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How To Format an External Hard Drive or USB Flash Drive for Mac

How To Format an External Hard Drive or USB Flash Drive for Mac – Despite the popularity of cloud storage, offline portable storage is still a necessity, especially in a world where wireless and mobile internet is so expensive. Furthermore, there are some countries who aren’t as connected as others. That’s why it may be essential to have an external hard drive or USB drive. Besides transferring data from PC to PC, external hard drives are also used for back-ups.

If you’re migrating from a Microsoft PC to an Apple Mac, you may want to format your external drives into Mac compliant formats. Although your new Mac can read file systems including FAT, FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS, it’s still recommended to format your hard drive into one of Mac’s proprietary formats, especially if you want your hard drive to be bootable and to work with Time Machine. In this article, we’ll show you ways in which you can format your external hard drives and USB flash drives on a Mac.

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How to Format Your External Drive/Hard Drive using Disk Utility

This method works for both USBs and external hard drives, whether you’re connected via USB, Firewire or Thunderbolt. You need to remember that this will erase all your data as well as your partitions on the drive. Ensure that you have your data backed up.

  1. Connect the hard drive or flash to your Mac.
  2. Run Disk Utility. If you need to find it, it should be under Applications > Utilities > Disk Utilities. Alternatively, you can hit the Command + Space keys on your keyboard and then type in Disk Utility to find and run it.
  3. Once Disk Utility is open, you’ll see a list of available drives on the left pane. Select the drive you’d like to format from the list and click on the erase tab on the main middle pane of the window.
  4. Once you’ve chosen the drive, click on the erase button. It should be located in the middle of the five button arrangement, just below the window title.

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  1. Disk Utility will automatically choose the file system format for you. If you’d like to choose a different format, you may do so by clicking on the Formatting options which will display a drop-down menu. You can then select your format from this menu. This all depends on how you want to use the drive. You can choose between various versions of APFS (Apple File System), Mac OS Extended, MS-DOS FAT and ExFat. If you need help understanding which format is best for you, we’ll give an in-depth explanation of each near the end of this article.

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  1. You can then change the name of the drive if you want. The drive can actually be re-named at any time you want even after formatting.

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  1. If you know that the disk will be used to store sensitive data, click on the Security Options button. This will display a window that allows you to choose how secure you’d like formatting to be on the drive. With the use of a slider, you can choose to format the drive fast or to erase it as securely as possible.
    *Note – Fastest: This will erase the drive by removing the header information but will leave the underlying files intact, although they will be hidden. Which means that anyone could recover the files in the future. It’s best to select the second option on the slider (“This option writes a single pass of zeros over the entire disk.”) or the furthest one to the right.

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  1. After selecting how secure you want the formatting to be, you can then click on the “OK” button.
  2. Once the Security Options mini window is closed, click on the “Erase” button

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  1. Erasure should take a while depending on the security level you selected earlier on. A progress bar will reveal itself to show you how much time I left till formatting is done and how well formatting is going. So by doing these steps now you will be able to format usb drive mac.

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Which Format is best for you?

APFS (Apple File System):  This is the latest Apple file system. It replaces MacOS Extended as Macs standard format ever since Apple launched High Sierra back in 2017. APFS’s main advantage is that it’s more efficient, reliable and stable. You can also choose an encrypted or case sensitive version while formatting.

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A major con is that it can’t be read by Windows computers or Macs that aren’t running High Sierra or a Mac operating system later than that. Another downside is that APFS only really works for SSDs and Flash storage.

MacOS Extended (Journaled): This format is also known as HFS+. If you’re using an older Mac OS, that predates High Sierra then this will be your default file system. MacOS Extended also allows you to encrypt and password protect your drive. There’s also an option for MacOS Extended (Case-sensitive, Journaled, Encrypted) if you are likely to have file names that require capital letters.

Most Linux distros give you the ability to read and write to HFS+ formats while Windows can only read from but not write to these systems.

MS-DOS FAT (aka FAT32): Fat32 is one of the oldest file systems ever and still one of the most widely used. TVs with media player capabilities and USB ports still use this file system exclusively. Despite its support, it still has its limitations. For instance, a file cannot exceed a size of 4GB. Another con is that FAT32 drives tend to be less secure and are more susceptible to disk errors.

ExFat: ExFat was Fat32’s successor. It can be read by Windows, Mac, and Linux machines. What made it better than Fat32 was the ability to store files over 4GB.

NTFS: This is currently Windows’ default file system format. MacOs can only read NTFS but it cannot write to it. There are third-party tools that can help you work around this limitation.

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Final Word

If you’re a new Mac user, I hope you’ve found this article to be both helpful and informative. You also need to remember that you don’t have to format entire drives in order to shred or permanently remove files from your hard drive. There are third party solutions or tools you can use to do that securely and safely without losing all the other data on your hard drive. If you’ve enjoyed reading this article or have found it to be helpful in any way, please share it with your friends and family. As always, thank you for reading.

Posted in Mac

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