How to Share an External Hard Drive Between Mac and Windows

Compatibility issues between Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s macOS have dramatically decreased over the years, but that doesn’t mean those issues have completely disappeared. Today, if you buy a new external hard drive, you may find that working between the two is an often demoralizing task.

Fortunately, there is a solution. You can “partition” your hard drive or divide it into different sections with different rules and functions. In this case, you can partition your drive so that part of it works correctly with MacOS and part of it works correctly with Windows. Both computers have the necessary tools to help you partition a new drive once you’ve connected it.

It’s a split niche stage

A quick Google search may lead you to believe that you are on the right track by formatting the entire disk with the Extensible File Allocation Table, or exFAT. It is a simpler universal method if each file you store is less than 4GB in size. However, this format does not support larger files, which can be troublesome for transferring 4K videos, etc. between Mac and Windows 10 PC.

Meanwhile, the NTFS system used by Windows 10 supports large files, but MacOS cannot read this format natively. That puts it in a peculiar bind, limiting any file shared between the two platforms to 4GB or less. If you want to save larger files, you will need to create a second dedicated space in a format optimized for MacOS (extended) or Windows 10 (NTFS).

With all that in mind, our guide splits the external drive in half: a main section capable of storing files larger than 4GB and a secondary section capable of sharing files between MacOS and Windows 10. Not the ideal solution, we get it. . but it works anyway.

Before digging in, select a primary format that you will use the most: MacOS Extended if you primarily use Macs with a secondary exFAT partition, or NTFS if you primarily use Windows 10 with a secondary exFAT partition.

Finally, formatting removes all data stored on the drive. Make sure to back up everything important before starting the formatting process. We have guides for Windows and MacOS in case you need a helping hand.

external hard drive

Partition the drive in Windows 10

We have a complete guide on how to complete the process from Windows 10 here. But let’s go over the important steps you need to know to quickly partition the drive while working in Windows. The process is less straightforward on Windows than what you see on a Mac, but now it’s easier than ever.

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Step 1: Right click on the Start button and select Disk management in the Power User menu.

Your PC’s primary boot drive (C 🙂 that hosts Windows and other programs appears as Disk 1. If your PC has a secondary “data” drive (D :), Disk Management assigns it as Disk 0. Windows 10 it typically shows an external drive as Disk 2 along with the next successive alphabetical label if you don’t have any other internal disk-based storage. Windows 10 lists optical drives differently.

External drives are normally formatted at the factory. However, you may encounter a “Not initialized” error when connecting the device to your PC. That means it is not properly formatted to work with Windows. You won’t even have a drive letter mapped in File Explorer (this PC), and you may not even have allotted space for saving data.

If you see a Initialize disk pop-up window, provides two formats: Master Boot Record (MBR) and GUID Partition Table (GPT). The former is older and only supports capacities up to 2TB, but is compatible with older versions of Windows. GPT is a newer format that supports larger capacities, but is not compatible with older versions of Windows.

Select the partition style and click the okay button to continue. If you accidentally closed the pop-up window, right-click the disk in the list and select Initialize disk in the pop-up window.

If you did not receive the pop-up warning, continue with Step 2.

windows 10 initialize disk

Step 2: Right-click on the unallocated space and select the New single volume from the pop-up menu, as shown below.

windows 10 new simple volume

Step 3: The New Simple Volume Wizard begins. Click on the next button.

new simple volume

Stage 4: Since we are creating two partitions, divide the indicated physical number in half. Write that number in the field next to Simple volume size in MB and click on the next button to continue. In our scenario, we are splitting a 1TB SanDisk Ultra SSD.

Step 5: Let the wizard assign a drive letter or manually assign the letter using the drop-down menu. Click on the next to continue.

new simple volume select file system

Step 6: Select a file system. Since your main PC is Windows 10, use NTFS. Also enter a volume label (drive name; we use “Windows 10”, although you can label this partition with anything. Click on the next to continue.

Step 7: Click on the End up button to complete.

In Disk Management, the external disk should include a new volume, “Windows 10” in our example, and a second part with unallocated space.

Right-click on that unallocated space and repeat step 1 through step 6. However, this time choose exFAT as the file system during step 6, which you will use for file sharing with MacOS. Note that you do not need to specify a volume size.

The result should look like this:

external drive windows macos split

Partition the drive in MacOS Big Sur

Partitioning an external drive in MacOS is not that troublesome. Assuming your external drive has no partitions, you will need to create two. If the drive already has a Mac compatible partition, you can skip to step 5.

You may first see an “initialization” error because the drive’s file system is not “readable.” Click on the Initialize on the small pop-up screen to create your first compatible partition and start at step 5. If the error does not appear, start with step 1.

Here, we use the same SanDisk SSD, although MacOS extracted the Seagate USB adapter name rather than the actual drive name (the adapter came from an external Seagate drive). Note that the following instructions apply to Catalina as well – the only real differences are the visual changes to the user interface and how the internal volumes are listed.

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Step 1: With Finder highlighted, click Let’s go in the menu bar followed by Utilities in the drop-down menu.

Step 2: Double click on the Disk utility in the next window.

Step 3: With Disk utility open, your disk appears below External located on the left. Click Delete, located on the top toolbar of the application, as shown below.

macos big sur erase external drive

Stage 4: In the next pop-up window, enter a name. Please select MacOS Extended (journalist) as the format and GUID Partition Map as the schematic.

Step 5: Click on the Delete to make these changes.

macos big sur create partition external

Step 6: Once complete, your drive should have only one partition. Highlight the unit again in Disk utility and then click Divide listed at the top instead.

Step 7: In the next pop-up window (it won’t move), click on the little Plus located below the blue pie chart to add a second partition.

Step 8: A second part appears, cutting the pie chart in half. Enter a volume name (we choose Windows) and select the exFAT Format.

Step 9: Click on the Request to add the new partition.

macos external drive divide partition

Step 10: Click on the Divide in an additional pop-up window to complete the process.

Step 11: Click on the Done button to finish.

The result should look like the image below. Note that two icons representing each drive should appear on your desktop, as shown.

It is good to mention that the exFAT file system is not 100% reliable, so you may want to connect your hard drive to a Windows computer and create a secondary Windows partition to NTFS. The Windows section contains our detailed explanation of this.

macos big sur partitioned drive desktop icons

Final notes

As you can see, partitioning a hard drive is not a complicated process whether you are using Windows or Mac. You can also choose to install a paid application such as Paragon’s Microsoft NTFS software or the free and open Tuxera on your Mac to allow NTFS to support read / write.

paragon software

Note that even with third-party software, some features like Time Machine will not work properly with an NTFS file system.

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Above article is first published by the link. We curated and re-published.

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