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

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I love giving tips and advice on how to properly use tech devices.

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 guide 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

Here is how you can format a USB flash drive with 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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


aryan on February 21, 2018:

what if the usb is write protected?

i'm done using regedit and cmd (not working)

Dilan on September 10, 2017:

the disk is write protected

Bedason Mombe on April 12, 2017:

Working Nice ,

thanks very Much

sekhar on December 15, 2016:

what to do when it show

verifying 15189M

0 percent completed.

Vadim Sirenko on June 21, 2016:

Really, i didn't understand difference between two file system FAT and NTFS, while had read about it more in the internet. I found excellent blog about it for reading Now i am choosing NTFS, because it more advanced than FAT. However FAT is the lighter system, thats why it more popular.

Nightjar on November 18, 2015:

Can we use command prompt to clean USB flash drive directly? Typing CMD--diskpart-- list disk--select disk I-- clean ?

If we want to convert files system of USB flash drive and we do not need the data on the USB, we can format it to FAT/NTFS; but if we just want to format it, why we do so much more complex operation?

Johng521 on August 02, 2014:

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

Rob on February 27, 2014:

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?

Nekel on January 11, 2013:

Nice one