FAT32 is a versatile file system that has been around for decades. It’s been largely replaced by exFAT which has capacity for larger file and partition sizes and NTFS – the most widely-used and versatile file system for Windows – but it still has uses for older devices and for those looking for a simple file format for their flash drives.
Fortunately, you can still format flash drives to the FAT32 format in Windows – whether using the integrated tool or third-party tools (which offer more options). Here’s how to format a drive to FAT32 in Windows 10 and Windows 11.
What Is FAT32?
FAT stands for File Allocation Table, and it is a file system commonly used in USB flash drives. FAT was introduced way back in 1977 and is compatible with virtually all operating systems. This means that Macs, PCs, Linux machines, and even phones can read FAT files.
Because of FAT’s near universal compatibility, it is the ideal format for file sharing between devices. It is for this reason that most USB drives and SD cards are formatted in FAT32 straight from the manufacturer, as it’s going to work right out of the box with no additional formatting required.
The Limitations of FAT32
Since the FAT32 file system is so old, there are two significant limitations. The first is that the FAT32 file architecture cannot be used on drives larger than 16TB. Admittedly, this isn’t a huge issue for most people. However, the second drawback of FAT32 can be a bigger headache: FAT32 cannot handle individual files over 4GB in size.
FAT32 has been replaced by the more modern exFAT (extended file allocation) file system. exFAT has a greater file-size limit than FAT32. The only downside to exFAT is that it was developed by Microsoft and therefore owns all the patents.
This means the ability to manipulate the exFAT file structure, such as read, write, and repair capabilities, must be licensed. Unfortunately, this means there can be some compatibility issues when using exFAT. This makes FAT32 a bit easier to work with, despite the file-size limitations.
Format Using Integrated Tool
Windows 10 and 11 have a handy internal tool for formatting your flash drives. With the drive you want to format inserted into your PC, go to “This PC” and find the drive under “Devices and drives”.
Right-click the flash drive then click “Format.”
In the Format window, click the dropdown under ‘File system’ and select “FAT32.”
You can also change your allocation unit size. Generally you should leave this as default but if the drive will only contain larger files like videos and movies, then you can crank this up all the way to 64 kilobytes, as that will (some say) make the reading of the files faster. If you deal in small files then leave the allocation unit size at default to preserve space.
You can name the volume under “Volume label”, and also deselect “Quick Format” if you want Windows to scan the drive for faults before formatting.
Finally, click “Start” to format the drive.
Powershell (Command Line)
Another way to format to FAT32 in Windows is Powershell.
Before you get started, connect the storage device you want to format in FAT32 to your PC. When you connect the drive, make note of the letter assigned to it.
Note: before proceeding any further, ensure that your data is backed up. Formatting will erase all of the data currently stored on the drive.
To launch the Powershell command line, right-click the Start button and select “Run” from the menu. This will open the Run command window. Alternatively, you can press Win + R to launch the Run command box. Type
powershell and either click OK or press Enter.
Once the Powershell window opens, type the following command, replacing the “F” with the letter of the drive you want to format in FAT32:
Finally, hit the Enter key. You will see a prompt warning you that all of the data on the drive will be wiped. Press the Y key to confirm the formatting. Let your computer do its thing, and before you know it, your drive will be formatted in FAT32.
If you’re not comfortable with the command line and prefer something with a graphical user interface, you can opt for third-party software. There are a number of options available, including (but not limited to) the ones listed below:
1. Mini Aide FAT32 Formatter
Mini Aide FAT32 Formatter is a nice and easy solution if you are looking to format a drive in FAT32 format. The interface is clean and provides you with all the information about your hard disks and partitions. Mini Aide also lets you create a new partition, and delete or relabel an existing partition. This tool provides all the necessary features but is also very low on RAM usage.
2. EaseUS Partition Master Free
EaseUS Partition Master Free is arguably one of the most used and popular tools for all your partition-related solutions. You can extend your HDD partition, manage disk space, delete a partition, relabel it, etc. The best thing about it is unlike other partition managers, it does not feature ads, even in the free version of the tool. Moreover, you can convert disks and partitions in multiple formats, including FAT32. This tool has a user-friendly interface, and you can interact with current partitions and disks at the bottom of the UI.
Rufus is a very small, lightweight, easy-to-use, and effective format conversion tool. It is a standalone tool that lets you convert and create a bootable USB drive in multiple formats. Since the app is just over 1MB in size, it is quite fast in operation and lets you create an ISO on a USB.
Image credit: Drive
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