exFAT vs Mac OS Extended: Which Format Should You Choose

Cassie Xie
Last updated: Mar 26, 2024

This post is aimed at helping you clarify the differences between exFAT and Mac OS Extended. Keep reading!

"I have a MacBook Pro 2019 filled with 150 GB worth of family videos and I'm running out of space. I just got a Toshiba Canvio Basics 1TB HDD so I can transfer some of the videos and make some space on my MacBook. However, I just realized I have to format the HDD and was wondering if I should choose ExFat or MacOS Extended (Journaled). Primarily, I just want to be able to watch the videos from the HDD on my MacBook from time to time so cross-compatibility with Windows or other devices isn't too much of a concern for me. My only concern would be corruption when transferring or viewing these files from the MacBook to the HDD since these are very big files. Any suggestions?"

- A Question from reddit.

exFAT and Mac OS Extended are two formats of file systems supported on macOS. Many of you may be confused about when to use each format.

Don't worry! This post will introduce each format in detail and tell you when to use exFAT and Mac OS Extended respectively. Read on to learn more!

exFAT vs mac os extended

What Is exFAT Format?

exFAT, short for Extensible File Allocation Table, is a file system introduced by Microsoft. It is compatible with both macOS and Windows.

exFAT file system is the successor of FAT 32 - one of the FAT serials. exFAT is greatly improved concerning FAT 32's single file-size limit - 4 GB. For a single file that sizes beyond 4 GB, exFAT is a good choice.

The standard exFAT implementation is not journaled and only uses a single file allocation table and free-space map.

exFAT can be used where NTFS is not a feasible solution(due to data-structure overhead).

What Is Mac OS Extended Format?

Mac OS Extended, also known as HFS Plus or HFS+, is a journaling file system developed by Apple Inc. (from Wiki)

It is a native and main file system of earlier Apple computers until 2017 when it was replaced with the APFS format.

Mac OS Extended file system is only compatible with macOS.

  1. APFS format is only compatible with macOS Sierra and later versions. For macOS earlier versions, only Mac OS Extended format is supported.
  2. While formatting a disk, there are two options- Mac OS Extended (Journaled) and Mac OS Extended (Case-sensitive Journaled). Select Journaled unless a case-sensitive file system is needed.

exFAT vs Mac OS Extended: Which Format to Use

The main difference between exFAT and Mac OS Extended is that Mac OS Extended is only compatible with macOS, while exFAT works with both Windows and macOS.

Therefore, if you want to transfer files between Windows and macOS, you have to use the cross-platform file system format exFAT.

However, many users have reported encountering corruption while using the exFAT format. So be careful when using the exFAT format in case of data loss (Remember to eject correctly after finishing using).

Here is a table for you to clarify their differences:

exFAT vs Mac OS Extended
If you're mainly on Windows, NTFS format is a good choice. NTFS is read-only on Mac. However, if you want to enable NTFS writing on a Mac, have a try at the free NTFS for Mac tool - BuhoNTFS. It now offers you free service to mount NTFS disks and enable NTFS writing on Mac before April 15.
For macOS 10.13 and above

When to Use exFAT/Mac OS Extended:

  • For cross-platform file transfer: exFAT.
  • For formatting backup drives: Mac OS Extended.
  • For USB flash drives and SD cards: exFAT.
  • For that you want a journaled format: Mac OS Extended.

How to Format a Drive to exFAT or Mac OS Extended on Mac

To format a drive/USB to exFAT or Mac OS Extended, Disk Utility - Mac's built-in tool is helpful. Follow the steps below to format your drive:

  1. Launch Disk Utility via Spotlight.
  2. Find and click the hard drive/USB flash drive you want to format on the left panel.
  3. Click the Erase button at the top toolbar.
  4. Select the desired file system - ExFAT/ Mac OS Extended.
    Format Your SD Card to FAT 32/exFAT on MacBook
  5. Choose the GUID Partition Map Scheme.
  6. Click the Erase button.

Final Words

Are you clear about exFAT vs Mac OS Extended, and when to use each format after reading this post?

Hope you got it! Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Cassie has been writing about technology for her entire career life - over 5 years. She enjoys diving into how Apple products work and then breaking it down in a way anyone can understand.