How To Video: Format a drive for Mac OS X and Windows
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How To Video: Format a drive for Mac OS X and Windows

2:55 /

If you move a hard drive between the two operating systems, here's what you need to know.

^M00:00:01 [ Music ] ^M00:00:08 >> Got an e-mail from a viewer named Jonathan recently saying, "I own a simple tech 320 GB Black Cherry hard drive. I needed it to run on both Mac and PC for school. Thought it would be pretty helpful if you made a video showing how to format a disk to run on all OS's using Mac OSX." Well that's what we're here for. First, here's why there's a difference. All data has to be put in a file format that the operating system can read off the hard drive. OSX uses a file format called HFS plus to write its data. Windows can't read or write HFS plus data natively. However, OSX and Windows can read and write to a format called FAT 32 which used to be used for Windows all the way back into the MS Dos days. Now most modern Windows systems use the NTFS file format which OSX can read but not write to; so your best bet for compatibility is FAT 32. Here's how to format a drive as FAT 32. First, the Windows way then we'll tell you the Mac way. Plug in your external drive to the Windows machine, go to My Computer and right click on the correct drive letter. Make sure you're choosing the right drive because you're about to erase all the data on the drive you choose. Select Format, under File system choose FAT 32 then press Start. Press OK to affirm you really want to destroy the data on this hard drive, and sit back and wait while it formats. For OSX you connect your drive, launch disk utility--I usually just press Command, Space and type disk utility into Spotlight and find it that way. Click on the drive you just connected. Again make sure you click on the right one, then choose Erase. Remember, you're destroying every last shred of data on this USB drive. Under volume format choose MS Dos FAT, that's FAT 32 and then press Erase and press Erase again to confirm that you really want to erase it. Now here's the issue with FAT 32. You cannot create a file larger than 4GB. If you're mainly working with web pages or mainly audio that's going to be fine, but if you're doing large video files that's not going to work. NTFS can handle files larger than 4 GB and OSX can read to it; just can't write it. There is a way around that by using the free Mac fuse to help OSX to write to NTFS. See my video called read and write NTFS OSX for more info on that. You can also buy a program called Mac Drive that let's Windows computers read Mac format at HFS plus drives. That's it for this How-To. I'm Tom Merritt, cnet.com.

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