Formatting a disk drive on your Mac is easy using the Disk Utility and if you have done it before you know that it is pretty straightforward. One thing that many users have questions about is which format to use. More specifically, should you use APFS or Mac OS Extended?
While each file system has unique advantages, I recommend using APFS if you are using macOS High Sierra or greater. With this being said, there are some circumstances where you should use Mac OS Extended. The most obvious would be if you will use the disk on an OS that is older than macOS High Sierra.
My name is Eric and as a software engineer, I often deal with different types of file systems such as those on your Mac. Mac file systems are designed to be specifically optimized for macOS and the one you choose can make a difference depending on what you are using it for.
Keep reading below and I will give you a brief overview of APFS and Mac OS Extended. I will also let you know the pros and cons of each and then provide some insight as to which one you should choose.
Apple File System also known as APFS is the default file system used by the current macOS and has been since the release of High Sierra (or 10.13). APFS is a much-improved file system that implements increased performance and better data management.
Some of the improvements helped to increase performance with everyday tasks such as copying, moving, renaming, and deleting files and folders. Simple tasks such as these are now faster than they were on the predecessor file system.
The improved data management helps to make things like finding file information, searching for files, and other actions that use the file’s metadata more efficient and reliable. The overall improvements made with APFS make it a great file system for the majority of Mac users.
Mac OS Extended
Mac OS Extended was a great file system in its time. It is a journaled file system also known as HFS Plus, and it was released in 1998 with the benefit of being able to handle large file sizes. It was updated a number of times, one of which was in the release of Mac OS X in 2002 and was replaced by APFS as the default file system in 2017.
Mac OS Extended is still available on current macOS systems, it’s just not the default file system. So, if you want to use it, you will have to specifically select it when you go to format a drive.
Which Format is Better?
In my opinion, this is an easy question to answer, but don’t confuse it with the question of which one you should use. APFS is clearly the better format. It is the latest technology and it is optimized for speed, efficiency, and overall performance with the latest macOS and Apple’s M series processors.
Mac OS Extended is an older technology. It was built based on older hardware and technology so it’s not a big surprise that a new format built on the latest hardware and technology is going to be superior.
APFS is clearly a technologically better file system format, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the one you should use. In the next section, we will take a look at the advantages that each format provides and this can help you to decide which one will work best for you.
Which Should I Choose?
As stated above, APFS is the more technologically advanced format but that doesn’t mean it is the one you should choose. You will need to consider what you will be using it for and which one works better for your situation. Let’s take a look at some of the unique features of each one.
The APFS format has some distinct advantages due to it being the latest in technology, but as with anything it also has some disadvantages.
- It’s the newest file format Apple has to offer and is optimized for new Apple hardware and software
- More reliable
- Easy to use with little input needed, great for novice users
- Uses advanced encryption technology which makes it more secure
- Uses a copy-on-write approach which minimizes data corruption
- Creates snapshots to prevent data loss due to failed updates
- Saves storage space by creating clones that contain incremental changes which reduces the size of files
- Uses space sharing to allocate space to each container as needed so there is no need for manual partitioning
- Optimized for flash storage and solid-state disk (SSD) drives
- Format is also used on iOS so it is the same format that your iPhone uses
- The latest versions of Time Machine use APFS, so if you are formatting a backup drive you will want to use APFS.
- APFS does work on HDD drives but since it’s optimized for SSDs and flash drives, those who have HDD drives will not experience all of the benefits that APFS has to offer
- It won’t work on older systems, particularly those with a macOS older than High Sierra
Mac OS Extended
Even though Mac OS Extended is a legacy file system, there are some situations in which it may be preferred. Take a look at the pros and cons to determine if it could be right for you.
- It’s compatible with older macOS systems as well as new macOS systems, so you won’t run into compatibility issues if used on multiple systems. This can be important for portable or removable drives that might be used on a multitude of Mac systems
- Mac OS Extended is optimized for mechanical HDD drives
- Also performs well with hybrid drives such as Apple’s Fusion drives
- Works with Time Machine on systems that have macOS older than Big Sur
- It’s not the latest technology
- Not optimized for Flash and SSD drives
- Eventually, it may not be supported since it is a legacy format
How to Choose
The choice of which format to use should not be too difficult for most users. There are really only a couple of situations in which you should go with Mac OS Extended.
If you have a drive, especially an external or portable drive that might get connected to older Macs running a macOS version older than High Sierra you will want to use Mac OS Extended so that it will be compatible with all systems old and new.
You might also choose Mac OS Extended if you are formatting an HDD-type drive since it is optimized for that drive type, but the average user won’t really see a great deal of difference if they were to use APFS with an HDD drive.
If you are formatting a drive to use as backup media for Time Machine, you will need to format it with APFS if you have a recent macOS. If your system and macOS are older than 2020, you would need to use Mac OS Extended to format it as a Time Machine backup drive.
For most users and in most cases you should choose APFS. It is the latest and greatest file format for your Mac and by using it, not only will you see the greatest performance but you are also least likely to run into issues. If you do run into issues there is much better support for it.
APFS is the latest Apple file system format and is the one you should choose whenever possible. There are some rare cases, as described above where you may want to use Mac OS Extended but they are very few.
I hope the information above has helped you to understand the difference between the two file systems and make an educated decision on which one to use. As usual, let me know if you have any questions or feedback. I would love to hear from you.