External Hard Drive Compatible with Mac and PC Without Reformatting

By Simon Irons / July 12, 2019
External Hard Drive Compatible With Mac and PC Without Reformatting Title Image

You’ve got your external hard drive with your documents, photos and videos on it. You used the hard drive on your Windows PC and now you want to use it your Mac.

And why not?

It has plenty of space on it. But when you plug it into your Mac you find you can read the documents on it. You can even copy them onto the Mac. But when you try to copy a file from the Mac to the external drive it says no.

Arhhhh! You could just pull your hair out.

It’s so frustrating.

Frustration Image

You don’t want to format the drive. Because you’ll loose all the documents and files that are on it.

And you can’t copy them off because your Windows PC hasn’t enough room to hold them. Even temporarily.

So how do you make an external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC without reformatting it.

In the post you’ll find various methods that work. You can choose the best method you think will works for you.

Whether it is a drive you can’t write to on your Mac or whether it’s the other way round. An external hard drive that when you plug it into your Windows PC it says no way.

There is an answer for you.

Options For Having An External Hard Drive for Mac and PC Without Formatting

1. Use a Software Solution – You get a piece of software that sits on your Mac. Or one for your Windows PC. This software acts like a translator. It interprets what is on the external hard drive so that your Mac or PC can read and write to the drive.

2. Use a Hardware Solution – An extra external hard drive. This allows you to have your documents set up so that both computers can use them without you loosing any data.

So, What is the Issue? Why Doesn’t the External Hard Drive Just Work?

Each drive, whether internal, external, a hard drive or an ultra fast SSD has a file system on it.

A file system is how your Windows PC or Mac stores and finds your documents on that drive. There are different sorts of file systems. The one your Windows PC writes on the drive by default and the one your Mac writes are different.

And there is the problem.

Unless you started out with a file system that they both can read and write you’re going to run into problems.

  • Your Windows PC reads FAT32, NTFS and ExFAT file systems.
  • Your Mac read HFS+ (also known as Mac OS Extended (Journaled) file system, APFS (the apple file system), FAT32 and ExFAT file systems.

You’ll also see the file system referred to as the drive’s formatting.

Typically, an external hard drive that works on a Windows PC uses an NTFS file system.

And an external hard drive that works on a Mac is in HFS+ format. The faster SSD drives on a Mac may well use an APFS file system.

To check, right click on the external hard drive. Then you can check the drive’s properties if you’re not sure what file system it uses.

Before you Decide How You’re Going to Fix Your External hard drive for Mac and PC without losing Any Data

There are some questions to ask yourself before you go ahead.

1. Which computer are you planning to use the external hard drive the most on?

Because if your using your external hard drive mostly on your Windows PC. Then you just need to fix the issue on the Mac for the odd time you need to use the drive there.

If mostly on your Mac then the same thing holds true. You just need to fix the issue on the Windows PC for the short time you’ll use the external hard drive there.

If your answer is, you will use equally on both. Then you’d be better off with your documents on your hard drive in a format both computers can read freely. I’ll go into this later.

2. How much do you want to spend on the problem?

You may get lucky and find there is a free solution. Or you may need to spend some money.

Software Icon

Options For Making An External Hard Drive for Mac and PC Without Formatting

1. Software Solutions

What Software Solutions are good for:

  • Long term or off and on use
  • You use the software on the Mac or Windows PC that can’t read the drive.

Downsides

  • Does your external hard drive manufacturer provide the software for free? If not, you will need to pay.
  • Each time you upgrade the operating system on your Mac (if you have bought it for a Mac). Or your Windows PC, if you bought it for the Windows PC.
  • You’ll need to check that the software is compatible with the new operating system. Or wait for the release of a version that works.

Finding a Free Software Fix

The manufacturer of your hard drive may provide a free solution.

So it is well worth checking the model of your external hard drive on the manufacturers site.

For example Seagate provides a free NTFS reader for the Mac on their support downloads page.

Seagate support page

Check the software is compatible for the operating system you’re running. And check it’s compatible with your model of Seagate external hard drive.

You can check this on the Seagate site here.

Paid Software Solutions

The two front-runners in this space with the best reputations are:

Paragon software and Tuxera

Both companies have tools that make an external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC without formatting.

Paragon Software

The good news is that you can download the software and have a 10 day free trial. That allows you to test out the Paragon software and make sure it’s for you and your particular set up.

The Paragon Software set of tools has more options compared to Tuxera.

You can get:

  • NTFS software for Mac – you load this software on the Mac to read a Windows PC NTFS formatted drive.
  • APFS for Windows – This piece of software sits on the Windows PC and allows it to read the Mac’s APFS drives. APFS drives on the Mac are often SSD drives.
  • HFS+ for Windows – Sits on the Windows PC and allows it to read HFS+ formatted external hard drives.

Tuxera Software

Tuxera also has a free trial period that you can take advantage of before you buy. In Tuxera’s case the trial period is15 days.

Tuxera NTFS for Mac – Sits on the Mac. It allows the Mac to read and write to a Windows PC NTFS formatted external hard drive.

Mac Drive Icon

2. Hardware solution

What This Option is Good For:

  • Heavy or the equal use of your external hard drive on both your Mac and PC.
  • No special software tool to buy, maintain or check the versions of.

Downside

  • It’s not a free option unless you can loan a drive.

Buy a 2nd External Hard Drive

What! I hear you say. Bear with me.

Buy a 2nd external hard drive. You can find some I suggest here.

1. Format that drive to ExFAT.

ExFAT is an efficient, fast, compatible file system. ExFAT works freely with both Macs and Windows PC. Plug an ExFAT drive into your Mac and you Mac can see all the files on it. Read and write document to the drive. And you can do the same on a Windows PC.

You can find out how to format an external hard drive to ExFAT in my document here.

2. Next. Once you have your new or loan external hard drive formatted to ExFAT. Plug both external drives into your Mac. By this I mean the NTFS drive with your documents on and the newly formatted ExFAT drive.

3. You then open two finder windows on your Mac. One finder window on the NTFS formatted drive. And the other Finder windows on the ExFAT drive.

4. And because your Mac can read the NTFS drive. You simply copy all your documents off the drive using the finder window, onto the ExFAT drive.

5. And there you go. You have all your files on a drive that is compatible with both Mac and PC. You can plug that drive into either and use it.

Yes, you had some formatting to do but it was on the new drive. And you did it without losing any data.

And What Do you Do with the Spare External Hard Drive When You’re Done?

Use your second external hard drive for backup.

A good idea as you should never only have one copy of your documents on any drive.

OR indeed in any one place.

As drives as well as cloud storage have been known to and do fail.

And that would mean you loosing all your documents, files, photos, music …

Loan a Drive

If you can, find a good friend to loan an external hard drive from. You’ll need a drive with nothing on it.

Just as if you bought the drive yourself, you follow my directions above.

You format the drive to ExFAT. Copy your files across as I explained for buying a drive.

Then you format your own drive – Don’t worry all this formatting only takes a few minutes.

Copy the files back onto your own external drive.

Return the loaned hard drive to the person you borrowed it from.

Last Words

I hope you enjoyed my article on how to make an external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC without reformatting.

Whether you go the software or hardware route depends on your situation. And which you find the easier to use.

Either way there is a solution to having an existing external hard drive for Mac and PC. And without formatting the drive.