FAT32: Windows OS X

My MacBook is setup to to dual-boot OS X and Windows Vista (using Apple’s Boot Camp), It can also run Vista under VMWare Fusion. I wanted to reformat my Maxtor OneTouch external drive so that I could use it for both OS’s on my MacBook. The Maxtor had been exclusively Mac therefore formatted with the Mac OS Extended file system.

Format Recap

Mac OS Extended: The format that’s “native” to OS X. Windows Vista cannot handle this format at all.

FAT16: The original disk format. Windows and OS X can read and write to disks formatted this way but using it is not recommended.

FAT32: Enhanced FAT format. This can handle disks to about 2TB (depends on disk sector size) but the Vista GUI will only allow you to chose this format for drives of 32GB or less (Windows XP has the same limitation). OS X and Vista can read and write to this. FAT32 has a file size limitations of 4GB (minus 1 byte). Earlier versions of OS X have smaller file and partition size limitations. While OS X creates “packages” of files (such as the iPhoto library) which appear as a single file in Finder that may exceed 4GB, it’s the individual file contents of the “package” that matters for the 4GB limit.

NTFS: Microsoft’s file system for NT and later. The recommended format for modern Windows versions and required for the Vista system drive. OS X can read but cannot write to disks formatted with NTFS.

Formatting the External Drive

I booted into Vista planning to do everything from within Vista since when I was done I planned to do a backup. But then I was cruelly reminded of the 32GB limitation when formatting through the GUI. So …

Formatting FAT32 > 32GB under Vista

If you want to format a FAT32 partition with Vista you can’t, but you can do the following:

  1. Boot with OS X (or with Linux – such as a Live CD)
  2. Format the drive

I tried formatting using the command line, which others have recommended, but near the end of the process it told me the drive was too big for FAT32.

FAT32 Issues

Apple: Aperture does not support libraries on FAT32 volumes.

Apple: In general, make sure you are using the latest version of software. Some software may not work properly with FAT32. For example, Backup when using FAT32 as a destination.

Any other issues I should add to the list?

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