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What is currently the best file system to use for drives that are regularly accessed (both reading and writing) from both Windows and OS X on a single machine using BootCamp. The most important points are stability and speed.

I've been using NTFS so far, coming from a Windows background. I've tried the NTFS-3G driver with Fuse and, in my tests, it was far slower than native NTFS under Windows. I also tried their commercial driver without much better results.

Afterward I tried Paragon's drivers, which were much faster. They aren't quite native NTFS speed, but they aren't far off either. The problem is I've had crashes with them, and recently had crashes + data loss with them.

I know this question has been asked before, but the posts I saw were older and the driver and filesystem options are maturing.

Options I've seen:

  • FAT32: Limited drive size? Limited permission settings
  • NTFS: Limited speed/stability under OS X
  • HFS+: MacDrive? available for Windows

Follow Up

I have now formatted one of the drives as exFAT and can confirm that this works great for both reading and writing when the machine is booted into either OS X or Windows 7.

  • Why are you using FUSE for NTFS access? OS X can access NTFS partitions without the need for 3rd party drivers? I routinely access my Windows machine's NTFS drives from OS X. – Ian C. Aug 25 '11 at 0:42
  • I'm sorry I should have mentioned read/write access! – Nathanial Woolls Aug 25 '11 at 2:36
  • I both read from and write to an NTFS share made available via SMB by a WinXP machine without issue. – Ian C. Aug 25 '11 at 3:44
  • Sorry again that I wasn't clear: I am speaking about one machine. Perhaps the file-sharing tag is misleading? – Nathanial Woolls Aug 25 '11 at 14:10
  • Definitely that tag made it unclear. I thought you were asking about over-the-network access. – Ian C. Aug 25 '11 at 14:35
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If you're working exclusively with Win7 machines (i.e. no Vista or XP), and 10.6.6 or greater on the Mac side, try exFAT. Native read/write support under Win7 and OS X, and none of the file size limits of FAT32. Disk Utility will happily format your drives using it.

As long as you don't need legacy support, it's probably your best option, as it avoids any user-space filesystem drivers, which personally make me a bit uneasy.

Addendum: XP and Vista do support exFAT, Vista as of SP1, and XP with SP2 and the KB955704 update

  • Thank you very much. That does indeed look like it will work for me (Windows 7 and OS X only). I'll give that a shot. – Nathanial Woolls Aug 25 '11 at 2:39
  • Microsoft needs to applauded for back-porting these things. I'd like to use the new FileVault and TimeMachine encryption introduced with Lion, but I'd like to also share the disks with Snow Leopard Machines. – Thilo Aug 25 '11 at 2:49
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    I've followed this answer and am using exFat as a shared volume on my Mac Book Pro. For a year of using it I have already had 5 times some of my files got corrupted on the exFat volume. I'm assuming this is because of exFat is not so stable(I didn't have power offs or some stability problems, they just corrupted by themselves). I was only reading and writing files from both Windows 7 and Mac Os X Lion. So be aware of this filesystem is not so great as one may think. Although I didn't find a good alternative yet. – Dmitriy May 18 '13 at 13:54
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If you care about your data stick with ntfs or fat32(4G filesize limit!).

Had multiple drives formatted to exFat in order to use them with both operating systems (osx/win) and i cant remember when i lost so many files in such a short period of time. To my luck I had backups of everything lost.

My best experience with ntfs on mac so far is the driver by paragon - cant tell a difference from a natively supported filesystem. Tuxera and ntfs-3g gave me trouble with performance and reliability.

If you want to stick with exFAT you have to disable caching/buffering as this leads to data corruption on any error - be extra cautious on external drives (check connection, unmount before unplugging). exFAT was designed for portable battery powered devices with continiuos uncached writes, like camcorders or digital cameras and doesnt support any kind of journaling.

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