What To Format Hard Drive For Mac And Pc

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. Dec 01, 2021 External Hard Drive Mac Review; Format Hard Drive For Mac; A hard drive can be used on any type of computer - PC or Mac. But in order for the computer and drive to talk to one another, the drive has to be formatted. This article explains. 1-16 of over 2,000 results for 'best external hard drive for mac and pc' Showing selected results. Now that we know the good and bad about every file system, let see how to format a drive in Windows, MAC, and Linux. Formatting a drive on Windows is quite simple. Plug in your external HDD to the USB port of your computer then go to my computer find your external drive right-click it and select format. External Hard Drive Mac Review; Format Hard Drive For Mac; A hard drive can be used on any type of computer - PC or Mac. But in order for the computer and drive to talk to one another, the drive has to be formatted. This article explains. 1-16 of over 2,000 results for 'best external hard drive for mac and pc' Showing selected results. Nov 25, 2020 Format Hard Drive (Mac) 1. Connect the external hard drive to the computer. Open Disk Utility. Select the external hard drive on the left-hand side. Right-Click on the Windows icon in the lower left-hand corner.

You’d like an external hard drive where both your Mac and your PC can interchange files or listen to the same MP3s?

Or is it that your household has a few Macs and PCs.

Macs and PCs you use for various jobs. And you’d like a central external hard drive to share and pop files onto.

The Good News!

The good news is. You can shape pretty much any external hard drive that can plug into both your Mac and your PC.

And change your drive so that both Mac and Windows can read and write to it.

And all you need is a little know how.

Format Hard Drive For Mac And PC Overview Of The Steps

1. You format your external hard drive to Mac OS Extended (Journaled) file system.

2. You format your external hard drive to ExFAT.

3. Then you can share the drive.

Now, you can go ahead without step 1.

But to be honest I’ve seen Macs get picky about formatting the drive to ExFAT without formatting to Mac OS first.

It’ll only take you a few minutes. You’ll find out how, so why worry about it?

External Hard Drive Compatible With Mac And PC

To start you plug your external drive into your Mac.

You format your external hard drive as Mac OS Extended (Journaled) file system first.

​Note: If there are files already on your hard drive

​​​You will need to copy them off as formatting will erase the files.

But if you can’t and you still need to make your hard drive interchangeable with Mac and PC.

Take a look at this document. “External Hard Drive Compatible with Mac and PC Without Reformatting“.

Ready? Here are the steps.

1. Power Up And Sign Into Your Mac

​​Connect the USB cable to your hard drive and plug the other end into your Mac. If the drive needs an external power supply, plug that in ahead of connecting up the USB cable.

2. Find The External Hard Drive Icon On Your Desktop

Your hard drive icon will look like this.

If your drive icon hasn’t shown up on your desktop. And you’re not sure what to do next. Take a look at my article “Connecting up an external hard drive on a Mac“.

3. 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.

Then click on the Utilities folder inside the Application folder.

​In the Utilities folder you can double click on Disk Utility to start it up.

​Or you can search for it using spotlight search. The icon for Spotlight search should be at the top of your desktop.

​Type in Disk Utility.

You click on Disk Utility to start it up.

4. Pick Your External Drive From The External Disk Section In The Window

Be sure to click on your external drive at the top level. As you see in the picture above.

Can’t see two levels?

Look at the top of your screen at the Disk Utility menu. Click on View. And make sure ‘Show All Devices’ is picked.

5. Look At The Options Across The Top Of Your Disk Utility Window

​You’ll see the option to Erase. You use this option to set up the formatting of your external hard drive.

6. Click On Erase To Format

​You’ll now have a screen where you’ll be able to give the external hard drive a name.

You can also select the formatting – the file system you want.

Your first time through these steps pick Mac OS Extended (Journaled) file system.

Use the up down arrows at the end of the format field.

Then be sure to pick GUID Partition Map for Scheme.

Then click erase at the bottom right of the window. Wait a few minutes and you’ve done your formatting.

7. Now Format As ExFAT

When you’ve already formatted your external hard drive as Mac OS Extended (Journaled) file system. You’re ready to format as ExFAT.

Go through steps 1 – 5 above again but this time.

Pick ExFAT for your format.

Pick GUID Partition Map for Scheme.

Then you click on the Erase button at the bottom right of your Disk Utilty window.

And in a few minutes you’ve formatted your hard drive to ExFAT.

And you’re done!


Both your Mac and PC can read and write to your entire external hard drive.

You can drag and drop files and create folders as you wish.

And it only took a few minutes.

You can go ahead now and put some files on your drive with your Mac.

But remember before unplugging your hard drive read step 8. And Eject your external hard drive to properly disconnect your newly compatible drive.

8. Ejecting Your External Hard Drive From Your Mac

If you just pulled out your USB cable from your Mac or your PC you risk corrupting your drive.

Corrupting your hard drive would make it unreadable by your Mac.

This is because both Mac OS and Windows holds information in its memory. And this information only gets written down to the hard drive when you tell it to.

Ejecting your external hard drive. Tells Mac OS to write that information from memory down to the drive. Then you can safely plug out your drive from your Mac.

You eject your external hard drive from a Windows PC as well. So that your PC can write down all data to your drive. And then it’s safe to take out your USB cable.

To Eject Your Hard Drive;

1. Hover over the Icon for the external hard drive on your desktop. Right click and pick Eject.

Or Go to a finder window. And click on the arrow to the right of your drive name to eject your drive.

2. Wait a few seconds for your drive icon to disappear.

3. Wait till the fan stops moving if your external drive has a fan or for the light on the hard drive to go off.

4. Then you’re free to disconnect your USB cable.

Format External Hard Drive For Mac And Windows YouTube Video

Still feeling in the dark about creating an external hard drive for Mac and Windows?

Would you like to see the reformatting done?

I have chosen this YouTube video as one of the best to view.

Video Credit: Acquevara

Here’s some useful information. On the why is and what is of making your drive interchangeable with Mac and windows.

The Little Known Beauty Of ExFAT

Apple bought the rights from Microsoft. Rights that allow their computers to format and read ExFAT file systems. This means a Mac can read and write to an ExFAT formatted hard drive.

A Windows PC can also read and write to an ExFAT formatted hard drive.

Hurray! ExFAT is the one common factor.

Both Macs and PCs can read from and write to ExFAT file systems.

This means that as long as you can plug your hard drive’s USB cable in. You only need to adjust the formatting of your drive.

Then your Mac and Windows PC can read and write to that drive.

What Can You Share?

Documents, music, photos pretty much all your files.

What Can’t You Share Between A Mac and A Windows PC?

What Can’t You Share between a Mac and a Windows PC?

You can’t share Applications and Program files. These files are also known as executables.

Applications made for a Windows PC must run on a Windows PC.

In the same way an application made to run on Mac must run on a Mac.

You can store program files on a shared hard drive. But when you run these programs they must run on the computer they’re meant for.

Why Does An External Hard Drive That Works For Mac And PC Seem So Hard?

Well the thing is, it’s not,

As long as you understand a few basics.

​Either you buy a drive already formatted as ExFAT. Like the Samsung T5 SSD.

Here is a link to a review where you can take a look at the Samsung T5 SSD.

Or you take a few minutes to format your external hard drive for both Mac and PC.

Why Can’t You Share An External Hard Drive From Mac To PC By Default?

Because your Windows PC’s use NTFS (New Technology File System) to store your files.

​What Is A File System?

​A file system is the structure the computer expects to see and read. This file system is how your PC finds its operating system, your documents, photos, mp3s… In fact anything you’ve saved.

File Systems A Windows PC Can Read


NTFS has been around since Windows NT back in 1993. And has been the default file system for Windows based computers since then. Of course it has gone through a few iterations and upgrades since that time.


​FAT32 an MSDOS based file system preceeded NTFS. And backwards compatibility means that Windows PCs can read and write​ FAT32 drives.


What To Format Hard Drive For Mac And Pc

The ExFAT file system was introduced in 2005 for Windows NT and XP systems. It got over some the file restrictions of FAT32.

For example the largest file size on FAT32 is 4GB.

ExFAT is a much better performing file system than FAT32. The ExFAT file size limit is 16 Exibyte​.

Which is enough for most of us.

Now you’ve a little PC file system history. What about your Mac?

File Systems An Apple Mac Can Read

Mac OS Extended (Journaled) File System

Macs pre High Sierra. And without SSD drives have Mac OS Extended (Journaled) file systems on them by default.

This file system is also known as HFS+ (HFS plus).


In 2017 Apple introduced a new file system called APFS (Apple File System). It was part of the 10.13 release of the Mac operating system called High Sierra. APFS is faster and more secure than Mac OS Extended (Journaled) file system.

APFS is the default file system installed on Macs as long as they have Flash drives or SSD (solid state) drives. Your Windows PC cannot read a drive formatted as APFS.


Apple Macs can format external hard drives to the ExFAT file system. Macs can also read and write to ExFAT drives thanks to the agreement made with Microsoft.

Is NTFS Compatible With Mac?

A Mac can read files on NTFS. A Mac can see a NTFS formatted external hard drive but cannot write to it.

This means you can copy files from an external hard drive formatted in NTFS to your Mac and use them there. But you can’t write them back out to the NTFS Windows PC drive.

Which is not that helpful when you want a shareable external hard drive for Mac and Windows.

A Mac cannot create a formatted NTFS drive.

So there you have it.

Your Mac can read but can’t write to NTFS. And your Windows PC cannot see, read or write to Mac OS Extended (Journaled) file systems. Or HFS+.

Or for that matter the new Apple File System.

An ExFAT External Hard Drive Is The Middle Ground

Luckily there’s a compatible middle ground and that middle ground is an ExFAT file system.

Formatted as ExFAT you can share a whole external hard drive between a Mac and a Windows PC. An ExFAT external hard drive means you can freely interchange files.

External Hard Drive For Mac And PC Interchangeable What You Need

Your Mac will need to set up your chosen drive before it’s shared. Macs are very choosy about the drives they will write to.

You will need:

1. An external hard drive attached to your Mac via USB.

USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1 or USB C are the common external hard drive standards.

​You should buy an external hard drive that will fit the ports your Mac and PC have. And think about the speed you want for that drive.

USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 are physically different ports. But are backwards compatible.

You may need a cable adaptor if say your Mac has a USB-C port but the Windows PC you want to share with has a USB 3.0 port.

Not sure on the differences between USB ports have a look at my article on connecting up an external hard drive. There’s an explanation in that article with pictures of the different USB standards.

Or you might need a USB C hub. Does your newer MacBook not have enough USB C ports for you to plug everything you need in at the same time?

Then you might want to take a look at this USB C hub reviewed on this site.

2. A large enough external hard drive. One big enough to hold everything you want to put on it. Don’t scrimp here, you’ll regret it later.

You can take a look at my run down here.

It doesn’t matter what format your chosen hard drive is currently in.

You just format to ExFAT to share with your Mac and PC.

Partition A Section Of Your Hard Drive For Mac And Windows

Are you interested in having just a section of your external hard dedicated to sharing?

Partitioning allows you to divide a part of your external hard drive for PC and Mac.

Perfect when you’ve a large drive. Then you can set up sections for specific things.

I have an article on the site that tells you how. If you follow this link.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can You Use The Same External Hard Drive For Mac And PC?


And in this post you’re shown how to take a drive. Format it. So that it’ll work for PC and Mac. And make it shareable.

But there are other alternatives.

a. Buy a hard drive already formatted as ExFAT. For example the Samsung T5 Portable SSD is ExFAT formatted and you can use straight away.

You can go over and take a look at the Samsung T5 Portable SSD on Mac Review using this link.

b. Some drives come with downloadable software that provides compatibility. The only thing is, when you upgrade your Mac or PC’s operating system. Is the software still compatible?

Often it isn’t.

Internal Hard Drive For Mac

Which is why you’ll find formatting the drive yourself is the safest way to go.

2. Best Format For External Hard Drive For Mac And PC?

The best format when you want to share a hard drive between a Mac and a Windows PC is ExFAT.

Both operating systems can read and write to that external hard drive format.

You can share and watch the same videos and photos. Listen to the same MP3s. Work on the same files – as long as you’ve suitable applications that can read those files.

Hard Drive For Macbook

For example a pdf reader to read pdf files. Microsoft Word to read word files. etc.

In Closing

Now you’re fully up to speed on how to create an external hard drive. A drive that is interchangeable between a Mac and a PC.

With the help of this article, you will happily swap files back and forth between your Mac and Windows PC.

Related Articles

You can find some other related articles on the site.

A hard disk drive (sometimes abbreviated as HDD, HDD, or HDD) is a non-volatile data storage device. It is usually installed inside the computer and then directly inserted into the disk controller on the computer motherboard. Include one or more panels in an airtight package. Use the magnetic head to write data into the board, and when the magnetic head rotates, the magnetic head will move quickly above it. The internal hard disk is located in the drive bay and connected to the motherboard using an ATA, SCSI, or SATA cable. They are powered by the connection to the computer’s PSU (Power Supply Unit). Examples of data stored on a computer’s hard drive include the operating system, installed software, and user configuration files.

Before it starts
Before you start, you should understand some terminology. First of all, hard disk and hard disk have the same meaning. But people often use other terms interchangeably, such as delete and format, when they are quite different in reality.

Deletion: Deleting data will actually move it to an invisible folder, such as the Recycle Bin on Windows or the Recycle Bin on Mac. When in this folder, you can easily recover files. If you empty the recycle bin or trash can, the file can be overwritten with new data. This means that when your device needs to save new data, it can (and will use) the space occupied by deleted files. Before overwriting, you can still use data recovery service to recover files. The closer the files are deleted, the more likely you will recover them.

Erase: Erase or delete a file will permanently delete the file.

Wipe: Wipe refers to erasing all content on a specific storage device or hard drive. You can use data destruction software-or just smash a hammer as with erasing. If you want to use (or sell) the device again, you may want to use the previous method.

Format: Depending on your operating system, some options may be available. Generally speaking, a quick format will only delete the data on the drive, while a regular format will erase everything (erase the drive). The drive-in question can be a hard drive or a removable drive, such as a USB drive. The full format will also scan your disk to find and delete any bad sectors. This will ensure that you will not end up corrupting the file.

Reformatting: Some people use the term “reformatting”-the same word as “reformatting”! So far, for Windows and Mac computers, you should also know some other knowledge about the formatting process.

Identify the type of hard drive
The main hard drive or C (C:) drive is the internal hard drive where the operating system (OS) is located. You may also have other internal drives to store more files on your computer. This happens when the disk is partitioned (respectively) between the main drive and other internal drives. The external hard drive is located outside the computer and can take the form of a flash drive (also called a thumb drive or USB), or it can take the form of a larger case, which can contain a solid-state drive (SSD) or a hard drive (hard disk).

Chose the right file
Now that you understand the difference between erasing and erasing and between internal and external drives, it’s time to choose the file system. The file system is the rule that controls how the operating system stores and reads files. When formatting the hard drive, you will be prompted to select the desired file system.

NTFS: If you want to format the main drive (including the operating system), you must use NTFS (NT File System), which is the default Windows file system. NTFS is also a good choice for external drives because it is compatible with various devices. With basic file security and support for files larger than 4 GB, NTFS is the best choice if you want to transfer large files. So, for example, if you want to put a movie on a USB drive for playback on a TV, you should use NTFS. In addition, NTFS allows you to set advanced permissions, which may help.

FAT32: FAT32 is an older file system dating back to Windows 95. It is compatible with the largest set of file types but cannot store anything over 4 GB. NTFS and FAT32 will eventually become fragmented, which means you need to defragment them from time to time.

If you are using a Mac, you will usually use APFS (Apple File System).
When macOS High Sierra was introduced, APFS became the default file system. It can run on all types of hard drives but is optimized for flash-based storage, including SSDs.From 1998 to 2017, OS Extended (HFS+) was used, but it has been replaced by APFS.

If you want to transfer files between Windows and Mac, use exFAT.
This file system is used for removable storage such as USB drives, SD cards, and other external hard drives. It will allow you to transfer files between different operating systems.

An External Hard Drive Compatible With Both Windows & a Mac
For users who use Microsoft Windows and Apple macOS at the same time, having an external hard drive compatible with both operating systems can be very beneficial. The problem with this is that by default, Windows and macOS use different formatting styles, which are not directly compatible with each other. Windows uses the NTFS (New Technology File System) format, while macOS uses HFS+ (Hierarchical File System Plus, which is the old format used by older versions of macOS) or APFS (Apple File System, which is the new format used by modern macOS versions).

Some third-party solutions can read data in Mac format on Windows and vice versa, but some solutions are expensive and may not provide 100% compatibility for all files. The best solution is to set up an external hard drive to make it compatible with Windows machines and Macs instead of buying one of these programs. In this way, you can create external hard drives for Macs and PCs that can run without any other software.

Understanding Formats
After formatting the hard drive, all the current data on the drive will be erased, and the new file system will be used in the computer’s operating system. The file system defines how the operating system manages data, how to store the data, and what type of storage blocks are used on the hard disk. The file system organizes data in a way that the operating system can access and use the required data. Therefore, if the operating system does not support the file system, the data cannot be actually accessed and read. In most cases, unless you specifically set your computer to display unsupported drives, drives containing unsupported file systems will not appear in Explorer or Finder.

This is why it is difficult to format Windows and Mac on the same hard drive. Assuming you are using a newer computer model and running modern versions of Windows and macOS, the file system used by the computer is not compatible. This is mainly due to the consideration of file system improvements made by specific operating systems, although competition between Microsoft and Apple may have played a role in the ownership nature of their operating system file systems. That being said, there are several ways to format a single external hard drive for Mac and PC use without losing data or damaging files.

How to Format for Mac and PC
Although Windows and macOS mainly use their file systems, they also support other file systems. In particular, both Windows and macOS support the exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table) file system, which is commonly used for flash drives and other rewritable storage. This means that you can use an external hard drive and format it with the exFAT file system, and then it will be readable and writable on both Windows PC and Mac.

If you choose to do this, it is important to avoid changing the file system settings too frequently during formatting. By default, exFAT uses 32K and 128K data sets when reading and writing. When you select the format setting, you can change it to a maximum of 32GB per job. MacOS does not support exFAT cluster sizes exceeding 1024 KB, but if you increase the block size significantly, the drive can only be used with Windows PCs. In addition, if the drive is formatted on a macOS PC, some users have reported problems when reading exFAT drives on a Windows computer. Although not all users encounter this situation, to avoid potential problems, you may need to format the drive on a Windows PC instead of a Mac.

Dual Formatting
If you have specific needs for NTFS or APFS/HFS+, or just don’t want to format an external drive with exFAT, you can use another option. Instead of formatting the drive with a single file system, you can create two partitions on the drive and then format each partition with a different file system. This will reduce the amount of space available for Windows or Mac files but will ensure that you have storage space in the preferred format on your external drive, regardless of which computer you are using at the time. If you choose this path, make sure that there is enough space on the hard drive to make dual partitions useful. Starting from a 500GB hard drive, assuming that the partitions are equal, each partition can only provide 250GB of space. Unless you have very few storage needs, it is best to use a hard drive of at least 1 TB.

You can use the OS Disk Management tool to create two drive partitions from any computer to complete this operation. If there is any data currently on the drive, it should be backed up before partitioning, as it may be damaged or deleted during the process. Shrink the current volume and add a new partition on the free space, or create two partitions if the drive has not been formatted. (If there is already a partition but you want to start over, you can delete the current partition and treat the entire drive as free space.) After creating two partitions, use Mac to format one of APFS or HFS+, and use Windows PC to format the other partition in NTFS. Although the disk management software should be able to see other partitions when necessary, only each computer can access the partitions in the correct format.

Reformatting the Drive
If you decide not to use an exFAT drive or dual partition drive anymore, you can reformat the external drive for later use by Windows or macOS. If there are multiple partitions on the drive, you may delete them to avoid accidentally formatting one partition instead of the entire drive. Ensure to back up any files or programs from the drive, even if there is only one exFAT partition on the drive because reformatting will erase everything on the drive. Although there are multiple ways to recover files and data after formatting, they are not always 100% effective, and the data may be completely corrupted, damaged, or lost.

When reformatting the drive, the process is similar to the file system installation process that you used to format the drive earlier. Connect the drive to the computer you want to use and format it in the appropriate file system to meet your needs. On a Windows PC, this will be NTFS. On macOS, it will be APFS (HFS+ if you are using an older Mac.) Of course, if you want to migrate from a dual-partition drive to a single-partition drive, you can choose to use exFAT instead. If you want to retain the functionality of using the drive on Mac and Windows PC, make sure not to adjust the block size too much.