Which external hard drive can be used with both Windows and Mac?

rnair October 28, 2010

Is there any external hard disk that can be used with both Windows and Mac for backup?

  1. sue
    December 30, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    So, can my hard drive which has my old windows stuff saved to it be read my my new Mac?  I don't want to lose all my data - pictures, music, taxes...?  I own a mac book pro and am looking to buy an iMac soon.  Thanks for your help!

    • Tina
      January 11, 2012 at 4:09 pm


      do you know the file system your hard drive was formatted with? What operating system are you using now?

      If you are on Windows, the hard drive is most likely formatted with NTFS (not FAT32). On a Mac, you first need to download NTFS drivers, see this article: http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/26288/ntfs-for-mac-os-x

  2. Tina
    September 12, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks for your recommendation!

  3. Guest
    September 12, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    I've recently gone through two different external hard drives: first a seagate goflex pro 750 Gb for Mac and now a Iomega 3.0 1Tb NTFS Formatted.  I need to be able to use interchangeably between the Mac OSX and a Windows XP Pro.  Re-Formatting the Iomega on Mac as HFS+ and then plugging into the PC worked great as the Seagate drive already required me to download their HFS Driver for Windows.  I suggest that route.  Locate the Seagate Driver and install.  Reads HFS+, allows read and write on both systems, no limit on transfer sizes.  Just transfered 25.5 Gb in 12minutes... about... wasn't keeping too close of an eye on it.

  4. Geoff_holman
    November 9, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    I bought an Omega external hard drive. I plugged it in and dragged all my files onto it. It saved them all no problem. I didn't have to do any formatting etc. Have I not done this properly - it all works OK

    • Pemberley
      February 8, 2011 at 4:38 am

      Well, I'm no tech-head (I probably just made-up that word), but I happened to notice that no one responded to you.

      The way I understand it is that the method you used to back-up your files is called "writing". Most people here said that it's possible to write to the various OS's using different techniques.

      That is not quite the same as "backing-up", which in my experience, means that the computer uses some kind of software to periodically back-up and supplement your files to the EHD. I think it usually also means that a catalogue with libraries of sorts is saved, not merely copies of the files that are the same as what you have on your computer.

      My experience has also been that restoring these back-ups (sometimes called tapes) is a big pain and doesn't always work. I have been cleaning up an old WD HD and it had 3 such back-ups, one made by the sw I got with the drive (Retrospect Express 6.5), one from Ghost and one that was merely zipped files. The catalogue has been separated from the Retrospect BU and I spent 6 hours on-line trying to find how to get those restored (to no avail), the Ghost one wants to completely overwrite whatever drive I use to restore it, and the only one that worked perfectly was the one that was zipped. I do not even remember how I did that one or where it came from.

      In the meantime, these "handy" complete back-ups that I've saved all these years have proven almost useless.

      If anyone has anything to add or correct, feel free. If anyone knows how I can reclaim the data on my Retrospect back-up set, I'd be thrilled to hear it!

  5. Karlegas
    November 4, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Hi I want give you my 25 cents, I found that OSX Snow Leopard can write on NTFS drive but is disable by default, I don't have experience using the NTFS third party software with Time Machine, but if you said that this not recognized by time machine, the alternative will be enable the OSX NTFS writing.

    Because this implies terminal commands, there is a program that can do by GUI interface, NTFS Mounter simply uses this ability, and provides a simple user interface to the mount command for NTFS volumes.

    User interface is very similar to AirPort : simply click on the icon to display a menu with NTFS volumes name and select the volume you want to write on.
    You can download the program from http://ntfsmounter.com/NTFS%20Mounter%200.4.dmg.zip

    • Macfan95
      November 4, 2010 at 8:58 pm

      Yes, I have tried that same ntfs mounter. It does not work with Time Machine. Also, there is a command that you can run in terminal that lets you see NTFS drives in Time machine, but once you run Time Machine it fails.

  6. Macfan95
    October 30, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Well...A lot of these people did not fully read your question. You said that you wanted to to use an external drive to use for BACKUP. I am in the same predicament as you. Yes, Mac and Windows can both read and write to both NTFS and FAT32 but for the mac you need third party software to do that. Windows can only backup on NTFS drives, while mac can only backup on FAT32 drives.

    For the Mac side, yes, you can download third party software so that it can read and write to NTFS drives but most likely you are using backup software such as Time Machine to do this. The problem is is that your backup software cannot use the NTFS read/write software to do the backup. It just doesn't work that way. For Mac you need a FAT32 drive to backup to.

    For the Windows side, In order to backup to a drive, the drive needs to be in NTFS format. Plain and simple. If the drive is in FAT32 it will not work. Windows is kind of weird, it can read and write to FAT32 but in order to do backups the drive needs to be in NTFS format.

    I am the same boat you are in, my dad purchased a WD My Book 1TB external drive for our desktop, running Windows 7, and found out that he could not back up to it, so he formatted it to NTFS. The problem though is that I have a Macbook, and I am the only one in the house with a Mac. I got third party software so that I could read/write to NTFS, but with that running I tried Time machine but it failed. The only option is to buy another external hard drive or if you wanted only one drive you could partition it into two sections where one partition is NTFS formatted and the other partition is in FAT32.

  7. Lana
    October 29, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Good question. As the majority stated, any portable external harddrive should be compatible with both and take care of your needs.

  8. Anonymous
    October 29, 2010 at 8:15 am


    Smartdisk CrossFire

    Maxtor One Touch 320 GB External Hard Drive
    IOmega External Hard Drive FireWire 800/FireWire 400/USB 2.0 250GB, Black Series
    OWC 400GB Mercury Elite-AL Pro 7,200 rpm FireWire 800/400+USB2

    If the drive is:
    HFS: Mac can read/write, PC can't do jack.
    FAT32: Mac can read/write, PC can read/write.
    NTFS: Mac can only read, PC can read/write. NTFS is a more modern Windows format but is proprietary to Microsoft. Licensing is required to use it which is probably why Apple doesn’t fully support it.

    Free software can help you.

    For Mac OS X: Macfuse and NTFS-3G drivers to read and write to NTFS formatted hard drives.

    For Windows: HFSExplorer to read and wrtie to HFS formatted hard drives.

    apps like MacDrive allow PC users to access and write to Mac-formatted drives

    Another choice Keep NTFS and install NTFS For Mac 6.0 so that the Mac will be able to read and write to the drive.
    NTFS for Mac

    you can also Reformat your drive to HFS+. You will need software such as MacDrive so that Windows will be able to read/write to the drive.

  9. Tina
    October 29, 2010 at 6:04 am

    Basically, any external hard drive can be used with both operating systems.

    For the drive to work with both operating systems at the same time, however, it needs to be formatted in FAT32, not NTFS. Macs can read NTFS, but cannot write on it.

    You should be aware of the limitations of FAT32, though. If this is a problem, you could follow through on tutorials that explain how to enable native NTFS read/write on a Mac. Here is one for Snow Leopard.

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