I use a USB flash drive on a regular basis to store and transfer files.  Now that I am using both a  USB driveMac and a PC, I need to be able to transfer and add/edit/delete files on my USB flash drive from both computers.  Unfortunately the way most flash drives are set up out of the box makes this not possible.  I needed to find a way to make a flash drive work seamlessly between both the Mac and Windows PC platforms.  The best way I have found to do this is to change my USB drive’s file system to exFAT.  This enables me to read and write files on the drive on both a Mac and a PC.

Most newer flash drives and external drives come pre-formatted with NTFS in place.  The Mac OS reads NTFS well, however does not write natively to them.  It can be done, but writing to NTFS configured drives involves running extra third-party software to be successful.  This is inconvenient for the typical “I just want it to work” user.

Some drives come formatted in FAT32, which is common to both systems but has some drawbacks.  exFAT is the successor to the old FAT32 file system.  One of FAT32’s main problems, and one of the main reasons it is not ideal for my use, is that the maximum individual file size on a FAT32 formatted drive is 4GB.  Backups, home videos, and downloadable software can easily exceed 4GB and beyond.  exFAT, on the other hand, has a file size of 16 exabytes (that’s 16,000,000,000 gigabytes for those keeping score).  This essentially eliminates format size limits and file size limits.  exFAT works most efficiently on flash drives and many media drives, while NTFS is still the standard for larger hard drives.

This means exFAT is the most ideal solution for a blended environment of Mac and PC.  It handles read/write seamlessly for both Mac and PC, and handles large files that are now more common.  One con of the exFAT system is that it only works natively on newer operating systems for both Mac and Windows PC (sorry Linux, but you will get your turn soon). If you have an older computer, this might not be the best solution for you.  exFAT is a Microsoft file system that is licensed out to others.  Windows XP users can get support for this through this patch.

How to Format a Drive to exFAT on Windows 7

Insert your USB drive into your computer, then click on Computer.  You should see your drive listed under the heading Devices with Removable Storage.  In my example, it is drive F:






Next, right-click on the drive (F:), and choose the option to Format.
Format a drive







In the Format Removable Disk screen, look for the dropdown box for File System.  Choose the option exFAT.  Then, click on the Start button.  This will format the drive.  It will erase any data that is on it, so be sure to have any important files backed up on your computer before beginning the format.

Format exFAT








Once the format is complete, your flash drive file system will now be exFAT and you can start using the drive seamlessly between your Mac and PC.

Advanced users – you can have a drive with multiple partitions formatted in different ways.


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