How to Format a USB Drive
It is easy to format a USB drive. The following guide explains how to format a USB drive on a Windows computer in the easiest and fastest way possible.
Formatting a USB drive is almost the same as formatting any other drive. Either you can use the default settings or you can learn what each option means and select those that suite your needs. Let us help you with the latter, so that you can choose the best settings when you format your USB drive.
Formatting a USB drive in Windows
Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10 all follow the same steps.
1. Connect the USB drive.
2. Open Windows File Explorer and select This PC (aka Computer or My Computer).
3. Right-click the drive, then select Format.
Formatting options include File system, Allocation unit size, Volume label, and Format options. You can also Restore device defaults if your custom settings aren’t working.
The process of formatting your drive requires you to select the drive, click Start, then click OK to confirm that you are really erasing all data.
However, you will need to understand the meaning of each one before you proceed with formatting. Let’s look at each one separately.
Which file system should I choose?
As of Windows 10, you will see four different file systems: FAT32, FAT, NTFS, and exFAT. If your drive is larger than 32 GB, you will not see FAT and FAT32. Therefore, what is the difference between those file systems and which one should you use? Here are the benefits of each.
NTFS compared to FAT & FAT32:
1. You can read/write files larger than 4 GB and up to the maximum partition size.
2. Make partitions larger than 32 GB.
3. Disk space can be saved by compressing files.
4. Less fragmentation = better space management.
5. The ability to store more clusters on a larger drive = less wasted space.
6. Permissions can be added to individual files and folders (Windows Professional).
7. File encryption on-the-fly through EFS (Encrypting File System; Windows Professional).
FAT & FAT32 Compared to NTFS:
1. Compatibility with virtually all operating systems.
2. Saves space on the USB drive.
3. Less disk writing = faster and less memory usage.
exFAT Compared to FAT & FAT32:
1. The ability to read and write files larger than 4GB.
2. Creating drives with larger partitions than 32GB.
3. A better management of space will lead to less fragmentation.
FAT or better yet FAT32 are suitable for drives smaller than 32 GB and in an environment where you will never need to store files bigger than 2 or 4 GB. In other words, any ordinary hard drive (60GB+) should be formatted with NTFS.
In spite of this, NTFS is not recommended for flash drives, even when they are larger than 32 GB. Here’s where exFAT comes in. The combination of FAT (small, fast) and NTFS (large file size supported) makes it ideal for flash drives.
You should keep in mind that only FAT32 and FAT are cross-platform usable file systems. In Linux, NTFS is supported, but it requires a hack or third-party application to work on a Mac. As of OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), exFAT is supported, but Linux needs drivers to read it.
If you must choose between FAT and FAT32 for compatibility or speed reasons, choose FAT32, unless your device is 2 GB or less.
What is the best allocation unit size?
Generally, hard drives are grouped into clusters, and the allocation unit size describes the size of a cluster. Every cluster is recorded in the file system, i.e. free or occupied. Once it has been written to a cluster, the cluster remains occupied, even if there is space remaining.
Therefore, larger clusters can result in more wasted space. However, as each file is broken up into smaller pieces, the drive becomes slower, since it takes longer to bring them all together when a file is accessed.
As a result, the optimal allocation unit size depends on what you intend to do with your USB drive. When storing large files on that drive, a large cluster size is better as the drive will be faster. However, if you only intend to store small files or run programs from your flash drive, a smaller cluster size can help preserve space.
A rule of thumb is: large drives and/or files = large allocation units (and vice versa).
Choose 512 bytes (FAT32) or 32 kilobytes (FAT) for a 500 MB USB flash drive. Select 64 kilobytes (NTFS) on a 1 TB external hard drive.
What Does a Volume Label Mean?
The volume label identifies the drive. It’s optional and your drive can have any name you want. However, depending on the file system, there are a few rules to follow.
format a USB Drive as NTFS:
1. The maximum number of characters is 32.
2. Tabs not available.
3. Displays both uppercase and lowercase characters.
format a USB Drive as FAT:
1. The maximum number of characters is 11.
2. The following characters are not allowed: * ? . , ; : / \ | + = < > [ ].
3. Tabs not available.
4. All uppercase characters will be displayed.
Regardless of the file system, you can use spaces.
What Format Options Do We Recommend to format a USB Drive?
The full format removes all file records and scans the drive for bad sectors. Quick Format skips the scanning, making it a lot faster. Choose Quick Format if you have a healthy or new drive, if you don’t intend to place important data on it, or if you are pressed for time. If not, remove the checkmark.
Neither of these options actually overwrites or deletes files; both just clear the Master File Table (MTF) of the drive. If you want to securely and permanently delete the data on your USB drive, formatting won’t work. You must overwrite the files with a tool like DBAN.
If you like this article, you might also want to know how to fix your USB Port, how to fix write protection errors, how to reformat an external hard drive without losing data, or how to format a write-protected USB drive. And if you need a new USB drive, here are the fastest USB flash drives money can buy.
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