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Best way to format a External HDD for Mac and PC use?

By Nause · 20 replies
Jan 23, 2004
  1. Best way to format a External HDD for Mac and PC use ?

    Okay this is a slightly complex thingy here, but here goes. I'm getting (in the post) a 250gb Maxtor HDD External for use with University computers (doing a lot of Video editing and downloading of stuff with the 1gig per sec internet connection or something) anyway I want to format it so it can be used by both mac and PCs. My mate say FAT is a no go, and I thought it could only be used with drives up to the size of like 32Gb, anyway through I maybe wrong and that might just be Windows 95/98.

    My friends suggest the use of http://www.dataviz.com/products/macopener/index.html which I have brought and installed, but I was wondering has anyone else had any kind of similar problems with doing the same thing and how they fixed it.
  2. ak_in_charge

    ak_in_charge TS Rookie Posts: 119

    I have to know.

    What kind of internet connection gives you a 1gig p/s ??

    You would have to have a SONET line with an OC-192 to even come close to getting that kind of connection.
  3. ak_in_charge

    ak_in_charge TS Rookie Posts: 119

    You are also correct. You don't want to go with FAT, because there is a HD limit.
  4. Nause

    Nause TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 17

    Because I go to a tech University which shares it's bandwidth with those in halls, they combined many T3 lines and a Saillette connection which might not exactly be a gig per sec (which it feels like) line but it is over 300mb's at least.
  5. Mictlantecuhtli

    Mictlantecuhtli TS Evangelist Posts: 4,345   +11

    FAT32 partitions can be larger than 32 GB if formatted with other apps than Windows' own.

    One filesystem that could work with both Mac OS and Windows® could be UDF, but I'm not sure how practical it is with large hard disk partitions.

    Do you have to format it as one partition?
  6. Nause

    Nause TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 17

    To be honest I thought with external drives they HAVE to be made in one partition. But I might be wrong.
  7. LNCPapa

    LNCPapa TS Special Forces Posts: 4,247   +448

    They don't have to be one partition. I too have run into the problems you've stated here and (with only a couple hours of trying) gave up and made a few partitions, the first being FAT32 so that Both OSes can see it. It's only a 30 gig partition though - the rest is NTFS. I did give it a go for a couple of hours but I found that whenever I chunked off a bit to be formatted for each OS the other part was not recognized at all and wanted to format the drive completely.
  8. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,729   +409

    Its probably a Gigabit LAN. Multiple OC3 connections for a university isn't something thats uncommon, I forget exactly how many we have at mine but I'm sure its more than 1, and we only have about 5k students.
  9. Nodsu

    Nodsu TS Rookie Posts: 5,837   +6

    Don't Macs and PCs have different partition schemes? You have to do all partitions on PC (I assume Macs can accept PC style disk layouts)
  10. LNCPapa

    LNCPapa TS Special Forces Posts: 4,247   +448

    Yes Nod - I did all my partitions on a PC - then the Mac could see the FAT32 partition.
  11. Rick

    Rick TechSpot Staff Posts: 4,572   +65

    A 250GB drive can be formatted in FAT32.

    I have formatted a 80GB drive in FAT32 and it was readable by Mac OS X with no problems, so 32GB is not a limit you should be worry about.

    The problem here, Windows XP and 2000 will not allow you to format a drive that large in FAT32. You'll need to use a third party program, such as Partition Magic or Partition Manager.
  12. Nause

    Nause TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 17

    I've had to go with formatting it as a mac drive and using my program to use it as a win xp drive, I've had some blue screens of death but I realised this was due to the mac formatted HDD not being able to handle thumbnail .db files, turned them of it works fine.
  13. tibben

    tibben TS Rookie

    So . . . I had the same problem but found a roundabout solution with no extra software (using Panther). (1) from the gui diskutils in panther set up a Mac OS (Extended) volume (2) run the disk utility from command line in panther as 'diskutil eraseVolume MS-DOS <volname> /Volumes/<volname>' (3) go back to the gui diskutils and erase the entire disk (not just the volume) as MS-DOS (now an option after running the command line diskutil).

    This works - You have to do step three to get the FDisk partition scheme for the PC to recognize . . .

    sweet storing and swapping . . .
  14. Shutez

    Shutez TS Rookie

    Tried this...


    I have been looking everywhere trying to find a genuine solution to this problem. I've tried this method - everything worked great... that is until I plugged the external drive back into my PC.

    What happens every time is when I format using Mac OS X, I get a good solid format in FAT 32, but when I put the drive into the PC, everything shows up great like it's working, except no drive letter.

    Then when go to manage the disk drives, I see it (Drive 2 on my PC) but it shows up as unallocated space, which means all I can do is reformat it. Back to square 1.

    Anyone know a way around this? Is there simply no way to format an external drive to work with both PC and Mac?

  15. mikescorpio81

    mikescorpio81 TS Rookie Posts: 293

    Mac will recognise FAT32 but not NTFS. You will see it on the Mac but you will not be able to save files to it.

    If you cannot see the drive letter in Windows, check in Computer Management. You may have to initialize the disk.
  16. Shutez

    Shutez TS Rookie


    Right - I know about how the Mac views the NTFS. The issue I think is that even though my PC is supposed to be able to use a hard drive that is formatted using FAT 32, it does not seem like this is the case. I have been using Computer management. What do you mean by initialize? The PC sees the drive, but all 120GB of it are listed as "unallocated".

    When I had a thumb drive, all I had to do was go assign a drive letter and voila. However, since this space is viewed by my PC as unallocated, that isn't an option. The only thing I can do with the drive is partition it, which reformats it as NTFS.

    Any ideas?

  17. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 10,432   +801

    I am running a 120gb ext USB 2.0 HD with FAT32 exactly as you intend.

    There's pros/cons for other choices, but:
    1- FAT32 mounts anywhere, including Linux, Mac OS x, and Win/*
    2- has no ACL support so there's never permission problems

    I take Mac backups to one folder on the ext HD and Win/XP backups to another :)
  18. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,729   +409

    Thats incorrect. I didn't get back to using a Mac until Tiger (10.4) but I can tell you that it reads NTFS in Tiger. I don't know about writing, probably not, but I didn't try.

    As for your question Shutez, I'm going out on a limb here, but maybe the partition isn't marked active. You might be able to check with something like gParted, although I'm not sure if it supports USB drives... This is probably not what is wrong, but it could be.

    Alternatively, you could copy all the stuff to your local HD in OS X, then take the drive back to Windows and follow these instructions on how to format that drive as FAT32.

    Edit: Back in posts #9 and #10 in this thread, seem to back up my suggestion of formatting as FAT32 on the PC end rather than OS X.
  19. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 10,432   +801

    Correct! Windows limits fat32 formatting to 32gb, but supports much larger partitions.
    Guess MS whats us to use NTFS but don't consider homogeneous systems requirements
  20. mikescorpio81

    mikescorpio81 TS Rookie Posts: 293

    Try saving a file onto an NTFS format drive from a mac ...
    NTFS is a Windows file system.
  21. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,729   +409

    Yes I know this. But it can read it without any problems. I said I didn't try to write. Probably it can't because Microsoft would have to give Apple permission to allow their OS to do that and they have no incentive to. But just because its a Microsoft file system doesn't mean only Microsoft OSs can write to it. Any modern linux distro will write to an NTFS partition.

    I don't know why you are arguing with me on the reading. I own Macs and PCs, I've done this before. Shutez also said Macs can read NTFS.
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