Formatting a USB Flash Drive Using FAT/FAT32/NTFS/exFAT


A USB flash drive or memory stick is an external data storage device which is used to store or back-up data from your computer or transfer files from one gadget to another.

Like any drive in a computer or laptop, sometimes USB flash drives need to be cleaned or reformatted to either get rid of a virus or change its formatting system.

Formatting a Flash Drive to FAT or FAT32

If you have ever tried to format your USB drive, especially in Windows XP, you'll mostly find the option for FAT and FAT32 file systems, which is the default behaviour.

Here is the step-by-step on how to do this formatting.

Insert your pen drive
Insert your pen drive

Step One: Plug in Your Device

Plug in your USB flash drive into a USB slot on your gadget and wait for a moment until the computer detects your device.

Detecting your memory stick
Detecting your memory stick

Step Two: Open "My Computer"

Open "My Computer" and right click on your USB drive and select the "Format" option. A dialog box will open in which all available formatting options can be seen.

Right click on drive
Right click on drive
Select format option
Select format option

Step Three: Select Your Format

You should have four different options:

  • File system
  • Allocation unit size
  • Volume label
  • Format options

Make sure that the drive selected is correct and the file system is set to what you desire. Simply make your selection and click "Start" > "OK" to confirm that you want to erase the data inside your USB flash drive completely and get the drive formatted.

Formatting a USB Flash Drive to FAT/FAT32/NTFS/exFAT Using Command Prompt

Step One

  • Plug in your USB flash drive

Step Two

  • Go to "start" > "all accessories" > "command prompt"


  • Go to "start" > "Run" > [Type "cmd" and press enter]. You'll find the command prompt window.

Step Three

  • Type "format Z: /fs:FAT" for formatting to FAT*


  • Type "format Z: /fs:FAT32" for formatting to FAT32


  • Type "format Z: /fs:NTFS" for formatting to NTFS


  • Type "format Z: /fs:EXFAT" for formatting to EXFAT

*Z is the letter of your memory stick.

Step Four

  • Press Y=Yes or N=No to proceed with or stop the formatting

Important Note for Formatting to NTFS

If you are formatting to the NTFS file system, then you'll need to enable the "removal policy" of the USB flash drive to the "better performance" option. This can be done easily using the following steps:

  1. Right click on the pen drive and choose "properties."
  2. Select the "hardware" tab and choose the USB flash drive/pen drive from the listed disks.
  3. Click on "properties."
  4. Select the "policies" tab and enable the "better performance" option.
  5. Click "OK."

Now you'll be able to format the pen drive to NTFS directly or by using command prompt.

Formatting using command prompt
Formatting using command prompt

Which File System Should You Choose for Formatting?

In Windows 7, you'll find four different file systems: FAT, FAT32, NTFS, and exFAT. If the data storage capacity of your USB flash drive is larger than 32GB, then you won't see FAT or FAT32 in the formatting options.

FAT & FAT32 Benefits

  • Takes up less space on the USB flash drive
  • Compatible with virtually all operating systems
  • Scan-disk is very quick
  • Less disk writing operations which makes the USB drive faster and uses less memory

NTFS Benefits

  • Provides increased security and reliability with file encryption
  • Can create partitions greater than 32GB
  • Can read as well as write files bigger than 32GB and up to maximal partition size
  • Less space is wasted
  • Compresses files to save disk space
  • Can create permissions for individual files and folders
  • Small file clusters
  • Management of disk space is better

exFAT Benefits

  • Better disk space management
  • Can read as well as write files bigger than 4GB
  • Can create partitions greater than 32GB

What to Choose?

During a normal format process, the data in a memory stick is removed and a scan is performed for bad sectors. During the "Quick Format" process, no scan is carried out, and only data is removed. You should choose according to your needs. NTFS is more flexible but it can get more complicated depending on your situation and work habits.

My recommendations:

  • For USB's between 0 - 512MB: Go for FAT
  • For USB's between 512 and 8192MB: Go for FAT32
  • For USB's 8192 and above: Go for NTFS

More by this Author

Comments 3 comments

Nekel 3 years ago

Nice one

Rob 2 years ago

I have a 64GB drive that the system things is 200MB. I formated the drive to NTFS but no luck regaining lost memory space. Any sugestions?

Johng521 2 years ago

You have brought up a very excellent details , regards for the post. fceddedafcec

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article