How to Format an External Hard Drive for a Mac

External hard drives are great for storing files you don’t use frequently. Since many external drives are designed to work with Windows, there’s nothing more frustrating than finding out that your drive and your Mac are incompatible.

How to Format an External Hard Drive for a Mac

Fortunately, by formatting your external hard drive, you can use it to save your Mac files.

Read on to learn how to format or partition your external hard drive for Mac.

How to Format an External Hard Drive for a Mac

Follow these steps to format your external hard drive using the “Disk Utility” feature:

Note: This process will remove any files you currently have on the drive. Be sure to save the files you want to keep elsewhere before starting.

  1. If you’re using a MacBook to format the drive, ensure it’s either fully charged or connected to a power supply to ensure it doesn’t turn off in the middle of the process. Plug your external hard drive into your Mac.
  2. Once connected, a drive icon should appear on your desktop. If it doesn’t, try opening “Finder.” Then choose “Preferences.”
  3. Select the “General” tab, then check that the “External Drive” checkbox is checked.
  4. From the “Finder” window, select the “Applications” folder from the left pane.
  5. Choose “Utilities” then “Disk Utility.”
  6. In the pop-up on the left, your external hard drive should appear in the list under your Mac’s internal drive, under the “External” heading.
  7. Click on the first level of your external drive. Be sure not to select your external drive’s lower level, as this will cause formatting problems. To be sure you’ve set the top level, click the right-pointing arrow on the left of the drive icon.
  8. At the top of the pop-up window, select “Erase.” Then proceed to fill in your external hard drive details.
  9. Add a name for your hard drive, then set its format:
    • For a Solid-State Drive, choose “APFS (Apple File System).” This option might not be available if you haven’t formatted the drive before, so choose another one, then reformat it into APFS if needed.
    • For compatibility between newer and older Macs, choose “Mac OS Extended (Journaled).”
    • To use the drive with both Mac and Windows, select “ExFAT.”

  10. At the “Scheme” option, choose “GUID Partition Map.”
  11. Now select the “Erase” button and wait a few minutes as your hard drive formats.

How to Partition an External Hard Drive on a Mac

By partitioning your external hard drive, you can have separate drives for Mac, PC, and other operating systems. A partition offers dedicated space for a bootable backup of your OS or your Time Machine backup files. It will also help protect your drive if it’s infected with malware since it would be contained in one partition section.

Once your drive has been formatted (see the steps above), you can partition it into two formats. This is ideal if you use a Mac and PC and want to transfer files between both operating systems via your external hard drive. Follow these steps to do so:

  1. With your external hard drive plugged into your Mac, access “Disk Utility.”
  2. Select your external hard drive, then choose “Partition” from the top menu.
  3. To create a partition, at the bottom of the pie chart, click the plus (+) sign.
  4. Select a name, format, and size for each partition. You can also drag the white dots at the edge of the circles to change the size of each partition.
  5. Click “Apply.”

Additional FAQs

What Is the Best Format for a Mac External Hard Drive?

If you want to use your external hard drive with Mac and Windows computers, the best format to use is the exFAT. Using exFAT, you can store files of any size and use them with computers made in the last 20 years.

However, if your external hard drive is for use with Macs only, Mac OS Extended (Journaled) would be the best option since it’s compatible with all Macs.

What Is the Difference Between Mac OS Extended and Mac OS Extended Journaled?

“Mac OS Extended” uses the Mac format, needs a password, and encrypts the partitioned disk. “Mac OS Extended Journaled” uses the Mac format and has case-sensitive folder names. For example, “Mac Files” and “MAC FILES” would be two separate folders.

Formatting Your External Hard Drive Isn’t Hard

External hard drives provide the additional space you need to store your digital content when your computer begins to fill up. Although there are plenty of cloud-based storage solutions, keeping your data this way is more reliable and ensures that you maintain ownership.

Many external hard drives are designed for Windows. Luckily, using the “Disk Utility” feature on your Mac, you can format your drive to not only work with new and older Macs but to work with Windows too.

What format type did you use? Tell us what you’ll use your drive for in the comments section below!

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