Tag Archives: Data Storage

Which Format Should You Choose For An External Drive?

Tech Tips– Most of us use some sort of external USB attached storage on a regular basis. It is important to keep in mind that media can be formatted in many different ways. Which filesystem you format an external drive with depends on the system(s) you plan to use it with. That said, there are many different filesystems to choose from


For Linux systems, the most common format is ext3 or ext4. But neither of those formats of disks can be natively read by your Mac. You can, with the use of the third party software such as “FUSE for Mac” or “extFS for Mac by Paragon Software“, read ext3 or ext4 disks. 


Our current Macs use disks with either the “Mac OS Extended” (HFS+) or the more modern “Apple File System” (APFS) filesystem.

You may be able to mount and read an HFS+ disk on your Linux system without additional software. Or maybe you will need to install some additional software. That depends on what was included in the installation. The same is true for APFS formatted disks – install apfs-fuse to read these. There is also a Paragon product for Linux that allows Apple disks to be mounted.

If you want to read either HFS+ or APFS disks on a Windows systems there is third party software you can get to do that. For HFS+ disks, install HFSExplorer, Paragon’s HFS+ for Windows, or Mediafour’s MacDrive. For APFS disks you can buy “APFS for Windows by Paragon Software“. The MacDrive package can also be purchased to read your macOS drives on a Windows system. The article “How to Read a Mac Formatted Drive in Windows: 6 Methods” covers these and more.


There are four different filesystems common to Windows – FAT16, FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS. The exFAT filesystem was created in 2006 for use with USB flash drives and SD cards, so it is not directly associated with a version of Windows.

Reading a drive formatted in any of these filesystems is easy on your Mac. Just plug the drive into your Mac and it will mount it. If the drive is formatted with FAT16, FAT32 or exFAT data can be read as well as written to the drive. If the drive is NTFS, data can only be read. If you want to write to an NTFS disk, then purchase either “Microsoft NTFS for Mac by Paragon Software” or “Microsoft NTFS for Mac by Tuxera“.

Making it easy

Usually, we know in advance where we are going to want to use an external drive. The simplest thing to do is to format the drive for use across as many systems as is possible. That means that for cross-platform compatibility, the best filesystem to use is FAT16, FAT32 or exFAT. Both FAT16 and FAT32 are readable on Windows, Mac, and Linux without any additional software needed.

The exFAT filesystem can be accessed by the Mac without additional software. Linux systems will need exfat-fuse, but that is easily installed.

Most Thumb drives or external disks come pre-formatted with FAT32. That makes them useable anywhere out of the box. The only reason you would want to go to exFAT is if the data you wanted to store on the media was larger than 4 GB. FAT32 has a limit of 4 GB on files. With exFAT, files can be up to 16 EB in length. That is 16 Exabytes or 1018 bytes (see “What Do Those Terms of Storage Mean?” for more on data storage) – sufficient large for any storage need.

Formatting Media on Your Mac

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External media can easily be formatted (these examples are on macOS High Sierra 10.13.6) on your Mac. Connect the drive to your Mac and open Disk Utility (Finder ==> Go ==> Utilities ==> Disk Utility). On the left side you will see all the connected external drives listed (red arrow in image above). Choose the one you want to format and then click on the Erase button (orange arrow in the image). NOTE: Formatting a disk permanently erases all data on the disk!

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This will drop down a window that allows you to give the drive a new name and pick the format you want used on the drive.

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 3.51.53 PMIf you click on the Format window, a drop down menu will appear giving you a list of the format options available to you. While the Mac lists MS-DOS (FAT) this is really FAT32. You also have the option of formatting a drive as exFAT.


Disk Filesystem Summary

Filesystem Native to Journaled[1] Max File Size When Introduced
ext3 Linux Yes 16 gigabytes 2001
ext4 Linux Yes 16 tebibytes 2008
FAT16B (BigFAT) DOS 3.1 of later No 4 gigabytes 1987
FAT32 Windows 95 or later No 4 gigabytes 1996
NTFS Windows NT or later Yes 16 exabytes 1993
exFAT Windows CE 6.0 No 16 exabytes 2006
HFS+ macOS 8.1 or later Yes (as of 2002) 8 exabytes 1998
APFS macOS High Sierra (10.13) or later No, more modern methods 8 exabytes 2017



  1. A journaling file system is a file system that keeps track of changes not yet committed to the file system’s main part by recording the intentions of such changes in a data structure known as a “journal”, which is usually a circular log. In the event of a system crash or power failure, such file systems can be brought back online more quickly with a lower likelihood of becoming corrupted.

More Info on iCloud – Are You Using It?

I came across the PDF file “iCloud Mastered” produced by MacLife Magazine. If you are not using iCloud with your Mac and iOS devices, I recommend reading through this to see what you are missing. Even if you are using iCloud, taking a few minutes to read the four page document may be worth your time.

I use iCloud to sync and share files between my Mac Mini, MacBook Pro, iPad and iPhone. I find it extremely useful, particularly when I am traveling away from home.

Do You use Cloud Storage Like iCloud?


Today, almost everyone uses one form of cloud storage or another. The most popular are DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and iCloud among others. But do you really understand what cloud storage is?

The article “A View to the Cloud” published in IEEE Spectrum gives a good technical overview. As we all generate more and more data we want to store, the capacity of our local drives and the desire to have the content with us where ever we travel and on any device is increasingly pushing us towards more extensive use of cloud storage.

Just to drive this point the article mentioned above quotes a report from Cisco:

Cisco estimates that 1.8 ZB [that is 1.8 Zettabytes or 1.8 x 1021bytes] was stored in 2016, a volume that will quadruple to 7.2 ZB in 2021.

Just to give you some perspective the article goes on to say:

Our brains can’t really comprehend something as large as a zettabyte, but maybe this mental image will help: If each megabyte occupied the space of the period at the end of this sentence, then 1.8 ZB would cover about 460 square kilometers, or an area about eight times the size of Manhattan.

I personally use Dropbox, Google Drive, and of course Apple’s iCloud. Of course using cloud storage comes with risks:

  1. Will the provider have an outage posing an interruption in service?
  2. Will the cloud provider suddenly go out of business?
  3. Who has access to your stored data?

Certainly two rules of thumb to using cloud storage would be to:

  1. Never store the only copy of something critical in the cloud
  2. Never store sensitive data in the cloud without first encrypting it

Upgrading My Mid 2010 MacBook Pro

I have had a mid 2010 MacBook Pro for a while. It works well, but it is sluggish. Rather than invest in a new MacBook, I chose to make a fairly quick and simple upgrade.

To make my MacBook more useable I upgraded it (similar to what I did to my 2010 Mac Mini a few years ago) with a new SSD.


It already has 8GB of RAM, so I decided to replace the hard disk with an SSD. I purchased a new SanDisk 250 GB SSD when I found it on sale a few weeks ago.

IMG_1429 2

I had purchased a 2.5″ external drive case from OWC a while back. I used the interface contained in the drive enclosure to attach the SSD to my MacBook. After formatting the SSD as an APFS drive, I used Carbon Copy Cloner to ‘clone’ (make an exact copy) my boot drive to the SSD. Fortunately for me, this didn’t take too long as the 320 GB hard disk was less than half full – less than 4 hours.

Once the drive had been cloned, I rebooted my Mac selecting the SSD as the boot device (depressed the Option keep when the Mac chimed on reboot and selected the new SSD as the boot drive). I verified that the SSD was working as it should, then shut down my MacBook.


I removed the screws on the back cover, then removed the screws holding the hard drive bracket. I was then faced with removing the Torx screws that held in the drive. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a T6 Torx screwdriver available. That necessitated a trip to a nearby Lowe’s. There I picked up a “Kobalt 14-in-1 Precision Driver Set” for about $10 that included the needed T6 head (second from top on left in the photo above). Equipped with that, I easily removed the screws holding the drive in place, then gently disconnected the SATA ribbon cable from the drive. With nothing holding the drive in place I was able to remove it from my MacBook.

I attached the SATA cable to my SSD, placed it into position in the Mac, then refastened the bracket in place. I closed up my Mac, then fired it up. As expected it booted in a fraction of the time previously required with the hard disk. The operation of macOS is now much snappier. Apps boot faster. Alfred works quicker. For the investment of less than $100, I have a drastically improved MacBook.


As a final step, I mounted the old hard drive in the external chassis. I haven’t reformatted it yet, but if there are no hiccups in the operation of my MacBook I will soon reformat that drive as APFS and will have an external 320GB drive to use.

If you have an older Mac, this is a relatively easy and low-cost way to bring new life to it!



  1. How to upgrade your MacBook Pro with an SSD
  2. How to select a different startup disk

See my other Mac and OS X articles


World Backup Day 2018

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I can’t really say much more than I did last year, so I am reposting the article I wrote for Backup Day 2017.

If you have an electronic device (computer, phone, tablet), chances are that it can be backed up. Today, World Backup Day, serves as a reminder that you should be backing up those devices on a routine basis.

Backing up your data means making a second (and a third copy is recommended) of all of the data on your device. The 3-2-1 strategy is best – always three copies of your data, data stored on two different media, and one copy off-site.

You should backup because losing data is not as uncommon as you might think. Devices can be lost or stolen. Or they may simply suffer a hardware failure. Increasingly too there is the threat of the data on your device being held for ransom.

Start a habit today of making routine backups. You can even go to the World Backup Day website and take the pledge to back up your data.

One new thing I would like to add is this quick video by Bob “Dr. Mac” Levitus:

IBM’s Development of the Disk Drive

I came across the video above today. It is a IBM documentary film about the development of the disk drive. This effort began in 1952 in San Jose, CA. The original film strip was made in the mid 1950s. The story tells how the IBM RAMAC that was introduced in 1956 was developed.

RAMAC stood for “Random Access Method of Accounting and Control”. The RAMAC 350 stored a ‘massive’ 5 million characters across the internal fifty 24″ disks. The entire unit weighed in at about 1 ton.

So in about 60 years the technology has

  • increased in capacity from 5MB to 8TB (grown by 160000000%)
  • shrunk in volume from 118320 cubic inches to less than 24 cubic inches (shrunk to 0.02% of original volume)
  • reduced in weight from 2000 to 1.4 pounds (0.07% of original weight)
  • been discounted from a $27,007 (in 2015 equivalent dollars) per month lease to a $319.97 purchase from amazon (purchase is now 1.19% of the month lease)

Floppy Drive Plays GoT Theme



I like Game of Thrones. I am also a bit of a computer nerd. My son showed me this video yesterday that brought both of those worlds together. Who would have thought that old computer hardware could be repurposed to play music?


Well actually, I heard something like this before in person. I worked for TRW Transportations Systems back in the early 1970’s. I remember in our computer room at the Clear Lake office there was a minicomputer equipped with a IBM 2315 compatible disk drive (A drive unit that accepted 14 inch 1MB removable disk cartridges in a plastic container as pictured above). One of the creative programmers had written a program that would play  “She’s Coming Around the Mountain” by controlling the arm with the read/write heads.

The arm had to traverse between 5 and 6 inches quickly to access the tracks containing the data. To achieve this a large voice coil actuator would move the arm with the heads to a designated track on the disk. This required a considerable force to move the heads quickly enough. The movement made enough noise that a ‘tune’ could be played. The unit was mounted in a standard five foot tall 19 inch rack and if the song was played, the force would be enough to visibly shake the rack containing the drive and minicomputer.

New recording method yields 360TB on small glass disk


I saw this article (“5D – 360 TERABYTES IN A DISK THE SIZE OF A COIN“) this morning and thought that the advance described was significant. Not only the storage capacity significant, but the predicted ‘shelf life’ of 13.8 billion years at room temperature certainly offers incredible archival storage ability. This advancement in data storage was made by scientists at the University of Southampton Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC).

The ORC developed what they call a 5D process that allows a femtosecond laser to read and write data. Data is written in three layers of nanostructure dots separated by only 5 micrometers. These nanostructures change the way light passes through the glass, modifying it’s polarization. The data can then be read by an optical sensor coupled with a polarizer.

Obviously this is not a device you are able to order today and connect up to your computer. This does speak to the growing need for backup of large data sets and to long term storage needs. ORC is currently seeking commercial partners to further develop this technology and bring products to market.