How to Format External Hard Drive with FAT or FAT32

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An external hard drive can be used on Windows and MacOS. This is useful when a drive is used under both operating systems (OS) to move files between the two environments. Most hard disks are formatted in NTFS (Windows) or HFS+ (macOS) format.


For a hard disk to be read and written on a Windows and MacOS computer, it must be formatted in ExFAT or FAT32 format. FAT32 has several limitations, including a limit of 4 GB per file. This is a file system limitation that affects both macOS and Windows, and the only workaround is to format the drive to exFAT. For more information on these restrictions, see Answer ID 1287: File and partition size restrictions using the FAT32 file system (Windows and Mac).

32 GB is the maximum size of a partition using the FAT or FAT32 file system format under Windows.

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However, FAT/FAT32 can format hard disks up to 16 TB and most operating systems support up to 2 TB. Microsoft has set a partition size limit of 32 GB for the FAT/FAT32 file system to support NTFS, which is generally more efficient when working with large partitions.

In reality, this limitation only exists in the latest versions of Windows. In addition, Windows recognizes large hard disks formatted in FAT/FAT32. Finally, you can bypass the 32 GB limit.

Advantages of the FAT / FAT32 file system

The age of the FAT32 file system has advantages and disadvantages. The great advantages are that FAT32 is the de facto standard because it is so old.

If you choose the FAT or FAT32 file system:

  • Faster performance due to fewer writing operations.
  • Less memory usage.
  • Faster scanning of the hard disk drive.
  • Works with all versions of Windows, Mac, Linux, game consoles and almost anything with a USB port.
  • Less disk space is required for file system data to create more free space for other data.

Formatting an external hard disk in FAT32 with DOS

  • Open a command window by going to Start, then Run, then type CMD.
  • Now type the following command at the command prompt:

format /FS:FAT32 X :

  • Replace the letter X with the letter on your external hard disk in Windows. Windows is starting to format the drive in FAT32!

There also seems to be a problem with the use of the command line next to the size limitation problem. Namely, it can take forever for some users to format the hard disk. I don’t know why, but I’ve seen it quite often and it can be very frustrating to wait 5 hours before losing the whole format. If the format takes more than an hour, simply cancel it and try one of the following methods.

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