What is a File System?

File Systems are standards designed to organize data on a storage device like USB flash drives, hard drives, or solid-state drives. You may encounter the need to select a File System when installing a new hard drive or reformatting a failing drive. Storage devices have the ability to be partitioned into multiple file-formats or use the entire volume as a single file system.

Here are a few examples of different file formats:

  • FAT12
  • FAT16
  • FAT32
  • exFAT
  • ext2
  • ext3
  • ext4
  • HFS
  • HFS+
  • APFS
  • ZFS
  • NTFS

What is exFAT?

Extended File Allocation Table, or exFAT, is a file system created by Microsoft and introduced in 2006. It was meant to be an optimized file system for high-capacity USB storage drives and memory cards. It supports a maximum file size limit of 16 exabytes which is in essence unlimited.

The SD Card Association adopted exFAT as the default file system format for SDXC memory cards due to exFAT’s performance. It has support from every OS available including mobile operating systems.

Supported Operating Systems:

What is HFS+?

HFS+ is the primary journaling file system used in the Mac OS X series since the release of Mac OS 8.1 in 1998. It is also known as HFS Plus, Mac OS Extended, or HFS Extended. It held the position as Apple’s primary filing system until the release of macOS High Sierra in 2017 when it was replaced with APFS(Apple File System) to accommodate SSDs.

Supported Operating Systems:

  • Mac OS X and macOS systems from Mac OS 8.1 to now
  • Linux(read-only)

exFAT vs HFS+: Which File System Format Should I Use?

To pick the right format for a new drive or reformatted drive, you’ll want to think about how the drive is being used. For external drives, you may want cross-compatibility with multiple operating systems. In that case, you would want to format the drive as exFAT. exFAT will allow your Mac to communicate with the drive as well as Windows PCs, Linux, Android, and iOS.

For internal drives, hard disk drives (HDDs) can be formatted to HFS+. However, you may want to consider APFS. APFS was designed to replace HFS+ in Mac OS High Sierra to add better support for SSDs.

exFAT vs HFS+: Side-by-Side Comparison

exFATHFS+
What it is:File System Mac OS File System
Primary use:Instruct OS on how to handle file organizationInstruct Mac OS on how to handle file organization
Conceived:20061998
Initial release:20061998
Influential developers:MicrosoftApple
Technical committee:MicrosoftApple
Open format:YesNo
Technologies influenced:Windows, SSDs, HDDs Mac OS 8.1 and up

exFAT

Pros!Cons!
Cross-platform format(Windows, Android, Linux, macOS)Slower performance on SSDs compared to NTFS
16-exabyte maximum file size limits
Default file system for SDXC as dictated by the SD Card Association

HFS+

Pros!Cons!
• eight-exabyte maximum file size and volume size limits• Specific to Mac OS X
• Default file system of Mac OS X

Similarities and Differences

Similarities:

  • Both are file systems used to organize files on a storage device.
  • Both can be used to format a drive for use on Mac OS.
  • Both have excessive file size limits that can be considered nearly unlimited.
  • Both are used a default format for different systems(exFAT is the default format for SDXC, HFS+ is the default format for Mac OS X).

Differences:

  • HFS+ has more sophisticated features meant to enhance Mac OS X as a whole.
  • exFAT has double the file size capacity at 16 exabytes.
  • exFAT has compatibility with nearly every OS.
  • HFS+ has been replaced by APFS while exFAT remains the default format for SDXC.
  • exFAT is vulnerable to file corruption.
  • HFS+ has metadata for file integrity.

Performance Differences

exFAT and HFS+ have similar performance speeds that are ultimately dictated by the physical limitations of the storage device or hard drive to the file format is applied. exFAT has double the file size limitation of HFS+ and is still openly supported as a default file format for external storage drives and SD cards. HFS+ has been retired and succeeded by the newer APFS which has many similarities to HFS+ but enhanced support for SSDs.

HFS+ never adapted support for SSDs and was instead replaced, while exFAT has since been used on devices with 2.8 GB/s transfer speeds. It may seem unfair to compare a currently support file system against one that has been disengaged. That’s because it is. A modern comparison would be exFAT against the current file system of macOS, APFS.

Why Is HFS+ An Option?

Believe it or not, there are still Apple computers with Mac OS X running today. Keeping access to the format is a way to keep backward compatibility with those older devices. If the option were removed and someone’s older MacBook HDD fails, they would not be able to format a disk to repair the problem.

Is exFAT better than HFS+?

While it is still in use, exFAT only appears to be better due to its continued use in modern technology. HFS+ may be able to work on Thunderbolt devices near the same speeds. The difference comes down to the features of the file systems. exFAT is meant to be simple and clean so it can be easily used across different operating environments. HFS+ was designed as the center for file organization for Apple devices. It has a much more sophisticated system to allow for file protection and integrity.

exFAT vs HFS+: Six Must-Know Facts

  • HFS+ was the default file format for internal drives on Apple computers with Mac OS X from Mac OS 8.1 and up until High Sierra.
  • exFAT is still the SDXC standard format as assigned by the SD Card Association.
  • exFAT is a much simpler system than HFS+ which can sometimes lead to file corruption.
  • exFAT external drives with Thunderbolt can transfer data at 2.8 GB/s.
  • HFS stands for Hierarchical File System.
  • exFAT is short for an extended file allocation table.

exFAT vs HFS+: Full Comparison FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What are exFAT and HFS+?

exFAT and HFS+ are file system formats used to instruct computers on how to organize files on a storage device. All storage devices have a file system format that interacts with whatever they are plugged into. exFAT is more popular than HFS+ as it is the default format for USB flash drives and SD memory cards. It also allows for cross-compatibility between Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Android, and iOS.

HFS+ was the default file system used in Apple devices. Since macOS High Sierra, it has been replaced by APFS to add improved support for solid-state drives.

What are exFAT and HFS+ used for?

exFAT and HFS+ are used to format storage devices with a file organization method. exFAT allows for read/write operations across nearly all operating systems, while HFS+ is exclusive to Mac OS. Today, exFAT is used as the default format for many external storage devices and SD cards. HFS+ is used on older Apple computers and drives taken from older Apple computers to modern configurations.

Is exFAT slower than HFS+?

Both file systems perform at similar speeds according to the physical limitations of the formatted device. For use with SSDs, neither exFAT nor HFS+ is recommended. On external drives, exFAT can support incredible speeds with USB 3.1 devices that reach up to 2,847 MB/s. That’s 2.8 gigabytes per second.

Is HFS+ the same as Mac OS extended?

Yes, HFS+ is the technical acronym that stands for Hierarchical File System plus. However, both names are considered to be interchangeable. HFS+ is the center of the Mac OS X file format system which other operating systems refer to as extended like Linux’s ext2, ext3, and ext4. As a central component of the OS, it is often called Mac OS extended by developers.

Which is better, exFAT or HFS+?

There aren’t any reasons to use HFS+ in 2022 besides transferring data from an old drive. exFAT is a far better choice for external drive purposes and SD cards. However, for internal drives, you’ll want to use Apple’s replacement for HFS+, APFS. That doesn’t necessarily make exFAT better than HFS+. It does make it a better option.

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