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How to Format External Hard Drive for Mac and PC? 2022 Complete Guide Here

Updated by Tracy King on Oct 13, 2022

Is there an external hard drive that works for both Mac and PC? Yes, all brands of external hard drives can work for both Mac and PCs with a suitable file system format that both Windows and macOS support. Follow this page, and you'll get a complete guide allowing all Windows and Mac users to successfully make their external hard drives interchangeable for Mac and PC. Let's get started here.

How Do I Make My External Hard Drive Work Both on Mac and Windows

"How to format my external hard drive for both PC and Mac? I am getting an external hard drive and usb drive. Which formatting do I select if I want to have no issue between Mac and PC?" - posted by u/PopKart from reddit.com

Image of formatting external hard drive for Mac and PC

The reasons why people want to make the external hard drives work both on Mac and PC are simple, which are:

  • Use an external hard drive on Mac and PC.
  • Transfer files between Mac and PC flexibly.
  • Set a data backup disk for both Windows and Mac.

So how do I interchangeably set up the external hard drive for Mac and PC? Follow and find the answer here.

Key Takeaways to Make External Hard Drive Work on Both Mac and PC:

#1. Find the best format for an external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC.

#2. Back up essential files on an external hard drive.

#3. Turn to a reliable external hard drive formatting solution and set it up to work both on Mac and PC.

Then, as long as you are clear about the entire process, move to the next part and get to learn which format is the best for your external hard drive on Mac and PC.

What Is the Best Format for External Hard Drive on Mac and PC

To make your external hard drive work on both Mac and PC, it's essential that you set a file system format that is compatible with both Windows and macOS operating systems. So which format is the best for your external hard drive? Check the detailed information of standard file system format, and you'll learn which is the best for your external hard drive:

File System Format Compatible Operating System or Platform
NTFS
  • Windows and Windows Server
  • macOS (read-only)
FAT32
  • Windows and macOS/Mac OS X
exFAT
  • Windows and macOS/Mac OS X
EXT2/3/4
  • Linux
APFS
  • macOS: 10.12.4 and newer versions
Mac OS Extended - HFS/HFS+
  • macOS and Mac OS X: 10.12.3 and older versions

According to this table, it's clear now that both FAT32 and exFAT are compatible with both Mac and PC. So which is better? Here is a list of differences between the two formats, follow and check:

  • FAT32: 4GB file size limit, only supports devices with 32GB or smaller storage capacity.
  • exFAT: Breaks file size of 4GB, support large storage devices with 64GB or larger capacity.

So how do I select a format for my external hard drive? Here is EaseUS Editor's suggestion here:

  1. #1. Check the size of your external hard drive.
  2. #2. For larger than 64GB, choose exFAT. For smaller than 32GB, select FAT32.

You May Also Like: Some of you may wonder whether NTFS or exFAT is better for an external hard drive on Windows. Follow this page and get the answer instantly.

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NTFS or exFAT for External Hard Drive: Which Format is Better 

Which format is better? Depending on your needs, you will need to format the external hard drive into NTFS or exFAT. Check for more details in the main part.

image of NTFS vs exFAT

So how to set the best format for your external hard drive and make it work on both Mac and PC? In the next part, you'll get to learn the steps in detail.

Guide to Format External Hard Drive for Mac and PC 

Note: If your external hard drive currently stores many valuable data, remember to back it up to another location. For a step-by-step guide, you can follow this link for help: how to back up external hard drive to cloud

Your drive is ready to format, refer to the respective guide here to set up your external hard drive ready for use on both Windows and Mac computers now.

Guide 1: How to Format External Hard Drive for Mac and PC in Windows

  • Applies to: Format external hard drives on Windows computers.
  • Tools: External hard drive format tool, File Explorer, Disk Management, DiskPart.

To simplify the overall process of formatting an external hard drive on a Windows computer, we'll display two easy solutions here to assist you in accomplishing the process.

#1. Format External Hard Drive Using EaseUS Formatting Tool - Partition Master

Beginners Best Choice

EaseUS Partition Master Free is reliable and efficient in assisting all Windows users to format and set up their storage devices for different purposes. You can set NTFS, FAT32, exFAT, EXT2/3/4, etc., formats to your device for free.

Free Download 

Windows 11/10/8/7100% Secure

Here is how to format your external hard drive for Mac and PC with this formatting software:

Step 1. Launch EaseUS Partition Master, right-click the partition on your external hard drive/USB/SD card which you want to format and choose the "Format" option.

Format External Hard Drive/USB/SD Card - 1

Step 2. Assign a new partition label, file system (NTFS/FAT32/EXT2/EXT3/EXT4/exFAT), and cluster size to the selected partition, then click "OK".

Format External Hard Drive/USB/SD Card - 2

Step 3. In the Warning window, click "Yes" to continue.

Format External Hard Drive/USB/SD Card - 3

Step 4. Click the "Execute 1 Task(s)" button in the top-left corner to review the changes, then click "Apply" to start formatting your external hard drive/USB/SD card.

Format External Hard Drive/USB/SD Card - 4

What Eles Can EaseUS Partition Master Help? 

  • Create, format, extend, shrink, and merge partitions on internal and external HDDs/SSDs.
  • Convert NTFS to FAT32 or FAT32 to NTFS.
  • Convert Dynamic to Basic or vice versa.
  • Copy partition, check file system error.
  • Convert data disk to MBR/GPT.
  • Change drive letter and label.
  • Initialize disk to GPT/MBR.

If your current external hard drive is with NTFS, and you want to set it to FAT32, you can even simply convert it from NTFS to FAT32 without formatting. 

#2. Format External Hard Drive for Mac and PC Using File Explorer

If you prefer a Windows solution to format the external hard drive, File Explorer can fulfill your demand. And here is how to format your device for both Windows and Mac computers:

Step 1. Connect your external hard drive to your PC.

Step 2. Press Windows + E keys simultaneously to open File Explorer.

Step 3. Locate and right-click on the target external hard drive and click "Format".

Step 4. Set a new file system format to an external hard drive, such as FAT32 or exFAT. Tick "Perform Quick Format" and click "Start".

Image of Formatting External Hard Drive with File Explorer

Step 5. Once the process completes, click "OK" to close File Explorer.

Aside from EaseUS Partition Master and File Explorer, experienced users can also apply Disk Management or DiskPart to format their external hard disks for free. If you are interested in this, refer to the tips listed here for help:

Guide 2: How to Format External Hard Drive for Mac and PC in macOS

To take care of everything on your external hard drive, please create a backup of external hard drive data in advance. Here, we'll display the easier option to assist you in formatting the external hard drive on Mac.

You'll need to use Disk Utility to execute the formatting operation, and here are the steps:

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

Step 2. Go to Applications, click "Utilities", and double-click "Disk Utility" to open it.

Step 3. Select your external hard drive on the left pane, and click "Erase" at the top menu.

Step 4. Set the desired format MS-DOS (FAT), etc., to your external hard drive and click "Erase".

Image of formatting external disk on mac

Wait patiently, and you'll get a fresh new external hard drive that works both on Mac and PC. 

Bonus Tip: Make External Hard Drive Compatible with Mac and PC without Formatting

Can I make my external hard drive compatible with both Mac and PC without formatting it? Sure, yes. 

Here are two ways that you can apply to make the external hard drive work on both Windows and Mac computers. 

#1. Convert NTFS External Hard Drive to FAT32 on Windows

If your current external hard drive is set as NTFS file system format, you can switch the format to FAT32 by applying a reliable disk converter. EaseUS Partition Master Free, with its Convert to FAT feature, can seamlessly convert your NTFS external hard drive to FAT32 without losing any data on a Windows computer.

Free Download 

Windows 11/10/8/7100% Secure

Hence, it breaks the limit of FAT32 limit on Windows computers, which means that you can convert a big external disk from NTFS to FAT32 without worries. Here is how to do so:

Step 1. Right-click target device partition and select "Advanced" > "Convert to FAT".

Step 2. When the check process completes, click "Proceed" to start NTFS to FAT32 conversion.

Step 3. Click "Apply" to save all changes.

#2. Backup Data, Delete Volume, and Create a New FAT32 or exFAT Partition on External Disk 

If your external disk is now with another format that doesn't compatible with Windows and macOS, you can try the steps here:

Step 1. Back up all essential data from the external hard drive to another safe location

You can either copy files from the external hard drive to another secure location or apply a reliable and free backup software - EaseUS Todo Backup Free to efficiently back up everything on your drive at one time.

Step 2. Delete the existing volume and create a new FAT32 or exFAT partition on the external hard drive

On Windows: 

  • Connect the external hard drive to the PC and open Disk Management.
  • Locate and right-click the existing volume on the external hard drive and select "Delete volume..." and click "OK" to confirm. 

Delete volume on external hard drive

  • Now, right-click the unallocated space on the external hard drive and select "New simple volume".
  • Then, add a new drive letter to the partition and set FAT32 (less than 32GB) or exFAT (bigger than 64GB) to the external hard drive and click "OK".

Create new partition on external hard drive to make it work on Mac and PC

On Mac:

  • Connect the external hard drive to Mac and open Disk Utility.
  • Select the partition on your external hard drive and click "Partition" on the top menu bar.
  • The Partition tool in Disk Utility will list all existing partitions on your disk, select it and click the minus icon "-" to delete the partition from your external hard drive and click "Apply" to confirm. 
  • After this, select your external hard drive on the left pane and click "Partition", then click the Plus icon "+" to create a new partition on the external hard drive. 
  • Set a new name to the external disk set the format as MS-DOS(FAT) or exFAT, and click "Apply" to finish the process.

create partition on external hard drive to make it work on Mac and PC

After this, you've successfully set up your external hard drive, both compatible with Mac and PC without formatting. And now, you are good to apply this external hard drive to copy files, transfer data and set it as a backup disk for all valuable files on both Mac and Windows computers.

Conclusion

On this page, we gave you 5 ways to format and set up an external hard drive compatible with macOS and Windows operating systems.

On Windows computers, you can simply apply EaseUS Partition Master Free to set up FAT32 or exFAT to your external disk so as to make it work on Windows and Mac computers.

Free Download 

Windows 11/10/8/7100% Secure

On Mac computers, users can apply the Disk Utility to format the disk for use on Windows and Mac.

FAQs about Formatting External Hard Drives for Mac and PC

If you still have questions about formatting external hard drives on Mac and PC, refer to the answers listed below.

1. How do I make my external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC without erasing?

  • First, backup data on your external hard drive.
  • Connect the external hard drive to your Windows computer.
  • Back up valuable data to another safe location.
  • Convert it to FAT32 with EaseUS Partition Master Free if the external hard drive is NTFS.
  • Or, delete the existing partition and create a new volume, set FAT32 or exFAT to the external hard drive.

2. Can you format hard drive for Mac and PC?

Yes, you can format a hard drive for Mac and PC. 

  • First, connect the hard drive to your Windows PC.
  • Back up essential data.
  • Install and launch EaseUS Partition Master, right-click the target hard drive and select "Format".
  • Set a new hard drive format - exFAT or FAT32 to the disk and click "OK", and "Execute Task" to format the drive for Mac and PC.

If you need a guide to format a hard drive on Mac, you can refer to this guide for help: How to Format Hard Drive for Mac.

3. Does exFAT work on Mac and PC?

Yes, exFAT is a newer file system format after FAT32 that could be assessed on both Windows and Mac computers. If you have a big external hard drive and want to use it on both Mac and PC, you can apply the methods available on this page, as shown above, to set the exFAT file system to the disk.

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About the Author

Updated by Tracy King

Tracy joined in EaseUS in 2013 and has been working with EaseUS content team for over 7 years. Being enthusiastic in computing and technology, she writes tech how-to articles and share technical solutions about Windows & Mac data recovery, file/system backup and recovery, partition management and iOS/Android data recovery.

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  • I love that the changes you make with EaseUS Partition Master Free aren't immediately applied to the disks. It makes it way easier to play out what will happen after you've made all the changes. I also think the overall look and feel of EaseUS Partition Master Free makes whatever you're doing with your computer's partitions easy.

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  • Partition Master Free can Resize, Move, Merge, Migrate, and Copy disks or partitions; convert to local, change label, defragment, check and explore partition; and much more. A premium upgrade adds free tech support and the ability to resize dynamic volumes.

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  • It won't hot image your drives or align them, but since it's coupled with a partition manager, it allows you do perform many tasks at once, instead of just cloning drives. You can move partitions around, resize them, defragment, and more, along with the other tools you'd expect from a cloning tool.

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