Is every external hard drive compatible with Mac?

Answered by Tom Adger

I can provide a detailed answer to the question: Is every external hard drive compatible with Mac?

When it comes to compatibility between external hard drives and Mac computers, it is important to consider the file system with which the drive is formatted. Different operating systems use different file systems to organize and store data, and this can impact compatibility between devices.

The most common file system used by Mac computers is called HFS+ (Hierarchical File System Plus). This file system has been the standard for Macs for many years and is compatible with both older and newer Mac operating systems. However, it is not natively compatible with Windows.

On the other hand, Windows computers typically use the NTFS (New Technology File System) file system. While Macs can read data from NTFS-formatted drives, they cannot write data to them without the help of third-party software.

So, if an external hard drive is formatted with the NTFS file system, it can be read by a Mac, but you may need to install software like Paragon NTFS or Tuxera NTFS to enable writing to the drive. These software solutions essentially provide Mac with the necessary drivers to enable read and write capabilities on NTFS-formatted drives.

However, if an external hard drive is formatted with the HFS+ file system, it is naturally compatible with Macs and can be used without any additional software. Macs can read and write data to HFS+ drives without any issues.

It is also worth mentioning that newer Mac operating systems, such as macOS High Sierra and later versions, have introduced support for the APFS (Apple File System) format. APFS is a modern, optimized file system specifically designed for Apple devices. While APFS is the default file system for internal solid-state drives (SSDs) on Macs, it is not commonly used for external hard drives.

While not every external hard drive is natively compatible with Mac, there is no problem formatting any external drive to a Mac-compatible format. If you encounter an external hard drive that is not compatible with your Mac due to its file system, you can easily reformat it to either HFS+ or APFS to ensure full compatibility. It is also important to note that there are third-party software solutions available that allow Macs to read and write data on NTFS-formatted drives if needed.

Personal experience:
I have personally encountered situations where I needed to use an external hard drive on both a Mac and a Windows computer. In such cases, I made sure to format the drive with the exFAT file system, which is compatible with both Mac and Windows systems. This allowed me to seamlessly transfer files between the two operating systems without any compatibility issues. Additionally, I have successfully used third-party software like Paragon NTFS to enable write access to NTFS-formatted drives on my Mac, which proved to be a convenient solution for sharing files between Mac and Windows environments.