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Which Partition Scheme should I use for macOS & Windows compatibility?

I'm not sure whether I should use “Master Boot Record” or “GUID Partition Map” when formatting a hard drive for use between a Mac and a PC. Information in the “Disk Utility User Guide” is ambiguous and I didn't get a clear answer after doing some research. There're two resources saying that Master Boot Record is the choice for MS-DOS (FAT) or ExFAT, and the drives cannot exceed 2TB. I don't recall the 2 TB limitation at previous formatting experience. But I do wish to use a larger capacity drive in the near future. Thank you in advance for any information.

Best Answered by

iBoysoft author Jenny Zeng

Jenny Zeng

Answered on Wednesday, May 31, 2023

It's recommended to select GUID Partition Map as the scheme and exFAT as the format if you want to use the drive on both macOS and Windows.

The sources are correct in that Master Boot Record doesn't support disk size larger than 2 TB. It also only allows a drive to create 4 primary partitions. On the other hand, GUID Partition Map, also called GPT, allows for up to 128 partitions and disk size up to 9.4 ZB. Additionally, it supports UEFI, which is required for booting from a disk larger than 2 TB.

Generally speaking, it's not advisable to use MBR unless you have an older system (Windows XP or earlier or OS X 10.4 Tiger or earlier) and need compatibility with legacy software.

To work on macOS and Windows, a drive needs to be formatted in either FAT32 or exFAT. FAT32 is also supported on Linux but it has a maximum file size limitation of 4GB and a maximum partition size of 8 TB. Besides, it's also less efficient at handling larger files sizes and has slower read and write speeds than exFAT. So exFAT is more suitable for storing large files and using with larger storage devices.

Finally, it's best to format your external drive on your Mac rather than a PC, as macOS has stricter allocation unit size limitations. Otherwise, the drive that's formatted on Windows may not work on Mac.

Read Also:

How to Format an External Hard Drive on Mac?


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