External Hard Drive Compatibility with Various Operating Systems

Mac vs Windows

External drives are designed, tested and supported to work with desktop and laptop computers, but they also may be used with many other devices such as:

  • network router
  • gaming console
  • Blu-Ray/DVD players
  • Smart TV
  • different operating systems
  • etc…

That’s why before buying new external drive which will be used in cooperation with devices other than a computer, we recommend consulting the manufacturer of your device to understand what limitations may exist.

In current article we will take a look at common limitations, such as:

  • compatibility with different operating systems: Mac and Windows

If you jump from Windows and Mac computers in your day-to-day routine, you might want an external hard drive that can operate both with Windows and Mac operating systems.

Windows cannot read Macs HFS+ file system. Macs can read Windows NTFS file system, but can’t write to such drives unless you install a third-party driver. So, consider this when buying your external hard drive. But both types of computers can read the exFAT/FAT32 file system. If you operate in both operating system environments, just format your hard drive to the exFAT file system.

What Is ExFAT?

ExFAT file system is designed for cross-platform mobile storage, meant for high-capacity flash drives, external hard drives, and memory cards. ExFAT is the successor to the FAT32 file system.

FAT32 is the file system with which most windows users are most familiar. Windows first supported FAT32 with Windows 95 OSR2 and increased support for it through XP.

FAT32 issues and problems

  • FAT32 doesn’t allow formatting a drive to occupy windows more than 32 GB in capacity. So, FAT32 becomes inefficient here.
  • The maximum file size on a FAT32 formatted drive is around 4 GB. With DVD and high resolution DVD formats now available, this limit is commonly reached.
  • In large FAT32 systems, dealing with fragmentation and free disk space calculations can become highly resource intensive.

The Advantage ExFAT Offers

  • File size limit is now 16 exabytes.
  • Format size limits and files per directory limits are practically eliminated.
  • Like HPFS, exFAT uses free space bitmaps to reduce fragmentation and free space allocation/detection issues.

Where could be some troubles with understanding exFAT file system on Mac computers using older operating system than OS X. In this case format your drive in FAT32 file system.

Warnings and Tips

Backup any data on the external hard drive you want to keep on another device before formatting. Formatting a hard drive will erase all data that’s stored on it. FAT32-formatted drives also work for PC-and-Mac sharing, in particular with older versions of both operating systems. However, Microsoft recommends against using FAT32 whenever possible in favor of exFAT.