Formatting External Drive for Mac: Things to Know

Written by James Wilson
4 mins, 31 secs Read
Updated On November 16, 2023

When formatting an external drive for a Mac, it’s important to understand the available file systems and their performance characteristics. This article aims to provide you with essential information about formatting external drives for Mac, including the recommended file systems and a detailed comparison of APFS vs exFAT performance.

What is Formatting?

Formatting drive for MAC

It is always a good idea to learn about the problem first rather than start working on it. Therefore, now we will first learn about this term and then we will focus on other aspects. The term formatting refers to preparing the storage device to store a specific type of file system. 

Understanding the Purpose of Formatting

Formatting involves preparing it for use by setting up a file system that determines how data is stored, organized, and accessed. It erases all existing data and partitions, so it’s crucial to back up any important files before formatting.

File System Compatibility

If you own a Mac system at your home, you must be aware of the fact that they use APFS (Apple File System) for their file system needs. It is their default application responsible for this purpose. Diving deeper into this, the compatible file systems that must be considered are exFAT and FAT32. The choice of file system depends on factors like intended usage, cross-platform compatibility, and the size of files you’ll be working with.

APFS: The Default File System for Mac

APFS is the ideal file system that ought to be used for formatting external storage on Mac. However, it carries its advantages and disadvantages including improved performance, enhanced data integrity, and advanced feature support like encryption and snapshots. It is specially designed for solid-state drives (SSDs) suitable for Mac users.

exFAT: Cross-Platform Compatibility

Consider using the exFAT file system if you need to share the external drive with non-Mac devices. exFAT is compatible with Mac and Windows systems, allowing you to transfer files seamlessly between different platforms. It supports large file sizes and is commonly used for external drives.

FAT32: Limited Compatibility and File Size

After exFAT, FAT32 is the next most popular file system option, but it has its own merits and demerits to offer. 4GB as its maximum file size is one of those. That is why this type is not suited for large files holding more than 4GB.  

Step-by-Step Guide to Formatting an External Drive for Mac

  • Use a compatible cable to connect the storage device to your Mac.
  • Go to “Finder” and open “Applications
  • Follow the path given. Utilities > Disk Utility.
  • Click on your external storage device.
  • At the top of the window, click on the “Erase” button.
  • Choose the file system that you feel is the best concerning the needs. (APFS, exFAT or FAT32)
  • Name the drive and select the format options.
  • Ensure that you have backed your data up on the storage device.
  • Press the “Erase” button.
  • Once the process is done, your device is ready to be connected to Mac.

Caution: Data Loss

Formatting an external drive erases all existing data, so it’s crucial to back up any important files before proceeding. Ensure you have copied any necessary data to another location to avoid permanent loss.

Tips for Formatting External Drives for Mac

Backup Important Data:

The most basic and important tip before formatting your disk is to consider formatting an external drive. Ensure that your crucial data is backed up so that it remains safe and does not get lost. It can erase all the data present in the device.

Choose the Right File System

Consider your specific needs and use cases when selecting the file system for your external drive. If you primarily use Mac devices and prioritize performance, APFS is recommended. If cross-platform compatibility and flexibility are more important, exFAT is suitable.

Use Disk Utility

Mac’s built-in Disk Utility application is recommended for formatting external drives. One good thing is that it provides a clean and under-friendly interface and various options for formatting that suit your needs.

Consider Partitioning

If you have specific requirements, such as using the drive for both Time Machine backups and general storage, you can consider partitioning the external drive. This allows you to allocate separate sections for different purposes and use different file systems for each partition.

Follow the Formatting Process

When formatting the drive, ensure that you follow the formatting process correctly. Pay attention to the formatting options, such as scheme (GUID Partition Map for Intel-based Macs) and security options (if applicable), to ensure optimal performance and compatibility.

Test the Formatted Drive

After formatting, it’s a good practice to test the drive to ensure it functions correctly. Copy some files to the drive, access them, and perform read and write operations to verify their performance and compatibility with your Mac.

Safely Eject the Drive

When you’re done using the external drive, always eject it properly from your Mac. This ensures that all pending write operations are completed, preventing data loss or corruption. To eject the drive, either drag it to the Trash or right-click and select “Eject.”

Regular Maintenance

To keep your external drive in optimal condition, perform regular maintenance tasks such as disk verification and repair using Disk Utility. This helps identify and fix any potential issues with the drive’s file system, ensuring its reliability and performance over time.

APFS vs. exFAT Performance

APFS vs. exFAT


If compared, you will be highly impressed by the speed APFS has to offer to you. The main cause behind this speed is that it is made and optimized specially for SSDs and advanced storage management techniques. However, this also makes it important to note the actual performance that may vary based on factors like drive model, device configuration, and file sizes.


While APFS performs exceptionally well on Mac systems, it may encounter limitations when used on non-Mac devices. exFAT, on the other hand, provides broader compatibility across various platforms and devices, making it a suitable choice for external drives used in multi-device environments.

Use Case Considerations

APFS and exFAT largely depend on your specific use case. If you primarily use the external drive on your Mac system and prioritize performance and advanced features, APFS is recommended. However, if cross-platform compatibility and flexibility are more important to you, exFAT is a better option.

In Summary

Formatting an external drive for your Mac is crucial to ensure compatibility, performance, and data integrity. By choosing the right file system, following the proper formatting process, and performing regular maintenance, you can optimize the performance of your external drive and ensure seamless data storage and transfer on your Mac system. Consider your specific needs and use cases, and follow the tips provided to format your external drive effectively. With a properly formatted drive, you can enjoy efficient file management and a reliable storage solution for your Mac.

Author: James Wilson