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Here's the free way to make your USB drive faster

Jon L. Jacobi | June 9, 2016
A simple reformat is all that stands between you and your need for speed.

The solution for Windows-only users is simple. Back up the data on the drive, re-format said drive to NTFS, transfer the data back, and watch those files go. The drive will still be readable on Macs and readable/writable using Linux.

sandisk extreme 900 folder
Slow writing of small files to a Sandisk Extreme 900 formatted in exFAT.

sandisk extreme 900 folder write ntfs
Much faster writing of small files and folders to an Sandisk Extreme 900 formatted to NTFS.

Just in case you’re not Windows-only, there are other options. If you’re going to use your USB drive only on Macs, you can format it in HFS+. Linux reads USB drives formatted in HFS+ and believe it or not, Microsoft actually knows how to as well. Sadly for PC users, said knowledge is only employed on the Xbox to read from iPhones and iPads. Sigh. 

Tip: Linux is very handy for handling multiple file system formats. Keep a copy of live Ubuntu or some such on another USB drive. Boot from it and you’ll be able to copy from a HFS+ drive to a FAT/exFAT/NTFS drive. If said HFS+ drive is a Mac’s internal drive, the files will have to be in the public folder. You can also write to HFS+ using Linux, but only if journaling is turned off on the HFS+ device. But there’s always the native OS X for that...

Make mine faster!

Really, the whole deal comes down to how you use your USB drive. If you’re pretty much a Windows person, then by all means use NTFS. FAT32 and exFAT are just as fast as NTFS with anything other than writing large batches of small files, so if you move between device types often, you might want to leave FAT32/exFAT in place for maximum compatibility. Me? I format to NTFS. I don’t like to wait. Ever. And, there’s always the OS X command line or Ubuntu.


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