directly compatible with each other. Windows uses the NTFS (New Technology File System) format, while macOS uses either HFS+ (Hierarchical File System Plus, a legacy format used by older versions of macOS) or APFS (Apple File System, a newer format used by recent macOS releases.)

  1. Best Portable External Hard Drive For Both Mac And Pc Combo
  2. Best Portable External Hard Drive For Both Mac And Pc Wireless
  3. Best Portable External Hard Drive For Mac And Pc
  4. Best Portable External Hard Drive For Both Mac And Pc

Open Up Disk Utility. Disk Utility is the software on your Mac that will format your external hard drive for Mac and PC. You can find Disk Utility by clicking on the Application folder. Application Folder in Dock. Then click on the Utilities folder inside the Application folder. Utilities In Application’s Folder. Nov 22, 2021 We’ve included both in this best external hard drive roundup. Right now, our top pick for best external hard drive is the Western Digital My Passport 4TB, which is a mechanical hard drive. We think it offers creatives the perfect balance of speed, reliability, portability and price for both Mac and PC users.

There are some third-party solutions that can read Mac-formatted data on Windows and vice versa, but some of these are costly and may not offer 100 percent compatibility for all files. Instead of buying one of those programs, a better solution is to set up your external hard drive so that it is compatible with both your Windows machine and your Mac. This lets you create an external hard drive for Mac and PC that doesn't require any additional software to function.

Understanding Formats

When a hard drive is formatted, any data that's currently on the drive is erased and a new file system is set up for a computer's operating system to use. The file system determines how the operating system manages data, how that data is stored and what sort of storage blocks are used on the hard drive. The file system organizes the data in such a way that the operating system can access and use what it needs, so if the file system isn't supported by the OS then it has no way to actually access and read the data. In most cases, a drive with an unsupported file system won't even show up in Explorer or Finder unless you have set up your computer specifically to view the unsupported drives.

This is why it's so tricky to format for Windows and Mac on the same hard drive. Assuming that you have newer computer models and are running recent versions of Windows and MacOS, the file systems used by your computers are incompatible. This is due largely to file system optimizations that were made with a specific operating system in mind, though competition between Microsoft and Apple may play a part in the proprietary nature of their respective OS file systems. With that said, there are a few ways to format a single external hard drive for both Mac and PC use without losing data or corrupting files.

How to Format for Mac and PC

Best Portable External Hard Drive For Both Mac And Pc

While Windows and macOS primarily use their respective proprietary file systems, both support other file systems as well. In particular, both Windows and macOS support the exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table) file system that is commonly used for flash drives and other rewritable storage. This means that you can take an external hard drive and format it with the exFAT file system and it will then be readable and writable to both you_r Windows PC and your Ma_c.

If you choose to do this, however, it is important to avoid changing the settings of the file system too much when you format. By default, exFAT uses 32KB and 128KB data clusters when reading and writing (respectively); you can change this up to 32GB per function when choosing the formatting settings. MacOS doesn't support exFAT cluster sizes greater than 1024KB, however, so if you increase the cluster size significantly then the drive will only be usable by your Windows computer. Additionally, some users have reported issues with reading exFAT drives on Windows PCs if the drives were formatted on a macOS computer; while this does not happen for all users, to avoid potential problems you may wish to format the drive on your Windows PC instead of your Mac.

Dual Formatting

If you have some specific need for NTFS or APFS/HFS+, or you simply don't wish to use exFAT to format your external drive, there is another option available to you. Instead of formatting the drive with a single file system, you can create two partitions on the drive and format each of those with a different file system. This will reduce the amount of space that's available for either Windows or Mac files, but it will ensure that you have storage space on your external drive that's in your preferred format regardless of which computer you're on at the time. If choosing this route, make sure that you have sufficient space on the hard drive to make the dual partition worthwhile. Starting with a 500GB hard drive would only give you 250GB of space per partition, assuming that the partitions were equal; you may be better off going with at least a 1TB hard drive unless your storage needs are minimal.

This can be done starting on either computer, using the operating system's disk management tools to create two partitions on the drive. If you have any data currently on the drive you should back it up before partitioning, since it could become corrupted or deleted during the process. Either shrink the current volume and add a new partition on the empty space or create two partitions if the drive hasn't been formatted yet. (If there is already a partition there but you wish to start fresh you can delete the current partition and treat the entire drive as empty space.)

Once the two partitions are created, use your Mac to format one of the partitions in either APFS or HFS+ and use your Windows PC to format the other partition in NTFS. Each computer will only be able to access its appropriately-formatted partition, though disk management software should be able to see the other partition as well if needed.

Reformatting the Drive

Should you decide at some point that you no longer want an exFAT or dual-partitioned drive, you can reformat the external drive for use by Windows or macOS at a later date. If there are multiple partitions on the drive then you should probably delete them to avoid accidentally formatting only one of the partitions instead of the entire drive. Even if there's only a single exFAT partition on the drive, make sure that you back up any files or programs that the drive contains since reformatting will erase everything contained on the drive. While there are ways to recover files and data after a format, these are not always 100 percent effective and data may be damaged, corrupted or lost completely.

When you reformat the drive, it will be similar to the process of installing the file system with which you previously formatted the drive. Connect the drive to the computer you wish to use it with and format it in the appropriate file system to meet your needs. On a Windows PC, this would be NTFS; on macOS it would be APFS(or HFS+ if you're using an older Mac.) Of course, if you're moving from a dual-partitioned drive to a drive with a single partition on it then you could choose to format the drive with exFAT instead. Just make sure that you don't adjust the cluster sizes too much if you're hoping to retain the ability to use the drive on both a Mac and a Windows PC.


Writer Bio

Best Portable External Hard Drive For Both Mac And Pc Combo

Jack Gerard is a freelance writer and editor with over 15 years of experience writing about topics related to business and finance. His body of work includes copy for small businesses, how-to guides for entrepreneurs and even editing and copy work for international corporations.

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When you purchased your computer, you thought it had plenty of space. Or at least, it seemed like it did… until photos, videos, programs, documents, and other files began crowding the disk space.

Whether desktop or laptop, running out of storage on your Mac or PC is a widespread problem with an easy solution.

For many, the go-to is cloud storage services such as iCloud or Google Drive, but these aren’t a great fit for everyone, especially if you have a lot of files or need to access them offline on both your Mac and PC.

In this case, an external drive that’s Mac and PC interchangeable is the best option, because you’ll have all your files on hand at all times and it can store significantly more data than a cloud drive.

In this article, we’ll help you better understand the use cases of an external hard drive, and round up the best Mac & PC compatible external drives for backup and storage purposes.

Quick Summary

Tired of learning all the “techy” terms related to hard drives? We understand. Here’s a brief of our recommendations to save you time exploring.

For Mac users: G-Technology Portable External Hard Drive 2TB

From the sleek design to the pre-formatting, this terabyte-sized drive is perfect for Mac users who need a little extra space and offers a transfer rate of up to 140 MB/s for accessing all your files.

For Windows PC users: WD 2TB Elements Portable

At 5400 RPM but only around 3″ x 4″, this tiny drive packs a real punch. You can get it in sizes from 1 to 4 TB, all of which are equally portable and will allow you to access your files with speed and efficiency wherever you go.

For the best of both worlds: Samsung T7 Portable SSD

Whether you simply prefer the speed of an SSD or use both Mac and PC on a regular basis, this drive offers formatting that works everywhere you go and top-notch read/write rates. The drive is small, portable, sleek, and available in multiple colors!

Who Should Get This?

You don’t have to be a power user to make use of an external drive, but if you aren’t sure you need one, here are some considerations:

  • Has your computer slowed down due to the lack of available storage?
  • Do you need to back up your computer, especially if you’re worried about a crash soon?
  • Are the subscription fees for your cloud storage service not worth the amount of storage you get?
  • Do you want to clean up old files that you only occasionally use?
  • Need a better place to run large applications from, or have programs you want to run on more than one computer?

If you’re saying yes to any of these, then there’s a good chance you would benefit from an external drive. It’ll give you the extra space and security that you need.

However, an external drive might NOT be the best choice for you if you only have a few files that need storage, or if you already have a backup of your computer via backup software like Get Backup Pro.

In that case, using a small flash drive or an online cloud storage provider is a better option.

Best External Drive for Mac and PC Interchangeable: Top Picks

Here’s a list of our top recommendations, along with a quick review of each drive so you get to know its pros and cons before making a decision on which one to buy.

Note: some hard drives are not pre-formatted with exFAT, a file system that works with both macOS and Windows. If so, refer to this tutorial on how to reformat it.

1. G-Technology Portable External Hard Drive 2TB

Using a Mac? This drive is preformatted just for you, offering a high transfer rate for fast file access and connects easily via USB-C.

It will definitely stand up to regular use of creative editing applications and store files/backups well if you’re using it in a more long-term frame.


  • 2TB is a fair amount of storage space for any user, and this drive is available in larger sizes as well.
  • The transfer rates up to 140 MB/s means you can easily access your files without sacrificing any time spent loading or waiting for files to transfer.


  • Pre-formatted for Mac, but can be reformatted to Windows.
  • Not cross-compatible.

2. WD 2TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive

If you’re a Windows PC user, this HDD drive from Western Digital has you covered. With sizes from 1 to 4 TB and plug-n-play functionality, you’ll start with your feet on the ground.

Best Portable External Hard Drive For Both Mac And Pc Wireless

USB 3.0 allows you to transfer files at up to 5MB/s, and the drive overall runs at 5400 RPM.


  • A high RPM means you don’t have to worry about sitting in front of your computer waiting for files to load, while the slim 3″ by 4″ design is super portable, perfect for taking files to and from work or another setting.
  • Can even be used to backup games on your console.


  • Only for PC, you’ll need to reformat it to go with the Mac.

3. SAMSUNG T7 Portable SSD

Best Portable External Hard Drive For Mac And Pc

Available from the smallest 500 GB size all the way up to 2TB, this external SSD from Samsung writes up to 1,000 MB/s, which is a stellar rate.

It normally uses a USB-C cable, but if your computer doesn’t yet support this, a standard USB-A cable is also provided. This product also ranks in our best portable SSD drive review.


  • Formatted to work on Mac and Windows and even Android!
  • A variety of storage options makes it easy to find the right size for you.
  • The sleek drive is also very sturdy and fits into the palm of your hand.


  • Transfer speeds may be slightly lower if you can’t make use of the included USB-C cable.

How to Choose an External Drive for PC and Mac

When you are about to purchase an external drive that’s for both Mac and PC, make sure to take these factors into consideration. They’ll help you narrow down the choices without spending too much time.

File Capacity

The number one consideration is how much space the drive offers. Depending on the type of files you’ll be storing and how long you want the drive to last, you may want more or less space.

However, when buying an external drive you should be getting a minimum of 500 GB these days, as anything less will be better served by a flash drive.

Many people will be much more satisfied with closer to 2 TB of storage though since storage tends to use up faster than you might think.

Type: HDD or SSD

External drives come in two types: HDD and SSD. The former is what is normally referred to as a “hard drive”, since it uses a physical spinning disk to read and write data, while the latter, sometimes called a solid-state drive, actually uses flash memory and stores everything electronically and has no moving parts. An HDD tends to be cheaper, but SSDs are faster and more reliable.


An external drive is typically formatted for either macOS or Windows. While there are some drives that work on both, most will need to be reformatted to be functional on the opposite system.

Best Portable External Hard Drive For Both Mac And Pc

Drive formatting in the first place can be difficult, so look for a drive that’s already formatted to work with your computer system and know that you will only be able to access your files on computers of the same operating system.


All external drives are rated by read-and-write speeds, which is how fast they can store, retrieve, and display data. Higher speeds are better, but a small difference won’t be noticeable.

Useful Tips

Don’t forget to get an external drive case (like this one from Amazon), which will help protect your drive from potential damage caused by scratch or dropping. It also allows you easily pack it into a backpack or briefcase.

To extend the life of your storage drive, it’s a good practice to always put it on a flat and stable surface and stay away from heaters, humidifiers, or air conditioners.

Also, when you’re done with data backup or file transfer, make sure to properly eject the drive before plugging it out from your computer.

Still can’t decide between an HDD or SSD external drive? Check out this guide, which will help outline which is best depending on your situation.

Alternatively, if you are still unsure whether to get an external drive or not, you can always try out a web-based cloud service first to see if it gives you the space and flexibility you want.

Google Drive, OneDrive, or Dropbox are great services to get started since they offer free options at the lowest tier, and paid users can get more than 1TB of storage space.

Final Words

Whether you prefer HDD or SSD, you’re looking for your first hard drive or your third, an external drive is usually a great solution for data backup and file storage on both your Mac and PC.

Moving files off your computer will also help tune it up a little bit and will protect your important files from getting lost.

Are you using an external drive that’s both Mac and PC compatible? Leave us a comment below and tell us how you’re making the most out of it!

Jessica is the co-founder and content manager here at AnySoftwareTools. She has been fascinated by the startup culture in Silicon Valley and she loves building things from zero to one. When she is not writing, she loves getting close to nature and shoot photos with her iPhone and Canon EOS 80D.