Apple AirPort Extreme USB hard drive not showing up

I’ve used the AirPort Extreme as a WiFi hotspot for several years. Then I recently learned that USB devices can be connected to it and shared, like a USB printer and a USB hard drive!

I was very happy to see that when connected my legacy USB printer (Canon MX330), it just showed up on the WiFi network and my Wifi-connected laptops could now see the printer and print to it! Very nifty!

Then I learned that the Airport Extreme had only 1 USB port, but with a hub, multiple USB devices could be connected. So I bought an Anker 4-port ultra slim USB 3.0 data hub from Amazon. It arrived in a couple days, thanks to Amazon Prime.

Plugged it in and started connecting USB hard drives, but they didn’t just work. By the way, the printer connected to the USB continued to work, so that’s good news.

The first hard drive I tried was a Seagate GoFlex 200GB that I had formatted using NTFS. Come to find out that NTFS is a showstopper. Airport Extreme with Mac OS is only able to mount USB hard drives formatted as Mac OS Extended (HFS+) or FAT16/FAT32 volumes.

Then I tried a hard drive that was formatted as a Mac OS Extended (HFS+) but that didn’t work because it’s very important to use a powered USB hub, not like the unpowered one I bought above. And my little USB hard drive was relying on the power from the USB hub, so it didn’t get enough juice to run.

Then I tried a USB flash drive, and that worked. One thing to note on this: in AirPort Utility > Disks, I had to check the box for “Enable file sharing” and while you can probably choose any of the 3 options, I chose “With a disk password” for the most convenient security. Then I was able to see this USB flash drive as a connected server via Finder, as follows:

  • under Devices > Network > AIRXP > DRIVENAME
  • under Shared > AIRXP > DRIVENAME

I figured if I’m having problems finding answers, maybe others would find this blog post helpful. When/if I have time, I might just update this blog post to be a simple and clear checklist of basic requirements for connecting USB hard drives to AirPort Extreme and save us all some hours of headache.