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Format a USB flash drive

February 2016

Users can format a USB in several different ways. They can format it under Windows or switch to Linux. Those wanting to format it under Windows will need to open the control panel, then under administrative tools, select disk management. After right clicking, the user needs to select the format on the USB flash drive. Users can also do this by putting the key in the USB port. It is also possible to format using Linux. In this case, users should be able to create partitions without too many problems.

Format a USB flash drive

USB flash drive can be formatted with the FAT file system (FAT16 or FAT32) or NTFS, depending on the needs of the user.

File system

Advantages and disadvantages of the different file systems:
  • FAT16 system for use on small USB key (2GB maximum).
    • Accessible via MS-DOS and all versions of Windows.
    • Maximum file size: 2 GB
  • FAT32 system best used for multimedia keys.
    • Accessible through all versions of Windows from Windows 95 OSR2.
    • Maximum file size: 4 GB
  • NTFS file system to use for transporting files larger than 4 GB
    • Accessible through all versions of Windows from Windows NT4.

Maximum file size: unlimited with normal use (in theory)

Formatting with Windows

  • To format a USB stick to FAT with Windows, follow these instructions:
  • Open the Control Panel,
  • Select Administrative Tools, then go to Computer Management,
  • Select Disk Management,
  • Right click on the drive letter corresponding to the USB drive and select Format,
  • If the key has a capacity of more than 2 GB, choose FAT32.
  • Confirm with OK.
  • To format a USB flash drive to NTFS, follow these steps:
  • Put the key into the USB port and wait for it to be recognized as a mass medium.
  • Go to Start/My Computer.
  • The USB key is visible in Devices with Removable Storage.
  • Right click on the key, then go to Properties/Hardware.
  • Double click on the USB drive icon.
  • Go to the Policies tab and select Optimise for performance.
  • Click on OK.
  • Go back to My Computer.
  • Right click on the USB drive and then choose Format.
  • Choosing NTFS has become possible, in addition to FAT option.

Note: The following tool can help you format your USB key under Windows XP:

This is extremely useful, for example when Windows tells you your USB key is read-only when you try to format it. On the latest versions of Windows, run it as administrator.

Formatting with Linux

GParted can create partitions in various formats, including FAT16, FAT32 and NTFS formats without any problem. It is available for most distributions.

You can also use a GParted Live CD.

Format on Mac OS

To format a USB flash drive to FAT in Mac OS, do the following:

Open Disk Utility,
Select the icon of the USB key on the left side of the window.
Click the Partition tab in the right part of the window.
Replace Current with 1 partition.
Click on Options.
Choose Master Boot Record (MBR).
Click OK to confirm the selection. Then back in the main window, choose the MS-DOS (FAT).
Give a title to this volume and the bottom of the window, click Apply.

Related tips

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See also

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