A friend of mine's Apple laptop stopped booting. HDD issues. So he popped out the HDD and gave it to me to see if I could recover any files.

I've done this with PCs multiple times. Even if an HDD is broken to the point where you can't boot off of it, I have found that as long as the disk still spins you can usually recover some data.

So I popped this drive into an external enclosure. My PC recognizes it right away, but it can't actually read the disk, tells me it needs to be formatted. Is this due to the OS X filesystem (I am a complete Apple noob, I don't even know what file system OS X uses), and if so, is there a way to get around it?


Yes, the issue is that there is no native support in Windows for Apple's formatting (HFS/HFS+).

So you have a few options:

  1. You could buy (or use a trial) for MacDrive in Windows (works well in my experience)

  2. You could boot into a Linux Live Disc, install the HFS Utils and open it there. (Ubuntu is a simple go-to for this).

sudo apt-get install hfsplus (on a debian based system)

I hope you didn't click Initialize if the option was provided, I corrupted a drive doing that once...


OS X usually formats disks with another filesystem than FAT or NTFS.
(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File_system#OS_X ).

This means that you either:

  • need to add the right drivers to your windows 7 install to make it understand HFS,
  • or need to use a right program which groks the format. E.g. HFS explorer.
  • or that you need to boot an OS which already has support for this filesystem. (E.g. boot a linux Live CD which understands both the MAC and PC format. See this for more details.
  • Or, assuming the laptop is not 100% broken, you can turn in into an external FireWire drive. (which is called Target mode). To do this press T after powering up the mac. (Just as you would press Del to enter a BIOS on a PC)
  • Out of curiosity, if you put a Mac in Target Disk mode - does it work as an intermediary for HFS support - or would Windows still need HFS Explorer/MacDrive/etc? Never tried it with Windows in that mode before, I just used Linux. – nerdwaller Apr 11 '13 at 21:53
  • I suspect that it will behave like a standard Firewire disk, exposing the disk and thus still needing a correct driver to recognise the filesystem(s) on disk. Sadly I lack a mac so I never tested this. – Hennes Apr 12 '13 at 8:45
  • I no longer have one to test either, but I would assume you're correct. Good solutions! – nerdwaller Apr 12 '13 at 14:53

You need a driver, or an OS that can read HFS+ (Most likely HFS+, as HFS is old...)

You did not mention the OS she was on, regardless:

For free, from within Windows HFSExplorer is free and can read HFS+ from within Windows. You can't write, but to save data all you need is read.


Otherwise, another Apple machine, or a Linux can be used.

I have used HFSExplorer, and it does work great.

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