While there are some misconceptions surrounding the compatibility of modern hard drives with today's Mac operating systems and computers, the truth is that most consumer hard drives will work without issue in either a PC or Mac. Although there are some drives that are manufactured specifically with Mac users in mind, and these devices often contain certain optimizations that help them perform better on Mac systems, they're not a steadfast requirement.

In fact, it's not so much about the actual physical drive as it is about the file system of the drive. Since most drives can be re-formatted to nearly any of the modern file systems, the majority of modern hard drives can easily be configured for compatibility. As long as the necessary physical connectors are present on the drive and the ports are available on the computer, most drives can be made to work with either a PC or Mac.

Since the file system is more important than the drive itself, let's take a look at the modern file systems  that are compatible with today's Mac computers. Not only will this help to clear the air of any possible confusion, but it might even help you make a better decision when it comes to picking your next hard drive or planning out a new system entirely.

FAT32 (File Allocation Table)

One of the most common and widely used file systems, FAT32 is capable of reading and writing data to Windows and Mac OS X. Unfortunately, the usefulness of FAT32 is severely diminished due to its maximum file size of 4GB. Furthermore, with a maximum volume size of only 2TB, most Mac users will find more benefit in one of the other file systems.

NTFS (Windows NT File System)

Although it's native to Microsoft Windows, NTFS can read data from Mac OS X. However, it doesn't offer native support for writing to Mac OS X. To achieve this, you'll have to implement third-party software . Note that although NTFS support can be enabled in OS X Snow Leopard and Lion, it is not stable and not advisable.

HFS+ (Hierarchical File System) or Mac OS Extended

This file system was designed specifically for Mac computers. In fact, it's a requirement if you want to take advantage of certain Mac features, such as Time Machine. Since it was designed for Mac systems, it doesn't include native support for Microsoft Windows. However, there are several third-party solutions that can be installed in order to achieve compatibility and unlock the ability to both read and write HFS+ data  from Windows.

exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table) or FAT64

Known as exFAT or FAT64, some power users prefer this file system due to its increased file limits. Moreover, the fact that it was originally developed for Microsoft Windows means that it is fully compatible with both Mac and Windows operating systems. However, exFAT is not compatible with some Mac features, including Time Capsule, nor is it compatible with AirPort Extreme (802.11n) hardware.