The Apple File System (APFS) is the file system used with Mac devices running macOS 10.13 High Sierra or later, while the older Mac OS Extended file system is available for older versions of macOS. You can still use either file system for your hard drive and attached storage device, both of which have their own pros and cons.
If you can’t decide between APFS and Mac OS Extended for your drive, you should consider your use case first. The newer APFS format is better for some types of drives, including SSDs, while Mac OS Extended is great for drives and older versions of macOS. Here are some pros and cons of both to help you decide.
Also, be sure to check out the quick video we created on our sister site’s YouTube Channel, where we review formats for Mac discs.
When to Use Apple File System (APFS)
Most users don’t care what kind of file system their drive uses — they just expect it to work. That’s exactly what you get with the current default Apple File System (APFS) that Mac devices have been using since macOS 10.13 High Sierra was released in 2017. It’s also used with other devices. Other Apple operating systems include iOS.
APFS offers a number of speed and optimization improvements over HFS+, as well as improvements in data handling. For example, file errors are significantly reduced compared to Mac OS Extended.
You’ll also notice that copying and pasting files on an APFS volume works almost instantly, thanks to improvements in the way macOS handles file metadata with APFS volumes compared to older HFS+.
The biggest downside to using APFS is that Macs with earlier versions of macOS (macOS 10.12.6 Sierra or later) cannot read, write, or access the drives that use it. If you have an older Mac, you’ll need to continue using Mac OS Extended or use an alternative like ExFAT.
If you back up your Mac using Time Machine, you won’t be able to use APFS either. macOS continues to use the HFS+ file system for Time Machine drives for the time being. If you try to use an APFS-formatted drive, macOS will want to format it to HFS+ before you can continue.
Along with APFS and Mac OS Extended (aka HFS+), you also have other file systems that can be used for external drives, including cross-platform options like ExFAT. However, for most users, APFS is the only file system they need or want to use – but only if they (only) use modern Mac devices.
Choose Mac OS Extended (HFS+) for Hard Drive
While Mac OS Extended (HFS+) is no longer the default file system for installing macOS, it hasn’t been completely abandoned by Apple, and it’s still a useful option for macOS users under some conditions. determined.
As we mentioned, HFS+ is the default file system of choice for macOS Time Machine backup drives. You’ll need to use HFS+ if you’re formatting a second hard drive or removable flash drive to use as a Time Machine backup — APFS drives won’t work.
You’ll also need to consider Mac OS Extended if you’re using older and newer Macs together, as older versions of macOS won’t support APFS. However, beyond functionality, there are still a few good reasons why you should choose HFS+ over APFS — the biggest one depends on the type of drive you use.
Many of the speed and performance improvements APFS offers are based on the use of a high-speed SSD or removable flash memory drive. If you’re using an older, mechanical drive with a platter, those improvements are likely to be mostly minimal or non-existent.
With that in mind and for cross compatibility, you may decide to use HFS+ instead of APFS. You can format a drive with HFS+ using macOS Disk Utility Applicationwhich you can launch from Launchpad (Other > Disk Utility).
Use ExFAT on macOS and Windows
While you can only use Apple file systems like APFS and Mac OS Extended for your main system drive, another file system is also worth considering for external drives — ExFAT.
ExFAT is an older file system from Microsoft, intended to replace the even older FAT32 file system used with Windows system drives before the switch to NTFS in Windows XP. It removes the 4GB file size limit and 2TB partition size limit of FAT32 drives and is generally considered a better alternative to flash storage.
If you’re thinking of using ExFAT, you’re probably thinking of a single goal — file sharing across platforms. ExFAT should really only be used for drives that you intend to use with both macOS and Windows devices, since it’s the only file system that both operating systems natively support.
Windows can read APFS and HFS+ drives, but it requires external software to do that. Likewise, macOS can read newer Windows NTFS drives, but cannot write to them.
For owners of Windows and macOS devices, using ExFAT for external drives is a good option, but there are alternatives, such as setting up your own cloud storage or sharing files between devices. your device over the local network.
APFS vs Mac OS Extended: Which is Best?
There is no winner in the APFS vs Mac OS Extended war, as it depends on the drive you are using. Newer macOS installations should use APFS by default, and if you’re formatting an external drive, APFS is the faster and better option for most users.
Mac OS Extended (or HFS+) is still a good choice for older drives, but only if you plan to use it with your Mac or for Time Machine backups. If you need a cross-platform option, consider using ExFAT for your drives — both Windows and macOS can read these drives without any additional software.