There’s nothing worse than spending your money. And then realizing your drive is not compatible with your Mac.
The good news is that formatting an external hard drive for a Mac is quick and easy. It only takes a few minutes to do the job right.
You don’t need any special software or expensive tools.
Just follow these simple steps below, and you’ll be ready to start transferring files to your external drive in no time!
Format External Hard Drive Mac: Quick Overview
1. Log in and connect your external hard drive.
2. Open Disk Utility. Applications > Utilities folder > Disk Utility.
3. Look under ‘External’. Click on your drive. Click Erase.
4. Type in a Name.
5. Pick APFS or Mac OS Extended File System.
6. Set scheme as GUID Partition Map. Click Erase.
Read on for a hand held walk through.
How To Format External Hard Drive For Mac
When you format an external hard drive for your Mac you use disk management software. This software program is a standard part of your Mac’s operating system. So there’s no software for you to buy.
And it’s called Disk Utility.
A Side Note For You:
Formatting. Or reformatting an external hard disk for your Mac means you’ll lose any files already on the drive.
For instance. If the drive you want to format has files on it. Maybe from a Windows PC. Or you know that your brand new external hard drive comes with software installed on it. And you want to use that software.
Copy those files off first. Because after formatting those files will be gone. And if they are important files you’ll be seeking the services of a data recovery company to recover data.
But, if you’d prefer not to reformat your drive. Then read my article “External Hard Drive Compatible with Mac & PC without Reformatting” to find out how to do that.
Ready for your walk through? Let’s format your drive.
1. Log In And Connect Your External Hard Drive.
Charge your MacBook Pro or MacBook Air or connected it to power. Particularly if your external hard drive is one powered by its USB cable.
The last thing you want is your Mac running out of power part way through formatting.
Then plug in your external hard drive.
Your drive will have a USB type A cable end.
Or a USB C connector for you to plug into your Mac.
New Macs only have USB C ports them.
And if you’ve a new Mac and a drive with a USB type A cable end. Then you’ll need an adaptor cable to plug in.
You can find out more about this in an article on the site “Connect an External Hard Drive to Mac, 12 things You Need to Know“. You can follow this link to take a look.
Your drive connected up?
You should now see your drive icon on your desktop.
It’ll look something like this.
No drive icon?
Open up a Finder window and click on Finder Settings (From Mac OS Ventura). In earlier Mac OS releases, it’s called Finder Preferences.
On the General tab, check that the ‘External Disks’ box is checked.
This setting tells your Mac to show your drive icon on your desktop.
2. Open Up Disk Utility.
You can start up Disk Utility from a Finder Window.
Click on your Applications folder. Then click on Utilities inside your Applications folder.
Inside the Utilities folder you’ll find the Disk Utility software.
Click to start the software up.
3. Look Under ‘External’. Click On Your Hard Drive. Click Erase.
Look to the left hand side of your pop up window.
On that side of the screen, you’ll see a list. Your Mac computer’s internal drive is at the top. And you’ll find your external drive underneath.
Right under the ‘External” heading is where you’ll find your drive.
Click on your new external hard drive under the external heading.
The red arrow in the picture above shows you where.
Take care to click on your drive at the right level.
Where the red arrow points.
Picking your drive at a lower level will give you all sorts of problems. Including your drive not formatting. And errors when you format the drive.
And later if you want to partition your drive, you’ll have issues.
Can’t see the drive levels? Or there is only one level?
Click on the arrow to the left of your drive to show you the levels.
Did that work?
Look to the top of your Mac’s screen. Look for the ‘View’ option. Click and pick to ‘Show All Devices’.
Now you’ll see all the levels. And can pick your drive at the top level.
Picked your hard drive at the top level?
Good. Now you can go on.
You’ll see a few options across the top of the pop up window.
Pick the erase option.
Don’t worry. You’re not erasing anything right now. You’ll need to set up a few things for your hard drive first.
Click on the Erase tab.
In the next window you type in the settings for the formatting of your drive.
4. Type In A Name.
First, give your external disk drive a name.
A quick tip.
You’ll find it easier later when you pick name that makes it easy to find your drive on your Mac’s desktop. Pick a name that gives you a clue about what you’re using your hard drive for.
5. Pick APFS Or Mac OS Extended File System.
Underneath the name you set your drive’s file format. This is the format you want for your external hard drive on your Mac.
You can pick APFS (Apple File System).
Or Mac OS Extended (Journaled) file system.
Or if you want a drive you can use with Mac and a Windows computer pick ExFAT.
Things To Note:
Mac OS X Extended is the file format that’s the most compatible with newer and older Macs. APFS is best for SSD drives. But you can format your hard drive as APFS if you want.
But not for a Mac running a Mac OS X version that’s earlier than Sierra. Because you can’t read an APFS external drive on those older Mac operating system versions.
Pick ExFAT if you want your drive read and writeable by both Mac and a Windows PC.
All the above formats allow you to copy and paste from your Mac to your drive.
Drag and drop any file to your external hard drive.
But only APFS or Mac OS Extended (Journaled) can you use for a backup of your Mac with Time Machine. (APFS support for Time Machine was only available since Mac OS Big Sur. So, don’t use for OS X versions older than that.)
6. Set Scheme As GUID Partition Map.
Pick GUID Partition Map for the scheme.
This is important.
Your Mac needs the GUID Partition Map scheme. Or you’ll have all sorts of odd problems using your drive later on your Mac.
Can’t See APFS (Apple File System) As An Option?
Formatting an NTFS formatted drive?
This happens with a new NTFS drive. Or a drive in ExFAT format.
Pick Mac OS Extended (Journaled) the first time you format. Then format again.
APFS will come up as an option you can pick the second time round.
Still pick GUID Partition Map for your Mac.
The red arrows in the picture show you where you can find the format and scheme list of options.
7. Click On Erase.
Now you click the Erase button.
Your Mac will take a few minutes to format a hard drive. And once done your external drive is ready for you to use.
You can then dismiss the Disk Utility window.
You’ve formatted your external disk drive On Your Mac.
When formatted you can use your drive just as you would a USB stick. But of course your external hard drive is way bigger.
Your drive’s icon will show up on your Mac’s desktop.
You’ll see it with the name you’ve given it underneath. And it’s all ready for you to use.
And when you’re ready to pack your drive away be sure to Eject your drive first.
How To Format A Hard Drive For Mac FAQ
1. Why Format An External Hard Drive For Mac?
Because many of new external hard drives on the market are not in a for Mac format. They are NTFS formatted for a Windows computer.
Your Mac can read an NTFS drive.
But you won’t be able to copy any files onto an NTFS drive. Or change any files on an NTFS drive. Unless you either use special software. Or format the drive for your Mac.
The great thing about your Mac is that it’ll use any drive out there. As long as it’s in the right format. And you can change that in 5 minutes or less.
2. I Click On Erase And Get An Error
Check you have picked your drive at the top level in Disk Utility. And before going to your formatting options screen.
If you have. Check your drive.
Click on ‘First Aid’ at the top of your pop up window. Run a check on your external hard drive to make sure all is well with it.
3. What If I Want To Partition A New Hard Drive For Windows And Mac?
When you have a new hard drive that’s a decent size. And you want to format and partition your drive.
You’ll find an article that shows you how to do it right here on the site. Just follow the link text. Partition Hard Drive For Mac and Windows.
And now you have your external hard drive formatted for your Mac. Or MacBook Pro or MacBook Air.
You’ve a lot of choices in choosing an external hard drive for your Mac.
You can get one that is pre-formatted to work with your Mac’s operating system. Or you can format any hard drive yourself.
The choice is yours and you’ve now got all the information you need!
Why not look at some related posts on our site as well?
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.