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How To Format FAT32 USB 2.0 Drive For The Mac

May 23rd, 2008 · 39 Comments

usb2.0I don’t know why these hard drives are formatted like this but it is killing me. My brother ordered a 1TB Western Digital My Book external hard drive for The DotMatrix Project, and it came formatted as a MS-DOS (FAT) or better yet a FAT32. FAT32 is formatted so Mac and PC can work off the same drive and if you really want to get geeky check out the wiki of the FAT.

I tried to download the footage from the cameras via firewire in FCP and the capture kept crashing within a couple of minutes. It was frustrating. I switched capture scratch disks to an internal hard drive and guess what? It captured smoothly.

So I tried to format the 1TB drive from a FAT32 to Mac OS Extended (Journaled) and the process would end within 5 seconds with an error. I had the same problem with an external Iomega 1TB USB 2.0 hard drive the other week. I couldn’t figure it out. Their support sucked, it stated the exact thing I was doing. Going to Disk Utility and selecting the hard drive and select the Erase tab and under the Volume Format pull down select the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) and click Erase. Did it and I got the same message.

Luckily Western Digital’s support page had the correct response and here it is.

In Mac OS X, you can use the built in Disk Utility to partition and initialize the drive so it will appear on the desktop.

1. Open the main drive (the drive that contains the operating system).

2. Open the Applications folder.

3. Open the Utilities folder.

4. Select Disk Utility.

5. The drives are displayed on the left side of the window. Click on the drive that you wish to partition (the top drive listing for the hard drive that you want to work with).

6. Once the drive is selected click on Partition.

7. Click on the Options button to select the partitioning scheme.

8. Click on Apple Partitioning Scheme or Apple Partitioning Map and then click on the OK button.

9. You will see several options for setting up the drive. Once you have selected the number of partitions, the format type you want, and a volume label, click the Partition button.

10. Following the completion of this process, the drive will appear on the desktop.

Now it is solved, it’s time to get some sleep and rest. I hope nobody else lost any sleep over this mess.

Tags: Help · Uncategorized

39 responses so far ↓

  • 1 sean coon // May 23, 2008 at 11:47 am

    thanks so much for all your help on this, the show, the film crew mentoring… everything, andy.

  • 2 Neil Oakshott // Jul 2, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Thanks for the advice…that ridiculous FAT-thing was driving me around the bend!!!
    For a while there I felt like I was in some nightmare Win95 timewarp.

  • 3 andy ryz // Sep 28, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    wow! i think this may have just saved me! i have a project due tomorrow morning and have run into all sorts of problems, but this was one i had never seen before. thanks so much for posting this!


  • 4 Clay // Oct 6, 2008 at 3:15 am

    but what if you just want 1 partition on a Mac… ?

  • 5 Andy Coon // Oct 6, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Then select 1 partition.

  • 6 carlos // Jan 8, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    is that going to erase all the files on my external hard drive?

  • 7 Andy Coon // Jan 8, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Yes, anytime you format a hard drive that means you are erasing the hard drive. Back up the hard drive on another external HD then format it.

  • 8 Paul Tran // Feb 18, 2009 at 2:46 am

    BOY ! You saved me ! I was having the same exact problem all weekend until I saw your posting. Thanks for making it easier for the entire world !

  • 9 Steve Klarer // Apr 4, 2009 at 7:52 am

    No matter what I do the process always always ends with “unable to unmount MyBook.” Any suggestions?

  • 10 sunny // Apr 10, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    EXCELLENT! That issue really REALLY got to me.. but thanks to your article i sorted it out!lol.. thanks for that!

  • 11 Russell // May 15, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    The FAT32 thing was sending me SPARE. This was such a good read me.
    Well done.
    Thanks for the help!

  • 12 Mangy // Jun 29, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    For some reason, my pc wont read the drive. I’m pretty sure its not the pc, but it wont read it. I can’t even format it on the pc. Any suggestions?
    I though it needed to be formated to FAT32 to work, am I right?

  • 13 Andy Coon // Jun 30, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Mangy, Sorry to hear about your hard drive problems. If it is on a PC then I can’t help you buddy. Good luck

  • 14 Eden // Nov 13, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    I must be doing something wrong cause I follow your instructions and it says Input/Output Error. Does it matter which Mac formatting I choose (journaled, case-sensitive, etc?)
    so close and yet so far!

  • 15 Eden // Nov 13, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Thank you, but this didn’t quite work for me. I’m trying to format my brand-new My Passport Elite and I’m following the instructions listed here

    but every time I choose 1 partition, then the Mac OS Journaled option, then hit Apply, a window comes up immediately that says “input/output error.” I’ve tried both USB ports on this 10.5 intel-based Mac as well as both the Apple Partition Map and the GUID Partition Table.
    Help! I can’t use this until it’s formatted! Thank you!

  • 16 Maarten // Dec 12, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Thanks for this great tip!
    @Eden: I guess your forgot point 7: Click on the Options button to select the partitioning scheme.

  • 17 Justin // Jan 31, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    Thank you!!!!!

  • 18 Jennifer // Mar 2, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Thank you. You absolutely saved me today! Will never understand why the EHDs don’t come formatted!

    5 gold stars for you!


  • 19 jean // May 12, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    i’m absolutely noob at this… would reformating the partitions affect the storage size? how many partitions would u recommend?

    after reformatting, it will work between macs and pc?

  • 20 jean // May 12, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    i was going to ask a question about partitions, but i figured it out so THANKS!! this has helped a lot!! XD I’m really happy 🙂 once again, thanks thanks thanks thanks! 😉

  • 21 Andy Coon // May 13, 2010 at 9:50 am

    jean, glad to have helped you out.

  • 22 jean // May 13, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    oh u’re awesome!! XD i juz wanted something to store from pc to mac. i use a pc t home but i use a mac in uni and i cant write on my hard disk >.< and I saved up money to get a decent storage device and i was shocked tat i cant write anything to it in mac! hahha i partitioned half to fat32 and the other half to mac extended journaled.

    million thanks to u! i'm really happy i got this working 🙂

  • 23 Jaehee // Jul 15, 2010 at 12:06 am

    Amazing!!! I thought I received a defected product or something as it didn’t seem to work on my Mac.
    Thank you for such great information!

  • 24 Ryan // Aug 14, 2010 at 2:29 am

    If I partition and put my iTunes library in the mac partition, do I have make another copy of the same files and place them in the pc partition? Or, will the files be read automatically when I plug the external into the PC? I would like to know before I actually start downloading. I already lost all my MP3’s trying to mess with this problem. It should be simple like a flash drive right? But, no! You can’t stick your drive into any computer and everything works uniformly. Thanks for you help! 🙂

  • 25 Andy Coon // Aug 15, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    You will have to put them in the PC partition as well. PC’s don’t like journaled HD. Good luck

  • 26 Bill Elliott // Jan 4, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Thanks a million. I must have tried to format my external drive a hundred times. I was just about ready to throw it in the trash. I followed your instructions and everything worked great. Just goes to show: Google it stupid! (I hate to ask directions. )

  • 27 DrollWererat // Feb 15, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    You do know that Fat32 has a max file size of 4GB? You can’t capture video to a hard drive that’s formatted as Fat32 unless you’re capturing clips that will all be under 4GB. Thus, it’s ridiculous to try to capture video to a Fat32 formatted hard drive.

  • 28 Andy Coon // Feb 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    I do know that and I suggest not using a Fat32 drive. This article is about formatting a Fat32 to a Mac OS Extended (Journaled).

    Many of the external hard drives are already formatted Fat32 so us Apple geeks need it changed to a Mac OS Extended (Journaled). Get it?

  • 29 Christina // Mar 31, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this!! You have made me love my mac setup once again! I was about to throw it off the roof! 🙂

  • 30 Andy Coon // Apr 3, 2011 at 2:16 am

    So glad I could help. 🙂

  • 31 luisa // Jun 17, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Thank you!! You’ve just saved me (and it seems like you keep saving a lot of people,hum?!?)
    I was beginning to think I would have to carry the mac with me to present this work.
    Once again, thanks!!!

  • 32 Luc-Onel // Jul 3, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Thank you so much! As everyone has said above, you have saved my life. I’ve been losing sleep and now I can sleep soundly again! 🙂

  • 33 LouieMacGoo // Jul 29, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    I know this is an older article but it just saved my butt! Thanks for the easy to follow instructions! I’ve had this damn WD 1tb HD sitting for over year wondering how to reformat it to Mac!

  • 34 Christina // Aug 8, 2011 at 7:51 am

    what do you call the volume one thing? and doing all that does that make the hardrive be able to go from windows to mac?

  • 35 Carrie // Jan 30, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    THANK YOU THANK YOU and a big Thank you! I’ve spent the last few days trying to work out how to completely delete my Vado’s memory by reformating via FAT32 – I even contacted Creative directly with no luck! Thanks – you’ve saved me a lot of time and I can now take videos of my baby learning to crawl!

  • 36 Erin // Feb 8, 2012 at 2:46 am

    I’ve been searching how to do this for AGES! that being said I’ve followed the instructions and it works good up until picking my format. I’m new to all this and I don’t have an FAT32 option only EXfat. Is there a difference? I’m needing to do this so I can watch my home movies through a playstation 3. Any help would be perfect right now because Im about to scream.

  • 37 Nick // Jan 2, 2013 at 1:26 am

    Bingo! I think you solved my problem. I edit HD videos on my iMAC with Final Cut and used two 1TB Western Digital My Book drives for the files. I have large (<50GB) files on the drives, plus all the captured video from my camera, and the large files only play back the the first 2.15GB of data.

    I am now transferring all my data to a 3TB Seagate drive that is formatted to MAC OS Extended (Journaled), then I will reformat the WD drives that are now MS-DOS (FAT) based on your recommendations.

    The Quick Time .mov files only show the first 2.15 GB (a few minutes) but the playback bar indicates that the original file is still playing. Is there any way to recover the original full size files that were on these drives? I have a lot of time invested in editing. Just want the .mov files to be restored.

    Please help.

  • 38 Robert // Jan 24, 2013 at 6:30 am

    Howdy Nick, just wondering if you ever found a solution to your problem…? I actually ran into a very similar problem with large .mov files about a year or so ago and ended up just having to abandon them and re-edit. It seems the culprit may have been Fat32 files being limited to a size of 4GB.

    I know they may be recoverable in a number of ways, and didn’t think to try VLC Player’s file repair add-on (never used it, just know that it exists for media/file repair of some kind). I’ll probably read up on that after this post. Anyhow, was just curious if you found a solution.

  • 39 Robert // Jan 24, 2013 at 6:36 am

    Anyone have a good answer for this:

    I have a 2TB external drive, a MacBook Pro dual booting Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion. I’m interested in partitioning the external drive into three volumes: one bootable backup volume each for SL and ML, and then a third volume just for general storage. I know how to partition and format (GUID and Mac OS Extended (Journaled)) the two bootable volumes but does anyone know what the suggested format for the third volume should be? Just used for medium to large sized media and document files.

    Is this setup and arrangement for an external drive possible, recommended and/or still reliable?

    BTW I know an extra drive or two would be best but for the time being this is my only option. Thanks in advance 🙂

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