This format was created for Microsoft and allows users to quickly plug their drives into Windows machines and work with files. As NTFS is proprietary, Apple would need a special license to use it.
The best ways to format an external drive for Windows and Mac. Compare the different options for formatting an external hard drive to work with Windows and Mac. And, no: the answer isn't always FAT32.
If you've switched to the Mac, welcome aboard. Your old external Windows PC drive will work great on the Mac. Apple has built OS X Yosemite and some previous OS X releases with the ability to read from those disks just fine. If you're using such a drive and you'd like to write new data to them, you'll find you can't unless you add new software. Fortunately, you don't have to spend a dime.
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Every week our Peter Cohen brings you Switch to Mac — a column to help you move from Windows PC to the Mac and OS X!
One option is to back up your old Windows external drive (using Time Machine or another method). Reformat the drive using Apple's Disk Utility software and the company's HFS+ file system instead. Then you can restore the backed up data to the drive.
Even if the backed up and restored files originally came from a PC, they'll be stored on the drive using a file system the Mac fully understands. That way the drive will be fully Mac-compatible without any need for you to modify the operating system of the Mac to get it to work properly.
Obviously that solution doesn't work for everyone. Maybe the drive you're using has to be used with a PC occasionally. Whatever the case, the good news is that it's not a show-stopper: There are a few utilities out there that will enable Macs to write to mounted NTFS volumes.
Tuxera's NTFS for Mac is one of the best ways to do it. It uses smart caching to keep data transfer as fast as possible and works with every OS X version since 10.4 (Tiger). NTFS for Mac costs $31, and you can download a demo first to see how it does.
Paragon Software's NTFS for Mac 12 is another excellent choice. It includes several additional utilities for people who need to tinker or repair, to enable you to format drives with NTFS, check NTFS partition integrity, fix errors, and more. NTFS for Mac costs $19.95.
If you're a DIYer and you'd like to go the free route, you'll find a Sourceforge project called NativeNTFS-OSX that gets the job done. NativeNTFS isn't for rookies: It's a bash script that needs to run from the Terminal command line and requires you to have root (administrator) access to your computer.
An easier way to go is to download OS X Fuse, a third-party software tool that extends the Mac's file system capabilities. Follow the directions on the OS X Fuse website to download and configure the software. Follow the instructions to download NTFS-3G for Mac OS X, whose development seems stopped right now but still works in Yosemite. Once OS X Fuse and NTFS-3G are installed, your Mac should be able to read and write to NTFS disks just fine.
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Want to format an external hard drive for Mac and Windows PC? Do you know how to do this work easily? This MiniTool article will show you specific methods to make external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC, which are easy and safe to complete.
As we know, external hard drives are widely used to backup data or interchange files among different computers. Well, is there an external hard drive that could be shared between Mac and Windows PC? Of course, there is. Actually, most external hard disks could be compatible with Mac and PC as long as you format them correctly.
Why Need to Format External Hard Drive for Mac and PC
To put it simply, if you want to share external hard drive between Mac and PC, you need to format an external hard drive for Mac and PC.
Currently, hard drives for Windows PC are always formatted with NTFS, while hard disks for Mac are formatted with HFS+. However, when we connect a NTFS formatted disk to Mac, Mac OS X doesn't allow us to write files to the drive neither edit files, though it can read a NTFS drive. Similarly, Windows OS will ask us to format the HFS+ formatted drive when we connecting such a disk, let along edit files saved on HFS+ formatted hard disks unless we resort to third party programs.
But luckily, there are file systems well supported by both Mac and Windows PC, and they are FAT32 (it might be called MS-DOS on Mac) and exFAT. As long as we format the external hard drive to one of these 2 file systems, it can be shared between Mac and Windows.
Both FAT32 and exFAT have advantages and disadvantages.
FAT32: FAT32 works with all versions of Windows, Mac OS, Linux, game consoles, etc.
However, single files on a FAT32 drive can't be larger than 4GB. If your external drive saves files larger than 4GB or you plan to save larger files to this drive, converting to FAT32 is not recommended.
In addition, a FAT32 partition must be not more than 32GB if you create it in Windows Disk Management. Of course, there is free partition manager that can help create a FAT32 volume up to 2TB, which also functions correctly.
exFAT: exFAT has very large file size and partition size limits, which means it's a good idea to format your external hard drive to exFAT.
Nevertheless, a lot of users complained that exFAT is slow, and they highly suggest using FAT32 if you can avoid file size constraints.
Three Options for Accessing NTFS Drives on Mac
Paid Third-Party Drivers
Some paid third-party NTFS drivers for Mac can be used to access NTFS drives on Mac. They work well and they have better performance than the free solutions which will be mentioned in the following part. Paragon NTFS for Mac is such a driver.
Besides, you can also use the paid third-party file system converters to convert NTFS to FAT32 or exFAT which are compatible with both Mac and PC. MiniTool Partition Wizard is one representative.
Free Third-Party Drivers
FUSE for macOS is a free and open-source NTFS driver that can enable write support. But, this solution is slower relatively. And the automatically mounting NTFS partitions in read-write mode can be a security risk for your Mac computer.
Apple’s Experimental NTFS-Write Support
The Mac OS has an experimental support for writing to NTFS drives. Usually, it is disabled by default and needs some messing around in the Mac terminal to enable it.
It doesn’t work properly all the time and could lead to potential issues with your NTFS file system. For example, it had corrupted data before. Thus, we don’t suggest using this tool and we believe it is disabled by this reason.
Here, we recommend using the paid third-party tools since they are easy-to-use and can do good work for you.
Then, we will introduce these three options for you in the following content.
The Best Paid Third-Party Driver: Paragon NTFS for Mac
Paragon NTFS for Mac can write, edit, delete, copy, or move files on NTFS volumes from your Mac computer. It offers a 10-day free trial. If you want to use it all the time, you need to pay for it.
With it, you don’t have to fiddle with terminal commands to mount partitions manually. Additionally, it can mount partitions automatically and safely. More importantly, it can code with the potential corruption. If you purchase a Seagate drive, you can even get a free download of Paragon NTFS for Mac.
All in all, it does its works well and gives you good user’s experience.
The Best Free Third-Party Drivers: FUSE for macOS
FUSE for macOS is a free solution to access NTFS on Mac. But it is less secure.
If you want to make automatically mount NTFS partitions in read-write mode on Mac, you need to temporarily disable the System Integrity Protection and replace one of Apple’s built-in tools with a binary that is more vulnerable to attack. Thus, your Mac is in danger when using this driver.
However, you can use it to manually mount NTFS partitions in read-write mode if you never mind using the Terminal. This will be safer, but you need to do more work. You can go to google the steps and see how complex they are.
Apple’s Experimental NTFS-Writing Support: Don’t Do This, Seriously
Although we mentioned this method in our article, we still don’t recommend it because it is the least tested. It is just for educational purposes, and it is available on Mac OS 10.12 Sierra. Perhaps, it will be unstable forever.
How to Quickly Format External Hard Drive for Mac and PC without Losing Data
Another way to access NTFS drive on Mac is to convert the NTFS/HFS+ to FAT/exFAT. Then, the drive can be used on both Mac and PC.
There should be some important data on the drive. To keep it safe, you can choose this best NTFS/HFS+ to FAT/exFAT converter: MiniTool Partition Wizard.
How to Convert NTFS to FAT32 or exFAT Without Data Loss
To format hard drive for Mac and Windows without data loss, we suggest using MiniTool Partition Wizard and its 'Convert NTFS to FATS32' function. If you are a personal user, you can try its Professional Edition.
Step 1: Run MiniTool Partition Wizard
Download this software to your computer. Then, you can open the software and input the license key to the pop-out window to get its Professional Edition.
Step 2: Convert NTFS to FAT32 with This Software
After running the program successfully, we can see its main interface as follows:
Here, please select the NTFS partition of external hard drive and choose 'Convert NTFS to FAT' feature from the left action pane. If there is more than one NTFS partition, convert all of them one by one.
At last, click 'Apply' button to make the change executed.
When MiniTool Partition Wizard shows it applies the change successfully, the original NTFS will finally become a FAT32 partition.
By this way, you can easily format an external hard drive for Mac and PC without losing any data. Then, you can share external hard drive between Mac and PC
You Can Convert NTFS to exFAT in 3 Steps
However, if you want to convert NTFS to exFAT to make external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC, 3 steps are required.
Step 1: Transfer Data out from External Hard Drive
Format Hard Drive For Windows And Mac
You can choose to copy and paste those files to other external devices or internal hard disk of Windows, but it will cost much time. Instead, you can use MiniTool Partition Wizard Free Edition to create a copy for your external drive, which is faster.
If there is only one NTFS partition on external hard drive, refer to the tutorial Copy Partition to get instructions. However, if there is more than one NTFS partition, view Copy Disk to get specific operations.
Step 2: Create exFAT Partition with MiniTool Partition Wizard
The Free Edition of this software also enables you to do this job.
Firstly, you need to delete the partition by using this software. Just open the software to enter its main interface. Then, choose the target partition and click 'Delete Partition' from the left action pane. After that, you should click 'Apply' to keep this change.
Secondly, the target partition will become unallocated. Here, you need to choose that partition and click on 'Create Partition' from the left action pane.
Thirdly, you will see a pop-out window. Here, you can choose 'exFAT' from the 'File System' setting option. At the same time, you can also set some other parameters for this partition, including 'Partition Label', 'Drive Letter', 'Size And Location'. After that, please click on 'OK'.
Fourthly, you will go back to the main interface. Then, please click on 'Apply' to save these changes.
Finally, an exFAT partition will be created on your external hard disk so that it could be shared between Mac and Windows PC
Step 3: Transfer Data back to External Drive
If you want to share files that you have backed up between Mac and PC, now please transfer these files back to external hard drive.
How to Convert HFS+ to FAT32 or exFAT without Losing Data
Besides, you can format an external hard drive for Mac and Windows by converting HFS+ to FAT32 or exFAT without losing any data.
Step 1: Backup Data in HFS+ Partition on Mac
Just transfer all useful files out from the external hard drive to other devices on Mac. Of course, if you have a backup already, ignore this step.
Step 2: Create a FAT32 or exFAT Partition on Windows PC
Some people may ask why create such partitions on Windows rather than Mac. That is because there are cases reporting FAT32 (MS-DOS) or exFAT partitions created on Mac did not work well on Windows.
Please skip to Solution 1: Format External Hard Drive to FAT32 to get steps to create a FAT32 partitions or go back to Step 2: Create exFAT Partition with MiniTool Partition Wizard to get operations to create an exFAT partition.
How to Make an Empty External Drive Compatible with Mac and PC
If there is no file saved on your external hard drive, how to make external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC?
It's very easy to share it between Mac and PC and you also need a Windows computer, a Mac machine, and the free partition manager MiniTool Partition Wizard Free Edition.
There are 3 solutions for this case, so please choose the one you like most to format external hard drive Windows 10/8/7.
Solution 1: Format External Hard Drive Windows 10/8/7 to FAT32
Since users are unable to create a FAT32 partition larger than 32GB in Windows Disk Management, they need to use MiniTool Partition Wizard Free.
Please download and install this program on your Windows computer to format an external hard drive for Mac and PC.
Firstly, open the software to enter its main interface as follows. Here, please select the NTFS partition or HFS+ partition of external hard drive, and click 'Delete Partition' feature from the left action pane. If there are multiple partitions on the external disk, please select the disk and click 'Delete All Partitions' feature instead. After that, an unallocated space will be released.
Secondly, you can create one or more FAT32 partitions in unallocated space. Select the unallocated space and choose 'Create Partition' feature from the left side.
Then, you should choose 'FAT32' from the 'File System' option in the pop-out window. Meanwhile, you can set properties for this new partition and click 'OK' to go back to the main window of Partition Wizard.
At last, click 'Apply' button to make all changes performed.
Solution 2: Format External Hard Drive Windows 7/8/10 to exFAT
Firstly, please delete the NTFS or HFS+ partition in either MiniTool Partition Wizard or Windows Disk Management to release unallocated space. Then, you can create an exFAT partition with MiniTool Partition Wizard Free Edition by following steps introduced in the section Step 2: Create exFAT Partition with MiniTool Partition Wizard.
Once a FAT32 or exFAT partition is created on your external hard drive, you can share it on both Mac and Windows PC.
Solution 3: Create One HFS+ Partition for Mac and One NTFS Partition for Windows
How To Reformat An External Hard Drive
Alternatively, you can create 2 partitions on the external hard drive: one is for Mac, and the other is for Windows. As to size for each partition, it depends on your own demands. By this way, you can easily format an external hard drive for Mac and Windows.
Step 1: Create a NTFS Partition and a FAT32 Partition
Please run MiniTool Partition Wizard Free Edition, then delete all the original NTFS or HFS+ partition(s), and create a new NTFS partition as well as a FAT32 partition, and the latter will be formatted to HFS+ in Mac machine.
Then, select the external hard drive and choose 'Delete All Partitions' to create an unallocated space.
Here, select the unallocated space and choose 'Create Partition' feature from the left action pane.
Now, please specify partition label (Windows is recommended), partition type (primary or logical), drive letter, file system (NTFS), cluster size, and partition size (you can change the length of the handle to adjust partition size). Then, click 'OK' to continue.
How To Format Hard Drive For Mac
Now, you can see a NTFS partition is created. Please use the same way to create a FAT32 partition labeled with Mac. At last, click 'Apply' button to make all changes performed.
Step 2: Format the FAT32 Partition to HFS+ Partition on Mac
Reformat External Hard Drive Windows 10
Please go to Utilities → Disk Utility to get the window below:
Then, select the external hard drive and click 'Partition' tab on the top.
Now, find the FAT32 partition and format it to OS X Extended (Journaled), which is the desired HFS+. Finally, click 'Apply' button to make all changes performed.
After NTFS partition and HFS+ partition are created on your external hard drive, it can be shared between Mac and Windows PC.
Are you planning to format an external hard drive for Mac and PC? If yes, now try one of our methods to make external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC.
Should you have any problem, just feel free to leave us a message in comment part below or send an email to [email protected].
Format Hard Drive for Mac and PC FAQ
You’ve got your external hard drive with your documents, photos and videos on it. You used the hard drive on your Windows PC and now you want to use it your Mac.
And why not?
It has plenty of space on it. But when you plug it into your Mac you find you can read the documents on it. You can even copy them onto the Mac. But when you try to copy a file from the Mac to the external drive it says no.
Arhhhh! You could just pull your hair out.
It’s so frustrating.
You don’t want to format the drive. Because you’ll loose all the documents and files that are on it.
And you can’t copy them off because your Windows PC hasn’t enough room to hold them. Even temporarily.
So how do you make an external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC without reformatting it.
In the post you’ll find various methods that work. You can choose the best method you think will works for you.
Whether it is a drive you can’t write to on your Mac or whether it’s the other way round. An external hard drive that when you plug it into your Windows PC it says no way.
There is an answer for you.
Options For Having An External Hard Drive For Mac And PC Without Formatting
1. Use a Software Solution – You get a piece of software that sits on your Mac. Or one for your Windows PC. This software acts like a translator. It interprets what is on the external hard drive so that your Mac or PC can read and write to the drive.
2. Use a Hardware Solution – An extra external hard drive. This allows you to have your documents set up so that both computers can use them without you loosing any data.
So, What Is The Issue? Why Doesn’t My External Hard Drive Just Work?
Each drive, whether internal, external, a hard drive or an ultra fast SSD has a file system on it.
A file system is how your Windows PC or Mac stores and finds your documents on that drive. There are different sorts of file systems. The one your Windows PC writes on the drive by default and the one your Mac writes are different.
And there is the problem.
Unless you started out with a file system that they both can read and write you’re going to run into problems.
- Your Windows PC reads FAT32, NTFS and ExFAT file systems.
- Your Mac read HFS+ (also known as Mac OS Extended (Journaled) file system, APFS (the apple file system), FAT32 and ExFAT file systems.
You’ll also see the file system referred to as the drive’s formatting.
Typically, an external hard drive that works on a Windows PC uses an NTFS file system.
And an external hard drive that works on a Mac is in HFS+ format. The faster SSD drives on a Mac may well use an APFS file system.
To check, right click on the external hard drive. Then you can check the drive’s properties if you’re not sure what file system it uses.
Before You Decide How You’re Going To Fix Your External Hard Drive For Mac And PC Without Losing Any Files
There are some questions to ask yourself before you go ahead.
1. Which Computer Are You Planning To Use Your External Hard Drive Most On?
Because if your using your external hard drive mostly on your Windows PC. Then you just need to fix the issue on the Mac for the odd time you need to use the drive there.
If mostly on your Mac then the same thing holds true. You just need to fix the issue on the Windows PC for the short time you’ll use the external hard drive there.
If your answer is, you will use equally on both. Then you’d be better off with your documents on your hard drive in a format both computers can read freely. I’ll go into this later.
2. How Much Do You Want To Spend On The Problem?
You may get lucky and find there is a free solution. Or you may need to spend some money.
Options For Making An External Hard Drive For Mac And PC Without Formatting
1. Software Solutions
What Software Solutions are good for:
- Long term or off and on use
- You use the software on the Mac or Windows PC that can’t read the drive.
- Does your external hard drive manufacturer provide the software for free? If not, you will need to pay.
- Each time you upgrade the operating system on your Mac (if you have bought it for a Mac). Or your Windows PC, if you bought it for the Windows PC.
- You’ll need to check that the software is compatible with the new operating system. Or wait for the release of a version that works.
Finding A Free Software Fix
The manufacturer of your hard drive may provide a free solution.
So it is well worth checking the model of your external hard drive on the manufacturers site.
For example Seagate provides a free NTFS reader for the Mac on their support downloads page.
Check the software is compatible for the operating system you’re running. And check it’s compatible with your model of Seagate external hard drive.
You can check this on the Seagate site here.
Paid Software Solutions
The two front-runners in this space with the best reputations are:
Paragon software and Tuxera
Both companies have tools that make an external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC without formatting.
The good news is that you can download the software and have a 10 day free trial. That allows you to test out the Paragon software and make sure it’s for you and your particular set up.
The Paragon Software set of tools has more options compared to Tuxera.
You can get:
- NTFS software for Mac – you load this software on the Mac to read a Windows PC NTFS formatted drive.
- APFS for Windows – This piece of software sits on the Windows PC and allows it to read the Mac’s APFS drives. APFS drives on the Mac are often SSD drives.
- HFS+ for Windows – Sits on the Windows PC and allows it to read HFS+ formatted external hard drives.
Tuxera also has a free trial period that you can take advantage of before you buy. In Tuxera’s case the trial period is15 days.
Tuxera NTFS for Mac – Sits on the Mac. It allows the Mac to read and write to a Windows PC NTFS formatted external hard drive.
Format Usb For Mac And Pc
2. Hardware Solution
What This Option is Good For:
- Heavy or the equal use of your external hard drive on both your Mac and PC.
- No special software tool to buy, maintain or check the versions of.
- It’s not a free option unless you can loan a drive.
Buy A 2nd External Hard Drive
What! I hear you say. Bear with me.
Buy a 2nd external hard drive. You can find some I suggest here.
1. Format that drive to ExFAT.
ExFAT is an efficient, fast, compatible file system. ExFAT works freely with both Macs and Windows PC. Plug an ExFAT drive into your Mac and you Mac can see all the files on it. Read and write document to the drive. And you can do the same on a Windows PC.
You can find out how to format an external hard drive to ExFAT in my document here.
2. Next. Once you have your new or loan external hard drive formatted to ExFAT. Plug both external drives into your Mac. By this I mean the NTFS drive with your documents on and the newly formatted ExFAT drive.
3. You then open two finder windows on your Mac. One finder window on the NTFS formatted drive. And the other Finder windows on the ExFAT drive.
4. And because your Mac can read the NTFS drive. You simply copy all your documents off the drive using the finder window, onto the ExFAT drive.
5. And there you go. You have all your files on a drive that is compatible with both Mac and PC. You can plug that drive into either and use it.
Yes, you had some formatting to do but it was on the new drive. And you did it without losing any data.
And What Do You Do With The Spare External Hard Drive When You’re Done?
Use your second external hard drive for backup.
A good idea as you should never only have one copy of your documents on any drive.
OR indeed in any one place.
As drives as well as cloud storage have been known to and do fail.
And that would mean you loosing all your documents, files, photos, music …
Loan A Drive
If you can, find a good friend to loan an external hard drive from. You’ll need a drive with nothing on it.
Just as if you bought the drive yourself, you follow my directions above.
You format the drive to ExFAT. Copy your files across as I explained for buying a drive.
Then you format your own drive – Don’t worry all this formatting only takes a few minutes.
Copy the files back onto your own external drive.
Return the loaned hard drive to the person you borrowed it from.
I hope you enjoyed my article on how to make an external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC without reformatting.
Whether you go the software or hardware route depends on your situation. And which you find the easier to use.
Either way there is a solution to having an existing external hard drive for Mac and PC. And without formatting the drive.