I wrote a couple of months back about the Toshiba PX1223E-1G32 320GB external hard disk that I bought (and which I’ve been very pleased with). Well, nowadays the aluminium case makes it a perfect companion for my Mac Mini and my Fujitsu-Siemens S20-1W widescreen monitor.
The trouble is that, in common with most external hard disks, the drive comes pre-formatted for the NT file system (NTFS), used by all modern versions of Windows. NTFS is a great file system – but it is also Windows-specific, at least from a read/write perspective (Linux and MacOS X systems can only read NTFS-formatted partitions). So, to use the disk with a Mac requires a reformat – either using one of the Macintosh file systems, such as HFS+/MacOS Extended (Journalled), the Unix file system (UFS – but not ext3), or FAT32 (MS-DOS file system). Of these choices, only FAT32 is universally accepted by Windows, Mac OS X and Linux systems but it does have some pretty serious limitations, as I soon found.
Firstly, although FAT32 supports file systems up to 2TB in size, the format utilities within Windows support a maximum partition size of 32GB; however by formatting the drive using another operating system or third-party tools, this limit can be overcome and Windows is able to read or write larger volumes. Secondly, and more significantly, FAT32 only supports files up to 4GB in size. That doesn’t sound like an issue until you start copying .ISO DVD images and digital video files around. Pretty soon it became apparent that FAT32 was not the answer.
The solution was using a software product called Mediafour MacDrive, which I found from the Wikipedia article on HFS+ and which has turned out to be really useful. Ironically, I didn’t need to use a licensed version to transfer my data from a PC to the Mac, as Mediafour make a trial version available for download which is valid for 5 days after installation. Having used that as my demonstration of how useful this software is, I decided to buy a copy (proving that users will buy genuinely good software, even if they can get by for free) – at $49.95 it’s reasonably priced (especially with the current dollar exchange rate and as Mediafour offered me a 24% discount if I purchased within 24 hours of requesting the trial version) and when I finally get around to dual-booting Windows on my Mac it will be invaluable. Sadly, the current version of MacDrive doesn’t work on Windows Vista, so I will need to upgrade one day in the future, but for now it’s a great way to share files between Windows and Mac OS X.