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How can I format an external hardrive to FAT32?

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There is a Command Line utility, FORMAT


First you must know what drive letter has been assigned to this drive.  For example we'll presume "G:".


Open a Command Prompt and use the format command as follows.


Format  /FS:FAT32  G:


NOTE:  This is a full format, not a "quick" format and will take some time to complete.  The larger the drive, the more time it will take.

 Expect it to take hours to complete.



format /?
Formats a disk for use with Windows.

FORMAT volume [/FS:file-system] [/V:label] [/Q] [/A:size] [/C] [/X] [/P:passes]
FORMAT volume [/V:label] [/Q] [/F:size] [/P:passes]
FORMAT volume [/V:label] [/Q] [/T:tracks /N:sectors] [/P:passes]
FORMAT volume [/V:label] [/Q] [/P:passes]
FORMAT volume [/Q]

  volume          Specifies the drive letter (followed by a colon),
                  mount point, or volume name.
  /FS:filesystem  Specifies the type of the file system (FAT, FAT32, exFAT, NTFS,
                  or UDF).
  /V:label        Specifies the volume label.
  /Q              Performs a quick format. Note that this switch overrides /P.
  /C              NTFS only: Files created on the new volume will be compressed
                  by default.
  /X              Forces the volume to dismount first if necessary.  All opened
                  handles to the volume would no longer be valid.
  /R:revision     UDF only: Forces the format to a specific UDF version
                  (1.02, 1.50, 2.00, 2.01, 2.50).  The default
                  revision is 2.01.
  /D              UDF 2.50 only: Metadata will be duplicated.
  /A:size         Overrides the default allocation unit size. Default settings
                  are strongly recommended for general use.
                  NTFS supports 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16K, 32K, 64K.
                  FAT supports 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16K, 32K, 64K,
                  (128K, 256K for sector size > 512 bytes).
                  FAT32 supports 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16K, 32K, 64K,
                  (128K, 256K for sector size > 512 bytes).
                  exFAT supports 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16K, 32K, 64K,
                  128K, 256K, 512K, 1M, 2M, 4M, 8M, 16M, 32M.

                  Note that the FAT and FAT32 files systems impose the
                  following restrictions on the number of clusters on a volume:

                  FAT: Number of clusters <= 65526
                  FAT32: 65526 < Number of clusters < 4177918

                  Format will immediately stop processing if it decides that
                  the above requirements cannot be met using the specified
                  cluster size.

                  NTFS compression is not supported for allocation unit sizes
                  above 4096.

  /F:size         Specifies the size of the floppy disk to format (1.44)
  /T:tracks       Specifies the number of tracks per disk side.
  /N:sectors      Specifies the number of sectors per track.
  /P:passes       Zero every sector on the volume passes times. This switch is
                  not valid with /Q


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Okay thanks guys.  One more question, this external hard drive is going to be used between Windows and Mac operating systems.  I'm aware that FAT32 format is what you use so that both OS can recognize it but I've also heard that FAT32 has a 4GB limit on individual files.  Is there some other newer format that's being used for this sort of work between OS systems or does everyone still just use FAT32?

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  • Root Admin

There are drivers that allows the Mac to read and write NTFS formatted drives. 

Word on the Internet when searching appears to show at least in some older reviews that the Paragon driver is much faster than the Tuxera product but that may or may not be so with the current version.  You'd need to research or test that on your own.


Tuxera NTFS for Mac

NTFS-3G + Ntfsprogs

Paragon NTFS for Mac


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Just for future reference, using the Windows command prompt method of formatting does not work on a 1TB hard drive.  It took nearly 12 hours to complete and once it did it simply said "Volume too large to format."  Guess I'll just use a 3rd party program to do it.

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Partition the drive into two or more partitions.
The problem with FAT32 is as the volume size increases so does the cluster size.  Therefore a 1byte file can consume 16KB of actual disk space.

Default cluster size for NTFS, FAT, and exFAT

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I ended up looking around on the internet for a while and found this program that formatted the hard drive in under a minute to FAT32.  Thanks for all the help guys.  Just posting my solution in case anyone comes across this thread.



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The issue is that Microsoft built in a limiter (who knows why) that artificially prevents the format command of every version of Windows from formatting a drive larger than 32GB even though FAT32 supports up to 2TB.   Below are some links and information on the subject for those who may come along later with a similar issue.



Description of the FAT32 File System

Default cluster size for NTFS, FAT, and exFAT

Formatting a Large Drive Greater Than 32GB with a FAT32 File System Using Seagate DiskWizard

Seagate DiscWizard download

Western Digital External USB/FireWire Fat32 Formatting Utility

Utility to format beyond 32GB using FAT32: Ridgecrop - fat32format

You may also find this article interesting for SD card usage on a phone or similar device
Formatting FAT32 Volumes Larger Than 32GB & SD Card Alignment



SD Formatter 4.0 for SD/SDHC/SDXC

SD Formatter 4.0 for SD/SDHC/SDXC

This software formats all SD memory cards, SDHC memory cards and SDXC memory cards. SD Formatter provides quick and easy access to the full capabilities of your SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards.

This article applies to Windows 7 and confirms the issue was not corrected or allowed in Windows 7 either.

Convert a hard disk or partition to FAT32 format


Before you begin, note that the FAT32 file system has size limitations. You can't create a FAT32 partition greater than 32 gigabytes (GB). Also, you can't store a file larger than 4 GB on a FAT32 partition.


    If the partition you want to format is larger the 32 GB, the FAT32 option will not be visible.

These articles below were for Windows XP and earlier.

Limitations of FAT32 File System

Limitations of the FAT32 File System in Windows XP

    You cannot format a volume larger than 32 GB in size using the FAT32 file system in Windows 2000. The Windows 2000 FastFAT driver can mount and support volumes larger than 32 GB that use the FAT32 file system (subject to the other limits), but you cannot create one using the Format tool. This behavior is by design. If you need to create a volume larger than 32 GB, use the NTFS file system instead.

NOTE: When attempting to format a FAT32 partition larger than 32 GB, the format fails near the end of the process with the following error:
Logical Disk Manager: Volume size too big.



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