How to Format USB Drives on Windows 10

How to Format USB Drives on Windows 10

If you have a malfunctioning or corrupted USB drive, formatting it may be the best way to get it back to its original working state. Even if your drive is healthy, you may still want to format it to get rid of the contents there.

This article looks at some ways you can format a USB drive on Windows. If you know some other ways of achieving the same result, tell us about it in the comments section below.

Before you format your USB drive, you need to think about which file system to use. File Systems are simply ways of organising data on a storage device (such as hard drives or SD Cards), and support for various file systems varies depending on your operating system.

Windows 10 offers three file system options when formatting a USB drive: FAT32, NTFS and exFAT. Here is the breakdown of the pros and cons of each filesystem.

 ProsConsBest Used For
Fat 32* Compatible with all major operating systems.

* Less memory usage.
* Cannot handle single files larger 4GB.

*Limited partition size (up to 32GB).
* Removable storage devices such as USB Flash Drives.

* Devices that need to be plugged into a variety of operating systems.
NTFS* Can create partitions larger than 32GB.

* Can read/write files larger than 4GB.

* Supports on-the-fly file encryption.
* Limited cross-platform compatibility.* Internal hard drives.

* Windows system drives.
exFAT* Provides an unlimited file and partition size.* You may need to install drivers to get exFAT compatibility on Linux.* External hard drives.

* Flash drives if you want to work with files larger than 4GB.

Now, let’s take a look at some ways you can format your USB drive on Windows 10.

This is the easiest way and simply requires you to plug in your USB Drive, open the Windows File Explorer and right click your drive to view a number of actions that you can perform.

format-usb-right-click-drive

Clicking the “format” option will open a new window where you can configure the available options before formating your drive.

I will be going with the NTFS file system because I need cross-platform compatibility (Windows and Linux), and I may need to transfer files larger than 4GB on occasion.

As for allocation size, it all depends on what you want to do with your drive. If you have a large drive (such as a 500GB hard drive), a large allocation size such as 32 kilobytes will make your device faster, but storage space may fill up quicker. For small drives, such as 4GB or 8GB flash drives, a smaller allocation size will help conserve space.

I’m going with 4kb (4096 bytes) as my allocation size because I work with small files most of the time, and my flash drive is just 16GB.

The volume label is simply the name of your USB Drive. You can name your drive anything you want.

format-usb-options

Once you have selected the options, you can click the format button to begin the formatting process. Ticking the “Quick Format” checkbox means that your drive will not be scanned for bad sectors. If you have a malfunctioning drive, you might want to uncheck that box for a more thorough scanning.

A success message will be displayed on the screen once the formatting is completed.

format-usb-success

Another method of formatting your USB drive is by using Diskpart, a command prompt utility.

All commands given below should be entered without quotes. A full screenshot of the steps is shown below.

1. Search for the command prompt on the Start Menu or just type cmd. Right-click the command prompt icon and select “Run as Administrator.”

format-usb-cmd

2. Once the command prompt opens up, type in the following command:

format-usb-diskpart

3. Next, type the following command to view the active drives on your machine:

It will also show you the disk numbers and storage parameters for all active drives.

format-usb-list-disk

4. Use the select command to choose your USB drive. In this case I entered select disk 1 because my USB drive is disk number 1 as seen in the previous step. Make sure you don’t select your internal hard drive or you could destroy your system.

format-usb-select-disk

5. Next, type in the following command:

It should display a success message on your screen.

format-usb-clean

6. Next, type in the following command:

This will create and activate the specified partition.

format-usb-create-partition

7. Now it’s time to format your drive. All you need to do is enter the following command:

If you want to use FAT32 or exFAT, simply replace “ntfs” with either of the two formats in the command. And don’t forget to change the name of the drive.

format-usb-format

8. Lastly, enter the following command:

Then exit the command prompt.

format-usb-assign

Your USB Drive should be cleanly formatted and ready to use.

I hope this short tutorial has helped you figure out some different ways to format your USB drives. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

9 comments

  1. You forgot to mention that an USB drive is built with the same hardware as Solid State Disks (SSD).
    Every write action to an USB drive will shorten its live as all drives build on SSD technology. So this goes for the SSD drives themselves, the memory cards like the SD Card in your camera and phone and the USB drive.

    [quote] Even if your drive is healthy, you may still want to format it to get rid of the contents there.[Quote]
    No you don’t want to format the drive! Just don’t put sensitive data on a stick

    If there is nothing wrong with the stick don’t format it as a format touches EVERY bit on a drive it will shorten its live time more than normal write actions.

    [quote]Ticking the “Quick Format” checkbox means that your drive will not be scanned for bad sectors. [quote] Completely wrong. I don’t know where you get your information from but when checking this checkbox the format tool will only overwrite the File Allocation Table. Where this is and how it is done depends on the format chosen. Checking this box does NOT overwrite the whole disk and data can (with special tools) be retrieved still!
    Remove the checkbox to do a full format where every sector is overwritten. Even now it is possible with those special tools to retrieve data. If you want to be sure all data is destroyed you must overwrite each sector with the Hexadecimal value FF at least 2 times.

    Concerning Method 2: For most people DON’T DO IT! The risk is to big you pick the wrong drive and desctroy you main installation and have nothing but an empty PC left. The method does not give more than the first method. If you can’t fix the USB drive with method 1 take a hammer and destroy it. They are to cheap to bother hours of work on.

  2. Method 2 is aimed at exactly who?
    This is 2016, Windows 10 ( the best yet ???) has now been around for over a year.
    Still MS can not manage to allow a simple approach to formatting in FAT32 for larger USB drives.
    If you need ever to consider using Command prompt you are probably already over your head.
    As a previous reply wryly notes: “use a hammer & replace”

  3. Your Computer with Unlimited damage file or blocked files.
    Don’t worry if you want to remove the blocked files or too long path files from your system, here I suggest a smooth way. Use “Windows 10 Long File Names” software and keep yourself.Protect your computer.

  4. I had a 1 TB USB drive that had served as an auxiliary storage device for a video recording system that had died. Propriety format on the disk which nothing else would recognize. Your instruction (second option) worked perfectly and I now have a perfectly good data backup disk. A little old and slow but otherwise faultless. Thank you!

  5. Hello. First method come out with a pop up saying Windows(10) can’t format the flash drive.. Method 2 while trying to Create Partition Primary a warning text says it can’t. The text reads:”No usable free extend could be found. It may be that there is insufficient free space to create a partition at the specified size and offset. Specify different size and offset values or don’t specify either to create the maximum sized partition. It may be that the disk is partitioned using MBR disk. partitioning format and the disk contains either 4 primary partitions, (no more partitions may be created), or 3 primary partitions, (no more partitions may be created), or 3 primary partitions and one extended partition, (only logical drives may be created).”
    The 16 G flash drive is used as memory for the cell phone.

    Thak you

  6. I used my Flash Drive to run MemTest for RAM thinking i had a faulty RAM. Turns out i had insufficient RAM. Left my 16GB Flash Drive with 48MB space after deleting MemTest. Tried option one first and did not fix the problem.(It would not let me select a bigger capacity). Then did option 2 and it fixed the problem and i now have14.4GB of usable drive space. It took ten minuets to perform both options to be up and running almost straight away. Instruction clear as day and easy to follow. Put the hammer away.

Comments are closed.

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