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How to Format External Hard Drives for Mac and Windows

Michael Maher
By Michael Maher

Video editors will often find that they need to share files between a PC and a Mac. Use these steps to format external hard drives for both operating systems.

Top Image via Hard Drive Labels

As a video editor or Digital Imaging Technician, you will often need to share files with others. Eventually you will find out that you may not be working on the same operating system (OS) as others. If you work solely on a Mac, but need to send files to someone working on a PC, your external hard drive needs to be set up for both operating systems. Let’s take a look at the different types of formats, and which are best for video production.

Formatting the Hard Drive

A vast majority of video production will be done on a Mac or Windows operating system, so we aren’t going to cover Linux. Hard drives set up for use on Windows machines only will often use NTFS, while Macs will use HFS+. That said, if you are using both a PC and Mac in the workflow, you’ll need to use a different format.

How to Format External Hard Drives for Mac and Windows: External Hard DriveImage from Shutterstock

You may be using only Macs or PCs in your own office, but you will also need to take into account what type of machines your client is using. If you need to send them RAW files or an edited sequence, you will need to make sure the external hard drive is set up for both operating systems. To do this, you will need to use either exFAT or FAT32 formats. This will allow you to use the hard drive on both a Mac and PC. 

FAT32 is often used among general users, but FAT32 has limitations that can affect filmmakers. FAT32 has a maximum file size of 4 GB per file. The limitation affects both Mac and PC users. A single high resolution file can easily go over 4 GB, so Fat32 may not the best format. The best format for video production is exFAT. The maximum individual file size for exFAT is 16 EB. 1 EB, or exabyte, is 1 billion GB. That said, if you are using smaller file sizes — FAT32 can suffice.

Format Hard Drive (Mac)

1. Connect the external hard drive to the computer.

2. Click Go on the top tool bar, and select Utilities.

How to Format External Hard Drives for Mac and Windows: Click Go

3. Open Disk Utility.

4. Select the external hard drive on the left-hand side.

5. Click the Partition tab.

How to Format External Hard Drives for Mac and Windows: Click Partition

6. Change the Partition Layout from Current to 1 Partition.

7. Click Options, Select Master Boot Record, and click OK.

How to Format External Hard Drives for Mac and Windows: Master Boot

8. Name the hard drive with a name of your choice.

9. Click the Format drop-down menu.

10. Select exFat (or MS-DOS FAT for a FAT32 format).

11. Hit Apply, then click on Partition.

How to Format External Hard Drives for Mac and Windows: Apply, Partition


Formatting Hard Drive (Windows)

How to Format External Hard Drives for Mac and Windows: External DriveImage from Shutterstock

1. Right-Click on the Windows icon in the lower left-hand corner.

2. Select Disk Management.

3. Right-Click on the external hard drive in the Volume tab.

4. Click Format.

5. Name the hard drive.

6. Select exFAT (or FAT for FAT32).

7. Click OK.

Naming and Labelling Hard Drives

If you will be using multiple external hard drives on a project, you’ll want to make sure to keep them organized. This includes the way you name the drive and how you label it.

One of my personal tricks is naming all drives after an actor. For instance, one project had several external drives, all of which were named after different Will Ferrell characters — Mugatu, Megamind, Lord Business, and Ron Burgundy. Another project used Tom Hanks characters — Forrest and Woody.

Remember that external drives should be used temporarily — and all footage should be backed up elsewhere. Use checksum verification to make sure everything is copied correctly. 

How to Format External Hard Drives for Mac and Windows: Hard Drive Labels

There are plenty of ways you can label your drives. You can simply use some masking tape or gaff tape, and then write the name of the drive. You can also use hard drive labels, which are the awesome stickers featured above.  You easily put them on your external drive to keep track of them.

If you are a parent, like myself, you can also use any stickers you have lying around the house. I recently had Kermit the Frog and Optimus Prime hard drives.

No matter how you label your hard drives, just make sure you keep track of them. You never know when you will need that footage from a three-year-old project.

Got any hard drive organizational tips to share with the community? Let us know in the comments below!

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