How to Format a Hard Drive for Mac and PC Compatibility

Make your hard disk or USB flash drive compatible to both Mac and Windows PCs using this easy step by step guide.

Format HDD for Mac and Windows

The irony is that, by default, Windows and Mac use different file systems. While Windows uses NTFS file system, Mac hard drives are formatted with HFS file system. And they are incompatible with each other! Now, the question is how to make hard drive compatible with Mac and PCs?

Well, you can format the drive and make it as excellent cross-platform compatible to work with both Windows and Mac. This is not a difficult task at all. And if you are going to use Mac and Windows PC frequently, you will find this as very useful as any data, files, media files stored on the drive can be easily accessible from any operating system. It is just a matter of few minutes to do this. In this article, we are going to introduce you with the entire process in few simple guidelines.

How to Format a Drive for Mac and Windows PC Compatibility?

You can format any hard drive, flash drive, SSD, USB drive, that is accepted by both a Mac and Windows machine. And it is recommended to carry out the entire process on Mac OS X

  • Open Disk Utility
  • Attach the drive you wish to format for dual compatibility to the Mac
  • Click the drive name on the left side list in Disk Utility, and then click the Erase tab
  • Then click the pulldown menu alongside Format and select MS-DOS (FAT)
  • Give the drive a name(optional) and click the Erase button to format the drive

When you want to use your drive with older versions of Windows, you may also need to set the partition scheme to Master Boot Record (MBR) for full Windows compatibility:

  • Click the drive, then select Partition tab
  • From the Partition Layout dropdown menu, select 1 Partition
  • Click Options and choose Master Boot Record as the partition type, then click OK and Apply

“Drives format very quickly, though the total time taken will depend on the size of the drive. Remember, formatting a drive erases all data contained on it so back up important files before proceeding. In the event of not having backups, then you can recover formatted external hard drive data using a reliable Mac Hard drive recovery software. Remo Recover for Mac is recommended here.”

Hard drive can be formatted using both FAT32 and exFAT. Which one is better? FAT32 or exFAT?

Once you have done with formatting, the drive will be compatible to be read and written to on both a Mac and PC, and the resulting FAT file system is compatible with all versions of Mac OS X, and Windows, including Windows 10, it’s one of the most widely recognized and usable file system formats.

This widespread compatibility makes FAT an ideal file system to use for external hard drives that are intended for use in environments with multiple operating systems.

One of the limitations of using FAT32 is the file size limit, which limits files on the drive to being 4GB in size or less. If you require single files to be larger than 4GB, use exFAT instead, though you will lose some compatibility with older versions of Mac OS X and Windows.

Why can’t you use NTFS on Mac?

The NTFS file system is another option to use for Windows formatted drives and volumes, but it has limited compatibility with Mac OS by default. Mac users can mount and read NTFS formatted Windows drives, making NTFS compatible with the Mac on the reading and mounting front, but writing to an NTFS drive requires using either third party software or enabling NTFS write support on the Mac using an experimental functionality bundled on the Mac. So if you want to do heavy file sharing between Mac and Windows with a lot of reading and writing, it is better to format a drive as FAT32 as discussed above.

However, backup any data on the external hard drive you want to keep on another device before formatting. Formatting a hard drive will erase all data that’s stored on it. Both Windows and Mac OS X allow you to adjust the size of the format partitions on external hard drives. Set the number to the maximum to use the entire drive in a single partition. FAT32 formatted drives also work for PC and Mac sharing, in particular with older versions of both operating systems. However, Microsoft recommends against using FAT32 whenever possible in favor of exFAT.

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