How To Format a USB Flash Drive

October 2016

USB keys will sometimes display less memory than is actually available, even after the drive has been completely wiped. When this happens, it's helpful to reformat your USB flash drive to restore your device its full capacity. Formatting your USB will open up the drive's storage space and even increase its efficiency.

USB keys can be formatted in several different ways. This article will walk you through how to format your USB key on a Mac, Windows, or Linux PC.

Formatting a USB Key

Before beginning, it's important to choose which kind of file system you'd like to use. Depending on the needs of the user, a USB key can be formatted with the FAT file system, (including FAT16 or FAT32), or NTFS system.

The FAT16 system is often used on small USB keys, with a storage maximum of 2GB. This file system is accessible via MS-DOS and all versions of Windows.

The FAT32 system is best used for multimedia keys with a storage maximum of 4GB. This file system is accessible through all versions of Windows from Windows 95 OSR2.

NTFS is used to transport files that are larger than 4GB. This system has an unlimited file size maximum (within normal use) and is accessible through all versions of Windows from Windows NT4.

Format USB Key in Windows

Windows FAT

The following procedure will explain how to format a USB key using the FAT system on Windows.

Open your Control Panel and select Administrative Tools.

Next, click on Computer Management > Disk Management, and right-click on the drive letter that corresponds to your USB drive. Select Format.

If your key has a capacity of more than 2GB, select FAT32; if your storage capacity is less than 2GB, select FAT16. Confirm your selection by clicking OK.

Windows NTFS

Here's how to format your USB key using the NTFS system on Windows.

Insert your USB key into the USB port and wait for it to be recognized as a mass medium. Then go to Start > My Computer.

Your USB key should be visible in the section labeled Devices with Removable Storage. Right-click on the key, and go to Properties/Hardware. Then double click on the USB drive icon.

Now head to the Policies tab and select Optimize for performance. Click on OK.

Now go back to My Computer. Right-click on your USB drive and then choose Format. You'll see that selecting both the NTFS and FAT options has now become possible.

Format USB Key in Windows XP

If your Windows XP system continues to kick back error messages, you can use the HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool to reformat your USB key.

Instructions on how to proceed with the formatting can be found in our tutorial.

Format USB Key with Linux

Linux users can format their USB keys into FAT16, FAT32 and NTFS by simply downloading and launching the GParted program. This software will allow you to create partitions in the FAT16, FAT32, or NTFS format. GParted is compatible with most Linux systems:

Alternatively, you can also can also use a GParted Live CD to format your USB key.

Format USB Key on Mac OS

Mac OS users can format their USB keys into the FAT format in a few simple steps.

Open Disk Utility and select the icon of the USB key on the left side of the window. Then click on the Partition tab in the right window.

Replace Current with 1 partition and then click on Options > Master Boot Record (MBR).

Click OK to confirm the selection. Then, back in the main window, choose the MS-DOS (FAT) option. Give a title to this volume, and finalize by clicking on Apply.

Related :

This document entitled « How To Format a USB Flash Drive » from CCM ( is made available under the Creative Commons license. You can copy, modify copies of this page, under the conditions stipulated by the license, as this note appears clearly.