All hard drives are Mac hard drives

When I was working in a computer retail shop in Katoomba, we would often get people coming into find external hard drives for their Apple Computer. They would walk to the section with the drives and be confused when all the products on display were for PC. Or they would see Mac labelled drives but ask why those cost more than the PC counterparts. Nobody knows why Mac compatible labelled drives cost more, but I suspect it is because they can. The thing is, they don’t have to. I have good news for you.

All Hard Drives ARE Mac Hard Drives.

Hard drives for different operating systems speak different languages

I’m going to super simplify this not because I doubt your ability to understand it, but because I do not want you falling asleep while reading it. For a computer guy, this is fascinating stuff. To the rest of the planet … Snooze fest. So just the basics today.

Each operating system (OS) has a drive format that works best for them. But most hard drives come “unformatted”. That means they start out with no preference. They can support different formats, but they need to be set up for your specific OS before you start using them.

Here is a basic list of drive formats you might encounter.


Everyone has used this format without knowing it. Almost every USB sick out there is FAT32 formatted. The advantage of FAT32 is that all of the major operating systems can read and write this format. The drawbacks, however, are numerous.


  • Almost universal: This means you can use a FAT32 formatted drive to move files between Mac, PC or Linux systems with few issues.


  • The maximum file size is 4 gigs: Sure, you can dump 400 one gig files on your USB stick, but a 4.3gig movie will be corrupted if you try to save it.
  • No permissions: Kind of like the sanitation of a public toilet. Don’t use this format on your main system if you are concerned about privacy or contagions and all the technical problems that can come with that.
  • Max Partition size is 8 Terabytes: I know, that does not sound like much of a problem. But remember when computer makers thought nobody would ever use 32 Megabytes of RAM? Most phones have more RAM (about 8GB) now than pre 2010 computers.


Your Mac will Love HFS+. All older Macs (before Mojave) use this format. It has all kinds of security features that OSX automatically uses without you even knowing it. Unlike Fat32 the file size limits are yet unknown because nobody has found a file big enough to test the upper limit.

The biggest problem with this format is compatibility. Windows cannot even see HFS+ formatted drives, let alone write to them without destroying the data on the Mac hard drive.


  • No known file limit
  • Security features
  • Base format for Older Mac hard drives


  • Windows computers cannot See or Write to HFS+
  • Attempting to force them to talk to Windows can result in Data loss or damage

APFS Apple File System

All-new Apple computers are using this format. The format offers all kinds of advantages and advanced security features and is a considerable improvement over HFS+.

The only disadvantage of this format is that Mac Operating systems Sierra or older cannot read it. So you can’t use this format to move files to an older computer, but you can move the older files to a newer system. If you do not have an active older computer this is not a problem for you.


  • Too many to list .. you should be using this format. Any New Mac less than 5 years old is already doing so.


  • Windows cannot see or write in this format
  • Older Macs Cannot see or write in this format.

Windows NTFS

You may encounter drives that have this format. This is for most Windows computers. Your mac regardless of age will not have any problem accessing the files on a Windows formatted hard drive. However, you will not be able to alter, add or delete any of the information on the drive without Reformatting. (and destroying the info on the drive)

You will encounter this most of the time when trying to retrieve data from an older Windows computer or if you have a friend who has an external drive and needs to get info off your mac.

How to Reformat the drive will be another post!

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