How to Recover Data from Mac Hard Drive to Windows PC: All the Methods

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recover data from mac hard drive to pc

Need to transfer or recover data from Mac hard drive to PC? There are different methods for both of these tasks – choosing the best one for your situation depends on the tools you have available. In this article, we provide step-by-step instructions for different methods of transferring or recovering your Mac data to a Windows PC.

Each method is accompanied by a short summary so you know exactly what you need and what you’re getting into before starting. Read on!

What is the Problem with Transferring Files from Mac to PC

There are 2 reasons why transferring data from Mac to PC isn’t so straightforward: (1) macOS and Windows each support certain file systems only, and (2) the method of transferring files from an internal drive is different from that of an external drive.

First, let’s briefly talk about file systems. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Only macOS supports HFS+ and APFS.
  • On the other hand, only Windows supports NTFS.
  • Both macOS and Windows support FAT32 and ExFAT.
This is why most external storage devices like USB sticks, memory cards, and external drives are formatted to ExFAT.

While your operating system won’t directly recognize an incompatible file system, in many cases, it’s not only possible but easy to read and transfer your files. However, you’ll need certain tools and know-how to get it done. The next sections of this article are dedicated to showing you how to do it properly.

The second challenge of transferring data from Mac to PC is physically connecting an internal drive to a computer. In the methods we outlined below, we’ll show you different ways to solve this.

If you accidentally formatted your Mac hard drive when you connected it to your PC or you deleted your data by accident while attempting to transfer it, the next section will also work to recover it.

How to Recover Data from Mac Hard Drive to PC

There are multiple situations where attempting to transfer files from Mac hard drive to PC causes data loss. For example: when you connect an incompatible drive to a PC, the Windows operating system may prompt you to format it… Unfortunately, it’s easy to mistakenly confirm the prompt if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Another example of potential failure is when your Mac hard drive is not showing up on PC. This section will teach you how to recover data from an old Mac hard drive or a faulty, failing, or formatted drive to PC.

If your Mac drive is failing or corrupted, the methods below will also help you retrieve your data safely.

Method 1: Connect to PC as External Drive and Use Data Recovery Software

If you have the tools and don’t mind getting a little hands-on with your tech, you can connect your drive as an external storage device to your Windows PC. Depending on your Mac model and your Windows PC, you have 3 options: (1) plug a Mac hard drive into a PC using an enclosure (2) if compatible, connect M2 SATA directly, or (3) use connectors.

Once your Mac drive is connected to your PC, we can use data recovery software. Make sure to choose one that can recover files from a Mac hard drive with Windows – our guide uses Disk Drill because it can read Mac hard drives on PC. However, note that you can only recover 500 MB of data for free. If you want to recover more than that, you’ll need to purchase a license.

This method works for users whose Macs don’t have their internal drives soldered onto the motherboard. Apple began rolling out soldered SSDs in 2016, so check your model online first. If your SSD is soldered, try the other methods below.
  1. Connect your Mac drive to your PC and ignore or cancel any formatting prompts that appear.
  2. Download and install Disk Drill. Then, launch the app.
  3. Select your drive from the middle pane (if using an enclosure, it may have a generic USB name) and click Search for lost data.drive selection window in Disk Drill
  4. Once Disk Drill completes the scan, click Review found items.scan results in disk drill
  5. If you only want to restore specific files, you can use the left sidebar to filter the data or use the search bar (click the magnifying glass) in the top-right corner. Preview your files by hovering your mouse pointer beside them and clicking the eye button that appears.preview window in disk drill
  6. Select your files by clicking the boxes in the leftmost column or by clicking the select all box in the column header. Then, click Recover.file selection window in Disk Drill
  7. Choose a location on your PC where Disk Drill will save the recovered files. Then, click Next to proceed with recovery.destination folder selection dialog in disk drill

Method 2: Recover From Time Machine Backup

If you created a Time Machine backup before experiencing problems with your drive, you can connect the Time Machine drive to a Windows PC (remember to ignore or cancel any formatting prompts!). However, to access the data, you’ll need third-party tools.

We recommend HFSExplorer. Another option is to try using Disk Drill to scan your Time Machine backup drive, which will work with any file system. Follow the instructions in Recovery Method #1 but select your Time Machine drive instead of your Mac drive (start at Step 4).

Method 3: Create an Image Backup and Scan It

If you can’t physically connect your drive to your Windows PC and you don’t have a Time Machine backup, you can still recover data using Disk Drill. However, we’ll need to do an extra step. Using Disk Utility, we’ll create an image backup of the Mac drive.

Once in Disk Drill, we can scan the image backup instead of the drive itself. Follow the guide below.

This is especially useful for non-booting Macs as Disk Utility can be launched from Recovery Mode.
If you use Disk Drill, you can skip Disk Utility and create an image using Disk Drill’s Byte-to-byte backup tool and scan that instead. Like Disk Utility, you can launch Disk Drill on a non-booting Mac via Terminal in Recovery Mode.

On your Mac:

  1. Connect a USB or external drive to your Mac, ensuring that it has enough space for the image file.
  2. Launch Disk Utility (Finder > Applications > Utilities).disk utility icon in Finder
  3. Select your drive from the left sidebar. On the menu bar, click File > New Image > Image from “Drive Name”.File menu
  4. In the dialogue box, name your backup file, select compressed for its format, and opt to save it to the external storage device we connected in Step 1. Disk Utility images use the DMG extension, which is compatible with Disk Drill. If you used another tool to back up your files, your image backup uses one of the following extensions: DMG, RAW, DD, IMG, ISO, DSK, BIN, DAT, VMDK, VHD, or VHDX.drive backup window in Disk Utility
  5. Safely eject the storage device.

On your PC:

  1. Connect the storage device (containing the image file) to your PC and ignore or cancel any formatting prompts that appear.
  2. Download and install Disk Drill, then launch the app.
  3. Click the Attach disk image… button at the bottom of the window and select the image backup file in the storage device we connected in Step 1.
  4. Disk Drill adds the image backup in the drive selection screen. Select it and click Search for lost data.
  5. Follow Steps 5-8 in Recovery Method #1.
Technically speaking, you can use any data recovery software you want. However, not all of them can scan disk images.

How to Transfer Data from Mac Hard Drive to PC

If your data is intact and accessible on your Mac drive, you can directly transfer them between your machines instead of attempting data recovery. Below are 4 different methods you can use depending on your preference, tools, and budget:

Method 1: Use File Sharing on Mac

If you can boot your Mac and connect to the internet, you can transfer your data wirelessly. This section allows you to do the work on your Mac, while the next section demonstrates how to set it up on Windows.

For this method, we’ll use the File Sharing tool on Mac:

On your Mac:

  1. Click the Apple menu button > System Settings.System Settings in Apple menu
  2. Click General on the left sidebar and select Sharing.General tab in System Settings
  3. Turn File Sharing on by clicking the toggle to the right, then click the i button beside it.File Sharing button in System Settings
  4. First, take note of network address under File Sharing: On. You’ll need this later when you connect your Windows computer to your Mac’s network. Then, click the Options button and a new dialogue box will appear.File Sharing dialog
  5. Tick the boxes beside Share files and folders using SMB and beside your Mac user account. Then, click Done.Options menu in File Sharing
  6. You can use the default Public folder to transfer your files. To add a new folder to the network, click the + button. You can add multiple folders or consolidate your files into one “transfer” folder. You can also edit folder permissions from this window.Permissions in File Sharing
  7. Control + click the folder/s you want to share and click Advanced Options…Advanced options in File Sharing
  8. Enable Allow guest users and click OK and then Done.Guest permissions in File Sharing
  9. Back in the System Settings window, click Network on the left sidebar and click Wi-Fi.Network tab in System Settings
  10. Beside your network name and status, click Details…Details option in Network
  11. Select WINS on the left sidebar and type your Windows computer’s workgroup name. Then, click OK.Details menu in Network settings

On your Windows computer:

In the search bar, type the IP address generated by Mac in Step 4 above but remove “smb”. Then, hit Enter. A dialog box may appear and require you to enter the username and password you use to log in to your Mac.

network ip address in the search bar

Once you’ve entered your credentials, File Explorer will allow you to freely transfer files between your Mac and your Windows PC.

Mac network folder in Windows shared folder

Method 2: Create a Network Folder on Windows PC

If you prefer to set up file sharing from your Windows PC, you can create a network folder; a network folder and all its contents are accessible to computers on the same network. Here’s how to set it up:

On your Windows computer:

  1. Create a folder anywhere in File Explorer.
  2. Right-click the folder > Show more options > Give access to > Specific people…right click menu
  3. Select Everyone. Then, click Add > Share and click Done once your folder has been shared.network permissions in Network dialog

On your Mac:

  1. Open Finder and click Network on the left sidebar. Then, double-click your Windows.Network in Finder
  2. On the top-right corner of the Finder window, click Connect As… (Click Connect again to confirm if prompted).Connect As button in Network
  3. Select Registered User and type in the Name and Password of your Windows PC. Then, click Connect.Connect As dialog
  4. Finder will indicate once you’re connected. Then, it should load up your Windows folder.Windows Folder in Mac Network folder

You can now freely transfer files between your Mac and Windows machines by adding data to the shared folder.

Method 3: Transfer Data Using an ExFAT-Formatted External Drive

Transferring files from Mac to PC using an external hard drive is possible, but the drive has to be formatted with an ExFAT file system so it can be recognized by both macOS and Windows computers (Windows will not natively support a Mac-formatted external hard drive).

To format Mac drive to Windows, right-click your drive in File Explorer and select Format… from the popup menu.

You can make an external hard drive compatible with Mac and PC without formatting (or at least full formatting – which is what wipes your data) by enabling the Quick Format setting in the Windows formatting tool.

Method 4: Use Third-Party Mac Drive Explorer Software

If you don’t have a stable network connection nor an ExFAT-formatted external drive, you can attempt to access your data directly through Windows. However, you’ll need third-party Mac drive explorer software to actually read the data.

For HFS+ drives, we recommend HFSExplorer. For APFS drives, we recommend APFS for Windows by Paragon Software.

Once you have the correct explorer software for your file system, you have a couple of options:

  • Connect the drive. If your Mac drive isn’t soldered on, you can connect it to your PC. You have 3 options: (1) if a hard drive, use an enclosure, (2) if compatible, connect M2 SATA directly, or (3) use connectors.
  • Create an image backup. Create an image backup Use Disk Utility to create an image backup of your Mac drive.
  • Create a Time Machine backup. Create a Time Machine backup of your Mac on an external drive. (only works for HFS+; if using APFS, use Disk Drill to scan and recover it instead).

You can then read your drive, image backup, or Time Machine backup (HFS+ only) using the explorer software of your choice.

This is also a good method to transfer Mac external hard drive to PC. Once the explorer software loads up your drive, you can transfer files from Mac to PC via external hard drive.

Conclusion

Despite their incompatible file systems, there are many options to recover or transfer data from a Mac hard drive to a Windows PC. However, some of them require tools or extra preparations to work. We suggest you look into cloud storage options and back up your data regularly to an ExFAT-formatted external hard drive.

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