Microsoft's ExFAT file system is an evolution of FAT32. Like its predecessor, it is perfect when it comes to portability, as it is supported by almost all operating systems. You can use it on external hard drives designed to share files between Windows, macOS, and Linux. Unlike FAT32, ExFAT works on all storage devices over 32 GB and allows you to work with files over 4 GB. However, FAT32 is sometimes required on special devices (like in some cars) and old computers. You can use Windows, macOS, or Linux to format an external hard drive with the ExFAT or FAT32 file system.
Method 1 of 4: Format a device less than 32 GB on Windows
Step 1. Back up anything you want to keep
If your device is less than 32 GB, you can format it to FAT32 or ExFAT using the built-in Windows utility. Formatting will delete the contents of the drive, hence the benefit of backing up the data you want to keep.
Step 2. Press ⊞ Win + E to open File Explorer
You can also right click on the button To start up then select File Explorer.
Step 3. Click This PC Or on Computer.
Either option should be in the left panel of File Explorer. Click on it to display a list of devices connected to your machine.
Step 4. Right click on the USB device
The device should be in the right panel. Right click on it then select Format to open the formatting window.
- If you don't see your USB device, press the Windows + R ⊞ Win + R then type diskmgmt.msc to open the disk manager tool. If the USB device (or port) is not physically damaged, you should see it listed in the window. Right click on it then select Format.
Step 5. Select FAT32 Where ExFAT.
Unless you are using a special device (or an older computer) that requires FAT32, choose ExFAT. The FAT32 is safe, however it cannot handle files larger than 4 GB.
- If your device's specific instructions recommend that you use FAT32 (for example, if you are using a hard drive in a car or other special device), select FAT32. Otherwise, use ExFAT to be able to handle larger files.
- Select the Perform a quick format check box to ensure a quick format. Full formatting is only necessary if there is a problem with the device or if you really need to cover its contents.
Step 6. Rename the device
In the Volume name field, type the name you want to use to more easily identify the device when you plug it in.
Step 7. Click Start to format the device
You will be asked to confirm the deletion of everything on the device. The process should only take a few minutes, but a full format will take longer. Once the device is formatted, you will be able to transfer files to it with any operating system.
Method 2 of 4: Format a device larger than 32 GB on Windows
Step 1. Back up the USB device
Formatting the device will erase all the data on it, which is why it is important to back up what you want to keep before proceeding any further.
Step 2. Choose between FAT32 and ExFAT file systems
ExFAT is the successor to FAT32. It works on Windows, macOS, and Linux. The main difference is that it removes the 4 GB file size limitation and works on storage spaces above 32 GB.
- If your device is over 32 GB and you just want to use it to share files between different modern operating systems (Windows 8 and later, macOS X 10.6.6 and later), use this method and be sure to select ExFAT as the filesystem.
- If you have specific usage guidelines that recommend using FAT32, and your device is larger than 32GB, you will need a third-party tool to format it to FAT32. In this case, continue with this method.
Step 3. Open this page in a web browser
It is a download site for an application called fat32format which can format large storage devices (greater than 2TB) to FAT32. This tool has been around for many years and is completely safe.
Step 4. Click on the image to download the tool
If the download does not start right away, click Save.
Step 5. Double-click on the file you just downloaded
The file is called guiformat.exe and is saved by default in the Downloads folder. You don't need to install the tool. Just double click on it and confirm it opens to start using it.
Step 6. Select your USB device
You'll find it in the Device menu at the top of the screen.
Leave the Allocation Unit Size option at the default unless you have a good reason to change it
Step 7. Type a name for the device
In the Volume name field, type a name that will allow you to identify your device when you connect it (in addition to its drive letter).
Step 8. Choose a quick format
Quick Format is selected by default, it should be fine for most people and it is arguably the fastest option. If there is any problem with the device or if you plan to give it to someone else, uncheck this option to perform a full format.
Step 9. Click Start to format the device
If you are doing a quick format, the process should only take a few minutes (depending on the size of the device). A complete formatting can take several hours. At the end of the process, you will be given the option to copy files to and from the device as usual.
Method 3 of 4: Format on Mac
Step 1. Back up all your important data
If you want to use your external hard drive with a Windows computer in addition to macOS, you can format it to MS-DOS (FAT) (32 GB maximum, which is roughly the same as FAT32) or to ExFAT (n 'any capacity). These types of file systems are not called FAT32, however they will still work on PCs and Macs. Formatting deletes everything on the device, so be sure to copy any files you want to keep.
Step 2. Open Disk Utility
You will find it in the folder Applications in a sub-folder called Utilities.
Step 3. Select your USB device
You will find it in the left panel, under the External heading. If you can't find it, try connecting it to a different USB port.
Step 4. Go to the Erase tab
This tab is at the top of the window.
Step 5. Choose a file system from the Format menu
The ExFAT file system is an updated version of FAT32 which works almost the same, except that the file size is not limited to 4 GB and you can use it on hard drives larger than 32 GB (unlike FAT32, by default). This is the best option for working between Windows computers and Macs (Windows 8 and later, macOS X 10.6.6 and later). If you have specific instructions recommending FAT32 (for example if you are using a car that requires this file system), select MS-DOS (FAT).
- If the device is larger than 32GB, but you absolutely need the FAT32, you can create multiple partitions on it and format each of them as separate FAT32 partitions. Go to the tab Partition, then click the button + to create new partitions. Set the size of each partition to 32 GB or less and choose MS-DOS (FAT) in the Format menu.
Step 6. Enter a name for the device
In the Name field, type the name (up to 11 characters) that you want to give to your device. This name will appear every time you connect it to a computer.
Step 7. Click Erase to start formatting
All data on the device will be deleted and it will be formatted with the selected file system. You can then transfer files to it as usual.
Method 4 of 4: Format on Ubuntu Linux
Step 1. Back up the data you want to keep
All data on your device will be deleted, hence the importance of backing up any data you want to keep before you start formatting.
Step 2. Open Disk Utility
This tool allows you to format the drives connected to your system. The easiest way to open it is to click on the button Dashboard and type disks in the search bar. Disk Utility should be the first result to appear in the list.
Step 3. Select your USB device
You will find it in the list of devices, on the left in the disc window.
Step 4. Click the Stop button to unmount the device
The square button in the Volumes section unmounts the device so that it can be formatted.
Step 5. Click on the cogwheel and then select Format Partition
This option is at the top of the menu.
Step 6. Enter a name for the USB device
In the Volume name field at the top of the window, type a name for your device. This is what will allow you to identify it once connected to a computer.
Step 7. Choose a file system
ExFAT, the successor to FAT32, also works on Windows and macOS. It is suitable for hard drives of all sizes. The only difference is that the ExFAT removes the 4GB size limitation from the FAT32. Always choose ExFAT unless your device's instructions recommend FAT32 (the only downside to FAT32 is that it doesn't allow you to work with files larger than 4 GB).
- To select ExFAT, choose the option Other, click on Following then on ExFAT.
- To select FAT32, choose Compatible with all systems and peripherals (FAT) then click on Following.
Step 8. Click Create to format the device
Formatting can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours depending on the size of the device. Once done, you will be able to reassemble it and copy files to it as usual.