Best Format for External Hard Drive Mac [How to Make the 1/5 Perfect Choice]

1. Download and install EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard for Mac

2. Select and scan the drive/volume where you lost files

3. Preview the files and click the Recover button...Click full guide

Table of Contents

The external hard drive referred to in this article are mainly HDD, SSD, USB flash drive, memory card, and any removable hard disk drive.

Workable Solutions Step-by-step Troubleshooting
1. Format for An External Hard Drive

Solution 1: ExFAT...Full steps

Solution 2: HFS+ & APFS...Full steps

Solution 3: NTFS...Full steps

2. Reformat External Hard Drive

Connect the external hard drive to your Mac...Full steps

Five File System Formats for Mac External Hard Drive

File system key points:

  • Many kinds of file systems are available.
  • Responsible for how data is stored and retrieved by the operating system.
  • Different file systems have different structures and logic, properties of speed, flexibility, security, and size.

A file system to a physical hard drive is what an operating system to a computer. Without a file system properly configured on a storage drive, like an HDD or SSD, you won't be able to see the hard drive showing up on a computer, nor to access data contents in it.

In this regard, to be able to store, copy, delete or edit a file on an external hard drive on a Mac, this external hard drive has to be formatted with a recognizable file system. The choices of macOS-compatible file system formats can be NTFS, FAT, APFS, HFS+, or ExFAT. Among the five different file system schemes, which is the best format for an external hard drive for Mac?

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USB Flash Drive & External Hard Drive - Everything You Should Know

USB flash drive and external hard drive are two terms that often confused people. What are the differences between these two kinds of devices? Which one is better?

usb flash drive vs external hard drive

As most of our readers are not tech savvies, it's not smart to spend long hours studying the concepts and basics to get an answer at all. Alternatively, let us do the work for you. We'll present a very elaborate guide on how to quickly make a decision according to your specific needs.

EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard for Mac

  • Recover lost or deleted files, documents, photos, audio, music, emails effectively
  • Recover files from formatted hard drive, emptied recycle bin, memory card, flash drive, digital camera, and camcorders
  • Support data recovery for sudden deletion, formatting, hard drive corruption, virus attack, system crash under different situations

Solution 1: ExFAT

- For the purpose of using the external hard drive on multiple devices and different operating system platforms.

Since an external hard drive's advantage is portable, it means that you can disconnect it from a Mac at any time, and flexibly put it to use on another Mac or even a Windows machine as well. If this is your purpose, use the external hard drive on both macOS and Windows OS, ExFAT is the prior choice. Let me show more examples for you to consider the ExFAT as the best format for external hard drive use.

  • Work with Windows and Mac computers
  • Mainly use the external hard drive to transfer files or share files
  • Less requirement for data security or data recovery

On top of that, FAT32 is a backup plan, too. FAT32 is kind of an older file system format than ExFAT, and it's mostly used for moving files to older systems as well as other devices. In a word, FAT32 has the greatest compatibility with any old and new device, but ExFAT can hardly support the older devices like Sony PS3 and Microsoft Xbox 360. But referring to the comparison of ExFAT and FAT32, we still recommend ExFAT as the prior choice when selecting the best format for a Mac external hard drive.

ExFAT vs. FAT32

  • FAT32 is old to maintain the fast speed in read and write.
  • Filenames in FAT32 are limited to 8 characters or less.
  • Single file size can only be as big as 4GB.

Solution 2: HFS+ & APFS

- For Mac use only, especially for Time Machine backup

Despite ExFAT being an ideal file format choice for an external hard drive, the standard Apple File System (APFS) and the older HFS+ are good choices. Since the two file systems are exclusively developed by Apple, they won't be working on any other type of operating system. When you cannot set up your mind to choose a file system when trying to format an external hard drive on Mac, just calm down and ask yourself: "Do I need to use the drive on a second operating system?" If the answer the No, it's a good idea to choose the Apple family file systems to get better trust and encryption protection.

The final decision for choosing HFS+ or APFS depends on how new your Mac is because APFS is a successor to HFS+, and it's only available on newer Mac models and macOS versions.

HFS+ vs. APFS

  • Apple File System (APFS): The file system used by macOS 10.13 or later.
  • HFS+: The file system used by macOS 10.12 or earlier.

Solution 3: NTFS

- Primary use on Windows and secondary use on Mac

You may wonder. NTFS is the Windows-exclusive file system, why do we recommend its use on Mac? Indeed, when you connect an NTFS hard drive to a Mac, the external hard drive is read-only, which means that you can only open and view the files on the drive, however, unable to make changes to the selected files. 

This is the case when you want to use the external hard drive for backing up Windows files, but you also need to use the backup files on a Mac computer. If this is the case, NTFS is another right option.

Here's why you choose NTFS over ExFAT for both Windows and macOS use:

  • ExFAT lacks security features in NTFS, like file encryption and permissions.
  • ExFAT has no support for journaling, which makes it harder to protect against data corruption.

How to Reformat External Hard Drive to APFS, HFS+ or ExFAT on Mac

Note:

  • You can only format an external hard drive to NTFS on a Windows computer or with a third-party hard drive format tool.
  • The process of formatting a disk or volume erases all data in it. Make a backup of important files before formatting.

EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard for Mac

  • Recover lost or deleted files, documents, photos, audio, music, emails effectively
  • Recover files from formatted hard drive, emptied recycle bin, memory card, flash drive, digital camera, and camcorders
  • Support data recovery for sudden deletion, formatting, hard drive corruption, virus attack, system crash under different situations

Step 1. Connect the external hard drive to your Mac.

Step 2. Open Disk Utility on your Mac. Choose View > Show All Devices. Locate the external hard drive there, and continue with the Erase button in the toolbar.

Step 3. On the pop-up window, there are four available file system formats to choose from. Choose the one you preferred according to the provided solutions.

disk formatting options in disk utility mac

  • Apple File System (APFS): The file system used by macOS 10.13 or later.
  • Mac OS Extended: The file system used by macOS 10.12 or earlier.
  • MS-DOS (FAT) and ExFAT: File systems that are compatible with Windows.

Contact the author if you had any questions about how to choose the best format for Mac external hard drive after reading the post. Welcome to share more useful ideas with EaseUS, the reputable data recovery software vendor in the market, to make people feel easier to manage a hard drive and rescue important data.

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Updated by Gemma

Gemma is member of EaseUS team and has been committed to creating valuable content in fields about file recovery, partition management, and data backup etc for many years. She loves to help users solve various types of computer related issues.

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Written by Jean

Author Jean has been writing tech articles since she was graduated from university. She has been part of the EaseUS team for over 5 years. Her special focuses are data recovery, disk partitioning, data space optimization, data backup and Mac OS. By the way, she's an aviation fan!

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