Choosing the right file system for external storage devices is an important decision that balances performance, compatibility, and reliability. Two popular options for external drives on Macs are exFAT and Mac OS Extended. Both have advantages and disadvantages to consider.
exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table) was introduced in 2006 and is optimized for flash drives. It’s supported natively in macOS and Windows without any extra software. Mac OS Extended is Apple’s proprietary file system tuned for Macs. It provides features like journaling and permissions not found in exFAT.
So is one file system better than the other for external hard drives and flash drives? Let’s compare them in depth across factors like performance, compatibility, features, reliability, and use cases.
In terms of pure read/write speed, exFAT and Mac OS Extended are fairly comparable. Both can utilize modern speed technologies like TRIM on SSDs.
exFAT has very low overhead compared to other file systems since it uses simple structures to manage file storage. This gives it fast performance for basic tasks like formatting, deleting files, and quick saves. The trade-off is fewer advanced features like journaling.
Mac OS Extended is tuned for optimal performance on macOS. It accounts for factors like drive format, free space, and locations of data to intelligently organize files. macOS also has native optimizations when using Mac OS Extended drives.
Benchmarks of popular SSDs show little difference in real-world copy speeds between exFAT and Mac OS Extended:
|Drive||exFAT Read||exFAT Write||Mac OS Extended Read||Mac OS Extended Write|
|Samsung 860 EVO||558 MB/s||533 MB/s||558 MB/s||525 MB/s|
|Crucial MX500||553 MB/s||510 MB/s||559 MB/s||510 MB/s|
Both file systems have quick random read/write speeds under 1 ms. Overall the performance differences are minor between exFAT and Mac OS Extended in real-world use.
Compatibility is a key factor that gives exFAT an advantage over Mac OS Extended.
exFAT is a universally compatible file system. It works out of the box on all modern versions of Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, Chrome OS, and more. Almost every device supports exFAT for plug-and-play use.
Conversely, Mac OS Extended can only be read by macOS without extra software. Windows and other operating systems will show a drive as “uninitialized” unless you install additional exFAT or HSF+ drivers.
For seamless cross-platform use, exFAT is the clear winner. It eliminates the headache of installing special software or reformatting when switching devices between different computers and devices.
While exFAT focuses on universal device compatibility, Mac OS Extended offers more advanced features tailored to macOS environments.
Key features in Mac OS Extended include:
– **Journaling** – File transactions are logged to prevent data corruption from improperly unmounted drives.
– **Permissions** – Granular control over files, folders, and drives is possible based on users and groups.
– **Sparse files** – Storage space is only allocated when needed to optimize capacity.
– **Compression** – Files and folders can optionally be compressed to save space.
– **Encryption** – Drives can be encrypted with AES-XTS 128/256-bit encryption.
– **Time Machine support** – Built-in backup utility in macOS.
exFAT has none of these extra features. It’s designed for basic plug-and-play storage. If you don’t need the extra Mac features, exFAT works well. But for advanced macOS users, Mac OS Extended can be worth the trade-off in compatibility.
File system reliability is critical to avoid corrupted data or lost files.
exFAT essentially has no corruption protection. It lacks journaling to log file transactions, repair utilities in most OSes, and robust metadata checksums. If your drive loses power or has an improper dismount, you can easily lose data.
Conversely, Mac OS Extended is engineered for data integrity. The journal tracks all operations so the file system can roll back to a good state in the event of corruption. The built-in Disk Utility in macOS also makes it easy to verify and repair drives using Mac OS Extended.
For external hard drives and SSDs that may not be safely ejected before being unplugged frequently, Mac OS Extended is the more reliable choice. The extra protections against corruption make a huge difference in keeping your data intact.
However, Mac OS Extended is not immune to file system damage. No system is perfect and hardware issues can still cause irreparable corruption. So you should still follow best practices around safe ejecting and use backups regardless of the file system.
Both exFAT and Mac OS Extended have high maximum file sizes and volume sizes:
– **exFAT** – 128 PB max volume, 16 EB max file size
– **Mac OS Extended** – 8 EB max volume, 8 EB max file size
For all practical uses, these limits are so high that you’ll never reach them. You will run into hardware limitations first.
One difference is that exFAT has no realistic file count limit, while Mac OS Extended has a 32,000 file per folder limit. This makes exFAT more suitable for lots of small files like photo libraries.
Based on the pros and cons, here are the best uses cases for exFAT vs Mac OS Extended:
– External hard drive or flash drive for transferring files between Mac, Windows, and other devices
– Smaller external storage like USB flash drives
– Game consoles and other multimedia devices
– Memory cards (SD cards, CompactFlash, etc.)
**Mac OS Extended**
– External Time Machine backup drive for Macs
– External hard drive or SSD exclusively used with Macs
– Large media libraries where file count is not a concern
– Drives where maximum reliability and integrity are critical
For pure plug-and-play convenience across all devices, exFAT is generally the best option. But for an external drive that will mainly connect to Macs, Mac OS Extended can be a good fit to utilize Apple’s file system strengths.
So is exFAT or Mac OS Extended definitively better? There is no universal “best” file system. It depends on your specific needs and use cases.
Overall exFAT has wider device and operating system compatibility. This makes it the most flexible and hassle-free option for external drives used across different platforms.
Mac OS Extended offers a range of extra features and optimizations tailored for macOS. It provides maximum performance, data integrity, and a seamless user experience on Macs. But compatibility is limited without extra drivers installed on non-Apple devices.
For a versatile external drive to use with both Macs and other devices, exFAT is generally the best choice. But Mac power users with drives exclusively for Apple systems can benefit from the advanced capabilities of Mac OS Extended.
Consider your own needs around performance, compatibility, features, and reliability when deciding between exFAT or Mac OS Extended. Pick the file system aligned with your use cases to maximize the convenience and capabilities of your external storage.