FAT32 is a versatile file system that has been around for decades. Unfortunately, Windows 10 does not allow users to format USB or hard disk drives larger than 32GB in FAT32. Fortunately, there are ways around this.
What Is FAT32?
FAT stands for File Allocation Table, and it is a computer file system architecture. Without getting too technical, think of FAT as the language your files are written in. Because FAT was introduced way back in 1977, it 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. It doesn’t matter what device or operating system you use it with, as it’s going to work right out of the box with no additional formatting required.
Why Is FAT32 Disabled in Windows 10?
Despite the fact that FAT32 is so versatile, Windows 10 does not allow you to format drives in FAT32. This may seem like an odd choice; however, there is sound reasoning behind the decision.
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FAT32 has been replaced by the more modern exFAT (extended file allocation) file system.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 that 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.
Powershell (Command Line)
If you wanted to format your drive in NTFS or exFAT, you could do so with the regular Windows 10 formatting tool. However, you won’t be able to use the formatting tool if you want to use the FAT32 file system.
Fortunately, there is a way around this. While you can’t choose FAT32 in the regular Windows 10 formatting tool, you can still do it without installing any third-party software.
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 format your drive to FAT32 in Windows 10, you’ll need to use Powershell. 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. It will ask you to confirm or cancel formatting by hitting the Y or N key. Hit the Y key, and the formatting process will begin. 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:
Do you use the FAT32 files system with your USB drives, SD cards and Hard Drives? If not, let us know which format you prefer and why in the comments!