The success of Apple with Mac devices helps macOS to become more and more popular. However, Windows computers are still there – everywhere. Sharing data by using USB or external hard drive between Windows computers and Mac, therefore, can’t be ignored in many cases. But this task could be a challenge because of the compatibility of each OS and drive file system format. In other words, it is confusing if you want to choose a file system for the disk which works in both macOS and Windows PCs.
To do it in a right way, I, firstly, introduce four most common file system formats and then suggest the solution that solves the problem as already said.
Common File System format
Or it is known as another name: Mac OS Extended. It is Mac OS X’s native file system. HFS+ is default choice when you format any disk in macOS. Of course, all system partitions in macOS use this file system format. Time Machine, the native backup application in macOS works only with this file system. But while HFS+ is the best way to format drives for use on Macs, Windows does not support it. To work with this format, you can install some driver or 3rd party software which help you to read and write in this kind of disk. But if you want to use USB, external disk on any Windows PC without installing software, HFS+ is not a good solution.
NTFS is announced and set to be default Windows file system from MS Windows XP. Up to now, Nothing changes in Windows 10. But NTFS partially compatible with macOS: Mac users can quickly read data on NTFS drives. However, writing data to them without supports from 3rd party software needs some specialised and advanced skills. In other words, if you need to get files from a PC to your Mac by using NTFS drives, it is not a problem. However, with that drives, you have some difficulties to copy the file from your Mac to your Windows PC.
This file system architecture is a very old one which was defined by Microsoft. You can see it as universally supported way because it works with all versions of Mac OS X and Windows. Sound good? Yes, but if you see closer, it has some technical limitations that should be considered. Firstly and most inconvenience, the maximum file size in FAT32 is only 4GB, it means you cannot save files those are larger than 4GB on a FAT32-formatted drive. Another disadvantage is the total size of the FAT32 partition. Windows allow you to format your partition no larger than 32GB. In macOS 10.7 Lion forward, the FAT32 drive partition can be up to 2TB. Much better, but 4GB file size limit is still there.
If any file system format can replace two major limitations of FAT32, it will be the best solution to solve the problem of sharing data between Windows PC and Mac devices by the disk drive. The exFAT file system is what I want to mention here: the largest partition and file sizes which exFAT supports are unlimited by today’s standards. However, because exFAT is quite new so not all versions of Mac and Windows support it: Mac running 10.6.5 (Snow Leopard) or 10.7 (Lion), while PCs running Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista SP1, and Windows 7, 10 are compatible.
Therefore, if you are working with these versions of operating system exFAT is the best choice.
How to format a disk drive to exFAT on macOS Sierra.
This quick guide is done in macOS Sierra, but you can do in the same steps in other versions of macOS from 10.6.5 forward.
Format a drive using Disk Utility on a Mac
- Launch Disk Utility (Applications > Utilities Or Launchpad > Other
- In the left panel, select your external hard drive or USB flash drive from the list
- Click on the Erase tab, a pop-up window will appear where you can choose some options to format the disk.
- Choose exFAT as the target file system format – then name the drive (If you want to).
- Click the Erase button, and the drive will start formatting. Be aware that formatting a drive deletes all of the files on it
Format a drive in Windows
- Go to Computer (or My Computer in Windows XP).
- Select your drive from the list and right-click on it. Choose Format from the contextual menu.
- A window will pop up where you can choose the format, select exFAT from the list. Make sure the allocation unit size is set to default and type in a volume label.
- Click Start to format the drive.