Format For External Hard Drive Mac

Sep 03, 2020 • Filed to: Solve Mac Problems • Proven solutions

Many people think it is hard to format the windows drive on Macintosh. No worry, actually it is not impossible to realize it no matter you use an external or internal drive of your windows system. We here will show you the full guides on how to format FAT32 and NTFS drives on Mac as an example.

  • Usually, to format the external hard drive as FAT32 or exFAT, you are advised to do this on a Mac computer via Disk Utility. But if you have formatted the external hard drive under the Windows system, it would cause some inconvenience.
  • Dec 29, 2015 Right-click on the external drive's partition or unallocated space you want to format and choose New Simple Volume 4. Follow the wizard to choose a volume size.
  • Please see below on how to reformat your external hard drive on Mac and Windows. DISCLAIMER: Please keep in mind that reformatting will result in the loss of all the data on the hard drive so make sure you back up your data elsewhere before starting. How to Reformat in Mac. Step 1: Make sure your external hard drive is attached and mounted to.
  • 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.
'I just bought a new USB flash drive and a hard drive for extra storage, but they are not compatible with my Mac. The only solution I can find is to format the drives but I don’t know how to perform it. Can someone tell me how do I format a new hard drive for Mac?'

There are lots of people who mistakenly think that the USB drives and hard drives format don’t really matter. But the reality is quite different. Whether it is a hard drive or USB or internal drive, Mac uses different format support. So, you can’t simply use the same drive with both Windows and Mac. As a result, you will need to format the hard drive for Mac. Using the Mac preferred file system is important otherwise the files will be of no use to you.

In this article, we are going to discuss how to format a hard drive for Mac and some related terms too.

Part 1. Situations When Formatting a Hard Drive on Mac:

Before you get deep, you must understand what is the drive formatting. Some people confuse the term with reformatting. Basically, formatting is the process of preparing the storage devices such as hard disk drive, solid-state drive, USB flash drive, or any other for initial use.

The basic operation is termed as low-level formatting which means erasing the existing data on the disk. But it leaves the track to recover the data using the recovery tool.

There is another term related to disk formatting and it is called reformatting. It is called high-level formatting as it is used to prepare the disk for different file system formats. It is usually done during the OS installation or adding a new disk. Reformatting is done to free the storage space from the previous content stored in it.

You can consider disk formatting in macOS in various circumstances. Whether your system has corrupted data, damaged software, impending system upgrade, storage is full, or it is running slow, formatting will fix a lot of issues. Take a look at the scenarios given below and you will be sure that disk formatting will help you.

  • If you want to quickly erase all content from the drive permanently without leaving a trace of data on it.
  • If you want to change the format of the disk such as PC format like FAT or exFAT to Mac format.
  • If you see the message that the disk is not readable by Mac.
  • If you want to resolve a disk issue that can’t be fixed by the Repair feature of Disk Utility.
  • If the macOS installer can’t see the disk or unable to install it.
  • In case the macOS installer says that the drive can’t be installed because it is a part of Apple RAID.

Under all these situations, formatting is most likely to fix your problems and you will be able to use the drive on Mac.

Part 2. How to Format a Hard Drive on Mac:

Formatting is a very simple procedure that is operated in a similar way for all sorts of storage media. So, whether you wish to format the internal hard drive, external drive, or a USB flash drive, the procedure is the same for all. Here is the step by step guide you need to follow to format the hard disk on Mac. Before you erase a disk, make sure that you have a backup of the files you want to keep.

Step 1: Connect the USB drive or external drive to Mac and launch the Disk Utility from Applications.

Step 2: From the left side panel, pick the volume or the drive that you want to format and switch to the Erase tab.

Step 3: As you click on the Erase button, you will see several fields in the section. Enter the given information-

  • Name- Enter a name for the disk such as Macintosh HD/SSD/USB Drive or anything else you want.
  • Format- You have to choose a Mac supported format from the list. The most recommended format is APFS or Mac OS Extended (Journaled). There are numerous other formats too which will be displayed in the drop-down menu. You can select any format as per your requirement.
  • The scheme- If this option is available, then you should choose the GUID Partition Map from the option.

Step 4: After specifying the fields, click on the Erase button at the bottom of the window and Disk Utility will format the drive.

Once the formatting is complete, you can use the disk for a backup drive, sharing, time machine backup, or any other requirement. In case if the drive doesn’t appear in the Disk Utility interface, you will have to disconnect all the extra and non-essential devices connected to Mac. Make sure that the External drive is on and connected properly. Restart your Mac and then carry out the task.

Part 3. How to Perform Mac Data Recovery After Format:

There are situations when Mac users don’t get the chance to create a backup of their data and forced to format the hard drive. But you don’t need to panic. You can get your hands on Recoverit data recovery for Mac. If you have mistakenly formatted the data that you still need, Recoverit is the best chance you have to get the files back. It is a complete data recovery solution that is capable of recovering all kinds of files with wide format support of 1000+.

You can download the software from the official website and install it immediately on Mac. Once the setup is complete, follow the steps below to recover formatted drive files.

Step 1: Specify Location:

Run the program and specify a location from the main drive. If data is lost from an external drive or USB flash drive, then you’ll have to connect the drive with the system and then specify the location.

Click on the Start button to initiate the scanning process.

Step 2: Scan Results:

Depending on the data that is lost or deleted, scanning will take some time. As the process finishes, the files will be displayed on the screen according to their respective format.

You can decide whether you want to look for files according to file type or file path. You can also stop the scanning process in between if the results are displayed before the scanning finishes.

Step 3: Preview and Recover Formatted Data:

As soon as the data is displayed on the screen, you can have a preview of the files. Select as many files as you want and have a preview of the files. Tap on the Recover button to save the files on your system.

As you are retrieving the files, keep in mind not to save the files in the previous location. Depending on the amount of recovery, it will take a while and ultimately you’ll have your files back. If the normal scan doesn’t work for you, Recoverit also has a deep scan mode to look deeper for the deleted and lost files.

Part 4. Different Formats of Hard Drive for Mac:

Mac Hard drives have wide support for formats but there are two major formats that are preferably used by the Mac users. It also depends on the macOS version you are using. The key point to consider is that the drives formatted with the newer versions won’t be recognized by the older devices. So, when you are formatting a USB drive, it will be ideal to choose the right format which is Mac OS Extended.

The supported Mac formats for the drive are explained below:


The APFS format is optimal for Solid State Drive such as flash drives. Hence, if you are formatting a flash drive, you should definitely choose the APFS format. Along with the flash drives, this format is also faster and more reliable for Mac hard drives.

Mac OS Extended:

Talking about Mac OS Extended, it is perfectly suitable if you want to use a drive for backup. The Time Machine feature of Mac still doesn’t have support for APFS disk. In case you select this format, Time Machine will prompt you to reformat the drive.

When you are formatting disk on Mac, keep some things in mind. Never ever change the inbuilt format of a Mac drive.

Part 5. Tips for Formatting a Hard Drive on Mac:

Even though formatting doesn’t seem like a big deal, still it can be very helpful. So, you must stay active and keep all things in mind. Here are some tips that might help you when you are about to format a Mac hard drive.

  • Disk Utility in macOS Sierra and later chooses a compatible format for you automatically. But you should know the default format for your drive. It is advised not to change the default format of a Mac hard drive under any circumstances.
  • You can check the format of a drive inside the Disk Utility Menu bar. Just click on the Get Info option and you’ll know the current format a drive is using to store files. Open the System information and select the storage. In the right-side panel, you will see the respective format for each volume on your Mac.
  • If you want to erase your disk before you install the latest High Sierra on your Mac for the first time, then opt-out for the Mac OS Extended format. During the installation of OS, the macOS installer will automatically decide whether to use APFS or Mac OS Extended for the disk.
  • You can also use the FAT32 format on Mac for USB drives if you wish to use it on both Mac and Windows. The FAT32 format can be read and written on both OS and hence it is the most versatile format for use.
  • If you wish to transfer big files from Windows to Mac, you’ll still have an alternative, i.e. exFAT. This format doesn’t have a file limit but it can only be read on Mac OS X Snow Leopard or later.

So, before you pick out the format, look out for the advantages and the disadvantages of the formats to choose the optimal format for Mac. The Windows supported format is usually listed as an MS-DOS format in the list of formats.

Wrapping It Up:

As you can see, now you know how to format hard drive/ USB flash drive/ internal drive/external drive on Mac. So, from now on whenever someone is in need, you can help them. And formatting doesn’t always finish without complications. So, if you lost some important files while formatting the drive, you can use Recoverit data recovery software for Mac to restore them in the original condition. Recommend the software to your friends and family and let them know that there is a master tool for recovery for both Mac and Windows OS in the market.

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By Juno Posted to NTFS for Mac Tips, updated on September 3rd, 2020

It's important to know how to format an external hard drive for your Mac and PC before you use it to free up space and transfer files between computers. If you don't format the external hard drive correctly, it won't work to the utmost extent. For instance,Windows uses NTFS, while Mac uses HFS+ or APFS. Out of the box, Windows can't read or write to HFS+/APFS drives and Macs can't write to NTFS drives either.

Though the default hard disk file system (also known as format) of Windows and Mac are different, there should be some ways to format an external drive for both Mac and PC. After reading this post, you'll know what is the best file system for your camera's SD card and what is the best format for your Mac and PC. More importantly, you will know how to format flash drives for Mac and PC and make hard drives compatible with macOS and Windows.

Table of contents
1. Common File Systems for Mac and PC
2. How to format external hard drives for Mac and PC?
3. How to partition an external hard drive for Mac and Windows PC?
4. Make external hard drives compatible with Mac and PC without formatting

Common File Systems for Mac and PC

The file system is one of the most important part for an external hard drive because it manages how your files are stored and retrieved. So, every hard disk needs a proper file system, including desktop drives and portable storage devices like external hard drives, USB flash drives and SD cards. However, different file systems have different advantages and disadvantages. So before you know how to format a hard drive, you should know the pros and cons of each file system.

1. FAT32

FAT file system includes three major file system variants but the majorly used one is FAT32. FAT32 is commonly used in floppy disks, SD memory cards, USB flash drives, digital cameras, as well as many portable and embedded devices.


  • Works universally with all versions of Mac, Windows, Linux, game devices, as well as other devices supporting a USB port.


  • Doesn't support a file size larger than 4GB and a drive partition size larger than 32GB on Windows.
  • Doesn't support the drive partition larger than 2TB on macOS.

2. exFAT

exFAT is a good option for external hard drives (e.g. Seagate Backup Plus Slim), especially for large-capacity removable storage devices. It also is frequently used in flash memory drives such as USB flash drives and SD cards. exFAT is easily often implemented in firmware that has low memory and low power requirements, such as cameras, mobile phones, media players, etc.


  • Supports the largest partition and file sizes by today's standards.


  • Not compatible with too much old operating systems.
  • Not a good option for drives less than 32GB because it can't maximize space utilization.


NTFS is a proprietary journaling file system developed by Microsoft. It is used as the default file system of Windows system hard drive (e.g. Windows 10). NTFS does well in data security based on its encryption, access permission control, and log file.


Format For External Hard Drive Mac
  • Improved performance, reliability, and disk space use.
  • Performs better in protecting data security, data management.
  • Compatible with all versions of Windows and latest hardware.


  • Read-only in macOS and the disabled-by-default write support for NTFS in macOS is unstable.

4. Mac OS Extended (HFS+)

HFS Plus or HFS+ is a journaling file system developed by Apple Inc. It's the startup disk’s default file system before macOS High Sierra. It also frequently used as Time Machine backup external hard drives of WD, Seagate, etc.


  • Supported by all versions of Mac OS X and macOS.
  • Has journaling, compression, and encryption features.


  • Has no access permission control.
  • Perfoms slow or crash in dealing with a large number of files.
  • Harder for data recovery when an HFS+ hard drive is corrupted.

5. Apple file system (APFS)

APFS is the new proprietary file system of Apple. It has been known to increase read/write speeds on solid-state drives (SSDs), as well as increase storage space due to the way in which it calculates the available data on disk.

Format For External Hard Drive Mac


  • Allows full-disk encryption with single or multi-key encryption for added security.
  • Efficient in management of free storage space


  • Not good for Time Machine backup due to no support for hard links to directories.
  • Can only be used on macOS 10.13 and above.

After knowing their unique specifications, it becomes easier to choose the best file system for your storage device. For instance, you would know why exFAT is better for camera SD cards, or why NTFS is better for external backup drive on Windows 10. In a word, you can format or reformat your external hard drive per your requirement, either for Mac and PC.

Warning: Formatting will erase data on this drive. So, if you have important files on this external hard drive, make sure you have a backup. However, if you have formatted this drive and lose files, you can recover lost data from formatted external hard drive with iBoysoft Data Recovery for Mac.

How to format external hard drives for Mac?

To format external hard drives on Mac, you'll need the built-in disk management tool called Disk Utility. Then, you need to choose the best file system for your external hard drive when erase it.

Tips: Remember to back up the files on the external hard drive if you have saved anything important on it.

• Guide to format external hard drive on Mac computer.

How to format external hard drives for Windows computer?

Similarly, you can also format your drive on Windows computers with a utility called Disk Management.

Tips: To prevent data loss during formatting, make sure you haven't saved important files on the drive. If you have, backup them first.

• Guide to initialize and format external hard drive on Windows computer.

How to format an external hard drive for Mac and PC?

Sometimes, users need to use the same external hard drive interchangeably on Mac and PC. To make it compatible with both macOS and Windows, you need to reformat the external hard drive.

Whether you are using an APFS/HFS+ or a Windows NTFS formatted external hard drive on Mac, you can reformat the external hard drives for both Mac and PC. File systems like FAT32 and exFAT can make the external HDD compatible with both Macs and Windows PCs.

Warning: Reformatting will wipe files off the external hard drive. So, you should make sure you have backed up your files on the external hard drive before you continue any steps.

When should you choose FAT32 file system?

FAT32 works with almost any operating system as well as video game consoles, Android USB expansions, media players, and other devices. However, FAT32 can only support files up to 4 GB in size. So, If all your files on the external hard drive are smaller than 4 GB, and the drive itself is smaller than 2 TB, then FAT32 is a better choice for you to use the hard drive on Mac and PC.

When should you choose exFAT file system?

Similarly, exFAT is also a widely compatible file system. The difference is that exFAT has no limitations on file size and hard drive size. So, when the external HDD you want to used for both Mac and PC is larger than 2 TB, exFAT is the best choice.

After you choose the best format for your drive, you can format or reformat the external hard drive in Disk Utility as it was introduced. Then the external hard drive will work both for Mac and PC.

When should you choose NTFS file system?

Some users would prefer to the features of Windows NTFS file system. However, naturally, Disk Utility can't format external hard drive to NTFS. If you want an hard drive that you can only read on Mac but have full access on Windows, NTFS is the best choice. You can also use iBoysoft NTFS for Mac to reformat the external hard drive with NTFS on Mac.

  1. Step 1: Download and install iBoysoft NTFS for Mac on your Mac.
  2. Step 2: Connect the external hard drive to your Mac and launch this software.
  3. Step 3: Find Disk Management in its main menu and click on it.
  4. Step 4: Locate the volume you want to reformat, select it, and then click on Erase to NTFS.

What to do if you can’t format the external hard drive on Mac?

Usually, to format the external hard drive as FAT32 or exFAT, you are advised to do this on a Mac computer via Disk Utility. But if you have formatted the external hard drive under the Windows system, it would cause some inconvenience. You can't add or re-partition volumes of the external hard drive again on Mac. In this case, your only choice is to backup your files and reformat the whole disk.

How to partition an external hard drive for Mac and Windows PC?

Except for having the whole external hard drive formatted, you can also split this disk with two partitions. One is formatted with the file system that is compatible with macOS, another partition is compatible with Windows conversely. By this means, you can use all the advantages each format has on the respective system.

Warning: Still, you need to back up files on this drive before you begin to create two separate partitions to work for Mac and Windows PC.

For some Mac models, the partition option would be greyed out in Disk Utility. So, we suggest that it's better to use a PC to partition an external hard drive for macOS and Windows. Here are the steps to partition an external hard drive for Mac and Windows PC, which is a little tricky.

Step 1: Connect the external hard drive to your PC and then launch Disk Management.

Step 2: Check if the external hard drive is initialized or not.

If the drive is not initialized, you need to initialize the external hard drive with Master Boot Record (MBR). Then you can create two new partitions. You need to format one of them as NTFS for Windows use and format the other as your wish.

If the external hard drive is initialized, you need to right-click the disk to check if it's an MBR external hard drive.

  • If you see Convert to GPT Disk in the context menu, be it greyed out or lighted, it’s an MBR hard drive. Then you can create two or more partitions. And you need to prepare one partition for NTFS file system, and reformat with any file system.
  • If you see Convert to MBR Disk in the menu, it's an GPT hard drive. In this case, you need first backup files, delete the existing partitions, then click the Convert to MBR Disk button. Then, you can create two new partitions. You need to format one partition as NTFS for Windows use, and then format the other randomly.

Step 3: Up to now, there should be at least two partitions on the external hard drive. And one of them (the NTFS one) is ready for Windows use. Then, you need to safely remove the external hard drive and plug it into a Mac.

Step 4: Open Disk Utility and select the other partition (not the NTFS one) under the name of your external hard drive.

Step 5: Click Erase on the top, choose Mac OS Extended format when it asks, and chose Erase to finish.

Up to now, the external hard drive will have two partitions. One is HFS+ formatted for Mac, and the other is NTFS formatted for Windows.

By creating two separate partitions, you can use this external hard drive on both Mac and Windows. You won't be able to write to the Mac partition from your Windows computer, and vice versa. Thus, it's a good solution for people who need to swap between two operating systems but with separate work.

Make external hard drives compatible with Mac and PC without formatting

Many famous external hard drives like Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch and WD My Passport are pre-formatted with NTFS. However, the NTFS file system is a hassle for users who need to use the same external hard drive on both Mac and Windows. The external hard drive is not letting you add files if you use an NTFS external HDD on Mac. It will be read-only and you can't write to this drive normally in this case.

Seagate External Hard Drive Mac

Many users don't know this and use the external hard drive directly. And when they want to reformat the hard drive to use it interchangeably, only to find that files on the drive are erased as well.

Backup Hard Drives For Mac

Then, can you solve external hard drive read-only without formatting?

Definitely! If you want to use NTFS formatted external hard drives on Mac, software like iBoysoft NTFS for Mac that might be helpful.

iBoysoft NTFS for Mac - professional NTFS driver for Mac

iBoysoft NTFS for Mac is a professional NTFS for Mac software, which can automatically mount NTFS drives in read-write mode on Mac. It supports macOS Catalina 10.15/Mojave 10.14/High Sierra 10.13/Sierra 10.12 and Mac OS X El Capitan 10.11/Yosemite 10.10/Mavericks 10.9/Mountain Lion 10.8. With this useful tool, you'll have full access to NTFS drives on Mac and make your external hard drive interchangeable between Macs and PCs without formatting. Also, you can mount and unmount NTFS drives from the Mac menu bar with advanced and optimized options.

What's more, iBoysoft NTFS for Mac is also a handy tool to manage NTFS external drives. You can use it to easily mount, unmount, repair, erase NTFS external hard drives, USB flash drives, SD cards, memory cards, CF cards, pen drives, etc. on Mac.

Best Format For External Hard Drive Mac And Windows

Tutorial to mount NTFS external hard drive on macOS with read-write mode with iBoysoft NTFS for Mac

Step 1: Free download, install, and launch iBoysoft NTFS for Mac on your computer.

Step 2: Connect your NTFS external hard drive to Mac, and iBoysoft NTFS for Mac will automatically mount it.

Step 3: Write to NTFS external hard drive after the disk has been mounted in read-write mode successfully.

If you want to use HFS+ or APFS formatted external hard drives on Windows, you can also attempt to install HFS+ for Windows software or APFS for Windows software on your PC to get read and write access to this external hard drive.


Format External Hard Drive Mac Catalina

To sum up, it is easy to format an external hard drive for both Mac and Windows PC. You can either choose to format the whole disk as exFAT/FAT, or you can create two separate partitions of HFS+ and NTFS if you prefer. But compared with formatting, an NTFS for Mac driver like iBoysoft NTFS for Mac is a better and feasible solution.