SD cards are a popular storage medium for cameras, phones, and other devices. They come preformatted with different file systems, the most common being exFAT and FAT32. Knowing which file system your SD card is using is important because it determines maximum file sizes and compatibility with different devices.
What is the difference between exFAT and FAT32?
FAT32 and exFAT are different versions of the FAT file system. FAT stands for File Allocation Table and has been around since the 1980s.
Here are the key differences between FAT32 and exFAT:
- Maximum file size – FAT32 supports files up to 4GB in size. exFAT supports much larger files, up to 16 exbibytes.
- Maximum volume size – FAT32 supports volumes up to 2 terabytes. exFAT supports volumes up to 128 petabytes.
- Date created – FAT32 is older, having been introduced in Windows 95. exFAT is newer, introduced in Windows Vista in 2006.
- Cluster size – The smallest allocation unit on FAT32 is 4KB. exFAT supports smaller cluster sizes down to 4KB.
- Device support – Almost every device supports FAT32. Some older devices do not support exFAT.
In summary, FAT32 is an older file system that supports smaller files and volumes. exFAT supports much larger file and volume sizes but may not work on older devices.
How to check if an SD card is FAT32 or exFAT
There are a few ways to check whether your SD card is formatted as FAT32 or exFAT. Here are some options:
To check on Windows:
- Insert the SD card into your computer’s card reader.
- Open File Explorer and navigate to the SD card.
- Right click on the drive and select “Properties”.
- Look at the “File system” field to see if it says FAT32 or exFAT.
Alternatively, you can use the command prompt to check. Open the command prompt and enter the command:
fsutil fsinfo volumeinfo [drive letter]:
Replace [drive letter] with the actual drive letter for your SD card. The file system type will be displayed.
To check on Mac:
- Insert the SD card and open Finder.
- Select the SD card volume.
- Press Command+I to Get Info on the volume.
- Look at the “Format” field to see if it says MS-DOS (FAT32) or ExFAT.
You can also use the command line
diskutil info [disk path] and look for “File System Personality” to see if it is ExFAT or MS-DOS (FAT).
On Linux, open a terminal and use the command:
sudo blkid -p -s SYSTEM -o value [device path]
Replace [device path] with your actual SD card path, for example /dev/sdb1. The system type will be displayed, look for “vfat” (FAT32) or “exfat”.
Using SD Card Utility Apps
There are various utility apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS that can read the file system type from an SD card. Some examples include:
- SD Card Formatter for Windows
- F3 for Mac
- SD Card Test for Android
- USB & SD Info Viewer for iOS
Just insert your SD card, open the utility app and check what file system is reported. This is an easy way to check without using command lines.
How to reformat an SD card from FAT32 to exFAT
If you need to reformat your SD card from FAT32 to exFAT, follow these steps:
- Insert the SD card into your computer.
- Open Windows File Explorer.
- Right click on SD card and choose “Format…”.
- In the format dialog, under “File system” select “exFAT”.
- Check “Quick Format” to format faster.
- Click “Start” to begin formatting.
- Insert the SD card and open Disk Utility.
- Select the SD card volume.
- Click “Erase”.
- Under “Format” select “exFAT”.
- Click “Erase” to reformat.
Use the mkfs command to reformat to exFAT. Replace [device] with your SD card device path:
sudo mkfs.exfat [device]
Reasons to use exFAT instead of FAT32
There are some advantages to using exFAT instead of the older FAT32 file system on SD cards and other removable media:
- Supports bigger file sizes – exFAT eliminates the 4GB per-file limit making it ideal for large movie files and other media.
- Faster format times – FAT32 can take much longer to format larger capacity SD cards compared to exFAT.
- Wide compatibility – Most modern devices support exFAT even though it is newer than FAT32.
- Use larger capacity cards – You can only format cards up to 32GB as FAT32. exFAT supports cards up to 2TB.
The main reason not to use exFAT is if you need compatibility with older devices that only support FAT32 and cannot read exFAT drives. But for most users today, exFAT is typically the better choice.
When to choose FAT32 over exFAT
There are some cases where using FAT32 can still be advantageous compared to exFAT:
- Very old devices – Many older MP3 players, older digital cameras, etc may only support FAT32.
- Small capacity cards – If you are using SD cards 32GB or smaller, FAT32 has more widespread support.
- Easier recovery – FAT32 file recovery and repair tools are more prevalent if data recovery is needed.
- Better performance – On slower or older devices, FAT32 can provide better performance than exFAT.
- Memory-constrained devices – Some low RAM embedded devices work better with FAT32.
So in summary, FAT32 still has some uses cases for smaller capacity cards and legacy device support. But for most users today, exFAT is the better choice.
Checking your SD card file system is easy on Windows, Mac and Linux. FAT32 and exFAT are the most common formats. For modern cards and devices, exFAT is typically better with its larger file sizes and better performance. But FAT32 still offers wider legacy device support. Hopefully this guide has helped explain the difference between the two formats and how to check and reformat your SD card appropriately!