Right way to format and partition an external HD in 2013
April 7, 2013 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Best way to format/partition external HD for OS intercompatibility?

I have a 3 TB external drive in a SATA III-USB 3.0 enclosure.

I'd like to put all my files on it - music, media including movies, work stuff, home stuff, etc; and also back up some other computers' HD's periodically. I might even want a bootable partition.

Problem is, one of those computers is a Mac, and another is a box that dual boots Windows 7 and kubuntu, and another is a Windows 8 machine.

I can't really figure out what the right format is. Maybe there's no right answer. If someone who knows could discuss and briefly summarize the pertinents, I'd be obliged.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What version of OSX? I can't really concisely answer this without knowing that.

If its snow leopard or newer, then just apt-get fuse-exfat on Ubuntu and format the drive ExFat.

If the Mac is older then I seriously can't think of a good answer. NTFS will be at best read only, and exfat won't be integrated.

I can't find a simpler way than exfat otherwise though, and I've used it before. Playing around a bit on Linux to get it will be less annoying than any other compromise since win7/8 and OSX 10.6+ just support it out of the box.
posted by emptythought at 12:44 PM on April 7, 2013

Response by poster: OS X 10.8.3 and kept up-to-date with updates.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 12:47 PM on April 7, 2013

Best answer: I don't know that there is a best answer - any route you go will strike a balance between performance and compatibility, and the particular choice you make will strike a different balance on different systems.

If you primarily use a Windows system, as I do, you might format your drive as NTFS, and have a small FAT partition to be readable on other systems. Linux and OS X can both read and write to NTFS through FUSE (OSXfuse for the Mac.) This offers very good compatibility across platforms, but slightly reduced performance on non-Windows systems.

If you mainly use OS X with only occasional use on other platforms, you could format the drive as HFS+ and have a FAT partition for the Windows drivers / utilities. The Apple HFS+ Windows driver from boot camp is out there on the web, but it hasn't worked consistently, and there are times I've had to resort to 3rd-party utilities to read data off of Mac hard drives (with reduced compatibility, i.e. no journaling).

In both scenarios, you will have to install the software/drivers and then reboot the system in order to read the drive on non-native platforms.
posted by DanielK at 12:54 PM on April 7, 2013

Last I looked there is no good option if you need to write to the disk on Windows, Macs, and Linux boxes. The "best" option is FAT32, which has a hard limit of 4GB on any given file and in other ways doesn't work great with disks as big as 3TB. But all three operating systems can mount it read-write without any extra work. NTFS is your best bet if you're willing to use FUSE.
posted by Nelson at 1:16 PM on April 7, 2013

Best answer: I work on multiple machines but predominately windows boxes. I simply use macdrive on the windows machines to write and read a FAT32 4TB external hard disk. So my major files if they are from the osx machine can be simply read by the windows boxes while my NTFS formatted drives shows up just fine when plugged into OSX. TL;DR. Format for Windows and install MacDrive on your windows machines.
posted by jadepearl at 1:55 PM on April 7, 2013

Best answer: I think ExFAT is what you are looking for.

NTFS is probably the worst option. It handles inadvertent disconnects worst, and my experience is that the performance on *nix systems is really slow and weird. It's a great filesystem for inside the machine, not so much for removable storage.
posted by gjc at 2:09 PM on April 7, 2013

Seconding exfat. Native support in Linux, Windows, and OS X.
posted by drpynchon at 3:41 PM on April 7, 2013

Best answer: Do you need high speed access to this drive? If not, another option is to just format to whatever, keep it plugged into one computer and access it over the network. More than fast enough for backups, watching videos, etc, and no worries about formatting, or plugging and unplugging.
posted by Ookseer at 8:44 PM on April 7, 2013

Best answer: You mentioned you'll be using it for backups, and maybe booting. That pretty much rules out using one giant partition.

* Time Machine (for backing up Macs) requires an HFS+ formatted partition, but there aren't great options for writing to that from Linux and Windows. Booting OS X also needs HFS+.

* Booting recent versions of Windows means NTFS. I'm not sure if Windows' included backup utility can handle other formats, and you might have a different backup solution in mind anyhow.

* You can boot Linux from just about anything, modulo some futzing. Some backup tools have specific requirements, but most don't.

If I were in your position, I'd probably carve out an HFS+ partition for booting and backup up the Mac, maybe around 1.5x the size of the Mac's hard drive. For the remainder, you could use NTFS—Windows will back up to it, Linux can read and write it, and OS X can too if you buy Tuxera NTFS or equivalent.
posted by vasi at 11:17 PM on April 7, 2013

Response by poster: You guys are awesome, thanks. Despite a few hours researching, I never came across ExFAT, FUSE, or boot requirements, at least not in a way I understood. Pretty sure some combination is going to get me most of what I need. (A lot of people seem to think booting ought to be done off USB 3.0 sticks where possible, too.) So therefore you guys are awesome. Thank you.

If anyone else has anything to contribute, feel free.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 6:22 PM on April 8, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all for the help. I eventually decided to have a variety of drives with a variety of formats rather than try to make one drive do all the work. Marking this resolved now.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 6:07 PM on May 1, 2013

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