APFS vs Mac OS Extended – Which Mac Disk Format Is Best?.
The Apple File System (APFS) is the file system used on Mac devices running macOS 10.13 High Sierra and later, while the older Mac OS Extended file system is available for older versions of macOS. You can still use any file system for your hard drives and attached storage devices, and both have their pros and cons.
If you are unable to choose 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 solid state drives, while Mac OS Extended is great for older drives and versions of macOS. Here’s a rundown of the pros and cons of both to help you make your decision.
Also, don’t forget to watch the short video we created on our YouTube Channel sister site where we browse the formats for Mac drives.
When to use Apple File System (APFS)
Most users are not interested in the type of filesystem their disk is using – they just expect it to work. This is exactly what you get with the Apple File System (APFS), now the default on Mac devices since the launch of macOS 10.13 High Sierra in 2017. It is also used with other Apple operating systems, including iOS.
APFS offers a number of speed and optimization improvements over HFS +, as well as data processing improvements. For example, file corruption is significantly reduced compared to Mac OS Extended.
You will also notice that copying and pasting files to an APFS drive is almost instantaneous thanks to improvements in the way macOS handles file metadata with APFS drives over older HFS +.
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The biggest disadvantage of using APFS is that Macs with older versions of macOS (macOS 10.12.6 Sierra and older) cannot read, write, or otherwise access the drives that use it. If you have an older Mac, you will need to keep using Mac OS Extended or use an alternative such as 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 now. If you try to use an APFS drive, macOS will want to format it to HFS + before you can proceed.
Along with APFS and Mac OS Extended (also called 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.
Mac OS Extended (HFS +) selection for hard drives
While Mac OS Extended (HFS +) is no longer the default file system for macOS installations, Apple hasn’t ditched it entirely, and under certain conditions it is still useful for macOS users.
As we mentioned, HFS + is the default file system of choice for macOS Time Machine backup drives. You will need to use HFS + if you plan to format a second hard drive or portable flash drive to use as a Time Machine backup – APFS disks will not work.
You should also consider Mac OS Extended if you are using old and new Macs together, as older versions of macOS do not support APFS. However, apart from functionality, there are a few more legitimate reasons why you would prefer HFS + APFS – the main reason depends on the type of disk you are using.
Many of the speed and performance improvements that APFS brings are based on the use of a high-speed SSD or portable flash drive. If you’re using an old mechanical drive with a platter, these improvements may seem minimal or absent.
With this in mind and for cross-compatibility, you might decide to use HFS + instead of APFS. You can format the disk to HFS + using the macOS Disk Utility application, which can be launched from the launcher (Other Disk Utility).
Use ExFAT on macOS and Windows
While only Apple file systems such as APFS and Mac OS Extended can be used for the primary system drive, a different file system, ExFAT, is worth considering for external drives.
ExFAT is an older file system from Microsoft designed to replace the even older FAT32 file system that was used with Windows system drives prior to the migration to NTFS in Windows XP. It removes the 4GB file size limit and the 2TB partition size limit for FAT32 drives and is generally considered the best alternative for flash storage.
If you are thinking of using ExFAT, you are probably pursuing the sole purpose of sharing files across platforms. ExFAT should only be used for drives that you plan to use with MacOS and Windows devices, as it is the only file system that both operating systems natively support.
Windows can read APFS and HFS + drives, but this requires external software. Similarly, macOS can read new Windows NTFS drives, but not write to them.
For Windows and macOS device owners, using ExFAT for an external drive is a good option, but there are alternatives such as creating your own cloud storage or sharing files between your devices over a local network.
APFS vs Mac OS Extended: Which is Better?
There is no winner in the APFS vs Mac OS Extended battle, as it all depends on the drive you use. New installations of macOS 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 option for older drives, but only if you plan on using it with a Mac or for Time Machine backups. If you want a cross-platform option, consider using ExFAT for your drive – both Windows and macOS can read those drives without any additional software.