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Format to FAT32 for USB or External Hard Drive in Windows 10

Updated by Tracy King on Sep 24, 2021
Written by Daisy

On Windows 10/8.1/8/7, there are typically four ways for both average and advanced users to format to FAT32, which has the greatest compatibility compared to other file systems. For small capacity flash drives, pen drives, or SD cards that range from 2GB-32GB, any of the four methods are workable. However, for USB flash drives, HDDs, or external hard drives that exceed 32GB, the applicable tools will be restricted to the third-party USB format tool and the Windows Command Prompt.

  1. 1. Third-party USB format tool
  2. 2. Windows 10 Explorer quick format
  3. 3. Windows 10 Disk Management format
  4. 4. Windows Command Prompt

Can't format to FAT32 in Windows 10 with all given disk formatting tools? Directly jump to the final part to get additional fixes for "Cannot Format to FAT32" in Windows 10.

What You Need to Know About File Systems

In computing, a file system controls how data is stored and retrieved. The common Windows file systems include FAT16, FAT32, and NTFS, etc. Users can convert their USB flash drives or external hard drives between different file systems. In the chart below, we have listed features of four common file systems, giving detailed information from max partition size to the compatibility of these file systems.

Comparison of FAT and NTFS

Formatting a USB drive or external hard drive will remove all existing files on the device. Please make sure you have backed up files before formatting to avoid further data loss.

Solution 1. Format to FAT32 Using FAT32 Formatter Windows 10

USB requirements: none

A professional third-party Windows 10 FAT32 formatting tool can make the formatting process simple and secure. We recommend you try EaseUS Partition Master with its Format feature. Besides FAT32, it also supports format USB to NTFS, EXT2, EXT3, and ReFS. 

Download this partition magic now, and follow the simple steps to freely format USB to FAT32 in Window 10.

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  • Right-click the external drive or USB you intend to format and choose "Format".
  • Set the Partition label, File system (NTFS/FAT32/EXT2/EXT3/EXT4), and Cluster size, then click "OK".
  • Click "OK" to continue.
  • Click the "Execute Operation" button and click "Apply" to format the hard drive partition.

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How to Partition Hard Drive in Windows 10

With this FAT32 formatted, you can also repartition the volumes on your HDD/SSD, external storage devices. Follow to learn how to partition a hard drive on your own.

Manage partitions

Solution 2. Format to FAT32 Windows 10 via File Explorer 

USB requirements: no more than 32GB. Otherwise, you can only choose to format USB to NTFS.

To format USB under 32GB to FAT32 in Windows 10 Explorer, follow the three steps:

Step 1. Connect USB or external hard drive to Windows 10 PC.

Step 2. Open File Explorer, locate and right-click on the USB drive, select "Format".

Step 3. Set the FAT32 as the target file system, tick "Quick Format" and click "Start" to start the formatting.

Finish the formatting.

When the process completes, click "OK" to confirm. And now your USB is FAT32.

Solution 3. Format USB/External Drive to FAT32 with Disk Management

USB requirements: Similar to the Explorer, your USB drive has to be under 32GB in order to format to FAT32 within the program

Follow the 3-step guide here to format to FAT32:

Step 1. In Windows 10, go to This PC > Manage > Disk Management.

Step 2. Locate and right-click on your USB flash drive or external hard drive, select "Format".

Step 3. Set the USB file system to FAT32, tick "Perform a quick format" and click "OK" to confirm.

Format USB to FAT32.

Solution 4. Format to FAT32 Windows 10 Using Command Prompt

USB requirements: none

Some experienced users or administrators prefer to use command lines to execute some operations on Windows PC. It's also an applicable way to format your flash drive or external hard drive to FAT32 in Windows 10.

Note: Be careful while using command lines on your PC to format USB drive. Any improper operations would cause serious issues.

Here are the details of how to use CMD, DiskPart, or PowerShell command lines formatting device:

Option 1. Use CMD - Command Prompt

Step 1. Type command prompt in Windows 10 search bar or right-click on "Windows icon" > select "Search", and type cmd.

Step 2. Right-click on "Command Prompt" and select "Run as Administrator". 

Open Command Prompt to format device .

Step 3.  Check the USB label and type Format /FS:FAT32 O: at the prompt and hit "Enter".  (Replace O: with the drive letter of your USB drive.)

Windows 10 will begin formatting the USB flash drive or external hard drive into FAT32.

Format USB to FAT32 via CMD.

Step 4. Type exit when the process has completed.

Option 2. Use DiskPart 

Step 1. Type diskpart in Windows search bar and hit Enter.

Step 2. Hit Enter each time when you type the below command lines to quick format hard drive:

  • list disk
  • select disk 2 (Replace 2 with your USB disk number)
  • list volume
  • select volume 10 (Replace 10 with the volume number of the USB drive that you want to format)
  • format fs=fat32 quick

Step 3. Type exit and hit Enter to close the program when DiskPart reports it has successfully formatted the USB.

Quick format USB to FAT32 with diskpart command.

Option 3. Use PowerShell

Step 1. Right-click on the Windows icon and select "Windows PowerShell Admin", click "Yes" to open it.

Step 2. Check the USB drive label, type Format /FS:FAT32 o: in PowerShell, and hit Enter.

Step 3.Type exit when the formatting process completes.

Format USB to FAT32 via PowerShell.

Additional Fixes for "Cannot Format to FAT32" in Windows 10

If you met a problem while formatting USB or Windows warns that Windows was unable to complete the format, don't worry. In this part, you'll learn why you can't format to FAT32 in Windows 10 and how to resolve this issue effectively.

Windows was unable to complete the format.

Reasons for Why You Can't Format to FAT32

To find the right solution for your case, it's important to find out the causes that stop you from formatting devices to FAT32. Here are the main reasons:

  1. 1. File system error, bad sectors exist on USB/external hard drive
  2. 2. The USB drive contains 2 partitions or the partition need for formatting to FAT32 is not the first primary partition
  3. 3. The partition in USB or external hard drive is larger than 32GB
  4. 4. The USB drive or external hard drive is write-protected

So how to resolve these issues, switching your USB drive to FAT32? Follow the quick fixes to troubleshoot the problem of FAT32 format in Windows 10.

Fix 1. Check disk error, fix file system errors or soft bad sectors

To do so, both the third-party partition manager software - EaseUS Partition Master and Windows Disk Check will work.

Method 1. Use EaseUS Partition Master to check and fix disk error

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Step 1. Open EaseUS Partition Master on your computer. Then, locate the disk, right-click the partition you want to check, and choose "Advaned" > "Check File System".

choose Check Partition

Step 2. In the Check File System window, keep the "Try to fix errors if found" option selected and click "Start".

check the pop-up instructions

Step 3. The software will begin checking your partition file system on your disk. When it complets, click "Finish".

finish partition check

Method 2. Run Disk Check in Windows File Explorer

Step 1. Open File Explorer, locate and right-click the USB or external hard drive, and click "Properties".

Step 2. Go to "Tools" and click "Check" under Error-checking.

Check USB drive error.

Step 3. Select "Scan and repair drive".

Or select and check both "Automatically fix file system errors" and "Scan for and attempt recovery of back sectors", then click "Start".

Run windows check to repair USB.

Fix 2. Delete all partitions and create a new FAT32 partition on USB drive

If your Windows system (version before Windows 8.1) or your USB drive doesn't support creating two primary partitions, the computer won't be able to recognize nor format the non-primary partition on the USB drive to FAT32.

The solution to this problem is to delete all existing partitions on USB and create a new FAT32 partition:

Step 1. Connect USB to PC and open Disk Management.

Step 2. Locate and right-click the primary partition on USB and select "Delete Volume", click "Yes" to confirm.

Step 3. Right-click on the logical partition on the USB drive, select "Delete Volume".

Step 4. Click "Yes" to confirm. 

Delete USB partitions.

Step 5. The logical partition will become free space, right-click on it and select "Delete Partition", click "Yes" to confirm.

Step 6. When the USB becomes unallocated, right-click on the unallocated space and select "New Simple Volume" > "Next".

Step 7. Follow the on-screen instructions to specify volume size, drive letter, and set file system to FAT32, click "Next" > "Finish" to complete.

Create FAT32 USB partition.

After this, you've successfully converted your USB or external hard drive to FAT32 and you don't need to format this drive again.

Fix 3. Select NTFS as the file system or split USB larget partition to smaller FAT32 partitions

As shown in the chart at the beginning, the max size of the FAT32 partition is 32GB, which means you can only format devices smaller than 32GB into this file system.

In other words, when your USB drive partition is larger than 32GB, you can't format it into FAT32. There are three solutions to this issue:

  • Method 1. Apply EaseUS Partition Master to format USB to FAT32

Unlike Windows built-in tools, EaseUS Partition Master can simply format your USB drive even bigger than 32GB to FAT32 with ease. All you need is to go back to the partition manager to directly format your USB to FAT32 without any limitation.

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  • Method 2. Set NTFS as the file system of your USB drive

NTFS supports saving a single file that is larger than 4GB and supports creating a partition larger than 32GB. 

If you only want to keep one partition on the USB drive, make full use of the drive space, the best choice is to set the NTFS as your USB drive. 

Method 3. Divide USB partition into small ones (less than 32GB) with FAT32

The other way is to split the USB partition into small ones and format them into FAT32:

Pre-conditions: Windows system (versions after 8.1) and USB drive both support two or more partitions.

Step 1. Use Disk Management to delete the USB partition.

Step 2. Create two or more partitions smaller than 32GB with the FAT32 file system. 

Split large USB to FAT32 partitions.

Fix 4. Remove USB write protection and format USB to FAT32

When the USB drive is write-protected or locked with a password, you can't directly format it into FAT32. Here are the detailed steps to resolve this problem:

Step 1. Remove USB write protection and unlock USB

You can refer to this link to remove USB write protection on Windows 10/8/7. Or you can try to use EaseUS M Tool to simply remove the USB lock in 3 steps:

If you don't consider yourself a pro-computer user and you're not familiar with command-lines, don't worry. There are graphical-based solutions to help you remove write-protection from your hard drives, USB drives, and even SD cards.

EaseUS CleanGenius is one of these tools that helps you fix aforementioned issues on your drives without knowing a thing about command-line.

Here's an easy-to-follow guide on how to use this tool to get your issues sorted:

Step 1: DOWNLOAD and install EaseUS CleanGenius (free) on your computer.

Step 2: Run EaseUS CleanGenius on your PC, select Optimization and choose the Write Protection mode.

disable write protection

Step 3: Select the device that is write-protected and click Disable to remove the protection.

Disable Write Protection from storage devices.

Step 2. Format USB to FAT32

After removing the USB write protection, you can apply any one of the above-provided solutions in Part 1 to format your USB drive to FAT32.

Final Word

This page tells how to format a USB or external hard drive into FAT32 and resolve the issue of being unable to format USB to FAT32. It also includes helpful solutions in formatting devices bigger than 32GB into FAT32 without data loss.

If you want to convert devices into NTFS without formatting, refer to How to Convert FAT to NTFS for help.

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Updated by Tracy King

Tracy joined in EaseUS in 2013 and has been working with EaseUS content team for over 7 years. Being enthusiastic in computing and technology, she writes tech how-to articles and share technical solutions about Windows & Mac data recovery, file/system backup and recovery, partition management and iOS/Android data recovery.

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Written by Daisy

Daisy is the Senior editor of the writing team for EaseUS. She has been working in EaseUS for over ten years, starting from a technical writer to a team leader of the content group. As a professional author for over 10 years, she writes a lot to help people overcome their tech troubles.

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