Format Drives Larger Than 32 Gigabyte To Fat32 In Windows

Martin Brinkmann
May 10, 2011
Updated • Nov 28, 2012
Software, Windows tips

It is usually recommended to format hard drive to NTFS in Windows as the file system offers several advantages over its alternative, Fat32. Sometimes however you may need to format a drive to Fat32, for instance if you run another device or computer that can only read Fat32 disks and not NTFS disks.

That's not a problem unless the disk that you want to format is larger than 32 Gigabytes. If you open the formatting options in Windows for such a drive, you will notice that only NTFS is selectable from the file system pulldown menu.

That's because of an artificial limit of 32 Gigabytes. Fat32 is only selectable in the graphical user interface if the disk is not larger than 32 Gigabytes. With today's hard drives, that's seldom the case. You could partition the drive first to create a partition of 32 Gigabytes or less, but that could lead to other compatibility issues.

format drive fat32

A few solutions are available to format those drives to Fat32. The command line tool format does not have the same restrictions as the gui. Your first option is therefor to format the drive from the command line.

Use the hotkey Windows-r to bring up the run box. Type cmd and hit enter. Now enter the following command to format a selected drive to Fat32. A: refers to the drive letter, make sure you change it to the correct drive. The /q parameter enables quick format, if you like a normal format instead remove it from the command.

format /FS:FAT32 /q A:

Working with the command line may not be to everyone's liking. If you prefer a graphical user interface you can download the freeware Fat32Formatter which gives you similar options.

Fat32 Formatter

The program is portable which means you can run it right after you have unpacked it to a local drive. You select the drive that you want to format from the physical drive pulldown menu at the top. Information get populated automatically by the software on each selection.

All partitions of the drive are displayed, and you need to select the partition that you want to format. This step is mandatory even if there is only one partition. Additional information are displayed after selection, including the used and empty space on the drive.

You can specify a size and volume label for the newly formatted partition. Users who are in a hurry can enable quick format to speed up the formatting. A click on start formats the drive.

Several hard drive manufacturers are offering tools for their hard drives to format hard drives larger than 32 Gigabytes to Fat32. You may want to check their homepages to find those tools. Most free and commercial partitioning tools can do that as well.


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