How to Format an External Hard Drive

January 27, 2009 | | Comments 176

Getting Started with Hard Drive Formats

G-Technology 1.0TB Quad-Interface Hard DriveI use external hard drives to store all of my photos and for my backups. External hard drives are great, but they must be formatted properly before you start filling them up with important information. Here’s a link to an article that I recently wrote on my image storage system and an article on my Professional-Grade Backup Plans.

Sometimes the dumbest problems seem to last forever. To this day, a PC cannot read from a hard drive that has been formatted for the Mac without additional software. Likewise, the Mac OS X Operating System can read from, but cannot write to, an external drive that has been formatted for a PC using the NTFS file system without additional software. Regardless of brand or model, the very first thing that you must do when you buy a brand new external hard drive is to format it properly for your system. Format and partition your new disk immediately, before you start using it for backup or for additional file storage. It is essential that you do this right away, before you start using the drive, because the formatting process erases everything on the external disk.

Most photographers will want to format their new external hard drives using their operating system’s optimal style. NTFS is the standard for Windows users and OS X Extended (Journaled) is the standard for Mac folks.

How to format an external drive (Windows):

Hard Drive Formatting – PC from ASMP dpBestflow on Vimeo.

PC users might also want to follow these links for tutorials on drive formatting.

How to format an external drive (Mac):

How to Format an External Hard Drive on a Mac from David Marx on Vimeo.

Hard Drive Formatting – Mac from ASMP dpBestflow on Vimeo.

Getting Fancy: Going Cross-Platform

What if you need to use the same external hard drives with both types of computers? If you set the external drive up using NTFS then the Mac can’t write files onto it. Rats. If you set the drive up using OS X Extended then the PC won’t even recognize it. Double-rats. So what to do?

The best solution that I have found to this dilemma requires an additional piece of software. PC users who face this problem should look into a super cool program called MacDrive 7. With MacDrive, your PC can both read and write to an OS X Extended hard drive!

Hard Drive Format Chart

Options for Formatting a Hard Drive

Mac users who find themselves in a similar position should look into a program called Paragon NTFS for Mac OS X. Like MacDrive, this inexpensive utility gives a Mac the ability to both read and write to an NTFS hard drive. Once I have MacDrive installed on my PC, I can use an external hard drive that has been formatted using either the NTFS or OS X Extended system. Likewise, with Paragon NTFS for Mac OS X installed, my Mac suddenly works with either drive format. Problem solved!

For more advice on selecting the appropriate drive format I urge you to read this article from the American Society of Media Photographers fantastic project.


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About the Author: David Marx teaches digital photography workshops and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom training classes. David is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop Lightroom and in Adobe Photoshop. David has lead workshops and seminars for the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, the American Society of Media Photographers, FirstLight Photography Workshops, and he teaches annually at the world-famous Blackberry Farm Resort. For more information on his Photoshop Lightroom training seminars and digital photography field workshops please visit You can also follow daily updates and see new images from David on Google+.