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Hard disk formats for interchange

Filed under: data storage,storage-care-handling,tools — 2008-02-03 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2008-06-03 by

The question of how to format hard disks (i.e. what file system to use on them) for easy interchange is another FAQ. A recent experience brought home the fact that it is more complex than one might hope. The computer industry is headed towards universal readability, but it is not there yet. The most-able-to-be-read-and-written format appears to be FAT32, although my friend Eric Jacobs makes the point that NTFS is a more robust hard disk file system, and I have to agree.

The recent experience: A client project generated about 70 GB of files so hard-drive delivery made sense–especially since I had two gently used Western Digital Passport 80 GB drives sitting on the shelf. There would be no infant mortality here. The client (on one continent) and the producer (on another continent) were both to receive copies. I shipped them off and the producer (on the same continent as I) received his copy first and mentioned to the client he couldn’t read it on his Mac. The client had told me he was sure that the Mac would read NTFS, so based on my conversation with Eric, I decided, with client approval, to send NTFS. A few days later, the client received his copy and is pleased with the files and was able to open them without a hitch on his Mac.

As of this writing, the issue of the producer’s disk is still up in the air. I have offered to take it back, reformat it as FAT32, reload the files with MD5 checksums, verify the checksums, and return the drive to him. I think the producer is looking for a Mac utility that will permit reading the disk as-is. I hope so, less work here, but still I’m willing to undertake this to maintain client satisfaction.

In the meantime, I was searching for an easy way to format a drive larger than 32 GB in FAT32 which is locked out by design in Windows XP. It turns out that there is a DOS-box utility, FAT32FORMAT, that works like a charm. If the drives are combo USB/FireWire, using the Sound Devices 722 to format them would be a choice, but for USB-only drives, that is not an available option. PLEASE be careful as this utility will destroy all data on the disk. Use it with care.

After posting the above, the producer gave up trying to read the disk. I reformatted it FAT32, reloaded it, sent it back to him and he was happy.

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