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?
Your portable hard drive 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 your Mac. But when you try to copy a file from your Mac to the external drive it says no.
Arhhhh! You could just pull your hair out it’s so frustrating.
You don’t want to format your drive. Because you’ll lose all the documents and files that are on it.
So how do you make an external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC without reformatting it?
In this article you’ll find various ways that work. You can choose the best method you think is best for you.
Options For Having An External Hard Drive For Mac And PC Without Reformatting
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
Have an extra external hard drive. This allows you to use Disk Utility on that drive to format it to ExFAT. Both a Mac and a PC can read an ExFAT drive.
Then have your share documents on that drive. Without reformatting your original hard drive. So that both computers can use that external drive’s storage without you losing any data.
So, What Is The Issue? Why Doesn’t My External Hard Drive Just Work?
Each drive, whether internal or external. A hard drive or an ultra fast SSD (Solid State Drive) has a file system on it.
A file system is how your Windows computer or Mac stores and finds your documents on that external drive.
There are different sorts of file systems. The one your Windows PC reads and writes by default. And the one your Mac reads and writes are different.
And there is the issue.
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 and writes FAT32, NTFS and ExFAT file systems.
- Your Mac reads and writes HFS+ (also known as Mac OS Extended Journaled file system). APFS (the Apple File System), FAT32 and ExFAT file systems.
Note that: You’ll also hear the file system referred to as the USB 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 in a Mac format may well use an APFS file system.
Then you can check your external drive’s properties when 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 Files
There are some questions to ask yourself before you go ahead.
1. Which Computer Are You Planning To Use Your External Hard Drive Most On?
Because if you’re 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 your drive there.
If mostly on your Mac computer, then the same thing holds true. You just need to fix the issue on your Windows computer for the short time you’ll use your external drive there.
If your answer is, you will use equally on both. Then you’d be better off with your documents on your external storage space in a format both computers can read freely. You’ll find out more about this later in this article.
2. How Much Do You Want To Spend On The Solution?
You may get lucky and find there is a free solution. Or you may need to spend some money.
Options For Making An External Hard Drive For Mac And PC Without Reformatting
1. Software Solutions
Software Solutions are good for long term use.
You use the software on the Mac or Windows PC that can’t read the drive.
Does your external hard drive manufacturer provide the software for free? If not, you will need to buy software.
Each time you upgrade Mac OS X. The operating system on your Mac (if you have bought the software 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 your 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’s 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.
Check the software is compatible for the Mac OS X you’re running. And check it’s compatible with your model of Seagate external hard drive.
Paid Software Solutions
The two front-runners in this space. The companies with the best reputations are:
Paragon software and Tuxera
Both companies have tools that make an external drive compatible with Mac and PC without reformatting.
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. So it looks just like a Mac drive to your Mac.
- 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 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.
2. Hardware Solution
What This Option is Good For:
- Heavy or the equal use of your external hard disk drive on both your Mac and PC.
- No special software tool to buy, maintain or check the versions of.
It’s not a free option unless you can loan a drive. Because you’ll need to buy an external hard disk. Then use Disk Utility the disk management software on your Mac to format it.
Note: Formatting with Disk Utility wipes all the files off the drive. So be sure there is nothing on the external drive you want.
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 PCs. Plug an ExFAT drive into your Mac and your Mac can see all the files on it. Read and write documents 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 from the PC 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 external drive into either computer 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 losing 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.
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 do.
Either way there is a solution to having an existing external hard drive for Mac and PC. And without reformatting the drive.
About Simon Irons
As an admin I spend my day helping folks with their Mac issues. From the guy at work, through to unofficial 911 support for family and friends. I swear they have me on speed dial.
For fun I like testing out and playing with new stuff. I think Apple make the best products on the planet.
In my spare time I like to fish and play around with boats.