Mac unable to write to a NTFS-formatted (PC) hardisk

One of my students was unable to format her new (250GB) external disk on Windows XP. So she brought it in for me to try with her PC and eventually I managed, after consulting the Cutie (drive enclosure) manual. I was surprised at how unclear it was in Windows – it required two distinct non-intuitive steps with no prompts after the drive was connected.

We intend to exchange large files with that external hardisk so I need both my Mac and her PC to be able read the file. In order to do this, I need to format it as a FAT32 (MS-DOS) drive. But I was unable to do so on her XP PC. This is because “the format program included in Windows 2000 and higher can only create FAT32 file systems of 32 GB or less.” – Wikipedia.

OS X’s Disk Utility can format external drives
as MS DOS’ FAT32 and partition-free too!

I could have used Mac OS X Leopard to format the disk though but didn’t. Instead I selected the only option in her PC format program – NTFS (New Technology File System), the standard file system of Windows NT, 2000, XP and Vista.

However, while Mac OS X Tiger and Leopard (at least) can copy files off an NTFS disk, they are unable to write to one. It dawned on me that this was the explanation for my puzzle with PC using students – the disk they gave me mounted, I could see their files, but a drag and drop copy attempt onto their NTFS disks failed. I usually then try some kind of work around, which is fine for one-off situations.

Well, there is a solution? Laurence, who was on IM with me the whole time and just as puzzled, sent me this link: Paragon Software’s US$40 NTFS for Mac OS X. There is a 10-day trial but it’s inevitable I will be getting this.


  1. Solutions include the geeky MacFuse as suggested in this gantico post.
  2. It gets better – read about the GUI version provided by MacFusion!
  3. I realise I may have tried this for read/wrie desktop access for FTP disks!
  4. After reading that entry and The Elder Geek, I’ve decided it’s better to leave my muddy student’s external hardisk formatted as an NTFS volume. Even though it will not be recognized by Windows 95/98/Me, NTFS appears to be more reliable, less susceptible to fragmentation and will allow for better file recovery.
  5. I’ll not be abandoning FAT32; its what all my thumbdrives are all formatted as.
  6. Must allocate time to try this in the morning.


8 thoughts on “Mac unable to write to a NTFS-formatted (PC) hardisk

  1. Yes, it is inevitable. The reason why the Mac cannot write to an NTFS volume is because Microsoft refuses to license the the file system. Macintosh and Linux users are such suckers for punishment.

    Anyway, I came across Paragon’s extension a few months earlier when I salvaged data from a researcher’s dead iBook. It worked flawlessly and the researcher’s data was subsequently published a month later.

    There’s no meaningful way to abandon FAT32, with flash cards and memory sticks holding the fort for this antiquated format.

    Microsoft was to adopted WinFS, built-in with then Windows ‘Longhorn’. WinFS is more intelligent and efficient in its file management compared to NTFS. However that format was ‘put on ice’ in the rush to finish Windows Vista. On a side note, Apple will adopt the ZFS file system on OS 10.6 Snow Leopard.

  2. Yeah, Windows NT has ben around for more than eight years. And that’s about how long I went without having to access an NTFS disk! The student in question just got a mac so that problem is over in more ways than one!

  3. You may have already heard that OS 10.6 ‘Snow Leopard’ has NTFS write capability. However Apple does not officially support it and this feature is disabled by default.

    Some websites provide a step-by-step guide to enabling this through the use of Terminal –

    The easier way out would be to download SL-NTFS, which installs a preference pane in System Preferences (much like Paragon’s NTFS for Mac). Enabling NTFS write capability will then be as easy as flicking a switch –

    SL-NTFS could well be a poor man’s solution for those who need to write to NTFS drives occasionally, are unwilling to shell out money for Paragon’s NTFS or dabble with the Terminal.

    On a side note, Paragon is due to release the eighth version of NTFS for Mac, with improved write times and 64-bit support for OS 10.6 ‘Snow Leopard’. The free Release Candidate can be downloaded here –

    • I bought Paragon’s NTFS for Mac OS X 8.0 while on offer for US$10 at MacZot for the rare occasion when I need to read NTFS – mainly with research students using PCs from their JC days. They need to do a data dump at the end of their projects and this saves them oodles of time.

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