I would like to buy an external hard drive that I'll use on Mac OS X and on Windows, but I don't know the best file system for it (reading and writing on the both system).

I know I can used FAT32 easily, but I have files bigger than 4 GB so I can't use this file system.

So, I think for NTFS or HFS, but I know I can use on the two systems with software, but I don't know the fastest one to transfer files. Also, I don't know if I can use ext3 or ext4.

If someone knows one of the best way to use an external drive on Windows and Mac without used FAT32, please tell me.

3 Answers 3


Which versions of OS X and Windows do you need it to work with? If they're recent enough, ExFAT is probably the best answer. Support for it was added to OS X sometime around 10.6.5 and AIUI it's built into Windows 7 and available via updates for everything since Windows XP.

BTW, if you're formatting via the Partitions tab in OS X's Disk Utility, be sure to use Options button to select the MBR partition scheme. If you use the Erase tab, just select the disk (not the volume listed under it) and it should automatically use MBR partitioning.

  • OS X Lion, maybe Mountain Lion after July and Windows 7/Vista. And why I have to use the MBR partition scheme ?
    – Guillaume
    Jun 24, 2012 at 9:34
  • Can I format to exFAT on OSX?
    – Guillaume
    Jun 24, 2012 at 11:59
  • 2
    OS X's Disk Utility (since 10.6.5) can format in ExFAT. The reason to use the MBR partition scheme is compatibility -- all versions of Windows know how to read MBR, some know how to read GPT, and none (natively) know how to read APM. Jun 24, 2012 at 15:41

In my opinion, NTFS is better than FAT for larger drives.

I've had great success with NTFS-3g and NTFS partitions on more than 10 different external drives that I use rather frequently for a large amount of data. NTFS-3g adds NTFS write support to MacOS. I've been using it since the beginning with no data problems--and I write (and delete) a lot of data for work on external drives from Mac OS and Win.

I only use FAT FS for thumb drives.


My solution to this is to partition a drive into two partitions: one for actual data formatted as exFAT and one small partition for variants of exFAT driver for WinXP, you may also add latest Vista SP if you wish) and latest 10.6.x combo update.

And I format that small partition in NTFS under Windows so it will not become corrupted with improper eject like FAT32 usually do.

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