Microsoft

The secret Me: Where'd Microsoft hide the FAT16-to-FAT32 conversion tool?

If you want to convert your Windows Me system from FAT16 to FAT32, don't look for the drive-converter utility that came with Windows 98. It's gone. Here, Mike Jackman shows you where the Windows Me utility is hiding and how to use it safely.


Microsoft is playing a serious game of hide-and-seek with Windows Millennium Edition. As I wrote previously, they built the operating system to stash files away from all but the most adventurous end users. (Don’t I even have the right to screw up my computer anymore?) It’s getting so that each new Microsoft OS is a familiar place you’ve never seen.

If you ever want to convert a FAT16 installation of Me to FAT32, you’re going to have to change your method. As you know, in Windows 98, the conversion utility was located in Start | Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Drive Converter (FAT32). You chose the shortcut, which started a program file called Cvt1.exe, and a wizard walked you through the process. In this Daily Feature, I’ll show you where the Windows Me utility is hiding and how to use it safely.

It’s gone, but it lives on
In a word, the Drive Converter utility is gone. After some searching, I found the program Cvt.exe in the Windows\Command directory. This is a DOS Mode executable, one that was also present in Windows 98 in addition to Cvt1.exe. The format of the command is
CVT X:

where X: is the drive you want to convert. However, you can’t convert your Windows Me drive from a Windows Me MS-DOS prompt. If you try, you’ll receive the error shown in Figure A, stating that “The Converter was unable to get a lock on the drive.”

Figure A
If you try to convert your Me drive within Windows Me, you’ll receive an error.


Microsoft Q273896
Apparently, I’m not the only user confused by Microsoft’s decision to remove this tool. On Microsoft’s Web site, you can read Knowledge Base Article Q273896: "How to Convert a Drive to the FAT32 File System in Windows Millennium Edition." I tested the instructions and made a few additions, discussed below.

Converting a FAT16 drive to FAT32
Before converting a FAT16 drive to the more efficient FAT32 file system, consider that unless you have special third-party drivers, DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95A, and Windows NT 3.5 and 4.0 will be unable to read the information on your converted drives. If you’re sure you want to change your file system, however, then proceed.

Microsoft advises that before you convert your drive you disable any programs that protect, encrypt, or lock the drive’s Master Boot Record (MBR) and partition table. This is a vital step. The only exception would be if you have a multi-boot system and the drive you’re converting is not the active boot drive.

Begin by booting your computer using a Windows Me startup disk. You might as well speed things up and boot without CD-ROM support (choice three on the Startup menu).

Here’s a caution Microsoft doesn’t mention regarding multi-boot systems. Note that if you have a multi-boot system, your drive letters may be assigned differently in DOS mode. So before you convert a drive to FAT32, make sure it’s really your Windows Me partition. I always label my partitions; that way, a DIR command shows me which OS I’m looking at. I use a DOS partition for sharing data across platforms. Changing it to FAT32 would have made the drive hidden to Windows NT 4.0 and to my current version of Linux.

Once you’re at the DOS prompt and you have found the drive to convert, enter the following command:
X:\Windows\Command\cvt.exe Y [Enter]

where X is the drive on which you installed Windows Me, and Y is the drive you wish to convert. These may be the same drive.

The next screen, shown in Figure B, warns that you are about to convert the drive you specified to FAT32 format. You have a choice to Continue or Exit. It’s likely you won’t have mouse support. In case it’s been a long while since you worked without a mouse, highlight your choices by holding down [Ctrl][Alt][Del]. (Just kidding!). Move between choices with the [Tab] key and make your selection by pressing [Enter].

Figure B
Before you convert your drive, you have a chance to cancel the process.


ScanDisk runs, checking the drive for errors. The converter then shows a progress bar while it checks off the following tasks:
  1. Removing uninstall, multi-boot, and extended-attribute files
  2. Converting directories
  3. Making space for 32-bit File Allocation Table
  4. Converting File Allocation Table to 32 bits
  5. Recovering unused clusters
  6. Updating partition type
  7. Updating boot record
  8. Updating copy of File Allocation Table
  9. Moving root directory to beginning of drive

Upon completion, the converter tells you how much space you saved by changing to FAT32. In my case, I gained 96.81 MB on a 2-GB partition. Choose OK. Finally, choose OK to reboot your machine.

Is this true?
The Knowledge Base article states that Cvt.exe will quit without converting your drives if your hard drive already has FAT16 and FAT32 partitions on it. In other words, CVT can’t find the right partition to convert when it sees a mixture of FAT16 and FAT32 partitions on one drive. To test this, I created a drive with a mix of both file systems. Sure enough, the CVT utility cancelled with an error. Not only that, but it also corrupted the Windows 2000 Professional boot loader I was using on my system. Therefore, don’t use this utility on multi-boot systems if you have mixed FAT16/32 file systems.

Drive too small?
If your partition to be converted is less than 512 MB, Cvt.exe quits with an error stating the drive is too small.

Another conversion solution
For Windows Me systems on which Cvt.exe won’t work, consider using PartitionMagic. PartitionMagic has the ability to convert any partition to FAT32. Another advantage concerns switching back. With Microsoft conversion utilities, changing from FAT16 to FAT32 is irreversible. The only way to get a drive back is by reformatting, which destroys all data. However, PartitionMagic allows you to change from FAT32 to FAT16 without data loss.

Conclusion
While the Graphical Interface Wizard is no longer present in Windows Me, you can still convert your Windows Me file system from FAT16 to FAT32 using the DOS Mode utility Cvt.exe. Most of the time, this tool will do the job. For more complicated conversion scenarios, an advanced disk manager such as PartitionMagic is indispensable.
The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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