How to Read a Mac Formatted Drive on a Windows PC

If you’re using an external hard drive with your Mac, it is likely to be formatted using HFS+ file system which only Mac’s can read. However, if you want to use the same drive with Windows, it’s possible with the aid of third-party tools, which is the main focus of this article.

By default, Windows cannot read Mac formatted drives, so as soon as you connect the drive to a PC, you will receive a message ‘format the drive before you can use it’. At this stage, please do not proceed with formatting, as this will erase all contents of the drive. However, if you’re sure that you don’t have to retrieve any files from the drive, you can proceed with formatting.

Now we’ll walk you through various options to read a Mac formatted drive from a Windows PC.

Option 1: Use ‘HFS Explorer’ to read a Mac formatted drive

HFSExplorer is a simple third-party tool to read a Mac formatted drive and copy files from it.

There are two main advantages of using HFS Explorer, one is that it is free to use and secondly, it is a read-only tool. Since it is read-only, you’ll not have to worry about the software causing damage to files on the drive.

How to use HFS Explorer?

As a first step, download and install ‘HFS Explorer’ on your Windows PC. The pre-requisite of this software is that you have Java on your system.

Then connect the external hard drive from which you would like to retrieve files. Once the software is installed and the drive is connected, launch the application and follow the steps below.

  1. Click on ‘File’ menu and select ‘Load File System from device
  2. This will identify the connected drive and display its contents
  3. Choose the ‘files/folders’ you wish to retrieve and click ‘Extract
  4. Finally, choose a ‘destination’ to save your files

Now your selected files will be copied to the location specified. Again, this tool is great if you want to use it only to get read access to Mac formatted drives. However, if you want to write to it, there are some paid tools available such as Paragon HFS+.

Option 2: Paragon HFS+

Paragon HFS+ allows read/write access to Mac-formatted drives from your Windows PC. All you have to do is install the application and your Mac drive will be detected in the same way as any other drive.

This software is useful if you use Mac formatted drives from Windows regularly and you want to have a better speed/performance. However, if your only intent is to retrieve some files from a Mac drive, this may not be the best option; HFS Explorer as explained earlier will be useful in such cases.

Option 3: Use ‘ExFAT’ file system

This option can be useful after you have retrieved files from a Mac drive using HFS Explorer or Paragon HFS+. That is, if you plan to share an external hard drive with both Mac and Windows, then you can consider formatting the drive as exFAT file system. ExFAT is compatible and provides read/write access on both Windows and Mac machines.

To format a drive in ExFAT, first, make sure you have a copy of all required files from the drive as formatting will delete everything on it. Then connect the drive to your PC and right click on it. Click on ‘Format’, select ‘ExFAT’ file system and click ‘Start’ to begin formatting. Once the format is complete, you will have a drive with ExFAT file system.

Retrieve data after formatting a drive

There may be situations when you have lost data after formatting your drive and no backup is available. In such cases, data recovery tools such as Remo Recover can be extremely useful. To learn more, refer to Mac partition recovery. It can be used to restore files from formatted or partitioned hard drives.

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