You have your external hard drive you use mainly on your Mac. But just every so often you need to use it on a Windows PC you have.
Or your external drive that works fine on your Windows PC. And now you need to use on your MacBook Pro or Air.
How do you do that? You know, make your drive compatible. And you want to do it without formatting.
How To Make External Hard Drive Compatible With Mac And PC Without Formatting
The easiest way to make your external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC without formatting, is to use 3rd party software.
Use driver software on your Mac to make a Windows PC NTFS drive that your Mac can read and write to.
Or use driver software on your PC to make a Mac drive your PC can read and write to.
Driver software means there is no need to change the format of your external drive.
Read on for more detail.
Driver Software To Make Your External Hard Drive Compatible Without Formatting
You may well be asking yourself what is driver software?
Driver software is software code you load onto your Window PC. Or onto your Mac computer.
This software operates at a low level in your computers operating system. Translating between your computer and the external drive.
It runs as disk management software on Microsoft Windows if you’re using on a PC.
And if you’re using on a Mac. It operates as disk management software on a Mac.
The driver software runs on your computer and understands what is on your external hard drive. And presents that external drive to the operating system so that your Mac. Or PC understands it.
Think of it like an interpreter translating another language.
When you put your Mac drive on a Windows computer. Your Windows computer can’t even see it’s there.
Install the right driver software. Then your PC can read and write to a Mac external hard drive it normally couldn’t see.
On a Mac when you install driver software for NTFS. It allows your Mac to write to an NTFS drive it couldn’t normally write to.
Note. Macs can read an NTFS formatted drive. So, if all you want to do is look at. Or copy off files from your NTFS external hard drive on your Mac you can go right ahead.
Use the driver software and there is no formatting of your external hard disk to do. You can use your external drive without any formatting needed.
Sourcing Free Driver Software For Your Mac Or PC External Hard Drive
A little search either on the external hard drive itself. Or on your disk manufacturer’s site. And you may find some free driver software to make your drive compatible.
For example, Western Digital provides Paragon HFS+ software driver for Windows. You’ll find it for their SanDisk professional range of drives.
You can find the link here.
Seagate supplies a free NTFS driver software again from Paragon for the Mac computer. You can find it on their support downloads page.
Always check the software is compatible for the Mac OS X you’re running. And the model of external HDD you’re using.
If it’s software you’re loading and running on your Windows computer. Check it’s compatible with the operating system version you’re running.
And the external hard disk you have.
When There’s No Free Driver Software For Your External Hard Drive To Make It Compatible
If there is no free software supplied by your external hard drive manufacturer. The only option then is to buy.
When you really have to have a compatible external disk drive for PC and Mac without any formatting. Then you’ll have to buy some driver software.
On a PC you’ll need to buy and install driver software that allows your Windows PC to read either HFS+ drives. (These drives are also known on a Mac as Mac OS Extended Journaled.)
Or APFS (Apple File System) drives.
Depending on the software you buy. And the type of drive you want to use on your PC from a Mac. You might need to buy a version for Mac OS Extended Journaled (HFS+). And a version for Apple File System.
And it’s just the same for a Mac.
Except you’ll only need to buy and install driver software on your Mac so your Mac can read and write to NTFS.
Mac’s can already read NTFS drives. And that means you can copy off your data from an external hard drive formatted as NTFS. You can’t copy those files back onto the drive. Because that means writing to an NTFS drive.
And you can’t do that without formatting. Or using NTFS driver software.
Options For Mac And PC Compatible Driver Software
The two main suppliers of driver software. And companies with the best reputations are:
Paragon software and Tuxera
Both companies have tools that make an external USB drive compatible with Mac and PC. And without formatting.
Just check that the software you buy is compatible with the operating system you’re running.
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. This software makes a NTFS formatted drive looks just like a Mac drive to your Mac.
APFS for Windows – This software you install on your Windows OS (Operating System). It lets your Windows machine see and use a Mac’s APFS formatted drive.
HFS+ for Windows – Is software that sits on a Windows OS. It lets your Windows machine recognize and use an HFS+ formatted external hard drive.
Tuxera NTFS for Mac – Is software that you install on your Mac. It lets your Mac read and write to a Windows PC NTFS formatted external hard drive.
Why You’ll Need Software To Make Your External Hard Drive Mac And PC Compatible
Each drive on a computer. And it doesn’t matter if it’s an internal or external drive. A hard drive or an ultra fast SSD (Solid State Drive) has a file system on it.
A file system is how your Windows PC. 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 ones your Mac uses.
A PC likes its drives in a PC format. And a Mac in a Mac format.
The thing is the file systems are different. (There is one exception to this).
And there’s the issue.
A Windows PC reads and writes FAT32, NTFS and ExFAT file systems.
Your Mac reads and writes HFS+ (also known as Mac OS Extended Journaled). APFS (the Apple File System), FAT32 and ExFAT file systems.
FAT32 is a very old file system from back in the early days of Windows. It has security issues, file name restrictions and maximum file size limitations. It’s not used much anymore.
Typically, an external hard drive for a Windows PC uses an NTFS file system.
External storage space for Macs uses HFS+ or APFS.
Both a Mac and a PC can read and write ExFAT but that would mean formatting your external disk.
And this post is all about a compatible hard drive for Mac and PC without formatting.
An Alternative To Making An External Hard Drive Compatible Without Formatting
The only alternative to making an external hard drive compatible with a Mac and PC when you don’t want to format. It to use Disk Utility on a Mac.
Disk Utility, is software built into Mac OS X. Disk Utility will format your NTFS external USB drive to ExFAT. A format compatible with PC and Mac.
But Disk Utility wipes any file on the drive.
So unless you copy those files off first. You’ll be looking for the services of a data recovery company. With data recovery software to recover data.
But if you’d like to look at this option when check out this article on the site. External Hard Drive For Mac And PC With Data Interchangeable.
Now you have the answer to. ‘How do I make my external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC without formatting.’
You’ll need to use driver software and hopefully you’ll find it’s free with your drive.
If not then you’ll need to source a copy.
While you’re here you can have a look at some other articles on the site.
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.