Macs and PCs can play nice

New Media can mean working with huge files. Moving them from one computer to another has gotten easier with large capacity USB powered hard drives ( I like the Western Digital Passport drives). However, trying to move files from a PC to a Mac, or vice-versa can cause some issues. One of the problems is that the file systems are different. Computers need to keep track of not only an awful lot of documents, but other operating system files as well. The way that PCs keep track of files is with file systems known as either FAT32 or NTFS. Macs use a system called HFS+ (also known as Mac OS Extended). FAT32 is the older of the two file systems for the PC and Macs readily recognize (can read and write files to) drives that are formatted using FAT32. On newly formatted drives FAT32 is also a bit faster than NTFS.

So problem solved right? Just format your drive as a FAT32 drive and you can swap files all day long between Macs and PCs. Well not so fast. First, note that I said on a newly formatted drive FAT32 is faster. However, files get what we call fragmented over time. They get spread out into different areas of a hard drive as it fills up and then as files get deleted. NTFS actually is better at file integrity and reliability than FAT32.

Second, and the major problem with FAT32 formatting, as it relates to new media, is that the maximum file size is 4GB. So if you plan to do video editing, you will run into this limitation on a FAT32 hard drive. Capturing digital video, such as from a Mini-DV tape, takes up about 12GB per hour of video. Depending on what software you are using to capture the video, it may fail in an elegant, or not so elegant way. You should then convert or format your hard drive to NTFS.

Now that introduces some issues with Macs in that they can read data off of an NTFS formatted drive, but that can’t write to them. That obviously can be a major inconvenience. There is a solution in the form of freely available software known as NTFS-3G. The version for Mac OSX includes the MacFUSE software that gets installed as part of the package (it used to be something that you installed separately). The most reliable way to prepare the hard drive is to completely reformat the drive using the Disk Utility software in the Applications/Utilities folder on the Mac (after installing NTFS-3G of course).

Format the drive to use the Windows NT Filesystem (NTFS-3G) as shown above. This obviously takes a little bit of planning ahead as you will wipe out whatever is currently on the drive, so back it up! Hope this helps all you Mac and PC people to come together and holds hands – for as long as you can stand it.

pc vs mac photo by natashalcd.


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