I have a Mac, but to ensure Windows/Mac compatibility, I have always used FAT32 to format and never had an issue - until now! FAT32 is limited to 4GB files, and while doing some file arranging last night, I couldn't move my project videos, which are often over 20GB.

I need to re-format my new hard drive, which I'm mostly wanting to use to store, access and edit all my sounds, and also to backup finished projects. I want the best formatting system taking into consideration file size limitations, speed, Windows/Mac compatibility, etc.

Can you suggest the best way? I'm thinking of having one partition for the sound files to be formatted as FAT32 because chances of actually having a file larger than 4GB is pretty small, and I think it could be useful to have the option to plug into a Windows machine. The other partition could be for backups and using Mac OS Extended (Journaled). Does this make sense? Or should I not worry about using FAT32, and just stick with Mac OS Extended (Journaled)?

Thanks in advance for any tips info!

3 Answers 3


You have a couple of options and it will depend on how you use the data and the drive.

If it's a fixed drive inside your mac, just go for HFS+, the standard mac filesystem (that's the one you call Mac OS X Extended (Journaled)). Don't bother with windows compatibility, because you can always transfer files over a network if needed, regardless of filesystem.

If it's a portable drive that you carry around and connect to macs and 'unknown' windows computers, make a small FAT32 partition (like 20-50 GB or so) and format the rest as HFS+. If you need to transfer files to a windows computer you don't own/manage, you can put them on the FAT partition. On any Windows PC you do manage, install Macdrive so it can read and write HFS+ partitions.

If you work more on Windows than on macs, do it the other way around: Small FAT32 partition and big NTFS partition. On your own Macs you can install MacFuse so they can read and write to NTFS.

Generally speaking, format the major part of the drive in the filesystem you'll be working with the most. Accessing a non-native filesystem through a third party program like Macdrive (win) or MacFuse (mac) is convenient but also slower.

I would advise against using FAT32 for your whole disk. It is old, has the 4 GB file limit, lacks security and data integrity features and for big files it is generally slower than the modern formats like HFS+ and NTFS. HFS+ has even nicer stuff: the Journaled thingy means that it will remember where files went if you moved them, so it will point programs looking for the files to their new location. And if the disk is NTFS, ALWAYS eject/unmount the drive before disconnecting from any computer. I've had two partition table crashes on NTFS disks because I disconnected it before ejecting. Luckily, both times a program called GetDataBack could restore everything (the data was unharmed, just the index table was corrupted).

  • Brilliant! Just what I was after! Thank you so much. That's exactly what I'll do, keep a 50GB partition for transferring stuff on Windows. The rest I will keep as HFS+. Commented Jul 17, 2010 at 15:46
  • @EMV is it safer to have several partitions? As in, can a partition bomb out but not an other and thus one can backup from partition to partition as well? Do you know what the advantages are? Commented Jul 18, 2010 at 7:51
  • @Andrew Spitz A partition can get corrupted, for example when you unplug the disk when it is still being written to. Then the other partition could still be fine. But if the disk itself breaks down chances are that everything will be lost. So I would say that it doesn't really count as a backup to have your data on two partitions on the same disk as it only protects you from some failures.
    – EMV
    Commented Jul 18, 2010 at 9:56

Here's something a lot of people don't know about ProTools (if that's what you are using); you can mount and read a Mac formatted drive on a PC through the Digibase browser; that also means that Pro Tools has no issue using them outside of the usual drive logistics. Although, you cannot have mixed drive formats in one session (i.e. session on Mac formatted drive, and media on PC formatted drive). All elements for the session must be on drives of the same format (i.e. one Mac drive, or multiple PC drives, etc.).

There's an option called HFS+ Disk Support that gets installed automatically on PCs when you install Pro Tools HD or LE. So, if you're transporting files around on an external disk, you're perfectly safe using an HFS+ formatted hard drive; whichever operating system you're using.

MacDrive (already mentioned by EMV) is a good option too for $50, but unnecessary if you're working in Pro Tools. Awesome for other programs though.

  • Cool, I didn't know that Protools-trick.
    – EMV
    Commented Jul 18, 2010 at 9:57
  • If you need it, you can get more info out of the HFS+ Option Guide at akmedia.digidesign.com/support/docs/… Although, it may get installed in the documentation folder when you install Pro Tools Commented Jul 18, 2010 at 22:58

If you choose HFS+ you can still use HFS Explorer on your Windows machine to explore the drive. It's not hyper practical but it works. The non free version is MacDrive, which you automatically get when you install Pro Tools have to purchase to run on a Windows machine. It seems you can't rely on Apple's HFS drivers for Windows, so if you want perfect integration you should stick with MacDrive.

Now I work a lot from an NTFS drive in Mac OS using MacFuse/NTFS-3G and haven't had any problem yet. It's been a year and a half.

  • I've never used MacDrive myself, so I don't know if it operates exactly the same way, but it is NOT what is installed when you install Pro Tools. Pro Tools gives you a driver set called HFS+ Option. MacDrive is a separate piece of software. It may give you the same capabilities, but it is not included with Pro Tools. Commented Jul 18, 2010 at 23:04
  • I've having some issues with MacDrive in the past. In the other hand, Paragon NTFS for Mac OS X has worked very well for me.. Commented Jul 19, 2010 at 2:45
  • You must be right Shaun, I didn't actually go further than "the icons look similar"... my bad! Commented Jul 19, 2010 at 8:55

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.