There are some things that your tech savvy friends won’t share with you unless you ask. This is one of them. I’ve seen it many times. Students come into the Digital Union to work on a video or photoshop project and when they’re ready to save the project on their flash drive, they run into one of the following problems:
- “This computer is broken. It won’t read my flash drive–it says it’s not recognized. I know it’s not my flash drive because it works on my laptop.”
- “I can see my flash drive and all the files, but I can’t transfer any files to it.”
- “What is wrong? There is enough space, but it won’t let me save my project (or video) on the flash drive. I’m able to save everything else just fine.”
Here’s the quick answer: “exFAT.”
If one of the problems above, then read on. In this article we will be specifically talking about external hard-drive and flash drive formatting, and what format fits you–whether it is NTFS, Mac OSX Extended, FAT32, or the all-purpose exFAT that we recommend here at the Digital Union.
What is exFAT?
ExFAT is a file system for your flash drive that’s compatible for both PC and Mac. ExFAT is supported by the following operating systems:
- Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6.5 or greater)
- OS X Lion
- Windows XP SP2 or later (with an additional update for exFAT support)
- Windows Vista SP1 or later
- Windows 7
Disadvantages: As a relatively newer file system format, exFAT isn’t supported in older versions of Mac OS X (anything prior to 10.6.5) or anything older than Windows XP SP2. If you won’t be dealing with older Macs or PCs, this may not be a problem. Of greater issue is that most consumer electronics (cameras, camcorders, video game systems) don’t support exFAT, either. If you need to transfer files between your Mac and one of these non-PC devices, you’re almost certainly going to have to format your flash drive in FAT32 instead (via TUAW).
What about the drive problems stated before?
Issue 1: ”This computer is broken. It won’t read my flash drive–it says it’s not recognized. I know it’s not my flash drive because it works on my laptop.”
The format on the flash drive is not compatible with the current operating system that you’re currently working on. NTFS is for Windows PCs. Mac OSX Extended (also known as HFS+), which also comes in journaled and non-journaled forms, is for Mac. PCs cannot read or write to Mac OSX Extended without a special program. Macs can read NTFS, but cannot write.
Solution: Re-format the flash drive to FAT32 or exFAT, both of which are compatible with both PCs and Mac.
Issue 2: ”I can see my flash drive and all the files, but I can’t transfer any files to it.”
See the solution to the previous issue.
Issue 3: ”What is wrong? There is enough space, but it won’t let me save my project (or video) on the flash drive. I’m able to save everything else just fine.”
Most likely, the file you are transferring is too big. Although compatible with both PCs and Macs, FAT32 (created in the 1970s), cannot transfer files greater than 4GB.
Solution: This is where exFAT comes in. ExFAT is the successor to FAT32 and theoretically can transfer file sizes up to 64 ZB (70,368,744,177,664 GB).
Here’s the break down:
- If you absolutely, positively will only be working with Macs and no other system, EVER: Use Mac OS Extended (Journaled).
- If you absolutely, positively will only be working with Pc’s and no other system, EVER: Use NTFS.
- If you need to transfer files larger than 4 GB between Macs and PCs: Use exFAT.
- In all other cases: Use MS-DOS (FAT), aka FAT32.
Ok great! How do I do it?
• Mac (10.6.5 or later):
- Open up Disk Utility
- Select the drive to be formatted on the left (I used my 1.05 GB UltraNet USB 2.0)
- Select the Partition tab
- In the Partition Layout drop-down menu, select the number of partitions (I used 1 partition)
- In the Format drop-down menu, select ExFAT
- Give it a name (optional)
- Go to My Computer
- Right click the drive to be formatted
- In the File system drop-down menu, select exFAT
- Give it a name in the Volume label text area (optional)
For more information about formatting drives and exFAT, take a look at Microsoft’s documentation.
Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or have anything to add. Special thanks to Larissa Borcz for helping me out with this blog post. You’re awesome.