ARCHIVED: In Windows, how do I format a flash drive as FAT32?

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Windows 7 does not have a native option for formatting a drive in FAT32 format through the GUI; it does have the NTFS and exFAT file system options, but these are not as widely compatible as FAT32.

While Windows Vista does have a FAT32 option, no version of Windows can format a disk larger than 32 GB as FAT32.

Therefore, to format a drive in FAT32 format, you will have to either use a third-party FAT32 format utility, or manually force Windows to format your drive as FAT32 from the command line using diskpart.

Note: It is not suggested that you perform a "quick format". The standard format can take significantly longer, but quick format does not reliably remove some of the previous information; this can cause the new boot record not to work correctly. Disk format utilities work on a level lower than you may be typically used to seeing, and typically do not display identifiers like the "C:" or "D:" drives. If you format the wrong disk, there is very little possibility of recovering the data on that disk. Format utilities do typically show the drive size; use that information to identify the correct disk.

Using a third-party utility

Several utilities exist to perform this operation; one is Partition Manager from Active@. This utility is fairly simple to use; however, it does show you all the disks and partitions on your machine, so be sure to choose the correct one.

Manually forcing Windows to format as FAT32

  1. In the Start menu, type cmd, and then click the entry for the cmd program.
  2. At the command prompt, enter diskpart (you might have to approve this operation as an administrator). The prompt line should now display "DISKPART".
  3. Enter list disk.
  4. Enter select disk X, where X is the number of your selected disk.
  5. Enter clean.
  6. Enter create partition primary.
  7. Enter select partition 1.
  8. Enter active.
  9. Enter format fs=fat32.
  10. Enter assign.
  11. Enter exit.

You will be back at the standard command prompt. You can now place bootable media on the flash drive and use it as a bootable medium.

This is document bccm in the Knowledge Base.
Last modified on 2018-01-18 17:19:23.