When you’re a Mac user with your external drive in your hand.
And you’re wondering which is the two is best format to use for your drive. – APFS or Mac OS Extended.
This article will help you to decide which to pick for your needs and for your Mac.
APFS VS Mac OS Extended Quick Compare
APFS released in 2017 was designed for the faster speed of SSD (Solid State Drives) and flash drives. Mac OS Extended Journaled released in 1998 was the default file system format for Mac. Today use APFS for SSD’s and Mac OS extended for older Macs running Mac OS X Sierra.
Read on for more info.
At A Glance Comparison Of APFS Vs Mac OS Extended
|APFS||Mac OS Extended|
|Optimized For HDD||No||Yes|
|Optimized for SSDs||Yes||No|
|File Security Features||Yes||Yes|
|Older Mac Support||No||Yes|
Mac OS Extended Versus APFS A Little Background
APFS (Apple File System) is a file system format created by Apple Inc in 2017. Because a SSD (Solid State Drive) had become cheap enough to use in consumer computers. Apple created the APFS file system to take advantage of and be optimized for SSDs.
Modern Macs with SSDs inside come with APFS as the default file system format.
In contrast the Mac OS Extended file system was the original file system format on a Mac.
You’ll also see it referred to as HFS+ (Hierarchical File System). It was released to the market by Apple back in 1998. And all Mac’s used Mac OS Extended both on their internal drives and for any external drive until APFS came along.
So now you have a choice of Mac format for your Mac drive which do you pick?
APFS VS Mac OS Extended For An External Hard Drive
Mac OS Journaled was created at a time when mechanical drives were the only option you had for an internal drive. Or for that matter an external drive on a Mac.
This type of drive is also referred to as a hard drive or hard disk. Because mechanical drives have moving parts inside.
And means that Mac OS Extended is optimized for, and made for hard drives.
Mac OS Extended Journaled has that name because it’s a journaled file system. And keeps track of changes made to the file system. This keeps your files safer.
And you have security features such as encryption should you want to encrypt your drive.
APFS in contrast was designed to take advantage of the faster speed of an SSD drive or flash drive. It was built with those drives in mind and is optimized for them.
Though APFS runs pretty well on a hard drive. Running APFS on a hard drive can cause extra seeks and hardware movement on a hard disk drive.
This is because of the way APFS stores file metadata. It’s stored with the file rather than in a fixed location like Mac OS Extended does. 
Not an issue with an SSD drive because those drives are electronic drives. This means they have no moving parts inside. But could be an issue when you have a very busy hard drive that you’re driving hard.
Plus, Mac OS Extended is the file system format to pick for backwards compatibility with earlier Mac OSX releases. Like Mac OS X Sierra (10.12).
For an old Mac with a hard drive inside, running earlier operating system releases. Mac OS Extended is the only choice. As those Macs do not support an APFS drive.
Click Here To Learn How To Format Your External Hard Drive With Disk Utility For Mac
Mac OS Extended VS APFS For An External SSD
APFS is optimized for performance on an SSD and on a Fusion drive on a Mac computer. Mac OS Extended by comparison will work fine on an SSD. It’s just not optimized for an SSD.
As long as you’re NOT seeking backwards compatibility. Or to share your SSD with a Mac running Sierra (MacOS 10.12). Or for a Mac running Mac OS Catalina (10.5) for Time Machine. Then pick the APFS format for your SSD drive.
Drive Level Security And Sturdy File Systems APFS VS Extended
Both APFS and Mac OS Extended have drive level security features. And features to make their file systems robust.
Mac OS Extended Journaled as a Journaled file system has been in use on Macs for since 1998. And is well proven for reliability in a Mac environment.
Apple Inc improved things with APFS.
APFS is the more secure file system format of the two. Because it offers better security, file encryption and data recovery features than Mac OS Extended.
For example. A sudden power failure or disconnection will trigger the APFS drive to roll back. And better protect your important files.
A sudden disconnection on your Extended file system could make your drive unreadable. This does make Mac OS Extended the less robust file system compared to APFS.
Mac OS Extended is a proven reliable file system. And it is good practice to eject any drive correctly before plugging out of your Mac computer.
Whether you use Mac OS Extended or APFS. If your files are crucial to you. Then have at least a 2nd copy on another drive.
Or in Cloud storage. As both a Mac OS Extended external drive or an APFS external drive can fail.
APFS Or Mac OS Extended For Time Machine?
You can use both APFS or Mac OS Extended for a Time Machine backup of your Mac.
Apple themselves suggest that an APFS formatted drive is the best format choice for Time machine. But there are a few things to keep in mind.
Because support for Time Machine on an APFS format drive was only supported since MacOS Big Sur. You can’t use the APFS file format on a Mac running Catalina or earlier releases of MacOS with Time Machine.
For those earlier versions of Mac OS. You’ll need your external drive Mac OS Extended Journaled formatted for Time Machine.
Mac OS Extended Or APFS When Sharing Files With A Windows PC
Both Mac OS Extended and APFS are Mac file formats. And that means a Windows PC see can’t either external storage device in these formats.
Because Microsoft Windows uses an NTFS file system.
The only way for a Windows computer to use an APFS volume or drive. Or a Mac OS Extended volume or drive Is for you to use 3rd party disk driver software on your Windows based computer.
When you plan to share your drive – an external storage device between a Mac and a PC. The best format to use is ExFAT with a GUID Partition Map. Because a Windows computer can read that format as well.
You can create that format on a drive using Disk Utility on a Mac.
Click Here To Learn How To Make Your External Hard Drive Compatible With Mac And PC
It’s always worth remembering. You can always create an ExFAT partition on an APFS. Or Mac OS Extended drive using Disk Utility on your Mac. And then you can use that ExFAT partition to share files with a PC.
APFS Vs Mac OS Extended Speed
Compare APFS to Mac OS Extended Journaled on speed. And APFS wins. It is the faster file system on Mac. Especially on SSD drives.
But for most users using external drives. The vast majority of those external drives are external hard drives.
And APFS isn’t as optimized for an external hard drive. So, you could just as well choose Mac OS Extended.
For a Mac user running an older Mac. A Mac running Sierra or older OS release. Then Mac OS Extended has to be your choice. As your Mac won’t recognize an APFS drive.
APFS V Mac OS Extended File System Format Options
Both APFS and Mac OS Extended have different file system options you can pick. Format your external drive with Disk Utility to select which option you want.
In the Format part of the Disk Utility software you can pick:
APFS Or Mac OS Extended Journaled
The standard file system for either.
To pick APFS your Mac Pro or Macbook Air. Or other Mac must be running at least MacOS 10.13 (High Sierra). If your drive is currently formatted as NTFS or ExFAT. Then you’ll need to format as Mac OS Extended first before you can format as APFS.
APFS (Encrypted) Or Mac OS Extended (Encrypted)
Pick this option of either file format and you can add a password. And encrypt your files.
It effectively jumbles your files up so only the right key opens them. And the key is the password you put on.
This protects your files from viewers seeing what you have on your external drive. You have to enter your password before you can get to your files on your external drive.
Note: Mac OS Extended Encrypted is only available in Mac OS 10.12 (Sierra) or earlier releases.
APFS (Case Sensitive) Or Mac OS Extended (Case Sensitive)
As its name implies this file system format is case sensitive.
What does that mean?
Say you’ve a folder called photo. You can’t type in Photo to get to it. The case sensitive version of either file system sees your folder photo and Photo as different. And so, PHOTO would be another separate folder.
There may be special situations where this would be useful to you. But most users won’t need it.
On standard APFS or Mac OS Extended, your folder photo, Photo and PHOTO are the same place on the drive.
APFS (Case Sensitive, Encrypted) Or Mac OS Extended (Case Sensitive, Encrypted)
This version of the file system combines the case sensitive version of each file system with the Encrypted version. So, you’ll set a password. Your drive is password protected. And it is sensitive to upper or lower case file names and treats them differently.
Note: Mac OS Extended Case Sensitive, Encrypted is only available in Mac OS 10.12 (Sierra) or earlier releases.
Using APFS Vs Mac OS Extended On Your Mac
When using on Mac you use both file systems the same way.
Double click on the external drive icon on your Mac’s desktop.
This opens a Finder window onto your external drive.
Copy and paste your files to the finder window and you’ve put your files onto your drive.
Connect your drive to Time Machine. You’ll see no difference in how you connect either file formatted drive to your Mac. Or how you back up to the drive.
Whether it’s an external hard drive or an external SSD. Mac OSX reads and writes to APFS or a Mac OS Extended formatted drive just fine.
Mac OS Extended Versus APFS When Things Go Wrong
When you have an issue with your Mac drive. It’s normal to use Disk Utility First Aid to repair your drive and do data recovery. If Disk Utility fails. Then you’d seek out the services of a 3rd party data recovery service or software to recover data.
But as APFS is still a relatively new file format. There are less 3rd party data recovery tools out there on the market for you to use.
APFS is the more robust file system of the two, so needing that kind of service should be rare. It’s is still something to bear in mind though.
Now you know the important points to consider when picking an APFS file system. Instead of a Mac OS Extended file system. You can make your choice.
While you’re here. Why not take a look at our other external drives on Mac related articles?
Go on I dare you.
ExFAT vs APFS (When To Use One Over The Other)
ExFAT Vs Mac Os Extended (When One Is Better Than The Other)
Time Machine APFS VS Mac OS Extended (Which and Why)
(Which To Pick?) Best Format For Mac External Hard Drive
Mac OS Extended Journaled VS Encrypted (Choosing)
Mac OS Extended Journaled VS Case-Sensitive: Any Difference?
APFS VS APFS Case Sensitive (Which One Or The Other)
APFS VS APFS Encrypted (When You Need A Clear Comparison)
About Paul Gregory
I’ve been a system administrator for various corporates for 15 years. And as admin I’ve helped many with their Mac’s and there many Apple devices.
I’m excited by watching users, armed with a little knowledge take control of their Mac’s and their files. And why not?
When I’m not at work or working on the site I like to chill with few beers. And watch a bit of car racing. From Formula 1 to stock car racing. The competition is my thing.