Format A Flash Drive To Work With OS X And Windows [Video How-To]



For users who work with both Macs and PCs, having a flash drive that can work between both and seamlessly transport files can be critical. The tricky part is choosing the filesystem that provides the best interoperability between both computers. In this video, I’ll show how to format a flash drive for both Macs and PCs the right way.

  • Michael Steeber

    I know I’ll get asked, so here’s my wallpaper :)

  • anon

    Should mention the formatting scheme should be master boot record. Older Windows machines do not understand GUID.

  • oscarfeliciano

    It should be noted that, for transferring large files (like disc image or video files over 4GB), FAT is useless.  You will need to use exFAT for full read/write-compatibility between more current machines running Windows XP (or higher) or Snow Leopard/Lion.

  • jeanlouisnguyen

    Thanks Michael, short article but your video is to the point and useful. A fresh change of air from John Brownlee’s usual “go Apple!” obsession.

  • martinberoiz

    tl;dr Choose MS-DOS (FAT) in Disk Utility. (ExFAT for newer machines and long files)

  • OYeahThatGuy

    Can I use ExFAT to format a external hard drive? I bought a 1TB HD but it will only work on my mac

  • freddy

    Really helpful “how-to” as I work with a MBP at home and I “have to” use a PC at work :-)

  • 0x90

    The pictured Cruzer drive is the worst product available for MBP users because it blocks the second USB port… Rant aside: ExtFAT also needed for drives >32 GB but it’s slow as hell (if you have speedy media such that it’s not the bottleneck). MacFUSE also an option for write to NTFS and analogously the Java-based hfsexplorer will read HFS-formatted drives in windows.

  • Tommy Peters

    For large drives and even small flash ones, I would apply Partition > 1 Partition > Options > Master Boot Record > Apply 

  • Timothy Churchward

    I used to have an NTFS formatted hard disk and MacFUSE on my Mac at home, but I constantly faced data loss and all sorts of problems to do with the way MacFUSE and Windows handle the drives or something…. I often lost all my data and had to find a PC to run chkdsk to get it all back. 

    A year ago I gave up and formatted all my removable media for Mac OS and I haven’t had any problems as I rarely deal with PCs anymore – but just incase, I have a small partition with a freeware standalone MacDrive-like file explorer so I can grab files if I need to. I can also use the free space on this partition to write files to take with me. Works well, never had any issues!Although, it would be nice if Macs could write to NTFS out of the box and if Windows could at least read Mac drives, if not write to them.

  • Ian from the Q

    I use a 16GB usb flash drive. And regularly transport files larger than 4gb so I have to have ntfs. I formatted my drive on my Windows machine into ntfs and on the Mac, installed NTFS-3G and MacFUSE.  So far it has worked with no problems, reading or writing on either machine.

  • flyoverland

    I have been having an intermittent problem with my iMac (Lion) not recognizing flash drives. These are new, never used flash drives and they do not pop up as being connected. Is there a fix for this? 

  • Stephen Kirby

    Only written yesterday? Why no mention of MacFuse and NTFS-3G? Much better solution all round. I use Tuxera with no probe. 

  • John Adams

    oh thank god someone else did a tldr.  four minutes to boil it down to:

    msdos fat if you’re too cheap to upgrade to windows 7/lion.
    else use exfat.

  • Mike Rathjen

    I appreciate that exFAT works on both Windows and OS X natively, and supports large volumes and large files. One problem I’ve noticed is that Time Machine doesn’t know what to do with exFAT.

    It will not backup exFAT volumes nor will it backup to an exFAT volume.

  • Michael Steeber

    In the end it may provide more functionality, but there’s a reasonable amount of hassle there, not worth it for many people.

  • Michael Steeber


  • Joshua Youngsma

    I don’t like to use exFat as it doesn’t work with early versions of Snow Leopard and before. I personally use the NTFS driver that came with my Seagate External drive(2 TB external Freeagent) and it works great with any NTFS drives I have to access. I am currently using Snow Leopard.

  • Azharhamzahya

    Thanks Buddy.Really Helpful 

  • Michael Knaak

    “Too cheap to upgrade”? I won’t pay for Microsoft products as long as they can be pirated!

  • Stephen Kirby

    yes maybe so, but worth considering I feel. Perhaps a future item? Stephen.

  • Jesse Gilbride

    Just a small clarification; FAT and FAT32 are, technically, not the same thing.  For purposes of this video, though, we can skip that detail.

    ExFAT was developed by Microsoft for making USB/flash drives faster and more compatible. Assuming that a user knows if their Mac is OS 10.6.5+, and that most Windows machines run XP SP2+, I would think ExFAT would be a more ideal choice in most situations.