Why is my flash drive FAT?

I have three 64GB USB flash drives.

Recently I was having a problem with some files becoming corrupt on a drive I was using for my writing. A scary thing for any author.

My solution, though drastic, was a complete reformat. The drive like any other flash drive I have purchased was formatted FAT32, but neither Windows 7 nor XP gave me the option to reformat the drive as FAT32, my only options were NTFS and exFAT.

Let’s stop for a moment and consider that gobbly-gook. If you’re not a techie you’re asking, “What is FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS and why the %&$% should I care?”

Glad you asked.

All three of these are acronyms for different kinds of file system specifications. In other words, how your files are stored on your flash or hard drive media.

NTFS (New Technology File System) is typically used for hard drives, and is a Microsoft proprietary format, though other operating systems (like Macs and Linux) can read it too. It’s handy because you can store files bigger than 4GB. But it’s terrible on flash drives (performance of the drive I formatted NTFS was cut at least in half).

exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table) is another proprietary format for Windows XP or newer (though in XP you have to manually install an update). It does not work on Macs or Linux without a license. I did not know about the Windows XP update until recently, and was thus unable to use my drive on my netbook. Considering I was using this drive to store ISO images to mount on my computer that doesn’t have a disc drive, this was kind of annoying. (And no, exFAT definitely doesn’t mean THIN).

These are your only two options for formatting a 64GB drive. 64GB is considered too big for FAT32, even though FAT32 (File Allocation Table, 32-bit) is a universal format recognized by almost every operating system known to exist. And, oh yeah, it’s how you got the drive.

Fear not, there is hope.

fat32format is a command line or Windows GUI utility that allows for formatting larger than life flash drives. I had tried previously to use the command line format utility built into Windows but I got the same drive size objections (though when I turned off quick format it seemed to start working but it would have taken hours at the rate it was going, so I cut it off). fat32format on the other hand, gave me back a FAT32 drive in seconds and it’s working beautifully.

This is a problem I’ve been working on for a little while, and most sites seem to think there is no solution. Thankfully there is, and if you’ve landed on this post because you were looking for it, you’re welcome 🙂

Thus ends another post in our long running recurring series, “How do I get this thing back exactly the way it was?”


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