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How to Format an External Hard Drive for Mac

Most external hard drives are designed to work for Windows computers. So if you’re trying to connect an external hard drive to a Mac, you might have to format the drive before you can use it. Here’s how to do that:

How to Format a Hard Drive for Mac

Note: If you already used your external hard drive on a PC, be sure to back up any files on it. Formatting your drive will wipe out all the data in it.

  1. Connect an external hard drive to your Mac. Some external hard drives need to be plugged into an outlet to work.
  2. Go to Spotlight Search, type in Disk Utility, and click the first option. This will open the Disk Utility app, where you will find all the internal and external drives that are connected to your Mac.
    Go to Spotlight Search and type in Disk Utility
  3. Then click View in the top-left corner of the window and select Show All Devices.
    Then click View in the top left corner of the window and select Show All Devices
  4. Click the external hard drive you want to format. You can find this on the left-hand side of the screen under External Hard Drives. For the best result, select the disk (the highest option in the external tree).
  5. On the top menu, click Erase. This will open a small pop-up window with a warning that erasing the drive will delete all data stored on it and that it can’t be undone.
  6. Choose a name, format, and scheme for your drive. You can choose whatever name you want, and you should choose GUID Partition Map for the Scheme in most cases. However, you can choose between the following formats:
    • Mac OS Extended (Journaled) is the best option for most Mac users since it is compatible with all Macs.  
    • APFS (Apple File System) is only for newer Macs running macOS 10.13 or later.
    • exFAT is compatible with both PC and Mac.
    • MS-DOS (FAT) is also compatible with Mac and PC, but you can only transfer files smaller than 4GB.
      Provide a drive a name and choose a partition and format
  7. When you’re done with providing the setup details, click Erase. This will immediately wipe the entire drive.

If you get an error message that states, “Erase process has failed. Click done to continue,” don’t freak out about it. This is an issue caused by Time Machine running on your external drive.

You will need to turn off Time Machine. You can do this by opening System Preferences and unchecking the box next to “Back Up Automatically”. Then click Options beside “Show Time Machine in menu bar.” This will open another window. Click Cancel and it will turn off the Time Machine.

After you turn off the Time Machine, redo steps 4 to 6.

computer repair

How to Partition an External Hard Drive on Mac

If you have formatted your drive, you can then partition the drive, which will split the drive into two formats. This is perfect for anyone who uses Macs and PCs and wants to transfer files between the different operating systems with an external drive. Here’s how to do that:

  1. Open Disk Utility and select the drive that you want to partition. It is best to click View > Show All Devices so you can select the disk rather than a container.
  2. In the top menu, select Partition.
  3. Then click the plus sign at the bottom of the pie chart. Every time you click this plus sign, a new partition will be created.
  4. Choose a name, format and size for each partition. You can also change the size of each of the partitions by dragging the white dots at the edge of the circle.
  5. Finally click Apply.
How to Partition an External Hard Drive on Mac

Why Partition a Hard Drive?

Partitioning an external hard drive allows you to have separate drives for Mac, PC, and any other operating system. Now you don’t have to go out and buy hard drives for every computer you use.

A partition also gives you a dedicated space for your Time Machine back-up files or a bootable backup of your operating system. It also helps protect your data if your drive gets infected with malware, as it would be contained within one of the partitions.

Now that you know how to format an external drive for Mac, check out our blog on the difference between an HDD and an SDD.

Last updated on December 3, 2021 12:36 pm

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Updated on August 31, 2021

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