The easiest way to increase your Mac’s storage is to add an external USB drive (HDD or SSD) to it. Right after that, your task is to format it with the “correct” file system. But in what?
Free disk utility from Apple makes it easy to format a drive, assign a volume to it, or even split it across multiple drives.
Now let’s look at the available options for file systems and choose the best one from them.
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Format your drive with Disk Utility
Unpack your drive and connect it to your Mac. Strictly speaking, it is already formatted – for use with Windows (then it will be NTFS) or under the widest possible compatibility (Fat32). But for a Mac user, none of these file systems are suitable.
First, open Disk Utility. The easiest way to do this is through Spotlight (the icon with a magnifying glass in the upper right corner of the screen). Find disk utility possible in Launchpad (in the folder Other).
To format a new drive to a different file system:
1. Select it from the menu on the left.
2. Click Erase.
Important: do not forget that you will lose all the data that is on this disk.
3. In the window that appears, select the file system format (an overview of all formats is below) and click the button Erase.
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What to do if Disk Utility only offers APFS format
If Disk Utility offers only APFS as a format, then your drive is already formatted in APFS format.
In order to return the ability to format the drive in any of the other possible formats (listed below), you must delete the APFS volume. For this:
1. Right-click on the connected drive in the side menu Disk Utility.
2. Select Delete APFS volume…
3. Confirm the deletion by pressing the button Delete.
After removing the APFS volume, the list of available formats will be increased.
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APFS, HFS+, exFAT or FAT? In what format should I format an external USB drive (flash drive) to work on Mac (macOS)?
Available file systems
- Apple File System (APFS)
- Mac OS Extended (HFS+)
- exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table)
- MS-DOS (FAT)
Let’s look at each of them in more detail.
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Apple File System (APFS)
The latest development from Apple. First introduced in early 2017 for iOS devices. APFS has replaced the outdated Mac OS Extended file system. All new Macs already come with it.
The Apple File System is optimized for use with solid state drives (SSDs) and flash drives, but traditional mechanical hard drives (HDDs) can also be used with it. You should select this option if you have taken an external SSD or a new USB flash drive and definitely won’t be using it with Windows computers.
The main advantage of APFS over the previous generation Apple file system is speed. Copying and pasting is almost instantaneous thanks to the way the file system organizes your data. In APFS, a lot of attention is also paid to such technologies as encryption and improved work with meta-data (because macOS actively works with the meta-data of files stored in the system).
The disadvantages include the fact that APFS cannot yet be used to back up data using Time Machine. Also, APFS does not have native Windows support. To solve this problem, you will have to buy paid software like Paragon APFS for Windows or look for free alternatives.
Fits: for macOS system drives, hybrid drives, SSDs, and flash drives that are only used on macOS.
Not suitable: for drives used with older Macs.
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Mac OS Extended (HFS+)
This file version, also known as HFS+ (Hierarchical File System+), was the default for Mac computers from 1998 until 2017, when Apple introduced APFS. If you bought a Mac between these dates (and haven’t updated since 2017), then it probably works on macOS installed on the disc HFS+.
This system is still fully functional on the Mac with both mechanical hard drives and SSDs – although an SSD will perform better under APFS. If you have a very old Mac (on which you can no longer install the latest version of macOS), choosing macOS Extended as your file system will allow you to connect external drives to your computer.
Main disadvantage HFS+ the same as in APFS – To work with Windows computers, you will need additional software like Paragon HFS+ for Windows.
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This file system was created by Microsoft. exFAT offers a similar FAT32 compatibility without the annoying limitations of the latter (like the maximum file size of 4 GB).
This is a format for those who will definitely use an external drive or flash drive with both Windows and Mac. Both macOS and Windows can both read and write data from exFAT drives. So this format can be called an excellent “hybrid” for the two worlds.
Fits: for drives that are used by both Mac and Windows.
Not suitable: for discs primarily used on Macs (a third-party driver may solve the problem).
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Apple also supports the file system FAT32 – v Disk Utility it is labeled as MS-DOS (FAT). There is no need to contact this system as a whole. The only exception is if you need to connect to a really old Windows computer (to be fair, such PCs still exist in government agencies and businesses). If you select this file system, you can work with drives up to 2 TB and a maximum file size of 4 GB. The first limitation is easy to live with, but the second can be problematic. exFAT is almost always the more convenient solution.
Fits: for discs to be used with Windows XP or earlier versions of Windows.
Not suitable: for everything else.
Bonus: add NTFS support
NTFS, which replaced FAT32 in Windows XP, is still the dominant file system in the Windows world. Accordingly, in theory it would make sense to “make friends” macOS with NTFS.
Right now, macOS already has partial support for NTFS – the operating system for Mac computers reads flash drives formatted in this format. But she has not yet learned how to write files to them.
There are several ways to enable native support for reading the NTFS file system on a Mac. The first of these – experimental support or a third-party driver – is only suitable for very experienced users, because. there is a risk of destroying the entire hard drive and losing all data. The second, much more reliable, is to buy a paid driver with NTFS support like Paragon NTFS for Mac (about 1,000 rubles) or Tuxera NTFS for Mac (about 1,500 rubles). Yes, you have to pay money – but these drivers allow you not only to write data to disks in NTFS format, but also to format external hard drives into this file system for full use both in Windows and Mac. Use this option if for some reason you are not comfortable formatting a new drive in exFAT format.