Formatting External Hard Drives
How to reformat external hard drives or flash drives for Windows and Mac
To format in Windows, we will be using the File Explorer. This is the easiest way and simply requires you to plug in your USB Drive, open the Windows File Explorer and right click your drive to view a number of actions that you can perform.
Clicking the “format” option will open a new window where you can configure the available options before formatting your drive. Explanations of different formatting options are discussed at the bottom of the article.
The volume label is simply the name of your USB Drive. You can name your drive anything you want.
Once you have selected the options, you can click the format button to begin the formatting process. Ticking the “Quick Format” checkbox means that your drive will not be scanned for bad sectors. If you have a malfunctioning drive, you might want to uncheck that box for a more thorough scanning.
A success message will be displayed on the screen once the formatting is completed.
This is a simple procedure and is achieved the same way for all drive types and through all connections, be they USB, Firewire, or Thunderbolt. Formatting a drive will erase all data and partitions on the disk:
- Connect the hard drive or USB key to the Mac
- Launch Disk Utility, located in Applications > Utilities
- Locate the drive name from the left hand side of Disk Utility and click on it
- Click on the “Erase” tab across the top
- Next to “Format:” click the contextual menu and select the formatting option you need. Formatting options will be explained at the bottom of the article.
- Name the drive if you want, the name can be changed at any point
- Click the “Erase” button and confirm again on the next pop-up window
That’s all there is to it, the drive will now format and erase everything on it. Smaller external hard drives, SSD’s, and USB flash keys format quickly, while a larger hard drive may take a while longer.
Mac OS Extended (Journaled) - This is the default file system format for Mac OS X drives.
Advantages: Formatting your USB flash drive this way will give you full interchangeability with Macs. The "Mac OS Extended (Journaled)" option will have the highest degree of support for Mac OS X features, and there's no limit to the size of files you can put on the drive.
Disadvantages: Windows-running PCs can read files from drives formatted this way, but they can't write to them. If you're transferring files from Macs to PCs, this won't be an issue; however, transferring files from PCs to Macs won't be possible if your drive is formatted in "Mac OS Extended (Journaled)." If you will only be working with Macs and not PCs, this may not be an issue. Otherwise, you may need to consider one of the file formats discussed below.
ExFAT - A newer file format, supported in Mac OS X 10.6.5 or later.
Advantages: ExFAT offers interchangeability between Macs and PCs. It supports file sizes larger than 4 GB, so if you have a need to move huge files between Macs and PCs, this is likely the format you'll want for your flash drive.
Disadvantages: As a relatively newer file system format, exFAT isn't supported in older versions of Mac OS X (anything prior to 10.6.5) or anything older than Windows XP. If you won't be dealing with older Macs or PCs, this may not be a problem.
NTFS - The default file system for Windows PCs.
Advantages: Formatting your USB flash drive this way will give you full interchangeability with Windows. The "NTFS" option will have the highest degree of support for Windows features, and there's no limit to the size of files you can put on the drive.
Disadvantages: Mac devices can read files from drives formatted this way, but they can't write to them. If you're transferring files from PCs to Macs, this won't be an issue; however, transferring files from Macs to PCs won't be possible if your drive is formatted in "NTFS". If you will only be working with PCs and not Macs, this may not be an issue. Otherwise, you may need to consider one of the file formats discussed above.