How to format FAT32 devices on Windows

FAT32 is a file system that came as an improvement on FAT16 and the old FAT created for MS-DOS. Although there are other more advanced ones natively supported by Windows (such as exFAT and NTFS ) it is still one of the most used. We can easily format FAT32 devices on Windows by different methods that are described in this article.

FAT32 has certain limitations, since it is not capable of storing files of more than 4 Gbytes and it does not allow to create partitions of more than 8 Tbytes. It is also problematic when using many levels of subfolders and lacks certain security-level features found in more modern file systems. That is why it is recommended to use others such as NTFS in operating system installations.

However, its simplicity, versatility and compatibility with other operating systems (Linux, macOS, Android or other alternatives such as FreeBSD) makes it especially suitable for external / removable storage drives such as USB sticks or microSD memory cards.

FAT32 on Windows

The problem is that the standard tool present in Windows 10 or Windows 11 to format disks (the function that we can find in the file explorer when right clicking on a connected drive) does not allow using this file system and if you try you will only see the option of exFAT or NTFS. In addition, in previous systems that did offer it, it did not allow to format drives with storage capacity superior to 32 Gbytes.

Personally, I tinker a lot with all types of equipment and I cannot miss a USB stick or a microSD with this type of file system, the most compatible and suitable for use on devices that do not support others or that work worse. I think of software testing, Raspberry work, or upgrading the TV box firmware, to name a few examples. If this is your case and you ever find that you need to use FAT32, there are methods to overcome the situation.

Third party tools

Format FAT32 devices on windows
FAT32 on Windows

One of those available is FAT32 Format. A free and portable application  that does not need installation and facilitates the task of formatting drives with these types of files. Simply: download (Start button on the link), run, select the drive, activate formatting (it has a quick format option) and start. It is one of the easiest way to format FAT32 devices on Windows.



Applications like the previous ones are recommended for ease of use and speed of execution, but if you want to use Windows itself there is another method that overcomes the limitation of the standard formatting tool. Simply access the advanced Windows Powershell console and use the command ” format / FS: FAT32 X :” where “X” is the drive we want to format:

The consoles will take much longer to perform the formatting and are more complicated to handle, so we recommend using the FAT32 Format application. In both cases remember that the handling of individual files in FAT 32 is 4 Gbytes. The theoretical limit of the drive capacity with this type of file system is 16 TB, more than enough for the entire base of devices on the market.

exFAT: better, but less compatible

exFAT was introduced in 2006 and introduced in Windows XP and Vista. As its name indicates, it is related to the FAT file system, and it is specifically an evolution of this that tries to  eliminate the limitations that FAT32 presented, although without introducing many of the improvements present in NTFS.

The main advantage of exFAT compared to its predecessor is that it eliminates storage limitations, being able to create larger partitions and giving the possibility of storing files of more than 4 Gbytes and all without losing one of the outstanding characteristics of FAT, the reading speed. and writing.

Like FAT32, exFAT  is ideal to be used in pendrives and external drives in general, with special mention to devices with more than 16 Gbytes of capacity, although FAT32 offers more and better compatibility with a wider range of systems, therefore that exFAT is relegated to specific contexts.

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