How To Make External Hard Drive Compatible With Mac And PC Title Image

Perhaps because of how you work. You like to use a Mac for some things you do. And for other things a Windows PC.

And so, you’re asking yourself.

Can I make my external hard drive compatible with Mac and a Windows PC?

The answer is Yes.

The steps below also work for an SSD (Solid State Drive).

Follow along with the text and pictures. And learn the few steps it takes to make your external drive work for Mac and Windows. You’ll find steps for a Mac user. And steps for a user of a Windows computer.

How To Make External Hard Drive Compatible With Mac And PC

1. Plug in your hard drive into your Mac.

2. Format external hard drive to Mac OS Extended Journaled file system. 

3. Next format the drive to ExFAT file system.

4. Then you can use your storage device on both Mac and PC.

And the whole thing takes only a few minutes to do.

Read on for more detail.

Making Your External Hard Drive Compatible Mac And PC On A Mac The Details

You’ll be formatting your external storage drive to make it compatible.

And it’s best to do that on your Mac. Why?

Because Macs can be choosy about their formatting. And you’ll have a drive that works reliably on your Mac for longer.

On your Mac you are going to go through the steps of formatting twice. The first time to Mac OS Extended Journaled.

This formats your drive as a Mac drive first, using a Mac format. And the second time to ExFAT and this is the file system that makes the drive compatible with a Mac and a PC.

1. Plug In Your Hard Drive Into Your Mac.

Depending on your external hard drive you may have a USB cable with a type A connector on the end.

Seagate Backup Plus USB Cable
Seagate Backup Plus USB Cable

Or a USB C cable end.

USB C Cable End
USB C Cable End

And depending on your generation of Mac you may need an adaptor. Like a type A to USB C cable adaptor for a modern Mac as an example.

If your external hard disk is a desktop drive then plug it into external power first. A portable drive gets its power from your Mac through its USB cable.

The drive’s LED light will start flashing as it powers up.

Important Side Note:

Some drives come with software files installed at the factory on the drive.

If you plan to use those files. Or any file currently on your drive. Copy them off somewhere safe first.

This is because making your hard drive compatible with Mac and Windows clears everything. All files off your portable storage.

2. Look For Your External Hard Drive Icon On Your Desktop.

Western Digital Elements Drive Icon

It’ll look something like this.

Is your external drive icon not showing up on the desktop?

Open a Finder window. And click on Settings (from Mac OS Ventura). You’ll find it’s called Preferences in earlier Mac OS X releases.

Finder Settings

Check the box ‘External Disks’. It’s under the General tab.

Finder Settings Show External Disks

And your drive icon should appear.

3. Format Your External Storage To Extended Journaled.

Next you open up a piece of disk management software on your Mac. It’s called Disk Utility. And it comes as part of your Mac OS X.

You use Disk Utility to format your storage device.

You’ll find the Disk Utility software in the Applications folder on your Mac.

Finder Applications Folder Utilities
Finder Applications Folder Utilities

Inside the Applications folder you’ll see the Utilities folder.  Double click on that.

Then double click on Disk Utility.

Finder Disk Utility

4. Choose Your Storage External Drive.

After Disk Utility opens. Look to the left side of the window.

WD My Passport Click At Top Level

You click where you see the arrow on the above picture. You click at the ‘top level’ – where you see the hard drive first listed under the External heading.

If you can’t see all the levels. A small arrow to the left of your storage opens up the levels.

If you can’t see the drive levels. Click on Disk Utility > View.

WD Elements Disk Utility View

Then, pick the option to show all devices.

Then you’ll be fine to select your drive at the top level.

Next look across the top of the Disk Utility screen and click on the Erase option.

Select Erase

5. Give Your External Storage Drive A Name.

The Disk Utility window lets you put in a name for your hard disk drive.

WD Elements Disk Utility Formatting

In the next field called Drive Format. Select Mac OS Extended (Journaled).

And for the Scheme pick GUID Partition Map.

Then click on Erase.

In a few moments you’ve formatted your external hard drive.

6. Next Format The Drive To ExFAT File System.

After you’ve formatted your drive once you step through the process again. Click on your drive at the top level a second time.

Click on Erase across the top of that window like before.

But this time in the Drive Format field pick ExFAT.

WD Elements Disk Utility ExFAT

Leave the partition map as GUID as before.

Then click on the Erase button at the bottom right of the window.

Several short moments later you’re done.

Your hard disk is now formatted to be compatible on both Mac and PC.

Plug your external storage into a Windows PC and you can see and use the drive. Put files on the drive.

Plug your external hard drive into a Mac and you can the files on that drive. Work directly from the drive and put new files on.

Copy and Paste files and create folders on both Mac and PC.

Making Your External Hard Drive Compatible Mac And PC On A PC

1. Plug In Your External Hard Drive And Open File Explorer.

After plugging in your external drive. On your Windows PC open the File Explorer App.

Open File Explorer On PC

2. Click This PC.

Look in the side bar of the File Explorer window and click on This PC.

Click This PC On PC

3. Look for your External Hard Drive. Right Click.

In the File Explorer window look for your external hard drive. You’ll see it as a local disk. Right click on it.

This will bring up a menu. Click on format from the menu.

Right Click On Drive Pick Format On PC

If you can’t see your external drive in file explorer. There’s something else you’ll need to do to your drive first. Jump down to the heading titled ‘When Your External Drive Doesn’t Show Up In File Explorer.’

4. Pick ExFAT Format And Give Your Drive A Name.

A menu will pop up.

Format Local Disk Menu On PC

Under file system pick ExFAT. This is the file system format that’s compatible between a PC and a Mac computer.

Leave the box Allocation Unit Size at what is already selected.

Give your hard drive a name you’d like to call it. Put that in Volume label.

Then click start.

Format Warning Box On PC

A warning box will come up reminding you that formatting an external hard drive erases all on your drive.

If you’re happy there is nothing on the drive you want to keep. Then click the OK button.  And in a few moments your Windows PC formats your external drive to ExFAT.

When Your External Drive Doesn’t Show Up In File Explorer

When your external hard drive is in a raw state and it doesn’t show up in File Explorer. Then you make a PC and Mac compatible drive a different way.

With your drive plugged into your PC.

1. Start up the Disk Management Software.

You’ll need to run the Windows disk management software on a PC. By pressing your Windows Key + X at the same time. Then press the K key.

Initialize Drive On PC

2. When the Initialize Disk Box Comes Up.

Initialize Drive Close Up On PC

Check your Disk drive is selected.  Pick GPT (GUID Partition Table). That’s the partition style that’s compatible with a Mac.  Then click on the OK button.

3. Right Click Your Hard Drive.

Right Click New Simple Volume On PC

And a box comes up. Select New Simple Volume.  That starts the New Simple Volume wizard.

New Simple Volume Wizard Screen 1

Click on the next button. Then click next past the next window to the screen where you assign a drive letter.

New Simple Volume Assign Drive Letter

Put a drive letter in and press next.

On the Format Partition screen

New Simple Volume Format Partition

Pick ExFAT for the file system.

Leave the Allocation unit size as Default.  Put in a name for your drive in Volume label. Then click next and the Wizard’s final screen comes up.

New Simple Volume Last Screen

Then click Finish. And your external hard drive is formatted to ExFAT and will then work on a Windows computer and on a Mac.

Whether on a Mac or On A PC Eject Your External Hard Drive When You’re Done

Now you have your external hard drive compatible with your Mac and PC. When you’re finished using it, never just pull out your USB cable. Either from your Mac or your Windows PC.

You need to eject the drive first.

By ejecting the drive your computer can write anything it is still holding in its memory to the hard drive. And you’ll keep the risk of corrupting your files to the smallest possible.

Why Your External USB Drive Doesn’t Work On A Mac And PC

Most hard drives on the market are NTFS drives. NTFS stands for New Technology File System. These drives work fine for plug and play on a Windows PC.

A Mac can read a NTFS drive. And that means your Mac can see documents on the drive. You can copy them off onto your Mac.

But you can’t write any files back, update any documents or delete anything on the drive. This is because all those actions mean your Mac has to write to the drive and it can’t.

But a Mac and a PC can read and write to an ExFAT drive.

There is one other format a Mac and a PC can read and write to. And that’s to a FAT32 formatted drive.

But is a very old file system made for the earliest Windows operating system.

FAT32 isn’t great for large files. It has file size restrictions.

As an old file system FAT32 is slow.

Much slower than ExFAT. And ExFAT can store a file up to 16 Exabytes in size.

These days ExFAT is the file system to choose for your modern Mac and Windows PC.

One thing to note. Though ExFAT is a compatible file system for Mac and PC. You can’t use an ExFAT formatted drive for a Time Machine backup of your Mac.

For that you’ll need a an APFS (Apple File System) drive or HFS drive.

You could also create a APFS partition to sit alongside an ExFAT formatted partition. And use that APFS partition for a Time Machine backup.

In Closing

And now you know how to make your external hard drive compatible with Mac and a PC. Thank you for reading this post through to the end.

While you’re here, why not check out our other Mac related articles on the site?

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