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I have been using NTFS, but I recently took a drive which is normally attached to a Mac mini running Lion (using Paragon NTFS) and attached it to Windows 7 because the drive was disconnecting spontaneously. Diagnostics didn't show a problem, but I decided to go ahead and copy it to another drive anyway.

It showed up on Windows 7 and I selected the two folders to copy to another drive and nothing happened. The drive disconnected and then it lost a whole folder about 1TB - I believe it's probably still there since the space is used up, but Windows must have had some kind of problem. I reattached it to the Mac, but the stuff is gone. I don't know if it's bad filenames or a bug in Windows 7 or Paragon, or what, but this isn't the first time I've had problems with external USB drives going between platforms or external drive failures when attached to OSX.

Normally I leave them attached to only one OS, but I need to be able to move them around if I have to get to the files from another machine.

Question is more for the future - what cross-platform file system should I use for these external drives? Or should I get away from moving these things between platforms?

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marked as duplicate by nerdwaller, Karan, Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007, Brad Patton, Scott May 21 '13 at 15:44

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There is no perfect solution for all situations. "Best" varies based on your requirements.

I use NTFS on several 1TB USB hard drives for the wide support it has on multiple devices, because I often take them to clients' houses and I know the files will be accessible regardless of the operating system with no extra set up required in most circumstances. Likewise, NTFS is supported by almost all media centres and games consoles so if I want to play a movie on a non-networked device I'm likely to grab on of these hard drives. NTFS is also fairly good for data recovery, if only because of its widespread usage - many software packages exist specifically for recovering a "Lost Folder" on an NTFS partition.

However if I personally planned to share 3TB of data between multiple operating systems, I would get a NAS rather than a USB connected device - for a little bit extra cost, I have far more flexibility, security and peace of mind. For example, you could have it formatted ext4 or something a bit more modern with high performance and mount it as a Samba share on Windows and Mac, therefore eliminating any filesystem conflicts and requirements on proprietary software such as Paragon NTFS.

Given that the NAS would be connected to power most of the time, stationary in one clean, dry location and managed by its own firmware it would be far more robust than a portable hard drive which is being spun up and down all the time and written to by various different drivers and kernels.

As a side-note, I suspect the issue you faced is less likely to be caused by a failure of NTFS or Windows, but the firmware on the drive itself or even a physical failure of the drive itself. I would recommend backing up any data on it you care about.

To summarise my long-winded answer, I think if you plan to continue using a portable hard drive and plugging it in and out of multiple machines regularly, you are prioritising convenience and as such NTFS is already your best choice. However, if you decide you care more about data reliability and security than portability I would suggest not using a portable drive at all and get a NAS, shared by all three operating systems and/or any other devices in your home using Samba.

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The drive has been rarely unplugged, in fact I think this may be the first time I've tried to move it from the Mac to the PC. I'm concerned that whatever I attached my drives to, that I should be able to read them from something else with out a lot of trouble. But you're probably right, I should be done with trying to attach drives to these small machines. –  Cade Roux May 19 '13 at 12:04
I'd say unfortunately for the requirement of being "able to read them from something else with out a lot of trouble", NTFS is currently the best choice. If you are likely to be using Apple devices more than Windows and Linux, use HFS+ (without journaling) and buy MacDrive to read/write on Windows. I'd genuinely recommend taking the actual 3TB disk out of your current portable hard drive and putting it in a cheap NAS. You can get a single bay NAS for less than $50 ( D-Link DNS-313 for example ) That way you avoid filesystem compatibility completely by using the Samba or NFS protocol instead. –  andrewthecoder May 20 '13 at 20:19
I've decided to put 2 4TB drives in my ESXi server and then mount them and serve them from one of the VMs in that server and then connect the Mac Mini to the network with gigabit instead of wireless to have more reasonably speedy access to the files and go with server-based storage instead and see how that works out. –  Cade Roux May 20 '13 at 20:23

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