Format Your External Drive with ExFAT for both Mac and Windows Use

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When you work (or live) in an environment that consists of both Mac and Windows computers, it becomes a constant headache negotiating the different filesystems and their compatibility. First, there is the lack of NTFS write capability on Mac’s. Then there is the inability to write files greater than 4gb on Fat32 and of course the complete lack of support on Windows for a Mac drive formatted with HFS+. There are two answers. One is to use a paid 3rd party tool to add NTFS write support to a Mac, such as Paragon’s NTFS for Mac tool. The other is to format your drives with the exFAT file system. This file system can be read and written by both Mac and Windows with support for single files of up to 128 petabytes! Even better, it’s freely included in both operating systems.

A drive can be formatted with exFAT using either a Windows or a Mac computer. From what I understand, Windows doesn’t always like the way Mac’s do the formatting on some larger drives, though, so give it a try and if your Windows machines don’t like it, just format the drive with Windows. If you need to be sure without the time to test it, it is best to do the formatting on Windows since there don’t appear to be any compatibility problems that way.

So how do you do it? First, make sure anything important from the drive has been backed up. You don’t want to accidentally lose it when you format the drive.


  1. Right click on the external drive in “My Computer”, and then click “Format”.
  2. In the “File System” drop-down select “exFAT”.
  3. Click “Start”.
Select ExFAT when formatting an external drive with Windows.
Select ExFAT when formatting an external drive with Windows.

Mac (OS X Sierra)

  1. Open Disk Utility and click the drive you want to format.
  2. Click “Erase” and from the “Format” drop-down select “ExFAT”.
  3. Click “Erase”.
Select ExFAT when formatting an external drive in Mac OS X Sierra.
Select ExFAT when formatting an external drive in Mac OS X Sierra.

That’s it.

Both operating systems will go through and setup the file system on the drive. Once complete you can close the dialogue windows. Now you are all ready to go.

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Matt works sort-of full time running his digital marketing business, TerraMedia. In his spare time though, he loves to travel with his wife, so they usually end up doing a lot of it.
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