Formatting Drives

The following instructions are for formatting new external hard drives or thumb drives. Please note that some drives come pre-formatted for Mac or Windows, but you should know how to format drives as certain formats will work best in certain situations and workflows.


 ***Please note that you can click on any of the images to enlarge them.


  1. Plug your drive into the computer’s USB/Thunderbolt port.
  2. In the Spotlight Search or in the Finder type in Disk Utility (for directions on using Spotlight Search or the finder, please see this page) and double click on it to open the application. This is what the icon will look like:Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 1.13.16 PM
  3. In the left hand column, find the name of your drive and select it (it will usually be named as the brand name of the drive, so LaCie, Seagate, G-Raid, etc.)                                                        screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-3-33-17-pm
  4. Go to the Erase tab. For Format Type, please select Mac OS Extended (Journaled). You will want to enter a name, which will give your drive a name (maybe you want to use your last name, nickname, etc.). For this tutorial the name is Format Tutorial. Once you have done this, in the lower right corner click the Erase button.                                                                                 .screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-2-04-56-pm
  5. Congratulations!!! Your drive is formatted. It will take a minute to format the drive, but once it’s done the icon for it will appear with the name you gave it.


In some instances you may want to partition your hard drive. Partitioning a drive is when you divide the total storage of a drive into different pieces. These pieces are called partitions. For instance, you may want to divide 250GB of your 500GB hard drive to video editing projects and the other 250GB to storing video and audio files.  You may also divide your drive into a Mac OS partition and a Windows partition so you can use it on different platforms effectively.  Specific instructions for this are below.

***Note: It is always best to partition a recently formatted drive that has no data on it, but it is possible to partition only the free space on a drive that has other content on it.  However, you should always back up all important data, whenever using disk utility.

  1. Repeat steps 1-3 above.
  2. Make sure you select the top level of your drive from the column on the left and then go to the Partition tab. screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-3-32-57-pm
  3. To add a partition, click the + button.  You can then manually type in a size in GBs or TBs to adjust the selection.  For this tutorial, we will create two partitions.
  4. Once you have created the partitions, you will want to name them, select the format type, and then designate the size. For this tutorial we will create partitions named CinemaStudiesStorage and CinemaStudiesStorage 2, both formatted as Mac OS Extended (Journaled) and 250GB each. To select and change the details of the partitions, click on the box under Partition Layout and it will highlight the partition with a blue outline. When done, click on Applyscreen-shot-2016-10-07-at-3-34-38-pm                    
  5. Congratulations!!! Your drive is formatted and partitioned. Now when you plug in your drive or look for it in the Finder it will appear with two icons representing both partitions.


One common situation students have is that at home they have a computer that runs the Windows operating system but in our lab they are using the Mac OS, but they would like to be able to partition and use the same external drive at school and home.

**Note that a Mac only formatted drive will not work on a Windows machine. If you want to use a drive on both a Mac and Windows, please make sure that you purchase a drive that can be formatted for both operating systems. For more information on this, please see this page.

  1. Repeat steps 1-3 above for partitioning and formatting.
  2. In this example partition 1 will be called CinemaStudiesStorage, formatted as Mac OS Extended (Journaled) and 250GB in size. For the Windows’ formatted partition, it will be called CINEWindows, but select ExFAT for the format type at 250GB in size. Both ExFAT and MS-DOS (FAT) are Windows formats, however, MS-DOS (FAT) will ONLY work for files under 4GB, so select ExFAT. After making these selections, click on Apply.                                                    screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-3-54-31-pm
  3. Congratulations!!! Your drive is formatted and partitioned for both Mac and Windows.


Sometimes students have a drive with data on it but they would like to reformat it to work with multiple operating systems. In this instance, please speak with your instructor first. Cinema Studies can provide assistance in this process. You may need to have Kevin May or Andre´ Sirois do this for you, and, depending on how much data you have, it could be an overnight process.

This is a common situation: A student has a Windows machine at home and their drive is formatted for Windows but they would like to use it at home and in class on the Macs. In this instance they would need to re-format  and create a Mac OS Extended (Journaled) partition and an ExFAT partition. Doing this would erase all the data on the drive, which may include their music, photos, etc.

Here are the basic steps for this:

  1. Transfer and back up the data from the drive you wish to re-format and partition. Either do this on a personal machine or on another external drive. (You may need to have Kevin May or Andre´ Sirois do this for you, and, depending on how much data you have, it could be an overnight process or see if you can borrow an external drive to use during your class period from Cinema Studies).
  2. Format and partition your drive using the tutorials above.
  3. Put all the data that you backed up that you want to access from your Windows machine onto the drive formatted/partitioned as ExFAT.  The data that you will use in the Cinema Studies Lab for class will then go on the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) partition that is formatted for Macs.
  4. If you are unsure about this process, please speak with your instructor.

This page was written by Andre´ Sirois for the University of Oregon Cinema Studies Program and is published under Creative Commons license (CC BY NC SA 3.0)

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