Which USB Format to Boot Windows: FAT32, NTFS, or exFAT? [Best Solutions]

Updated by Cici on Oct 27, 2022
  | Computer Instruction

Choosing the right file format for your bootable USB drive ensures that you successfully install an operating system to your new computer. The three common Windows file systems to choose from include FAT32, NTFS, and exFAT.

This article will discuss the three file systems and hint at which USB format to boot Windows. We'll also discuss using EaseUS Partition Master to format your USB drive.

What Is USB to Boot Windows?

A bootable USB drive is one thing you must have with you if you want to boot your Windows device. What is the function of this drive and its benefits? Read on as we describe the meaning of the term "bootable drive" and its benefits to Windows users.

What Is a Bootable Drive?

A bootable USB drive could refer to an external hard drive, live USB, or flash drive, which contains a complete OS setup and can be used to boot up your computer successfully. In most cases, you may want to use a bootable drive when your computer malfunctions or fails to boot as expected. A live USB helps you to salvage the situation conveniently.

bootable-usb

What Are the Benefits of a Bootable USB?

Bootable USB drives are critical because they substitute the lack of CD drives in the latest computers. Some of the benefits of bootable USB drives include the following:

  • A bootable USB enhances the safety of your data because you can keep it in a secure place from access to anybody.
  • A USB drive allows you to modify the data by adding or changing the information and moving around with your OS wherever you go.
  • Bootable USB drives are convenient because you won't need optical media or hard drives to use them.

Since a USB drive is essential in helping you boot your Windows device, it's also important to pick the right file system format. The right file format ensures that your device boots correctly and you can easily access all the files and data on your computer storage. In the next section, we'll discuss the available file formats for Windows and recommend the best one for you.  

Which USB Format to Boot Windows: FAT32, NTFS, or exFAT?

You can boot your Windows device using file formats like FAT32, NTFS, or exFAT. We'll briefly discuss each file format and then create a comparison table to determine the best file format for your device.

What Are FAT32, NTFS, and exFAT?

Below is a description of the three file formats:

  • FAT32: It is the 32-bit version of the file allocation table (FAT) file system. This file system is compatible with operating systems and devices like USB drives, external hard drives, and flash drives.
  • NTFS: This file system is primarily used for the Windows NT family. It superseded the FAT file system and is the most preferred on Windows. It also supports other operating systems, including Linux and BSD.
  • exFAT: It is optimized for flash memory such as SD cards and USB flash drives. It has a greater file size limit than FAT32.   

Which Format Is Best for Bootable USBs?

You can read through the comparison table below to determine the best file format for your bootable USB drive.

Aspect FAT32 NTFS exFAT
Functions Recognized by close to all operating systems and portable across many devices. Is a proprietary journaling file system and is the default for the Windows NT family. It is an improved version of FAT32 and can be used where NTFS fails. 
Maximum File Size 4GB 8PB 16EB
Maximum Cluster Size 64KB 2MB 32MB
Maximum Volume Size 16TB 8PB 128PB
Pros
  • Compatible with most versions of Windows, Mac, and Linux
  • Compatible with all USB devices
  • Used for journaling
  • No file size limitations
  • Supports file compression
  • Compatible with Windows and Mac
  • Supports large file sizes and drives
Cons
  • Can't hold a single file of more than 4GB
  • Cannot create partitions larger than 8TB
  • Only supports read-only for Mac OS
  • Its usage is restricted to license obligations
Compatibility Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, Chrome OS, PS3, PS4, Printers, Xbox 360, etc Windows XP/7/8/10, Linux, macOS Windows, PS4, Mac OS X 10.6.5 and later, Android, Xbox One
The above comparison table shows that the best format for a bootable USB drive is FAT32 because of its compatibility across different operating systems and USB devices. However, this isn't the case with NTFS and exFAT.

FAT32 is the best for any bootable USB drive, provided you don't want to transfer a single file greater than 4GB. Since bootable drives don't necessarily need to store large files, they can conveniently work on FAT32.  

Set the Best File System Format- FAT32 as USB Format to Boot Windows

There are three steps to create a bootable USB on Windows: 1) Set the bootable USB format 2) Create the bootable USB format 3) Install the operating system. Let's look at the guide to set the FAT32 as USB to boot Windows. 

Step 1. Set FAT32 as the Bootable USB Format

To set FAT32 as the file system for your bootable USB drive, you'll need to first open "Disk Management" on your computer to check the USB format. And then,  right-click on the USB drive partition to see if it isFAT32. If not, you need to format it. To simplify everything, you can use EaseUS Partition Master Free. This disk manager software will allow you to format or wipe your disk partitions.

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Windows 11/10/8/7100% Secure

Step 1. Select the USB drive to format.

Connect the USB drive or pen drive to your computer. Download and launch EaseUS partition software. Right-click the USB drive you intend to format and choose "Format".

Step 2. Set the drive letter and file system on USB.

Assign a new partition label, file system (NTFS/FAT32/EXT2/EXT3/EXT4/exFAT), and cluster size to the selected partition, then click "OK".

Step 3. Check "Yes" to confirm formatting USB.

Click "Yes" if you see the Warning window. If you have important data on it, back up the data in advance.

Step 4. Apply the changes.

Click the "Execute 1 Task(s)" button first, and then click "Apply" to format the USB drive.

It also allows you to convert NTFS to FAT32. And EaseUS Partition Master is also suitable for new disks since it allows you to customize the number of partitions you want and set it as MBR or GPT. 

Step 2. Create the Bootable USB

After selecting your preferred bootable USB format (FAT32), the next step is to create a bootable USB format. You can accomplish this using a tool known as EaseUS OS2Go. This tool lets you easily clone an operating system to a bootable USB drive. Click on the link to create a bootable USB format using EaseUS OS2Go.

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How to Create a Windows 10/11 Bootable USB

Fortunately, this job becomes easy if you learn how to create a Windows bootable USB media. Also, if you do not know why you need a Windows 10 bootable USB or how you can do it, both aspects are covered in our article.

create-a-windows-bootable-usb

Step 3. Install the Operating System

The next step after creating a bootable USB drive is to install the system on a new computer. This process doesn't require much effort since you only need to plug in the bootable USB drive and run it on your computer. Click on the link below to learn how to install an operating system on your computer using a bootable USB drive.  

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How to Install Windows 11/10 from USB on New PC

The simplest and quickest way to install Windows 11/10 on a new PC is to migrate OS to HDD/SSD instead of installing Windows from USB. But how to migrate Windows 11/10 to a new PC?

ultraliso

Conclusion

In this article, we've learned that the best USB format to boot Windows is FAT32. This file system is portable across many operating systems, including Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, Chrome OS, PS3, PS4, Printers, Xbox 360, etc. FAT32 is also portable across most USB drives, unlike NTFS and exFAT.

Therefore, it would help if you considered using FAT32 as your default bootable USB format. Additionally, it would help if you considered using EaseUS Partition Master to format your USB drive. I hope you enjoyed reading this article! Feel free to say what you think in the comments section and share this article if you like it. 

FAQ of Which USB Format to Boot Windows

Do you still have any queries about which USB format to boot Windows? You can read through the questions below and have your queries answered.

1. Should Windows 10 Use Bootable USB FAT32 or NTFS?

It should use NTFS. NTFS is the default file system for Windows 10. This is because it has no file limitations and supports file compression. It's unlike FAT32, which limits a single file to 32GB. Therefore, you should use NTFS for your Windows 10 bootable USB drive to ensure the system successfully installs.

2. What Format Should a Bootable USB be for Windows 10?

It depends. If you aim to create a recovery drive, you can format your drive to FAT32. However, if you want to use the USB drive as a storage media, consider formatting it to NTFS since it's the default file system for Windows 10.

3. How Do I Make a USB Stick Bootable?

First, you'll need to install Rufus on your computer. Next, you can follow the steps below:

Step 1. Insert a USB stick of at least 8GB into your computer and launch Rufus.

Step 2. Set the device to your USB stick and select the installation media.

Step 3. Set the volume label. Ensure "File system" and "Cluster size" are set to default.

Step 4. Click on the Start button. Rufus will create an installation media on the USB stick and make it bootable.

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