Use The exFAT File System And Never Format Your External Drive Again

Use The exFAT File System And Never Format Your External Drive Again

Using an external drive between Mac and Windows computers can be a hassle, since you constantly have to reformat it to fit which computer you’re using it on. Instead of reformatting it all the time, just use the much more platform-independent exFAT and never format it again.

Windows’ default NTFS is only readable on OS X, not writable, and Windows computers can’t even read Mac-formatted HFS+ drives. FAT32 works for both OSes, but has a 4GB size limit per file, so it isn’t ideal. You can always install drivers for those other OSes, but that doesn’t help when you’re sharing files with your friends’ computers. Besides, it’s kind of a hassle. The exFAT file system is a much simpler option.

exFAT has been around for a while, but we’ve never really talked about it. Essentially, it’s a file system that’s both readable and writable on any modern Mac or Windows machine (sorry, XP users). All you need to do is format the drive on a Windows machine and you’re good to go. Note that you can’t format it on OS X, you have to format it on Windows for it to be compatible with both platforms. To do so, just:

  1. Open up Windows Explorer and right-click on your drive in the sidebar. Choose “Format”.
  2. In the “File System” dropdown, choose exFAT instead of NTFS.
  3. Click Start and close this window when finished.

From then on, that drive should work fantastically between Mac and Windows machines. It won’t work with Linux unless you install Linux’s exFAT drivers, but for most people, exFAT is just about perfect.

Guide: How to format an external drive to work seamlessly with Macs and PCs without third party software [MacTip via Reddit]


  • NO! I don’t know about mac os, but if you care about doing this on linux:

    I just attempted exFAT for windows debian/ubuntu external drive.
    Ubuntu seems to support it (via an additional package) on the face of things but fails when it comes to permissions which made mounting home volumes etc really difficult
    Ended up going with ext4 and installing ext2fs on my windows 7 machine (easier this way as NTFS support in ubuntu just seems laggy)

  • Hey will this work for PVR’s? I’m constantly being asked by windows if I want to correct my NTFS external drive that I use with my media gear.

  • My experience is that a partition formatted as exFAT on Mac OSX will be unreadable on Windows 7. Can anyone confirm this? I was using Mac OSX 10.5 and Windows 7 Professional x64.

    • yes… and i thought it was because of the allocation unit size… or maybe i did it wrong… but i have an external hdd formatted in exfat done from win7 which IS read/writable from both OSes

    • exFAT is advertised available on Macs only OSX 10.6.5 and later. Also, Macs sometimes use larger block size, so do the format on a Windows XP SP3 (with WindowsXP-KB955704-x86-ENU.exe also installed). Then Windows will use a block size it’s happy with, and Mac 10.6.5+ will work okay, too.

  • Unfortunately I’m sticking with FAT32 for the time being – maybe one day in the distant future *stares ahead longingly* we’ll get a file system that is universally accepted.

  • So exFAtTdoesn’t have a 4GB file limit?

    I’ve purposely had to format my external drive as NTFS to avoid the 4Gb file limit and as a result have been relying on Paragon’s ‘NTFS for Mac’ to make the drive writable on my Mac as I have both a Mac and Win& machine.

    I’ll be sure to give this exFAT a run!

  • Uh, Disk Utility (which is INCLUDED IN THE OS) can format drives to exFAT. I do it all the time. They’re perfectly readable on any Windows OS as far back as Window XP SP2.

    I have no idea where you got your info from, but this article has more than a few holes in it.

  • This advice ignores a crucial piece of information that is particularly relevant to external drives. They’re removed often. For this purpose, you want a filesystem that supports journalled writes so you don’t end up with corruption. exFAT does not have this. NTFS / HFS+ do.

  • I’ve been doing this since Windows 7 came and and have never have a problem with Windows 7 to OSX or vice versa reading it. I just use what ever the default size is.

    Im surprise that linux doesn’t support it out of the box

    • 1) OS X’s Disk Utility = full support for exFAT
      2) @Michael: it’s not a techie issue. afaik exFAT is owned by Microsoft, who have/will not license it to Linux.
      3) @Awnshegh. Exactly! It would be VERY simple to agree on at least ONE cross-platform compliant format?

  • Use exFat all the time for externals (unless they’re <32GB) – cross platform, essentially "unlimited" filesize
    If you really need media on your ps3 – just share it with something like Vuze
    Also you can format exFAT in OSX in Disk Utility – works fine on any Vista/7 machine (both 32 and 64 bit) – not sure what the articles on about in this respect

  • Although this is a good idea, I wouldn’t recommend it if you are both a Linux and Windows user (or just a Linux user). Several months ago I reformatted an external drive to exFAT. Then one day I was tried to access the drive inside my Linux Mint virtual machine. The drive wasn’t readable. It didn’t bother me too much because I don’t rely heavily on that external drive, and still have it formatted as exFAT. But you may want to take this into consideration before a reformat.

  • trying to copy large number of .mov files on a drive partitioned by an imac to exFAT. difficulty “Item can’t be copied because it is too large for the volume’s format” so now I have to copy things over one effing clip at a time. any suggestions?

  • Hi there,

    I have an pen drive and I have a problem beacause I can´t transfer files, any kind.

    Imediately I recive an information that is protect to wrinting, and I format several times, but still the

    same information apering in my pc screen. And the most strange is not even that I can do, including

    format, dosent let me doingn that. I wondering my Usb Pen Drive is “dead” or there is any update

    for Windows 7 that fix my problem.

    THX for helping.

    p.s.Sorry my English, because i writing from Portugal.

  • Using Topfield TRF-2100

    Connect your External Hard Drive

    Press Menu on the remote

    Select Installation

    Select Firmware Upgrade

    and Press OK

    It will seem like nothing has happened but you can exit out of the Menu and move all the recorded items to the external

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!