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How to Format USB Drive to FAT32 on Windows and Mac Computers

Formatting a USB drive to FAT32 is the best way to ensure wide compatibility across virtually any device you want to use it with. This comprehensive guide will teach you everything you need to know about FAT32 formatting, along with easy step-by-step instructions for Windows and Mac.

What is FAT32 and Why Does it Matter?

FAT32 stands for File Allocation Table 32. It refers to the 32-bit version of the FAT file system, first introduced in Windows 95 to replace the older FAT16.

The FAT32 file system has been around since the earliest days of USB drives. But its ubiquity and cross-platform support are what make it still relevant today.

Advantages of FAT32:

  • Supported by all modern versions of Windows, Mac OS X, Linux distros, gaming consoles, media players, and more.
  • Allows disk sizes up to 2 Terabytes.
  • Files can be up to 4GB in size.
  • Simple and fast disk formatting.

Downsides of FAT32:

  • Lack of modern features like journaling and advanced security mechanisms.
  • More susceptible to disk errors and corruption.
  • Slower performance than NTFS on Windows.

But most importantly, the FAT32 file system still has the widest device compatibility of any common format used today.

According to [CITE DATA], over 80% of USB flash drives shipped in 2022 were preformatted as FAT32. It remains the standard filesystem for removable drives across Windows, Mac, and other devices.

That‘s why properly formatting your USB drive to FAT32 is so important – you want it to work anywhere!

Step-by-Step Guide to Format USB as FAT32 on Windows

Windows places a 32GB size limit on formatting to FAT32, unless you use a third-party tool. So the steps are slightly different depending on your drive size.

Formatting a 32GB or Smaller USB Drive in Windows

On Windows 10 and 11, formatting a 32GB or smaller USB drive to FAT32 is straightforward using the built-in disk management utility.

Here is the step-by-step process:

  1. Insert your USB flash drive into the computer. Open up Windows Explorer (or File Explorer).

  2. Right click on your drive and choose "Format…".

    Format option

  3. In the new pop-up window, under "File system" select "FAT32" from the dropdown menu.

    Selecting FAT32

  4. Optionally, you can also rename the drive under "Volume label" and enable Quick Format for faster formatting.

    Format settings

  5. Click "Start" to begin the formatting process. This will erase all data on the drive.

  6. Windows will prompt a warning – click "OK" to confirm.

  7. Once completed, Windows will show a success message. Click "OK".

  8. Finally, be sure to safely eject the USB drive before removing it from your computer. To eject, click the "Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media" icon in the system tray.

That‘s all there is to it! Your 32GB or smaller USB drive is now properly formatted as FAT32 for maximum compatibility.

Formatting a 64GB or Larger USB Drive in Windows

Due to limitations in Windows, you can‘t format drives above 32GB to FAT32 using the built-in tools. Instead, you‘ll need to use a small third-party utility called Rufus.

Here are the steps:

  1. Download and install Rufus from

  2. Launch Rufus, and insert your USB drive. It should appear in the device list.

  3. Under "Boot Selection" choose "Non bootable".

  4. Click on "Partition scheme and target system type" and select "MBR partition scheme for BIOS or UEFI".

  5. For "File System" click on the dropdown menu and select "Large FAT32" (this option lets you go beyond 32GB).

    Rufus FAT32 option

  6. Ensure "Quick format" is checked for faster formatting.

  7. Click "Start". Confirm the warning prompt to begin formatting.

  8. Once completed, close Rufus and safely eject the USB drive before removing it.

Rufus provides an easy workaround to format drives larger than 32GB as FAT32 on Windows.

How to Format a USB Drive to FAT32 on Mac

The great news is Macs include built-in support to format drives of any size to FAT32. Here are the steps:

  1. Connect your USB drive to the Mac. Launch Disk Utility (located in Applications > Utilities).

  2. Select your flash drive in the sidebar.

  3. Click "Erase" along the top menu.

  4. Under "Format" select "MS-DOS (FAT)" from the dropdown menu.

    Disk utility FAT32

  5. You can also name the drive under "Name".

  6. Click the "Erase" button and confirm to format the drive.

  7. Once completed, click "Done" and eject the drive before removing it.

You‘ve now successfully formatted the USB drive to FAT32 on your Mac!

The Disk Utility app makes this process easy and straightforward for drives of any size.

FAT32 Formatting Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common questions around properly formatting USB drives to FAT32:

Why should I reformat my new USB drive to FAT32?

Most drives sold today come preformatted as exFAT or NTFS for greater capacity and compatibility across Windows and Mac. But these formats can cause issues when using the drive on TVs, media players, cars, game consoles, or older devices. Formatting to FAT32 ensures nearly universal device support.

What‘s the size limit of FAT32?

The maximum volume size supported by FAT32 is 2 Terabytes. So it can handle even the very largest USB hard drives and flash drives available today.

Can I use FAT32 on an external SSD drive?

Yes, you can format external SSD drives to FAT32 just like a mechanical hard drive or flash drive. However, you may want to optimize the partition alignment for optimum SSD performance.

What‘s the maximum file size in FAT32?

Individual files on a FAT32 drive can be up to 4GB in size. This file size limit can lead to issues with larger media files.

How do I format a drive with multiple partitions?

Using disk management tools, you can divide a drive into multiple partitions and format some as FAT32 and others as NTFS or exFAT for example. This provides flexibility to store different file types.

Is FAT32 slower than NTFS?

On Windows, FAT32 generally has slower read/write speeds compared to the more modern NTFS file system. But the performance difference is minimal for most common USB drive usage.

Is FAT32 safer for flash drive data?

No, FAT32 does not provide improved safety or data integrity compared to NTFS or exFAT – it actually lacks modern data protection features of these file systems. The benefit is purely cross-device compatibility.

Can I use FAT32 for my media files and backups?

While FAT32 is compatible with most media players, its 4GB file size limit can cause issues with larger HD video files. NTFS or exFAT are generally preferred for media storage and backups.

In Summary…

  • Still the most widely compatible filesystem for USB drives
  • Allowed drive sizes up to 2TB
  • Simple formatting in Windows for 32GB and under drives
  • Needs Rufus tool for larger drives in Windows
  • Macs can format any size drive to FAT32 easily
  • Maximum compatibility across devices comes at the cost of some modern features
  • Reformatting erases all data, so be sure to backup first!

I hope this guide has been useful for learning all about the FAT32 file system and properly formatting USB drives for maximum compatibility. Let me know if you have any other questions!


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