Jared E. Bendis

Big Files and Portable Hard Drives

Big files can be very unwieldy.

If you are working with digital video tapes you get some pretty big files (DV tapes are 200MB per min or about 12GB per hour). On a PC they are DV encoded AVI files and on a MAC they are DV encoded QuickTime files. They are pretty much identical and will open on any computer for editing but only if you can manage to get them there.

There are other types of big files too – but generally they are video files (or installers).

Files of this size are too large to email, burn to a data DVD, or transfer via the web using a free file transfer service. Even if you are clever enough to open up a direct network share or FTP – the time to transfer them is often way too long to be useful.

Here is the big problem: You can not copy a file larger than 4GB to an ‘off the shelf’ external hard drive unless you do something special to it first.

By default external hard drives come formatted as FAT32 which doesn’t allow for files over 4GB!

Now they come this way on purpose because the FAT32 file system is universally compatible with both Windows and Mac.

So what are your options?

Well that depends on your platform.

On a Windows machine you would want to convert the drive to NTFS and on a Mac you would want to convert it to Mac OS Extended (HFS+). The trick is – one you have converted the drive to one or the other then it is locked only for operating system. There are some tricks around this though which I will get to after we convert the drive.

NTFS Drive Conversion (for Windows Users)

The good news with NTFS drive conversion is that it is SAFE as it doesn’t reformat the drive or destroy the data – it just takes some time.

From a Windows command prompt type following command (in this example the HD is a D drive):

convert D: /fs:ntfs

Follow the prompts – it will ask you for the drive label/name to make sure you aren’t doing this by mistake (because you can’t go backwards).

Mac OS Extended – Drive Conversion (for Macintosh Users)

From your Mac go to the Utilities Folder under Applications and choose the Disk Utility – from here you can reformat/repartition the drive to Mac OS Extended. This does wipe the drive – so be warned!

OK That was the simple part – but what if I am in a mixed environment?
What if I go back and forth between Windows and Mac and need to stay compatible with both?

So this is where it gets a little tricky.

Windows can read and write NTFS drives but Mac can READ but not write to NTFS drives.
So if you are just trying to get your files TO a Mac an NTFS drive can be used but only in one direction.

Solution 1: Allow your Mac to read and write to NTFS drives:

NTFS for Mac is a $20 software package that allows your Mac to both read and write to NTFS drives – it works great and is a quick and easy solution.

Solution 2: Allow your Windows machine to read and write to Mac OS Extended (HFS+):

HFS+ for Windows is a $20 software package that allows Windows to both read and write to HFS+ drives – it also works great and is a quick and easy solution.

Solution 3: Cross Platform USB Data Transfer Cable

A cross platform USB data transfer cable allows large files to be transferred between two computers. Make sure it is a cross compatible one like the one above so it can do windows-windows mac-mac windows-mac mac-windows (many are windows only). They are cheap and pretty easy to use!

Solution 4: Multi-part File

Lastly, it is possible to break a large file into smaller chunks which can be placed on a FAT32 hard drive or burned to a series of DVDs. Software like this is free and is fairly easy to use.
I suggest HJSplit – it even has setting for presets for different chunk sizes.

Happy moving!