FAT32 is the go-to file allocation system used by Windows to manage storage on a hard drive. Although it has long been the standard file system for the majority of users, its only drawback is that it doesn’t allow you to store larger than 4GB files.
To store files larger than the given limit, users have to use other formats that aren’t as restricted, such as NTFS.
The FAT32 has certain advantages over newer file systems like the NTFS. It is easily readable by the majority of operating systems.
However, if you try to format your external hard drive in FAT32 using the disk management utility, you can’t unless the hard drive size is smaller than 32GB.
This is important to know because if you have a new hard drive or have reinstalled Windows, the system might ask you to format your hard drive.
Generally, the two standard formats are NTFS and FAT32. For older versions, FAT32 is the most common format.
Table of Contents
- What Is The Difference Between The Two Formats?
- General Steps For Formatting An External Hard Drive To FAT32
- Format An External Hard Drive To FAT32 Using Command Prompt
- Using PowerShell In Windows 10 To Format An External Hard Drive To FAT32
- Use FAT32Format To Format Your External Hard Drives
- Format An exFAT External Hard Drive To FAT32 With EaseUS
- Formatting Large USB Drives with FAT32 Using FAT32 Format
- Formatting Large USB Drives with FAT32 Using PowerShell
- Types Of File Systems
- What Does Formatting a Hard Drive Do
- Wrapping Up
What Is The Difference Between The Two Formats?
FAT32 is the more commonly used format, usually found in older computers. It is the most common version of the File Allocation Table format, and Microsoft launched it in 1977.
It was then adapted for IBM’s PC-DOS in 1981 and further carried on to MS-DOS as a standalone product.
FAT file systems have been the standard format used in hard drives and floppy drives for much of the 1980s and 1990s. It can be found in almost every version of Windows, all the way until Windows 8.
On the other hand, NFTS stands for New Technology Files System, and it is a newer drive format compared to FAT.
It was introduced in 1993 by Microsoft, a component of Windows NT 3.1 and later Windows 2000. This format gained popularity when Windows XP came out and has since been the default format for Windows 7 and 8 on newer PCs.
FAT32 works with a wider variety of operating systems. It is read/write compatible with many of the recent OS’ and several obsolete operating systems, including DOS, older versions of Windows, macOS X, and many UNIX-descended OS, such as Linux.
NTFS, in contrast, is read/write compatible with Windows NT 3.1 and newer versions of Windows, such as Windows XP, going all the way to Windows 8.
Other operating systems like macOS X 10.3 are read compatible but require a third-party software utility like Paragon NTFS.
In most cases, expect NTFS to be semi-compatible with OS X and that you will need third-party tools and workarounds for it to work. Also, NTFS does not work well on Linux for both read or write operations.
FAT32 is reasonably restricted in its file size support, and it can only support files up to 4GB, while the volume size maxes out at 2TB.
This makes FAT32 a limited option, restricting you to 2TB FAT32 partitions. It’s incompatible with larger files, such as HD movies, which can go up to 30GB in size.
NTFS, on the other hand, supports larger files. It has a limit of 16EB, with EB being the equivalent of one billion GB, so running out of space is not an issue with NTFS.
When it comes to volume, 2 to 4TB volumes are now the norm. Although it can sustain more data, it might require compatible hardware and a 64-bit OS for that.
While the slowest link limits file transfer speed and maximum throughput, NTFS hard drives have higher speeds than FAT32 format drives based on benchmark tests.
However, it is essential to consider that Drive technology and file fragmentation can also affect overall speed.
And although most operating systems choose the hard-drive format for users, you can choose the format by yourself when re-formatting, especially for external drives.
It’s best to stick with NTFS for a Windows-only environment. But if you’re planning on exchanging files or using Mac or Linux, FAT32 is the much better option, as long as your files are smaller than 4GB.
General Steps For Formatting An External Hard Drive To FAT32
If you’re formatting your external hard drive, make sure it is in working condition. Connect it to your computer, go to the start menu, and click on computer to locate your external hard drive.
Once you have established that it works fine, back up any data you want to save. Remember: backing up is vital because formatting will erase all data on the hard-drive.
Then, follow these steps:
- Click on the start menu icon and open up the search bar. In that, type Computer Management and press enter
- Once that window opens up, scroll to the left window pane on the Computer Management window and click on Disk Management
- In the Computer Management window, scroll to the upper-middle window pane and locate your external hard drive in the list of the available disk volumes
- Click on your external hard drive, and it will be highlighted in the lower-middle pane of the window using diagonal blue lines
- Scroll to the lower-middle window of the Computer Management window, select the highlighted drive with diagonal lines, and right-click on it
- From the drop-down menu, click on format
- Once you open the Format window, label the volume as you wish under the Volume Label.
- Scroll to the File System and choose FAT32 (this is only applicable if your external hard drive is smaller than 32GB)
- In the Format window, set the Allocation unit size to default and ensure that the Perform a quick format function is turned on and click OK.
- You will receive a warning prompt that all your data on your external hard drive will be deleted in the formatting process. If you need to back up your data, press Cancel and back up your data first; otherwise, click OK
Format An External Hard Drive To FAT32 Using Command Prompt
Although it is not possible to format your external hard drive to FAT32 in the Windows interface, you can still do it by running a few commands.
The feature to format your drive still exists, and you shall use the Command Prompt Utility to assist you with this task.
The FAT32 has the edge over NTFS; it is more commonly readable by the majority of operating systems. But if you try to format your hard disk by using its disk management utility, you will find no option to do so unless your drive is smaller than 32GB.
When faced with a hard drive larger than 32GB, here’s what you need to do to format it:
How To Use It
All you have to do in this method is run some simple commands which will format your hard drive in the file system you choose.
Start by plugging in your external hard drive to your computer. Go to Windows Search and search for Command Prompt, right-click on it and then run as administrator.
In the Command Prompt window, type in disk part and hit Enter. This will launch the utility that will let you format your drives.
After that, type in list disk into the command prompt and press Enter. This will list all the available hard drives on your system. Note down the available hard drives and run “select disk N,” with N being the drive number.
Following that, type in the following commands and press Enter after every line:
- create partition primary
- select partition 1
- format fs=fat32
Your hard drive should now be formatted to FAT32.
Using PowerShell In Windows 10 To Format An External Hard Drive To FAT32
If you’re using Windows 10, you can use PowerShell rather than Command Prompt for formatting your external hard drive to FAT32.
How To Use It
Press the Windows + X keys together. A menu will pop-up where you must click on the Windows PowerShell (Admin) option.
After that, type format /FS: FAT32 D: in the utility and press Enter. Make sure to replace D with the actual letter for your hard drive.
This process will format your drive to FAT32 and notify you when done. At most, it will take a few minutes, but for larger drives, it can take longer.
Use FAT32Format To Format Your External Hard Drives
The FAT32Format utility has been around for a long time; it lets you quickly format any external hard drive to FAT32.
If you don’t have experience running commands and prefer tools with a simple interface, this method is ideal for you. It works straight out of the box, and you don’t even need to install it on your computer.
How To Use It
Download the tool from the FAT32Format website onto your computer and connect your external hard drive to your computer.
Double-click on the downloaded file and the tool will launch. Specify these options before you format your drive:
- Drive: choose your external hard drive from this drop-down menu
- Allocation unit size: leave it to the default values
- Volume label: enter a name for your hard drive
- Quick Format: Leave this as it is if you’re not sure
After that, press the Start button to begin formatting your hard drive.
You’ll be able to see the progress in the white box.
Format An exFAT External Hard Drive To FAT32 With EaseUS
The EaseUS Partition Master Free allows you to create, delete, and clone partitions. It also lets you format hard drives to your chosen formats, such as FAT32.
How To Use It
For this, you will need to download and install the tool. After installation, launch it and select your chosen hard drive from the list, right-click on it, and select format.
Calibrate the settings and then hit OK:
- Partition label: enter a name for your drive
- File system: select FAT32
- Cluster size: leave it as is
Once the drive is done formatting, the tool will send you a notification.
Formatting Large USB Drives with FAT32 Using FAT32 Format
You will need to use third-party software for this; however, this process is straightforward, and it’s free.
Head on to the Ridgecrop Consultants website and get the GUI version of the FAT32 format. You won’t need to install anything. Just run the executable file.
In the FAT32 Format window, choose the drive you want to format, select the Quick Format option, and then click the Start button.
You will get a notification warning you about complete data erasure. Press OK and continue.
It is much easier to format with this tool using the command line method, and it takes much less time than the PowerShell method.
Before starting formatting, close any File Explorer windows, or else it will fail. Don’t relaunch the tool if it fails; close the File Explorer windows and try again.
Formatting Large USB Drives with FAT32 Using PowerShell
It is possible to format USB drives larger than 32GB to FAT32 using the format command in PowerShell with the same syntax for Command Prompt.
However, there is a catch: it takes a lot of time, probably upwards of an hour. To make matters worse, you won’t know if the processing failed until the task is complete.
If you don’t want to install third-party software to format your drive, you can use the format command.
Open PowerShell, press Windows + X simultaneously, and then select PowerShell (Admin) from the menu and follow the steps we mentioned above.
Types Of File Systems
If you own a newer Windows device, your system’s hard drive probably comes with the NTFS format. It is the more recent file system and offers enormous limits for file size and partition.
With this capability, you won’t have to worry about running out of space! It also comes with additional features such as security permission to files, hard links, and a change journal.
NTFS is native to Windows, but it does not work well with other operating systems. Its facilities are limited when used with Macs, as it can only read files and write to them.
Additionally, only a few Linux versions can write to NTFS, and game consoles such as PS3, PS4, and PS5 do not support it at all.
Even Microsoft’s gaming console, the Xbox 360, cannot support NTFS. However, recently, NTFS support is available on the Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S.
If you want to use NTFS formatted hard drives for macOS X, you will need the help of a third-party driver.
It’s much better to go with HFS+ if you’re working solely with Mac computers. HFS+ stands for Hierarchal File System; it is an upgrade to the HFS file system as it supports large files and uses Unicode for naming files.
Although HFS+ works well with Mac, it is not compatible with any other operating systems since it is restricted for Apple usage.
It is utterly incapable of working with a game console, and one shouldn’t even expect Windows to recognize it.
- Native to Windows
- Supports journaling
- Keeps track of permissions
- Write protected on Mac
FAT32 is among the older file systems, and it was created as a replacement for FAT16. It has been in use since then as it is compatible with a wide range of operating systems.
It is versatile and highly compatible, but it rates low on its file size and partition limits. Even the filenames on this format are restricted to being eight characters long.
Additionally, FAT32 will require file sizes not to be bigger than 4GB, and considering the file sizes today, it is very restrictive, as even a video can be larger than this.
FAT32 is mainly used for moving files to older systems and systems that are compatible with it, such as the PS3 or Xbox 360.
- Supports both macOS and Windows
- Compatible with older game consoles, such as PS3
- Does not support file size larger than 4GB
While it’s not as ubiquitous and widely known, ExFAT offers the best of both worlds. It takes the ease of use and compatibility of the FAT32 and combines it with the large file size and partition limits of NTFS, minus its extra features.
- Native to macOS
- Supports journaling
- Keeps track of permissions
- Does not see resource and data forks correctly
What Does Formatting a Hard Drive Do
An inexperienced person may ask why there is a need to format your hard drive. If you’re looking to protect your private information or prevent sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands, you may have to do it!
What are the benefits of it? At face value, formatting a hard drive sounds like unnecessary effort with not much gain.
Before you think about wiping your hard drive clean, there are a few things you should know. Formatting a hard drive has two direct effects: firstly, it will remove all your data, and secondly, it will let you change your file system to NTFS OR ExFAT.
However, going back to it, the most apparent effect of formatting your drive is that all data is removed. If you have important data stored on it, it’s imperative to back it up before formatting, or you’ll lose all of it.
When you format the hard drive, you can change the file system from NTFS to EXT2/3/4. If you’re looking to change your file system, a quick fix is to format it.
You will not be able to do this through Windows Disk Management, and you will need to use third-party software for this, such as MiniTool Partition Wizard, which allows you to format a hard drive and change the file system effortlessly.
Furthermore, formatting a hard drive improves your computer’s performance drastically. It helps clean up disk space and deleting harmful programs from your system. This efficiency results from the deep cleaning.
Although the files are reinstalled, formatting ends up creating a relatively large available space on it. One of the formatting results is removing unnecessary files from the hard disk drive, leaving more room for the system to run faster and improve data storage performance.
Remember that extended use may lead to damaged files and codes on the system, which slows down your processor’s overall speed.
By cleaning the hard disk, these damaged files are removed, and when the disk is formatted, the files are restored to their undamaged condition.
Formatting also improves the computer’s overall performance by deleting harmful programs like computer viruses and other malicious software.
If not addressed in time, this malware or virus can damage important files and negatively affects your computer’s overall performance.
Virus scanning programs may work, but they tend to miss out on hidden malicious software, leaving the hard disk and important files vulnerable to attack.
Formatting your hard disk helps clear every malignant file from your system.
FAT32 is slowly losing popularity as newer file systems are replacing it in high-end PCs and game consoles.
However, it is still used in several applications where it is still the only solution. In those cases, the methods mentioned above can help you convert your existing hard drive systems to the FAT32 format.
How Do I Change From Exfat To FAT32?
Go onto the main interface and right-click the large ExFAT drive. Then, press Format Partition, select FAT32, and click OK.
Can 1TB Hard Drive Be Formatted To FAT32?
No. It is impossible to format large hard drives to the FAT32 format by using the Command Prompt or Disk Management Utility because FAT32 has a maximum partition size limit of 32GB on Windows.
How Do I Know If My Hard Drive Is NTFS Or FAT32?
To check your computer’s native file system, open My Computer and right-click on the hard-drive you wish to check. In most cases, this is the C: drive. After selecting the drive, click on Properties in the pop-up menu, and the file system will be mentioned near the top of the Properties window.