You’re thinking of buying yourself an external drive. Or you’ve got a drive you’re thinking of reformatting.
But you’re wondering what file system format to format your drive to.
Should you format the drive as Mac OS Extended? Or are you better picking ExFAT?
Does your choice change when your drive is an external SSD (Solid State Drive)?
Or an external HDD (Hard Disk Drive)?
Read on and work out for your situation when you’d pick one format over the other.
|ExFAT||Mac OS Extended|
|Works On Mac||Yes||Yes|
|Works On PC||Yes||No|
|File Security Features||No||Yes|
|Made for Hard Drives||Yes||Yes|
|Older Mac Support||Yes||Yes|
Only Using Your External Drive On A Mac? : ExFAT Vs Mac OS Extended
If your plans are to only use your external drive for your Mac. Mac OS Extended is the better file system to choose.
Let’s walk through the reasons why.
Mac OS Extended On Your External Drive On Mac
Mac OS Journaled file system is the original file system format on a Mac. Also known as HFS+ it was made by Apple back in 1998. And was the default file system for internal drives on a Mac.
It was only changed, back when Mac OS X High Sierra came out in 2017. Apple then switched to using SSD’s (Solid State Drives) internally on a Mac. And the APFS file system.
This means that you can put your external drive formatted in Mac OS Extended Journaled on the oldest Macs. And those Mac can read your drive.
You easily create your Mac OS Extended file system on your external drive using Disk Utility on your Mac.
Mac OS Journaled was created at a time when a mechanical drive was the only option you had for an external drive. So, you could say it’s optimized for hard drives. Those drives are called hard drives. Or a mechanical drive because they have moving parts inside.
You can use an external drive formatted in Mac OS Extended to copy and paste your files to the drive. And as the destination for your Mac Time Machine backup.
A Mac is optimized to run Mac OS Extended. ExFAT runs on a Mac but is designed as a sharing file system format.
So let’s talk about ExFAT.
Vs ExFAT On A Mac
You’ll find your Mac can read and write any file on your ExFAT formatted external drive. And update any file on your ExFAT format drive.
You can copy and paste your files onto your ExFAT file system drive.
Put your ExFAT formatted drive onto a Windows PC and your PC can do the same. Read every file, write new files and update the files on the drive.
It’s the ideal file format to pick when the main thing you want to do is share your drive with a Windows computer.
It’s easier to format your shared ExFAT external drive using Disk Utility on your Mac computer.
Your external ExFAT drive needs to be ExFAT formatted with an GUID Partition Map.
Yes, you can create a formatted ExFAT drive like this on a modern version of the Windows operating system.
But many Windows users are not familiar with creating drives on their PCs.
And without the external ExFAT drive set up right. You’ll get the error message that your ExFAT drive is unreadable on your Mac.
The last thing you want after you’ve copied files to the drive from your PC. And want to use those files on your Mac.
Format to the ExFAT file system on your Mac, with a GUID Partition Map. And then you know it’s done.
Mac OS Extended VS ExFAT For External SSD’s
Both ExFAT and MacOS Extended were created in the days of the external hard drive.
ExFAT was created in 2006 by Microsoft. MacOS Extended in 1998 for Mac OS X by Apple.
Both file system formats will run fine on external SSD’s. But neither is optimized for SSD’s.
In fact, Apple created a file system specifically for SSD’s called APFS (Apple File System). It is optimized for an SSD or a flash drive. But only runs on a Mac.
So, not much help to you if you plan to share your SSD with a PC.
If you’re only planning to use your SSD external drive on your Mac then pick Mac OS Extended.
As a journaled file format it is more robust than ExFAT. Plus, it has security features inbuilt to the operating system. Making it the more secure file system format.
Mac OS Extended OR ExFAT For An External Hard Drive
Your Mac computer can read or write to. Or copy and paste to Mac OS Extended or ExFAT just fine. But when would you use one or the other on an external hard drive?
Both were created in the days when computers used a hard drive.
ExFAT was made as file system to use across different operating systems.
Put a Mac OS Extended formatted drive on a Windows PC and the PC can’t see it at all. Not without you buying and using special driver software.
ExFAT is the choice for a hard drive you plan to share with a PC.
Mac OS Extended was not made for other operating systems. Just Mac OS.
So, when you want your drive only for your Mac. You can put an Mac OS Extended file system format on your external hard drive.
Plus, you have the added benefit of a journaled file system. Keeping your files safer. And the extra security features should you want them.
Mac OS Extended Vs ExFAT Speed Benefits
On a Mac, Mac OS Extended is the faster file system format. It’s optimized for Mac. ExFAT isn’t.
But you can’t share a Mac OS Extended drive. Not without special software running on your PC. Adding an extra layer of software. And it’s effect on speed into the mix.
In a shared drive environment speed isn’t the issue. Compatibility is. And ExFAT clearly wins out.
ExFAT Or Mac OS Extended For Sharing Files With A Windows PC
ExFAT is the best format to use when you need a drive to share between a Mac and a Windows computer.
Microsoft created ExFAT in 2006 with that job in mind.
In contrast a Windows PC can’t even see a connected Mac OS Extended format external drive.
As Microsoft Window’s default file system is an NTFS file system.
The only way for a Windows computer to use a Mac OS Extended external drive. Is for you to use 3rd party disk driver software on your Windows based computer.
And that adds additional cost, time and management when you could just format your drive as ExFAT.
Because you’ll likely need to pay for driver software if the drive manufacturer doesn’t supply it for free. You’ll need the software on each PC you plan to use the drive on.
And you’ll need a compatible version of the software to run on each operating system release you upgrade to.
It is best to format a drive you plan to share between a Mac and a PC as ExFAT with a GUID Partition Map. And it’s easier to do that using Disk Utility on a Mac.
And definitely when buying an external drive that ships ExFAT formatted. Double check the format of the drive. Check that it’s formatted right for sharing. And the partition Map isn’t a Master Boot Record.
As a Master Boot Record for your Mac external hard drive. Or SSD causes issues on a Mac.
It’s always worth remembering. You can always create an ExFAT partition on a larger Mac OS Extended format drive. And then you can use that partition to share files with a PC.
ExFAT Or Mac OS Extended For Storing Your Important Files
Whether you use ExFAT or Mac OS Extended. If your files are important then have at least a 2nd copy on another drive. Or in Cloud storage. As both an ExFAT external drive or a Mac OS Extended external drive can fail.
That said. Mac OS Extended is the more secure file system format. Because it offers better journaling features to protect your files. File encryption and data recovery features than ExFAT.
Lacking those features makes ExFAT more fragile compared to Mac OS Extended. So, you’ll need to take greater care and eject your drive correctly before plugging out of your computer.
But as a Mac format, Mac OS Extended doesn’t have the cross platform features of ExFAT.
Mac OS Extended Or ExFAT For A Time Machine Backup
This is an easy choice. When you want a Time Machine back up of your Mac the only choice out of the two is Mac OS Extended.
And that’s been true since the earliest Mac OS X releases.
Macs do not support a Time Machine backup to an external drive formatted as ExFAT.
And now you know how to compare the two file formats for external drives.
How and what you plan to use your drive for is important. And will be the main driver for picking Mac OS Extended or ExFAT.
Thank you for reading.
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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.