Microsoft's ExFAT file system was created to improve FAT32. Like FAT32, ExFAT is a perfect in terms of portability—since it's supported by almost every operating system, you can use ExFAT on external drives meant for sharing files between Windows, macOS, and Linux. Unlike FAT32, ExFAT will work on any drives larger than 32 GB and allows you to work with files over 4 GB. Still, sometimes FAT32 is required by specialty devices (such as some cars) and older computers. This minHour teaches you how to format your external drive using the ExFAT or FAT32 file system.
Formatting a Drive Smaller than 32 GB in Windows
Back up anything on the drive you want to save.
If your drive isn’t larger than 32 GB, you can format it to FAT32 or ExFAT using a built-in Windows utility. This will delete the contents of the drive, so make sure you back up any data on it that you want to keep.
Press ⊞ Win+E to open the File Explorer.
You can also open it by right-clicking the Start button and selecting .
Click This PC or Computer.
One of these options will be in the left panel of the File Explorer. Clicking it displays a list of drives connected to the PC.
Right-click the USB drive and select Format.
You should see the drive in the right panel. This opens the Format window.
- If you don’t see your USB drive listed here, press and run diskmgmt.msc to open the Disk Management tool. If the drive or USB port is not physically malfunctioning, the drive should be listed here. Right-click on it and select Format.
Select FAT32 or ExFAT from the “File system” menu.
Unless you’re working with a specialty device (or an older computer) that requires FAT32, is the modern choice. Still, FAT32 won’t do any harm—you just won’t be able to work with files 4 GB and larger.
- If you have specific instructions that say to use FAT32 (such as if you’re using a drive in a car or another specialty device), stick to FAT32. If not, use ExFAT so you can manage larger files.
- Leave the “Perform quick format” option checked to ensure a timely format. It’s not necessary to do a full format unless there’s something wrong with the drive or you really need to cover your tracks.
Name the drive.
The “Volume label” field allows you to enter a name that will identify the drive anywhere you plug it in. Type your desired name here.
Click Start to format the drive.
You’ll be prompted to confirm that you want to delete everything on the drive. For most drives, the format should only take a few moments. Performing a full format will take longer. Once the drive is formatted, you can copy files to and from the drive on any operating system.
Formatting a Drive Larger than 32GB in Windows
Back up the USB drive.
Because formatting the drive will delete all of your data, make a backup of anything you want to keep before you continue.
Decide between FAT32 and ExFAT file systems.
ExFAT, the successor to FAT32, also works on Windows, macOS, and Linux. The main difference is that ExFAT does away with the 4 GB file size limitation and works on drives larger than 32 GB.
- If your drive is larger than 32 GB and you just want to use it to share files between multiple modern operating systems (Windows 8 and later, macOS X 10.6.6 and later), use this method instead, and be sure to select ExFAT as the file system type.
- If you have specific instructions to use FAT32 and your drive is larger than 32 GB, you’ll need a third-party tool to format it as FAT32—continue with this method.
Go to ridgecrop.co.uk/index.htm?guiformat.htm in a web browser.
This is the download site for a free app called fat32format that can format larger drives (up to 2 TB) as FAT32. This tool has been around for many years and is safe to use.
Click the image to download the tool.
If the download doesn’t start right away, click to start it.
Double-click the downloaded file to open it.
The file is called and is saved to your default Downloads folder. The tool does not need to be installed—as soon as you double-click it (and confirm that you want to open it), it’ll be ready to use.
Select your USB drive from the “Drive” menu.
It’s the menu at the top of the screen.
- Leave the “Allocation unit size” option as the default setting unless you have a specific need to change it.
Type a name for the flash drive.
This goes into the “Volume label” field. This name is how the drive will be identified when plugged in (in addition to its drive letter).
Choose whether to do a quick format.
Quick Format is checked by default and should be fine for most people, and is definitely the faster option. If you’re having trouble with the drive or are giving it to somebody else, remove the checkmark to do an extensive format.
Click Start to format the drive.
If you’re doing a quick format, the process should only take a few minutes (depending on the size of the drive). A full format can take several hours. Once the format is complete, you’ll be able to copy files to and from the drive as normal.
Formatting on a Mac
Back up any important data on the drive.
If you want to be able to use your external hard drive with a Windows PC in addition to macOS, you can format the drive as MS-DOS (FAT) (32GB and smaller—basically the same thing as FAT32) or ExFAT (any size). Although these file system types are not called FAT32, they’ll still work on both PCs and Macs. Formatting deletes everything from the drive, so make sure you copy any files you want to keep to your hard drive.
Open Disk Utility.
You’ll find it in the folder in a sub-folder called .
Select your USB drive.
It’ll be in the left panel under “External.” If you don’t see it listed, try plugging it into a different USB port.
Click the Erase tab.
It’s near the top of the window.
Select a file system from the “Format” menu.
The filesystem is an updated version of FAT32 that works almost the same, except there’s no 4 GB file size limit, and you can use it on drives larger than 32 GB (unlike FAT32, by default). This is the best, most up-to-date option for working between Windows and Macs (Windows 8 and newer, Mac OX X 10.6.6 and up). If you have specific instructions to use FAT32, such as if you’re using a car that requires it, go with .
- If the drive is larger than 32 GB but you absolutely need FAT32, you can create multiple partitions on the USB drive and format each as a separate FAT32 partition. Click the Partition tab, then click the + button to create new partitions. Set the size of each to 32 GB or less and select MS-DOS (FAT) from the Format menu for each.
Give the drive a name.
Enter a name for the drive into the “Name” field (up to 11 characters). This name will appear whenever the drive is connected.
Click Erase to begin the format.
All of the data on the drive will be deleted and it will be formatted with the selected file system. You can now copy files to and from the drive as normal.
Formatting on Ubuntu Linux
Back up any data that you would like to save.
Formatting your drive will erase all of the data on it. Copy everything you want to save off of the USB drive before formatting.
Open the Disks utility.
This utility allows you to format disks connected to your system. The easiest way to open it is to click the Dash button and type disks into the search bar. The Disks utility should be the first result in the list.
Select your USB drive.
You’ll find it in the list of drives on the left side of the Disks window.
Click the Stop button to unmount the drive.
Clicking the solid square button in the “Volumes” section will unmount the drive so it can be formatted.
Click the gear button and select Format Partition.
It’s at the top of the menu.
Give the USB drive a name.
Type a label for the drive into the “Volume name” field at the top of the window. This is how the drive will be identified when plugged in.
Select a file system.
ExFAT, the successor to FAT32, also works on Windows and macOS and is suitable for drives of all sizes. The main difference is that ExFAT does away with the 4 GB file size limitation of FAT32. Unless you’re working with a specialty device that requires FAT32, is the modern choice. Still, FAT32 won’t do any harm—you just won’t be able to work with files 4 GB and larger.
- To select ExFAT, choose the Other option at the button, click Next, and select ExFAT.
- To select FAT32, select For use with all systems and devices (FAT) and click Next.
Click Create to format the drive.
This can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the size of the drive. Once the format is complete, you can remount the drive and copy files to and from it as normal.