I was at BestBuy on Saturday picking up some external hard drives for a project, where several equally lost people were milling around looking for the killer weekend deals. In fact, I was looking for multiple, external hard drives that work for PC and Mac… and so was everybody else. Having rooted through the myriad of options and stacked a trove of USB 3.0/2.0 drives on the floor, I apparently made an impression on the perplexed multi-platform drive-hunters. Questions loomed, here’s how it went:
Q: Do you know anything about Macs? What drive should I get for my daughter who is starting college?
Me: (thinking, OMG, what if her drive dies and she drops out of school because her Chem homework is destroyed and she joins a circus troupe… oh, wait, that would ROCK!). She’s got a Mac laptop, right? Buy two.
Q: Two? One’s not enough? Can’t she just get her iTunes collection off her completely full MacBook?
A: (grabs formatted for Mac USB 2.0 / Firewire 800 500GB drive and generic USB 2.0 500GB drive). Plug this generic drive in and the Mac will ask if you want to make this your Time Machine backup. Yes, yes you do. Walk away from the machine for a couple hours and let Time Machine do its thing.
Q: What takes so long?
A: Just this first time takes a bit, then after that, it’s happy goodness every hour. She’ll never lose a midterm… or her iTunes collection. So that’s what the second drive (hands over Mac formatted drive) is for. Have her use this for a file shuttle, movies and other massive files she doesn’t need to keep (or, er, shouldn’t…). Be warned, though, Time Machine isn’t going to back up those files on the external drive, unless you tell it to.
Q: Thanks! (runs off with his drives and waves).
The next person had a similar story, but instead was trying to backup all of her photos, which were on a PC and a Mac. So similar recommendations, though I suggested three drives – a Time Machine (generic USB 2.0) drive, a Mac formatted drive, and a PC formatted drive. This gives her automatic backup plus usable disks dedicated to each format.
Wait a minute… Why not just reformat the drives for either Mac or PC? Why all the drives, aren’t they all the same in the end?
Well, sorta, and that’s the tip of the week!
Myth: You need to buy a special Mac disk to use a hard drive on a Mac.
Truth: Uh, that’s a negative. You need to know how to use Disk Utilities in the Utilities folder inside your Applications folder, to reformat a drive. Mac formatted drives are often more money for no apparent reason. Slap a Mac sticker on it and whammo, that’s an extra 20 bucks.
Here’s some reasons to pay the premium:
Macs don’t use USB 3.0 – It’s possible to get an adaptor for USB 3.0, but with Thunderbolt rolling out, who would do that? Oh, you don’t have Thunderbolt and you want speed, so
Buy a drive with a Firewire 800 port. It’s twice as fast at Firewire 400, and about twice the speed of USB 2.0 at 800Mbs. USB 3.0 is way faster at up to 4.8Gbps. And of course, Thunderbolt is coming in at 10Gbps, but you are going to still pay dearly for these drives, if you have the port to start with.
Otherwise, stick to a USB 2.0 drive and if you don’t have a PC with 3.0, then buy a 2.0 ONLY drive, because it’s cheaper.
Now that you have your drive, here’s how you format it.
First off, most PC formatted disks will not be read/write compatible with Mac and visa versa. This is STILL TRUE today, amazing (-ly dumb, that is).
Step 1: Open Disk Utility, located in the Applications/Utilities folder on your Mac. Select the external drive. Go to the Erase tab.
Step 2: If you need to use the drive with both Mac and PCs, then select Fat-32. Otherwise, for Mac ONLY, use Mac OS Extended (Journaled). Click Erase… and double check you’ve selected the right drive. Then just do it, push that button and wait for the magic to happen.
Once it’s done, the drive will remount in its newly formed format. You are good to go.
Step 3: There is no step 3, you are done! Ok, you can also check the drive info by clicking on the drive icon on your desktop and choosing Get Info under File on the Menu bar, or Command-I. Check to make sure it’s in the format you’ve selected, and you are set.
Lessons Learned: Busy people want convenience, and they are willing to pay for it. However, it’s good to know how to assure your hard drives, the gray matter of your computing world, is speaking your language. Go ahead and follow these steps and you can format drives with abandon in less than 3 minutes flat. Besides the dollars you may save, you can rest assured knowing that your files are that much safer.