exFAT File System for Photographers Sharing Photos Between Mac and PC

Short version: The exFAT file system works on both PCs and Macs. Don’t use the setup for your external drives. Use Windows Disk Manager or the OSx Disk Utility to format your drives exFAT to be cross compatible.

Long version: It’s true I have some of “those” friends, you know the ones, the ones that you fear if left alone might actually get stuck in a Hipster trap when travelling? And they ONLY use Macs. Well, here in the real world I use Macs, PCs, sometimes Linux and whatever WORKS.

And if you are a photographer, this is a real problem when it comes to moving large files. Yes you can do it over the network, but storage and ease of use points to the utility of external hard drives.

Personally I like the ruggedized 500 GB Lacie drives. Very specifically ONLY the 500 GB because if you go up to the 1TB Lacie drives the powered USB ports don’t have enough juice to run them. So with anything larger than the 500GB you have an extra power supply. Portability-FAIL. And as a road warrior this matters to me. So 500GB Ruggedized is the go-to solution of choice for me.

I usually get them, plug them into my Mac, and set them up Mac specific figuring I’d use the network to move the data off. This time I decided to set it up on the PC and plugged the drive into my Windows 7 Dell machine at work. I immediately see “start.exe” in the root of the drive and I immediately delete it. Why do I need it? I’ll just use the drive. Mistake. (side note: Why do I do crap like that? Arrrgh. There went the weekend use of the drive.)

You see the Lacie drives come with an 9MB partition that is FAT for portability, and that utility then formats the rest of the drive. OK, no problem, I’ll just download “start.exe” from the Lacie site. Nope, you can’t. It wan’t super urgent enough for me to go find another “start.exe” from another drive so I just submitted a trouble ticket and waited. Their solution is below.

I believe that you are facing some difficulties using your drive for initial install, as you erased the LaCie setup assistance.  If your new drive is showing as 9MB instead of the full size, its likely not a  permanent  issue. The reason this happens is because the Setup Assistant program is stored on a 9MB partition and in some instances when its run, the entire drive isn’t erased. This can be caused by security policies or manual formatting instead of the automatic.

Follow these steps to correct the issue:

    1. Click on “Start” then “run” and type in ‘cmd‘ without quotes.
    2. Once the command prompt opens (a black box) type “Diskpart” – again without quotes.
    3. Type “list disk” to show you a numerical list of the drives connected, locate your LaCie drive and take a note of the number (most of the time its Disk 1) [note on my machine it was “Disk 6”]
    4. Type “select disk #” and press enter. # should be the number from the previous step.
    5. Type “clean” and press enter. The next screen should say “Disk has been cleaned“.
    6. Close the window and then click on start then run again and type “diskmgmt.msc
    7. Once Disk Management opens, find your drive in the lower pane. A pop up window might appear, please click Cancel.
    8. Right click over your drive letter and select “initialize disk” then follow the wizard. Default settings are appropriate in most cases.
    9. The disk should change to an “unallocated” state, you can then right click over that and select “new partition” or “create partition
    10. Follow that wizard, again default settings are likely appropriate. The only change you may consider is checking the “quick format” box at the end of the wizard if its not already.

After these steps, your drive should be the normal size. Feel free to configure the partitions any way you prefer, the steps above are for a single partition.



Now the interesting part is that when I was formatting it through the Windows Disk Management utility I saw the option to format using the new exFAT file system. This gets past the 4mb FAT file size limit. And exFAT support has apparently been added to Mac OSx. Score! I am now back to the old days where I can pop the same external drive into either my Macs or my PCs and get the job done.

Moral of the story: consider not using the setup utility on the Lacie drives. Format using Windows Disk Manager or use this method to format exFAT drives on a Mac. And voila, photography and video with more portability. Whooop!