Windows

Format FAT32 drives beyond 32GB limit

With the help of a special utility application, you can indeed format a FAT32 drive beyond the 32GB size limit.

Let's face it. Despite how far we have come in the evolution of file systems, such as NTFS, ext4, and HFS+, one thing's for certain, nothing seems to beat the old-school FAT32 file system for high interoperability between major operating systems with read-and-write capability (and a master file allocation table that doesn't trash itself as easily as the newer exFAT can).

The unfortunate reality we all face is that, due to odd licensing arrangements and a thing I like to call "OS Nationalism," most file systems tend to be built only for the operating system they were intended to run with and have either limited or no support on competing platforms. For instance, a drive formatted as NTFS for Windows is not write-capable on Mac OS X without some additional third-party drivers.

However, should you trust a third-party tool with your data if you were unsure about it? And even if you were okay with such additional software, this won't exactly save you should you take your drive on the go and plug it into a shared machine without administrative privileges and aforementioned drivers.

Beyond 32GB

Despite FAT32's shortcomings in terms of maximum file size limits, lack of ACLs, and disk quotas support, it's good enough for basic sneaker-net type activities between operating systems. Unfortunately, when the user wants to prepare a drive for use in this fashion, there is one major problem: Windows cannot format drives and partitions larger than 32GB in FAT32.

You may even consider making a partition sized at 32GB initially and then resizing it to fill the rest of the empty space. But within Windows, using the basic storage tools to resize operations is not supported on file systems other than NTFS. The only solution that I have been able to find for this 32GB limit problem is a utility called FAT32 Format by Ridgecrop Consultants Ltd.

On first glance, FAT32 Format (the GUI version of the fat32format tool shown in Figure A) looks very similar to the normal format tool built into Windows. Just download this utility, run it, pick a drive or partition you wish to format, and presto! There isn't much else to it.

Figure A

This is the GUI version of the fat32format tool.

FAT32 Format does require administrator privileges in order to mess around with any of your drives. Also, since FAT32 Format does not perform disk integrity checks on any newly formatted FAT32 spaces, it is advised to run the command "chkdsk /R x:" after the format, replacing "x:" with the appropriate drive letter in question. This process will take some time to complete, of course, so you might want to pop a cold one while you wait.

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An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Cus...

24 comments
ruedii
ruedii

I recommend using a PartedMagic LiveCD or a GParted LiveCD to format an FAT32 drive.

You can also use the command prompt on SystemRescueCD or the two drive preperation liveCDs I mentiond before if you want tons of extra options.  (I highly recommend this if you want to use 4KB logical sector size or clusters larger than 1 sector, more or fewer reserved sectors, or any other options.)

chery21
chery21

The limit on fat32 can be resolved by some utility such as this partitioning software. you can create, format, resize and delete the parition. Totally free for home users. Download free here. http://www.fat-32-formatter.com/?trblo

harrywilsokenll
harrywilsokenll

Download and Install the FAT 32 file format. It is a windows application designed to format drives larger than 32 GB.

Jonas Salcedo
Jonas Salcedo

Hi guys just found myself reading through your opinions regarding the topic. Im not that much of an expert regarding hardware so i found it interesting to post my own questions here.. Ive tried other ways as well to format my spare 320gb SATA from an old notebook. finally partition magic 7 worked perfectly. i wanted to use it to save downloaded video files so that i can play them on my portable dvd player. i got the video formats right coz i also save a copy on my 1gb thumb drive that would only allow a 1 hour length video. Sorry for the long explanation. Now my problem is, although i have the exact same copy on my SATA as the one on my thumb drive, everytime i connect my HD to the player it reads it but shows that drive is empty. Any ideas as to why this is happening? I mean coz it reads the drive it just doesn't show the files... Thanks in advanced guys.

bhwong1
bhwong1

I have a Mac with dual boot into Windows. I created a 3rd partition of 300GB using FAT32 using Mac's Disk Utility for storing documents and media files so that it can be shared by both MacOS and Windows on my 1st and 2nd partition.

Gisabun
Gisabun

I'm not sure if I'd trust something that could be considered non-standard when it comes to the Windows file system. Remember those utilities in the old days [even MS had one] that theoretically could double your disk space by tinkering around? Many had issues trying to undo things after newer versions of Windows wouldn't support the software. What I find rediculous is that some camera manufacturers [such as Canon] still have a FAT [not FAT32] formst the SD cards for some of their cameras. At 1080P, you can't get more than 5 minutes of video.

LaFong
LaFong

The HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool will also format past 32GB.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

I suppose it's the same for computer memory.Some kind of thing file system in that box.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Something about maximum file table (and cluster) size. But I read the wiki and it looks like the actual limit is two terabytes. Is this true?

gmichaels
gmichaels

For my personal use, instead of using slow online backup/sync utilities, I bought a Seagate GoFlex 640 GB drive. I have the first 32 GB formatted as FAT32 and the rest as NTFS. I do this so that I can copy MP3 files to an old PC that I have at home that I basically use as a home stereo - has excellent speakers and subwoofers attached (runs Windows Me, and is usually quite stable!) I tried to install a utility that would allow it to read NTFS files on my system, but that just crashed it (some kind of pseudo NT kernel that would allow me to read the NTFS files, from Sysinternals.) What I would like is an easy utility to expand my FAT32 partition slightly, from 32 GB to about 64 GB. That would allow me to hold more songs than I or my friends possess! A utility like Partition Magic -- it worked so well, until Symantec discontinued it! I downloaded Partition Wizard, but I'm not sure that I want to try it on my drive.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you still find yourself formatting drives with the FAT32 file system? Do you need to format drives past the 32GB limit? What tools do you use for these formatting tasks?

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

However, this blog post assumes you do not have a Mac handy to format your disk to FAT32 with. This is just one approach to getting around the limitation.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

There really isn't anything non-standard about this app at all. It formats just as Windows normally would, albeit ignoring the 32 GB limit imposed on disks and partitions by Microsoft. If you are concerned about format integrity, a quick "chkdsk /R x:" will do the trick. Generally, the actual limit to FAT32 partitions is 2 TB, and going beyond that particular limit is not possible.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

I have forgotten about this tool. I had no idea it would allow for such a circumvention.

gmichaels
gmichaels

I thought that the older Win32 systems (such as Win Me) could address up to 137 GB on a FAT32 drive, as long as LBA48 is enabled through software or on the PC motherboard.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

The two terabyte limit on FAT32 you mentioned is for the overall partition size. Individual files are limited to 4 GB a piece. The 32 GB limit was set by Microsoft as a means to force people onto NTFS... Not because there was any real limitation beyond 32 GB partition sizes. Hope that clears that up for you.

gmichaels
gmichaels

Matt, thanks for the info -- I'll check it out. Although, having to boot an OS seems a bit too much.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

This was a timely article as I just set up a spare system to use to recover data from hard drives. I put a spare 500GB hard drive in and I wanted to format the entire drive as FAT-32. I tried using Partition Magic and it only does FAT-32 out to about 160GB. You can create multiple 160GB partitions and then merge them, but you have to assign a folder to the other partitions on the first one. Cumbersome. I used to keep a Win 98 machine around to format larger FAT-32 drives, but that is also cumbersome. This utility is great and worked well for me. I need the drive as FAT-32 so I can access it if I have to boot to DOS to do the recovery. I'm still pissed at MS for arbitrarily limiting my ability to use FAT-32 as I see the need. I'm well aware of the benefits of NTFS and that is my standard on Win systems. I don't need MS to protect me from myself. They can easily add a message box explaining the benefits of NTFS over FAT-32 if one tries to use it. I, too forgot about the HP utility mentioned below.

Gisabun
Gisabun

This has what to do with going over 32GB for FAT32?

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

It's quite easy to do. Simply burn the ISO for Parted Magic onto any blank CD and boot! There is no complex procedure to get the software up and running. Also, when you are dealing with disk partitioning, you really shouldn't be mucking around within Windows anyway if data integrity is something you care about. ;)

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

gmichaels mentioned that he misses Partition Magic, and I just wanted to steer him along to a free alternative. That's all.