Why can’t I format to FAT32 on Windows 10?

FAT32 (File Allocation Table 32) is an older file system that was introduced in Windows 95 to replace the previous FAT16 file system. It uses 32-bit addressing, allowing for larger partition sizes and file sizes compared to FAT16. However, Windows 10 introduces some compatibility limitations that prevent formatting drives larger than 32GB to FAT32. This prevents users from utilizing the widespread compatibility of the FAT32 file system on larger media.

Compatibility Limitations

FAT32 has a 4GB per file size limit, making it incompatible with larger media files like movies and other large files commonly used today. This limitation dates back to FAT32’s origins in Windows 95/98 when high capacity storage and large files were less common. But now, many types of files such as HD video files regularly exceed 4GB. The maximum file size for NTFS is 16TB, and exFAT supports up to 16EB, so these newer file systems are better suited for today’s larger files [1].

In addition, the maximum FAT32 partition size is 32GB without special formatting tools. So for larger external USB drives over 32GB, FAT32 is not the optimal choice. NTFS or exFAT allow much larger partition sizes. FAT32’s 4GB file size limit and 32GB partition size constraints are why Windows 10 and many other modern operating systems default to NTFS for system drives and exFAT for external removable drives [2].

System File Size

Windows 10 system files have grown in size over time and are often over 4GB total, which exceeds the maximum file size allowed on FAT32. One Reddit user reported their Windows 10 system files totaled around 6GB, well over the 4GB limit for individual files on FAT32. The FAT32 file system has a maximum file size of 4GB and a maximum partition size of 32GB. With modern Windows builds frequently exceeding 4GB in total system file size, it becomes impossible to format the entire Windows partition to FAT32.

This 4GB file size limitation is a fundamental restriction of the dated FAT32 file system. Microsoft recommends NTFS for Windows 10 instead, which has much higher maximum file sizes. So the large modern system files make FAT32 an unsuitable choice for a Windows 10 installation partition.

Formatting Tools

Windows 10’s built-in formatting tools have limitations when it comes to formatting drives as FAT32. The regular Format tool in Windows 10 does not allow formatting drives larger than 32GB as FAT32, giving an error if attempted.

This is because Microsoft decided to disable FAT32 formatting on drives larger than 32GB starting with Windows XP, as exFAT became preferred for larger drives. However, there are ways around this limitation.

Using the regular Format tool in Windows 10 File Explorer only gives basic formatting options. To access more advanced FAT32 formatting, third party tools or the command line must be used instead. The native windows tools prevent FAT32 for compatibility and performance reasons.

Overall, the default Windows 10 formatting utilities are limited in their ability to format large drives as FAT32. Users must utilize other methods to force a FAT32 format on larger drives. This hinders accessibility and convenience when trying to use FAT32 on modern large storage drives. (https://keys.direct/blogs/blog/how-to-format-to-fat32-windows-10)

3rd Party Tools

One solution for formatting drives larger than 32GB to FAT32 on Windows 10 is to use 3rd party formatting tools. Since the built-in Windows tools have the 32GB limit, 3rd party software provides an alternative method. Some popular FAT32 formatting tools include:

  • FAT32 Format – Free tool specifically for formatting to FAT32.
  • MiniTool Partition Wizard – Free partition manager with FAT32 formatting capability.
  • Ridgecrop Consultants FAT32 Format – Shareware FAT32 formatting utility for Windows.

These types of 3rd party tools can format drives of any size to FAT32, overcoming the limits of the default Windows formatter. They provide advanced options as well. The main caveat is that being third party utilities, they may not be as seamless or user-friendly as the built-in Windows tools.

Command Line

The Windows command line provides a method to format drives to FAT32 via the format command. To format a drive as FAT32 from the command line:

  1. Open the Command Prompt by typing cmd in the Windows search bar.
  2. Type the following command:

    format /FS:FAT32 X:

    Where X is the letter of the drive you want to format.

  3. Press Enter. Windows will prompt you to confirm formatting. Type Y and press Enter again.

The format command includes the /FS:FAT32 parameter to specify FAT32 file system formatting. Drives over 32GB in size can be formatted to FAT32 this way despite the limit in the Windows GUI tools.Source

The format command provides advanced control over disk formatting from the Windows command line. It allows FAT32 formatting on large drives and access to formatting options not available in the standard Windows interface.

Partition Size

FAT32 has a partition size limit of 32GB on Windows 10 and previous versions of Windows (Partition Wizard). This is because the file system uses 32-bit disk addressing, which allows a maximum volume size of 2^32 sectors. With the default sector size of 512 bytes, this equals a maximum partition size of 2 TB.

However, Microsoft chose to artificially limit the maximum FAT32 partition size to 32GB in Windows. This was likely done for performance reasons and to encourage use of the more modern NTFS file system. While 32GB was reasonable when FAT32 was introduced in Windows 95, it became restrictive as hard drive sizes grew over the years.

There are ways to get around this limit using third party tools, but you cannot natively format a partition larger than 32GB to FAT32 in Windows Disk Management. If you need a large FAT32 volume, you will have to rely on utilities that remove the built-in size restriction.

Drive Errors

Before attempting to format a disk, it’s important to check for and resolve any underlying drive errors that could be causing the inability to format. Errors like bad sectors can prevent a disk from being formatted properly. Try running the CHKDSK utility in Windows to scan for and repair drive errors. You can access this by right-clicking the drive in File Explorer, selecting Properties > Tools > Check. If errors are found, let the scan run to completion so the drive is restored to a healthy state. This guide has more details on using CHKDSK to resolve disk errors.

If CHKDSK is unable to fix the issues, it’s possible there is a physical problem with the disk that requires professional data recovery services. Companies like SalvageData may be able to repair and recover data from severely damaged drives when CHKDSK is unsuccessful.

Checking for drive errors before attempting to format is an important troubleshooting step, as it ensures the disk is in proper working order and capable of being formatted successfully.

Summary

There are a few key reasons why you may not be able to format a drive to FAT32 in Windows 10:

  • System file size limits – Windows sets a 32GB individual file size limit for FAT32, so you can’t format large drives.
  • Default Windows tools – The standard Windows formatter only allows FAT32 for smaller drives.
  • Partition size – Partitions over 32GB also can’t be formatted to FAT32.
  • Drive errors – Bad sectors or other disk errors may prevent successful formatting.

To get around these limitations, you can use 3rd party formatting tools, edit the registry to remove the 32GB file size limit, use the command line to forcibly format larger partitions, or break up the drive into smaller partitions first. Checking for and addressing any physical drive errors can also allow FAT32 formatting to work properly.

Further Resources

There are many online resources that can help you format drives to FAT32 on Windows 10.

This guide from WikiHow provides a step-by-step tutorial for formatting drives to FAT32 or ExFAT using Windows built-in tools.

FreeCodeCamp has an in-depth tutorial on formatting a USB drive to FAT32 on Windows 10 using the command prompt.

There are also many third party formatting tools available such as FAT32 Format, Ridgecrop Consultants FAT32 Formatting Tool, and FAT32format GUI. These provide a quick and easy way to format drives to FAT32.

For advanced users, the command line provides the most flexibility for formatting drives using tools like diskpart and format. There are many command line examples online.

If you run into any issues formatting, be sure to check for drive errors using CHKDSK or a disk checking utility before attempting to format again.