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Tip to format external hard drive to FAT32 in Windows

Posted In Hardware - By Jack on Saturday, November 5th, 2011 With No Comments »

Trying to format a large external USB or Firewire hard drive to the FAT32 filesystem? Can’t do it? Only see an option for formatting the drive using the NTFS file format? Well if you answered yes any of those questions, then you’re at the right place.

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I was recently trying to format my 1 TB MyBook external hard drive in Windows XP to FAT32 instead of the overly forced-upon NTFS format. Why? Well because I needed to connect it to a NAS device and the NTFS permissions were causing the NAS not to be able to access the drive. Simple solution is to use FAT32, no security, no problems. Though it’s sometimes useful to format a USB drive in NTFS format. 

Also, formatting a drive in FAT or FAT32 will allow it to be read by other operating systems, such as Mac, Linux, and older versions of Windows such as Windows 98.

Unfortunately, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 will only format a removabledrive in FAT32 if it’s less than 32GB! Hmmm…that pretty much cuts out ALL modern external hard drives!

However, Windows can format a drive that is larger than 32GB in FAT32, but you have to use the DOS command prompt. However, if you have a drive that is 1TB or larger, you may still get an error saying “The volume is too big for FAT32”.

In that case, you can use a free program called SwissKnife that will allow you to format an external hard drive that is up to 2TB in size. Let’s go through both methods. In case you are having problems getting your external hard drive to show up in Windows, read my article on how to change the drive letter for an external drive in Windows. 

Format external drive in FAT32 using DOS

Open a command window by going to Start, then Run and typing in CMD.

Now type in the following command at the prompt:

format /FS:FAT32 X:

Replace the letter X with the letter of your external hard drive in Windows. Windows will go ahead and begin formatting the drive in FAT32!

SwissKnife is a nifty little program that is completely free and that you can use to format many types of external drives such as USB, Firewire, PCMIA, SATA and SCSI. You can also use it to create partitions on an external hard drive and it formats faster than Windows. 

Download SwissKnife Here

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