Hard Drive Formatting: A Primer

Hard Drive Formatting: A Primer

Formatting a hard drive for use is relatively an easy task, given the right utilities. I was asked to explain the other day, of the different disk formatting choices. There are even more than the following formatting options I’ll briefly described below, these are the one’s you’re likely to come across and a short description and use case for each.

In order for an operating system to use, or even recognize, a hard disk, it needs to be formatted. Formatting a disk makes it possible to read and write information on the disk. On a Windows computer, the built in disk formatting utility is commonly used. On a Mac OS X computer, the Disk Utility in the utilities folder is the out-of-box solution.

Windows OS Formatting

NTFS (New Technology File System)
Developed by Microsoft Corporation for its Windows line of operating systems to superseded their earlier “FAT”

FAT (File Allocation Table)
Extended file allocation table (exFAT) is a new file system that is better adapted to the growing needs of mobile personal storage. The exFAT file system not only handles large files, such as those used for audio/video media; it enables seamless data portability between desktop PCs and consumer electronic devices allowing easy interchange between the two. It can be read by Mac and Windows systems and is therefore a good option when formatting USB drives when multi-OS environments are a consideration.

exFAT
Extended file allocation table (exFAT) is a new file system that is better adapted to the growing needs of mobile personal storage. The exFAT file system not only handles large files, such as those used for audio/video media; it enables seamless data portability between desktop PCs and consumer electronic devices allowing easy interchange between the two. It can be read by Mac and Windows systems and is therefore a good option when formatting USB drives when multi-OS environments are a consideration.

MS-DOS File System
This format uses the FAT file system. Use this format if you want to format a disk less than 4 Gb for use on Windows.

Mac OS Formatting

Mac OS Extended (Journaled)
The extended, journaled format is the one you will want to use for most of your disk formatting. It supports aliases and other Mac features not found in other formatting options. Because it is journaled, the file system is not as prone to corruption.

Mac OS Extended
This format was the improved version of the Hierarchical File System Apple used in the 1980s. It does not have the added journaling protection.

Mac OS Extended (Case Sensitive)
This format is the same as Mac OS Extended, with the exception of how text cases in file names are treated. In this format, files with the same name and different cases are seen as different. This is similar to UNIX formatting.

Mac OS Extended (Case Sensitive, Journaled)
This format combines the Mac OS Extended format with case sensitivity and journaling protection.

UNIX OS Formatting

UFS
The UNIX File System is based on UNIX computing and is not recommended unless you are developing UNIX-based applications on a Mac.

In a future post, I’ll explain an easy way to format a drive in NTFS on a mac, which isn’t a provided out-of-the-box solution, but may come in handy as Mac users are using Windows OS more often these days.