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    How to Format a Drive for Mac and Windows

    Formatting or reformatting a computer’s operating system is one of the perfect maintenance procedures that you can do in order to get rid of viruses and to fully clean up your computer. This is one of the main methods used by software experts and computer hobbyists whenever they want to speed up and clean up their computer. Reformatting removes all sorts of errors in the operating system that might be causing slowness to a PC or Mac device. Some non-savvy computer users are afraid to do this, but there is nothing really to be afraid of if you have backed your files and programs up either to a cloud server or external hard drive.


    First Things First!

    Before you reformat your computer’s hard drive you should always backup your files and programs to a cloud storage, external hard drive, or with a 3rd party backup software. Backing up files and programs should be a regular procedure to ensure you always have a copy of your data just in case it is deleted or your system becomes corrupt from malicious attacks. This is where reformatting acts as a maintenance precaution. When you reformat any device the device removes everything, all data stored will be deleted as the device is restored to a default clean slate. This has a variety of benefits from removing malicious code, to removing unnecessary programs and freeing up storage space.

    You can format all different types of drives: computer hard drives, phones, external hard drives, flash USB drives, photographers format SD cards regularly to extend the card’s lifespan. The procedure is relatively simple for each device, but did you know most drives (external & USB) will not work between Mac and PC computers. This is because the devices are formatted specific to those operating systems. If you have ever switched from Windows to Mac or Mac to Windows you most likely ran into this formatting issue. But, you can actually format a drive to work with both operating systems by re-formatting the device driver. We will go through this process in addition to regular device restoring/reformatting.


    Restoring a Mac

    Here are the steps to start reformatting your OS X computer. This will restore the device to the default setup.

    • First, you will want to back up your files and programs either using a third-party software, external hard drive, or cloud system.
    • Once you are backed up, restart the computer and once the chime sounds, begin to hold command and R until the logo appears.
    • This triggers the utility menu, once the utility menu appears, select Disk Utility and click continue.
    • Next Select the drive from the Device List and click the erase icon. A drop-down menu will appear, set the Format type to Mac OS Extended (Journaled).
    • Click the Apply button and when it is ready click Done.
    • Now, quit the Disk Utility and return to the Utility Menu. Select Reinstall OS X and click Continue.

    You have just restored your Mac to a baseline, removing all files and documents from the system’s drives. A clean slate so to speak. The final step is to access your backup and begin to transfer the files and software back to the computer’s drives. This can be easy or tedious depending if you are filtering and being selective in what does not need to return to the drive.


    Formatting an External Drive for Mac OS X

    Here are the steps to format an external hard drive or flash drive using your OS X device:

    • Connect the external hard drive you wish to format.
    • Go to disk utility wherein all of the contents of the disk and further details about the hardware are displayed. You can get here by quickly by hitting the command and spacebar buttons together and typing ‘disk utility’ into the search bar.
    • Look for the name of the external drive that you wish to reformat, and press the erase button that is shown on the top area of the window.
    • Here you can rename the device and change the formatting, Mac OS Extended (Journaled) is the standard format for Mac specific devices.


    Formatting FAT/ExFAT for Windows and Mac on a Mac

    Following the same process as before you are now formatting the drive to work easily with both Mac and PC interchangeably. Make sure the drive is empty before reformatting because all information on the drive will be deleted in the process.

    When selecting the formatting select MS-DOS (FAT). This format works easily with both operating systems with one drawback, file sizes must be smaller than 4GB. This is great for smaller drives handling normal files like word docs and pdf. The FAT format will not work with large media files.

    It is often recommended to us ExFAT formatting for versatile storage. The ExFAT format can handle large files and its major drawback is if the device has a terabyte drive the storage is condensed a little bit so you don’t have a full TB of storage space. Many drivers are now being manufacturing as ExFAT formatting.

    Occasionally your computer will ask you to first partition the drive before allowing you to format in ExFAT or MS-DOS (FAT). This allows you to divide the disk into two or more storage areas with different formats but the entire storage space can be allocated for the FAT/ExFAT formattings.


    Restoring a Windows PC

    Restoring your Windows PC is easier than Mac as is formatting drives. This will restore the device back to its default setup.

    • First, you will want to back up your files and programs either using a third-party software, external hard drive, or cloud system.
    • Once you are backed up, open the computer settings and in this window select Change PC Settings.
    • Then click Update and Recovery. Here you can update your current OS or restore the drive back to the default setup. Click Recovery to restore the drive.
    • Under ‘Remove everything and reinstall Windows’ click Get Started.
    • An additional window will appear and will walk you through the rest of this restoration process.

    Now that you have restored your computer to its original state, you are ready to import your backed up files and programs. You can perform this process regularly to ensure your system is rid of any malicious code hiding in your operating system and drive.


    Formatting FAT/ExFAT for Windows and Mac on a Windows PC

    Formatting external devices is easy on a PC. Make sure the device is empty before reformatting because all of the files will be erased in the process.

    Quick and easy, plug in the drive and open the Computer tab in your files. This will display the internal drives, external drives and storage space available for each.

    Right click on the external drive and then click Format…

    A Format Storage window will appear with several drop-down options. You can change the format, the allocated capacity, and restore the external drive to its default settings from here. The standard format for windows devices has been NTFS which is incompatible with Mac.

    Select FAT if the drive is a smaller storage capacity and will only be used to store small files smaller than 4GB. Then click start to begin the format.

    It is more common to use ExFAT formatting in place of FAT. The ExFAT format allows you to store larger files and it is still compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems. Select ExFAT and click start to begin. Once it is complete, you are all set to use the drive on Mac and Windows operating systems without any issues.

    SD Card, USB Drive, External Hard Drive


    Final Thoughts

    As you can see, restoring your computer for increased performance is easy. As long as your files are backed up there is nothing to worry about in this process. The benefits of performing this procedure are increased operating speeds, removing hidden bugs or malicious code, and creating more storage room as it forces you to clean out your drives.

    It is beneficial and simple to format external storage devices to operate on both Mac and Windows operating systems. Please note that when using an SD card for photography it is best to only format the card on the camera as that is the writing device that needs to be compatible. The ExFAT format is the most common versatile format. You can format USB flash drives, SD cards, and external hard drives into this ExFAT format quickly and easily from both Macs and Windows computers. No longer do you need to keep drives dedicated to specific devices, instead format them for both operating systems before you start loading files onto them. Remember it is always beneficial to keep backups of your files, just in case.

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    Ecbert Malcom
    Ecbert Malcom
    I am a resident author at Broodle.
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