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What format should my USB flash drive be for backing up some files...?


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Stupid question, but I want to make sure I do this right.

I have a Windows Vista computer and I would like to know what format my 32GB USB flash drive needs to be so I can copy some files onto it (Which I hope is the same as backing up).

I tried searching on Google but all I could find was how to install WIndows from a flash drive onto a computer... :unsure:


Thank you.

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  • Root Admin
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Thanks for your replies so far!

Um, so would FAT32 work?

Does it need to be the same format as the hard drive on my computer?

I tried reading those links but they confused me a bit... :unsure:

If I copy the files I want to onto the flash drive, I'd be able to copy them back onto the computer if/when needed if its either FAT32 or NTFS format..?

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FAT32 will work just fine for most people.... It does not have to be formatted the same as the Hard Drive.  I have a 64GB USB Flash drive that I use, and it is formatted with FAT32 and have no issues.


The only thing that you may run into is if you want to copy any file larger than 4GB then that will get you as the files size limit for FAT32 is => Max. file size. 4,294,967,295 bytes

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IIRC, most USB "thumb drives" are pre-formatted to FAT32, so that they will be PnP compatible across the Windows, Mac and 'Nix platforms?


That should be fine for your needs.

AFAIK There is no real need to reformat to NTFS for routine storage purposes.


FAT32 does have a limit of individual file size of 4 GB, as Firefox mentioned.

But unless you are trying to save a very large video file, or some such, that should not be an issue.

I don't know if exFAT is still around, but it was a file format popular a while back that allowed for files >4GB?


NTFS might give you a teensy bit more usable space -- but on a large enough drive, that shouldn't matter either.

It used to be the case that FAT32 caused a little less "wear and tear" on the drive than NTFS, but I don't know if that's still the case?


Although USB flash drives can be had for pennies nowadays, I would get a name bran, high-quality device with a decent warranty (e.g. some now come with a 5-year warranty).

This is especially so if you are using it to backup important data and if you're going to use the drive often.

"Penny-wise" can turn into "pound-foolish" if your backup doesn't work when you need it.


Bottom line, any decent-quality USB flash drive should be fine for your needs, out of the box, without reformatting.


>>>ALSO, if you have a USB 3.0 port on your computer (all of the newer ones do), then by all means get a 3.0 flash drive -- it ***is*** faster!


The pros will correct me if I am wrong. :)



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"I would get a name bran, high-quality ..."

here ya go :





yes , an "off the shelf" flash drive will work ok for the OP's needs .

on the occasion that a file larger than 4 gig needs to be stashed , then a drive formatted in NTSF will be needed .

the "ex-FAT" format is still listed in the linux format options ... a little google-fu will explain the ins and outs of this format .


also ... as well as avoiding the bargain basement drives one can spend a lot of money for something that is not needed .

many "big name" drives come with some type of software pre-loaded on them ...

this can be "try/use our super security software ..." to "would you like to install a browser and toolbar and make it your default ..." .

i have bought these as they could be had for a decent price then completely wiped and formatted them .

nope , i don't need your crappy software and you are not paying me to advertise for you ...


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I actually spotted the typo yesterday, but I figured it would go unnoticed.

Serves me right. :lol:


As for drives with pre-loaded software -- yes, that stinks and is not needed.

I don't want to hawk any particular brand, but the reputable ones specifically do NOT include such junk. :)






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hmmm ...

it might be "Never The Same File" ... just as NTSC stands for "Never the Same Color" (the/a USA (and a few other countries) format for color televison) .


actually it is supposed to be "NTFS" which stands for "New Technology File System" .

but it could be "No Time For Sergeants" .




@ DD1 :

naughty ?

naaa ... we're just warped .

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Just for sanity's sake - reformat a Flash Drive when you get it anyway. 


Just In Case !


Good to know!


Just curious & looking to learn: why? :unsure:

(Especially if it's a high-quality product, with no embedded software and it's pre-formatted to FAT32?)


Just in case to avoid hidden unwanted freebies?

Just in case to ensure it's properly formatted?

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Sound advice!



I recently purchased a Corsair Survivor 3.0 (128 GB monster!).

Scanned it with MBAM and KIS, but didn't think to reformat it before use.

Next time I will know better.

It's certainly a name brand, but I see it's made in Taiwan, so anything is possible, I suppose.


Thanks for that excellent tip - I assume that our poor OP whose thread has been roundly hijacked will indulge me.

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One reason is to avoid potential problems with larger sized UFDs that may, in fact, be formatted exFAT (unlikely, but I've seen stranger things, particularly with microSD cards).  Another is to clean the bits in the Flash to make them fresh.  A third is to verify that there is no inherent problem with the UFD you just bought - it would be bad to find out that it had bad sectors from day 1 but you only discover it after the warranty period has run out and you've lost critical data.


There are more reasons as well, but these are the ones I do it for primarily.


it's not just a matter of the manufacturer's home-base - even if it were made in the USA it is still suspect - as with anything that is mass-produced, quantity is increased at a cost to quality.  It's just better to be safe than sorry.

Edited by John L. Galt
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Thanks very much for the added info.


The new Corsair has a 5-year warranty and I've always had good luck with them.

But one never knows....


Everything you have said makes perfect sense.

I already have quite a lot of data on it, so I probably won't bother to reformat it now.

But I will most certainly do so next time, even on a brand-new, brand-name UFD.


Live and learn --- old dog, new trick.



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Actually, you probably do.


I'd spend some time copying all of the data to your HD, then formatting the UFD, just to be sure.  And when formatting, a quick formatting will not go through the entire drive, only clear the FAT (IIRC), so you'll want to perform full formatNOTE:  a full format for a large device will take a really long time, so be sure you have the time available to perform the full format before beginning.


You might also look at third party formatting tools, like http://www.authorsoft.com/usb-disk-storage-format-tool.html or even the old standard http://download.cnet.com/HP-USB-Disk-Storage-Format-Tool/3000-2094_4-10974082.html.

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