How to Share an External Hard Drive Between Mac and Windows

Compatibility challenges between Apple’s MacOS and Microsoft’s Windows have significantly decreased over the years. However, working with an external hard drive on both platforms can still be frustrating. This article will guide you on how to overcome this hurdle and effectively share an external hard drive between Mac and Windows.

It’s a Niche Scenario

You may come across suggestions to format the entire drive with the Extensible File Allocation Table (exFAT), which is a universal method suitable for files smaller than 4GB. However, this format poses limitations when it comes to transferring larger files like 4K videos between Macs and Windows 10 PCs. On the other hand, Windows 10’s NTFS system supports large files but cannot be natively read by MacOS. This restricts shared files between the two platforms to a maximum of 4GB. To address this, you’ll need to create different partitions on the external drive—one optimized for MacOS (Extended) and the other for Windows 10 (NTFS).

With this approach in mind, let’s proceed to partition the drive.

Partition the Drive on Windows 10

While the process in Windows 10 is less straightforward than on a Mac, it’s still achievable. Here are the important steps:

Step 1: Right-click on the Start button and select “Disk Management” from the Power User menu.

Step 2: Locate your external drive, typically listed as Disk 2, and verify if it’s formatted correctly for Windows. If not, initialize the disk and choose either Master Boot Record (MBR) or GUID Partition Table (GPT) format.

Step 3: Right-click on the unallocated space and select “New Simple Volume.” Follow the wizard’s instructions, dividing the physical number in half to create two partitions—one using NTFS for Windows 10 and the other using exFAT for file sharing with MacOS.

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Step 4: Assign drive letters and file systems for each partition.

Once completed, your external drive should be divided into two partitions—one optimized for Windows 10 and the other for file sharing with MacOS.

Partition the Drive in MacOS Big Sur

Partitioning an external drive in MacOS is relatively straightforward. Follow these steps:

Step 1: Open Finder, click on “Go” in the menu bar, and select “Utilities.”

Step 2: Double-click on the “Disk Utility” icon.

Step 3: Locate your external drive under “External” in the left panel and click on “Erase” in the top toolbar.

Step 4: In the pop-up window, enter a name for the drive and select “MacOS Extended (Journalist)” as the format with “GUID Partition Map” as the scheme. Click “Erase” to apply the changes.

Step 5: After the erase process, select the drive and click on “Partition.” Click the “+” button to add a second partition, naming it and selecting “exFAT” as the format.

Step 6: Apply the changes by clicking “Apply.”

Your drive should now be divided into two partitions—one for MacOS and another for file sharing with Windows 10.

Final Notes

Partitioning a hard drive may seem complex, but with these instructions, it can be done easily on both Windows 10 and MacOS. If necessary, you can also consider installing third-party software like Paragon’s Microsoft NTFS or Tuxera to enable NTFS read/write support on your Mac. However, note that certain features like Time Machine may not work flawlessly with an NTFS file system.

For more information and detailed instructions, refer to the guides provided by OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

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