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

Follow the tutorial to format an external hard drive or a USB flash drive to be compatible between Macs and Windows PCs. More effectively, you can also download and install an NTFS for Mac driver to natively enable NTFS write support on macOS.

By Juno | Posted to NTFS for Mac, updated on Jun 17, 2019 |

With an external hard drive, you can efficiently transfer large files between computers running the same operating system type, such as between Macs or between Windows PCs. However, it could be a totally different story if you plan to do this between a Mac and a PC. That's because, the two platforms have their specific file systems by default: Windows uses NTFS, while Mac use HFS+ or APFS. Out of the box, Windows can't read or write to HFS+/APFS and Macs can't write to NTFS drives.

Though the default file system is really a hurdle to use one external hard drive between Windows and Mac, there're still file systems that can connect the two worlds, i.e. FAT32 and exFAT. Thus, in order to make the external hard drive seamlessly work on both Macs and PCs, we can format our drives to one of the file systems supported by both platforms.

First, what's the difference between FAT32, exFAT and NTFS?

Whether you're transfering files between Windows and Mac using external hard drives, or other portable storage devices like USB flash drives or an SD cards, you'll be told about 3 file systems: FAT32, exFAT and NTFS. You need to firstly understand the difference between each other then choose one to format to, according to your needs.


Pros: It can universally work with all versions of Mac, Windows, Linux, game devices, as well as other devices supporting a USB port.

Cons: FAT32 comes with file size limits and drive partition limits. It doesn't support files larger than 4GB, drive partition larger than 32GB on Windows, or drive partition larger than 2TB on macOS.

So FAT32 is suitable when we want to store files of relatively small sizes and the drive doesn't have a large capacity. Otherwise, FAT32 is not the best choice for us.


Pros: The largest partition and file sizes it supportted are nearly unlimited by today's standards.

Cons: exFAT file system is not compatible with older operating systems. We must have macOS 10.6.5 or newer, and PC need to be Windows Vista SP1, Windows 7 or newer.

As most users have upgraded operating system, it is actually quite easy to meet to lowest operating system requirements of exFAT. So exFAT can be a very good option to share external hard drive between macOS and Windows.


Pros: It is the default file system on Windows and has faster writing and transfering speed, better performance than FAT32 and exFAT.

Cons: By default, NTFS is read-only on macOS.

Actually, we can enable NTFS write support on macOS only with simple method. So read-only can't be a reason for us to give up using NTFS, especially when we have high requirements on transfer speed and performance of drives. Keep reading, you'll learn how to enable NTFS write support on macOS.

How to format external hard drive for Mac and PC on Windows?

On Windows computers, we can follow the steps below to format an external hard drive for both Mac and PC. It could be a Seagate Backup Plus, WD My Passport, or Sandisk SD memory card, etc.

1. Go to Computer (or My Computer on Windows XP).

2. Select the external hard drive from the list and right-click on it. Choose Format from the contextual menu.

3. Choose format (NTFS, FAT32 or exFAT), and then set format information (allocation unit size, volume label and format option).

4. Click "Start" to format the external hard drive.

How to format external hard drive for Mac and PC on macOS?

When we are using Mac, we can use the method below to make our external hard drive be compatible with both macOS and Windows.

1. Launch Disk Utility.

2. Select the external hard drive on the left part of the window.

3. Click the Erase on the top of the window.

4. Complete related information, including name, format (Mac OS Extend refers to HFS+, MS-DOS refers to FAT32), scheme, and then click Erase button.

How to mount NTFS external hard drive on macOS with read-write mode?

After formatting our external hard drive to NTFS, only a NTFS driver for macOS can help us to mount the NTFS drive on Mac with read-write mode. Here are two reliable NTFS for macOS software that can help.

1. NTFS Assistant - the cheapest NTFS for Mac software in App Store

NTFS Assistant is a handy NTFS driver for macOS software that can effectively mount NTFS drive as a regular drive with read-write mode. It supports macOS Mojave 10.14/10.13/10.12 and macOS 10.11/10.10/10.9/10.8/10.7. It is the cheapest NTFS for Mac software in App Store, and has very stable and effective performance.

Step 1: Download NTFS Assistant from App Store >> and install it.

Step 2: Download and install NTFS Assistant Helper >> on iBoysoft website to enable NTFS read-write access.

Step 3: Launch NTFS Assistant and connect NTFS drive to Mac.

2. iBoysoft Drive Manager - professional NTFS for Mac software

iBoysoft Drive Manager is a professional Mac tool that can automatically enable write to NTFS drive on Mac. It supports macOS Mojave 10.14/10.13/10.12 and macOS 10.11/10.10/10.9/10.8/10.7.

mount NTFS external hard drive on macOS with read-write mode

iBoysoft Drive Manager is also a handy tool to manage external drives and network drives. It offers a menu bar from which we can easily mount, unmount and remount network drives, external hard drive, USB flash drive, SD card, memory card, CF card, pen drive, etc.

Tutorial to mount NTFS external hard drive on macOS with read-write mode with iBoysoft Drive Manager

Step 1: Free download and install iBoysoft Drive Manager on Mac.

iBoysoft Drive Manager

Step 2: Launch iBoysoft Drive Manager and connect our NTFS external hard drive to Mac.

Step 3: Write to NTFS external hard drive after getting notified that it has been mounted successfully.

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