Are SanDisk SD cards FAT32?

SD cards, or Secure Digital cards, are a popular type of removable flash memory card used in many consumer electronic devices for storing photos, videos, documents, and other data.

FAT32 (short for File Allocation Table 32) is a file system developed by Microsoft and commonly used to format data storage devices like hard drives, USB drives, and memory cards. FAT32 defines how files are stored and retrieved on a storage device.

SanDisk is a major manufacturer of memory cards and flash storage devices, including SD cards. Since SD cards need to be formatted with a file system to store data, a common question is whether SanDisk SD cards come pre-formatted with FAT32 or if the user needs to format them manually.

Brief history of SD cards

SD cards were first introduced in August 1999 by SanDisk, Panasonic (Matsushita), and Toshiba as an improvement over MultiMediaCards (MMCs) [1]. The SD card provided greater storage capacity and speed compared to previous formats like MMCs. By 2011, SD cards became the most popular memory card format globally [2].

Today, SD cards are commonly used in digital cameras, camcorders, mobile phones, tablets, media players and more. Their storage capacities have grown enormously, from initial sizes of 8-128MB up to 1TB and beyond now. High speed SD cards are vital for recording high resolution photos and video. SD cards are now a ubiquitous, reliable and compact storage solution. [3]

FAT32 File System Overview

The FAT32 file system was first introduced in Windows 95 OSR2 in 1996 [1]. FAT stands for File Allocation Table, and the 32 refers to the use of 32-bit addressing as opposed to the older 16-bit FAT16 file system. Some key characteristics and advantages of FAT32 include:

Compatibility – FAT32 is supported across Windows, macOS, Linux, game consoles, cameras, and other devices, making it widely usable [2].

Efficiency – FAT32 is considered more efficient than previous FAT versions in how it organizes file storage and allocation [1].

Larger partition sizes – FAT32 supports partition sizes up to 2 terabytes, allowing for larger storage devices [2].

However, FAT32 does have some limitations, such as a maximum 4GB file size limit. Overall, FAT32 offers wide device compatibility and efficient performance for many storage needs [1].

Default format of SanDisk SD cards

Most new SanDisk SD cards come pre-formatted with the FAT32 file system by default (1). This includes SD cards with capacities up to 32GB. According to SanDisk documentation, FAT32 is the recommended format for SD cards to ensure maximum compatibility across different devices (2).

However, there is an exception for higher capacity SD cards above 32GB. Due to limitations of the FAT32 file system, SanDisk SD cards with capacities larger than 32GB often come formatted as exFAT instead while those with capacities equal to or below 32GB are pre-formatted as FAT32 (3).

So in summary, the default format on new SanDisk SD cards is FAT32 for capacities up to 32GB, while cards above 32GB may come pre-formatted as exFAT due to FAT32 limitations.





Formatting high capacity SD cards

SanDisk SD cards over 32GB come pre-formatted in the exFAT file system by default. However, some older devices are not compatible with exFAT and require FAT32 formatting instead. Formatting SD cards larger than 32GB as FAT32 is possible through a few different methods:

On Windows, you can use the free GUI tool SD Card Formatter and select FAT32 when formatting. You can also use the command line utility format with the /FS:FAT32 parameter.

On Mac, you can use the built-in Disk Utility app to erase and format the SD card to FAT32. Some third-party tools like FAT32 Format also work on Mac.

The main advantage of FAT32 over exFAT is wider device compatibility. Many cameras, game consoles and other gadgets support FAT32 but not exFAT. The tradeoff is that FAT32 has a maximum file size of 4GB, while exFAT supports much larger files. FAT32 may also have slower write speeds in some cases.

Overall, FAT32 is generally recommended for SD cards you plan to use with older or embedded devices that require broad compatibility. For newer devices that support exFAT, like many phones and computers, exFAT may be a better choice.

Checking and Changing FAT32 Formatting

There are a few ways to check if your SD card is formatted as FAT32 on Windows, Mac, or mobile devices:

On Windows, open File Explorer, right click on the SD card, select Properties, and look at the File System. This will show FAT32 if that is the format.1

You can also use the command prompt to check. Open it and type “format fs=fat32 x:” replacing x with the drive letter of your SD card. If it shows “Volume is FAT32” then it is already formatted as such.2

On Mac OS, open Disk Utility, select the SD card, click Info, and look at Partition Map Scheme. If it shows Master Boot Record then it is FAT32 formatted.

To reformat an SD card to FAT32 on Windows, you can use the built-in format tool by right clicking the drive, selecting Format, choosing FAT32, and clicking Start. This works for cards 32GB and under.

For higher capacity cards, third party formatter tools like guiformat or Ridgecrop Consultants’ FAT32 Format are recommended. They allow FAT32 formatting on cards up to 2TB in size.

On Mac, you can use Disk Utility’s Erase feature, selecting MS-DOS (FAT32) as the format. Be aware this erases all data on the card.

Mobile device OSes like Android also allow FAT32 formatting in Settings under Storage settings.

FAT32 Considerations for Devices

Most modern devices support FAT32 SD cards without issue, but there are some limitations to be aware of:

Game consoles like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have issues with FAT32, since it does not support individual files over 4GB in size. Games and other large files may need to use exFAT instead.

Higher-end DSLR and mirrorless cameras often recommend using exFAT over FAT32 for capturing RAW image files and high-bit video, which can be larger than 4GB. However, basic point-and-shoot cameras are typically fine with FAT32.

Overall, FAT32 is the most compatible format and works for most devices supporting SD cards up to 32GB in capacity. But for very large SD cards over 32GB, exFAT is generally preferred for greater capacity and performance, despite slightly less compatibility.

FAT32 is still a good choice for smaller SD cards used across multiple devices, while exFAT makes more sense for large capacity cards used primarily in newer equipment.

SD Card Speed Comparisons

There are noticeable differences in read and write speeds across SD card formats like FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS. According to testing by Wavelength, FAT32 cards had write speeds around 20-30MB/s while exFAT reached up to 90MB/s write speeds (Wavelength). Read speeds can also vary, with FAT32 topping out around 60MB/s and exFAT reaching 90+MB/s reads in benchmarks.

In a comprehensive speed test comparison, Pinnau Photography found that exFAT averaged 53.5MB/s write and 89.1MB/s read while FAT32 managed just 22.8MB/s write and 60.7MB/s read speeds (Pinnau). The performance difference comes down to how the file systems allocate space – FAT32 uses larger clusters that lead to more wasted space and slower writes.

For devices recording 4K video or high resolution photos, the slower write speeds of FAT32 can impact performance and result in lag, stuttering, or other issues. The higher throughput of exFAT is better optimized for devices with fast memory cards and writing large files.

Advantages of FAT32

FAT32 has several advantages that have made it a popular file system for many years.

One key advantage is wide compatibility across devices. According to NTFS vs FAT: Which Is Better and How do they compare?, FAT32 is supported by all versions of Windows and macOS, game consoles, cameras, media players, and many other devices. This cross-platform support makes it easy to transfer files between different systems.

Another advantage of FAT32 is that it is easier to recover data if the file system gets corrupted. As noted in FAT32: Advantages and Disadvantages, FAT32 does not use journaling, which means that corruption can occur more easily. However, the simple file structure also makes recovery simpler compared to more complex file systems.

FAT32 also has a small file overhead, meaning the file management structures don’t take up much space compared to the actual data stored. This helps maximize disk space usage for file storage.

Finally, the file structure of FAT32 is simple compared to more advanced file systems. There are no complex permissions, compression, or other features. While this limits some capabilities, it also makes FAT32 easy to implement and understand.


In summary, SanDisk SD cards come pre-formatted with FAT32 by default up to 32GB. Higher capacity SanDisk SD cards above 32GB will be formatted with exFAT instead. While FAT32 has some limitations like a maximum 4GB file size, it provides the widest compatibility with devices like digital cameras. You can check or reformat SanDisk SD cards to FAT32 through Windows Disk Management or third-party software.

FAT32 is generally recommended for SD cards unless you need to store files over 4GB in size. It works with all operating systems and allows transfer of files larger than on previous FAT16 formats. FAT32 strikes a balance between supporting larger partition sizes than FAT16 while still being compatible with most devices that can read SD cards.

So in direct answer to the original question – Yes, SanDisk SD cards 32GB or less will be pre-formatted in FAT32. You can also reformat higher capacity cards to FAT32 if needed, keeping in mind the 4GB max file size.