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What is the best way to format a USB drive with FAT32 (for Mac compatibility) from within Windows 7/Vista?

I ask because the Disk Management only lets you pick exFAT (because the disk is over 32GB I believe).

Doing it from the command line with diskpart doesn't seem to work either.

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8 Answers 8

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Download fat32format

It should works fine.

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Formatting FAT32 volumes on the command line

This option should still be in the Format GUI window, but it is not. However, as the other answers suggest, FAT32 is still an option from the command line. Full instructions:

Hit the Windows/Start Button -> type cmd.exe in the search box -> press Ctrl+Shift+Enter to get an Administrator Command Line. If prompted, press Yes or enter administrative credentials in the UAC pop-up box.

At the command line prompt, enter

format <drive letter>: /FS:FAT32

For a list of all command options, enter

help format

The Windows 32GB limit for formatting FAT32 volumes

After performing an experiment in formatting a 60GB "Video" partition to use with a PS3, I have discovered that Windows 2000 and later have an artificial limitation in formatting FAT32 partitions greater than 32GB (though they will mount any valid FAT32 partition).

  • Note that although Windows will not format a drive greater than 32GB as FAT32, it will mount such a drive formatted elsewhere.

Formatting a >32GB FAT32 volumes on Windows

One good solution is the command-line program fat32format.exe available from Ridgecrop Consultants or their gui. It is only capable of quick formats (no zeroing/checking), but it is very fast.

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this should be the selected answer –  Arnold Zokas May 30 at 10:54

I believe that the Windows-standard command-line "format volume /FS:FAT32" still works on Vista and (possibly W7), but I don't have a system to test it on right now. Using that would be easier than downloading something.

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if the device is >32g, it won't let you format it fat32, even if you ask it nicely with all the right command line parameters. –  dethSwatch Dec 17 '13 at 19:27

Macs can also format a drive to FAT32 using Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility

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While the built-in command line method in Windows 7 Ultimate (format [drive letter]: /FS:FAT32) started running without a problem, it failed to complete. The annoying thing was that it took an hour to fail.

The reason? "The volume is too big for FAT32". It would have been nice for the system to do a simple check when when the command was first launched so I wouldn't go to sleep thinking I'd wake up in the morning to a fully formatted FAT32 80GB drive.

Here's what really doesn't make sense, though.

Run the same command with the /Q switch for a quick format and it gives you the "too big" error immediately. Not sure why. So before you waste your time running format [drive letter]: /FS:FAT32, run format [drive letter]: /FS:FAT32 /Q.

In my honest opinion a better, easier way is to just boot to a Linux live CD like Knoppix. I resorted to this after trying to format my 80GB SATA notebook drive (connected via USB enclosure) using the above suggested command line method and having it fail.

Follow these steps:

  1. Download Knoppix ISO

  2. Burn Knoppix ISO to CD using compatible CD burning software. If you're running Windows 7 you can use the built-in ISO burning capabilities. Otherwise a good freeware program like ImgBurn works.

  3. Boot to Knoppix CD. If you're a new to this, you should definitely disconnect any storage devices you don't want formatted since it's not hard to screw this up and destroy your primary operating system.

  4. Open a console/terminal window (should be an icon in the "taskbar" area).

  5. From terminal window, run sudo gparted. This launches a graphical partition editor similar to Partition Magic. Only difference of course is you don't have to pay Symantec to use it. Gotta love the open source community. But I digress.

  6. In GParted, use the drop-down list to select the drive you want to format as FAT32. GParted just calls it "FAT" but it seems to do the trick.

  7. Delete any existing partitions on the drive.

  8. Right-click the drive and select format. Choose "FAT" as the filesystem type. Label it whatever you like (in my case "80GB_SATA").

  9. Click the green arrow to apply all operations, confirm, and off you go!

  10. Once finished, GParted will confirm success/failure. Close the program and shutdown/reboot. Your big fat FAT drive should be good to go!

Okay, so it's a lot of steps. But if you're familiar it is easier than trying to make this happen in Windows. Also more reliable and less frustrating. If you want to save yourself a few steps you can also download a live CD of GParted from SourceForge. It can be put on CD or USB drive for convenience.

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Just found another way to format an external hdd to fat32 and works for the ps3. No downloads or command line required... :p

steps

  1. plug in the hdd :), back up any data you have as you will need format it
  2. go to windows explorer
  3. right click on the "computer" (on the left plane of the window) and go under "manage" (may have to type in your admin password)
  4. click on storage>disk management find your external hdd (ANY data will be lost, so back up - last warning) and then right click and "delete volume", you will see the total unallocated space of the hdd
  5. then right click on unallocated space and you find "new simple volume", click next THEN allocate 31000mb to the simple volume size click next
  6. give it a drive letter (the default is usually fine) click "next" then change the file system to fat32 (if not already)
  7. click "next" and finish and ta da... fat32 (31gb of space)
  8. run steps 5 - 7 again if you want to allocate the rest of the space.
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cheers john seems to work fine in principle will test it tommorow on the PS3. Partitioned a 160gb portable hdd into 2 31gb FAT32 drives and the remaining into a standard NTFS. All 3 are recognised by my PC (Win7). –  Khanvicted Jan 31 '11 at 3:44

Windows 7 will format an external partition to FAT32, as long as it's 32GB or less. "Control Panel -> System and Security -> Administrative Options". Right click on "Computer Management", select "Run as an Administrator", double-click on "Storage" then "Disk Management", the right click on your external drive. Select "Shrink Volume", shrink it by 32GB or less, then right click on unallocated space, select format, and "FAT32" will show up as an option during the format wizard.

This is a way to create a small bit of space on an external hard drive for copying some files from Mac OS's to Windows.

Good luck and good night.

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I just downloaded Partition Master which is freeware. Can format a partition in Windows 7 as FAT32 no bother. Worked on my 500GB external hard drive.

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protected by Jeff Atwood Jun 7 '10 at 21:55

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