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As title states, can Windows Vista or Windows XP read/write FAT16 filesystems. Are there any special tricks to being able to do this without much trouble? I'm designing a hobby project and I'm trying to decided if FAT32 is worth the extra cost.

I'm aware of the size restrictions, they're not a concern in this particular case.

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there's allways NTFS.. –  pavsaund Jul 27 '09 at 19:56
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FAT16 support isn't going away any time soon. –  zildjohn01 Jul 27 '09 at 21:39
    
Why not? Windows are backward compatible with previous versions –  Lưu Vĩnh Phúc Jun 2 at 2:13

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Yes, Windows XP and Vista can still read/write FAT16-formatted hard drives.

I have several external hard drives formatted in FAT16 and have never had a problem reading or writing to any of them with Windows XP and Windows Vista (and Windows 7).

It has become more common (again) to format drives using FAT16 so they can be used with some external devices. I use mine to plug into a DVD player with an external USB port. I still have to read/write the files from Windows XP/Vista/Win7. No problems.

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Both still have support for Fat16 and will install onto a partition formatted as Fat16.

Good God, don't do that.

Fat16/32 are inefficient as hell. For an external storage medium (like a flash drive) that you need to use occasionally to dump files from one machine to another (or use with a camera), they're marginally acceptable. Don't ever use one for an OS installation volume, though.

Unless you want your Vista installation to be useless in about a month. Writing your swap file to a Fat partition will make your computer run like a slug.

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Yes. Both still have support for Fat16 and will install onto a partition formatted as Fat16. Neither gives you the option of formatting a blank partition in this format so you will have to use either an old copy of DOS or some other utility to do this. As you are already aware Fat16 has a partition limitation of 4GB so installing the entire OS in all its bloat won't be possible.

See http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc766145(WS.10).aspx for a few more details.

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Maximum partition size using the FAT16 file system in Windows XP

Windows XP supports the creation of primary partitions and logical drives of up to 4 gigabytes (GB) using the FAT16 file system. The maximum cluster size is 64K.

So the answer = yes for Windows XP

If you’re using Vista, here’s a gotcha.

In spite of this knowledge base article, and contrary to what it says on this Vista page, it appears impossible to format a Fat16/32 partition using Vista native GUI tools.

EDIT (25-Apr-07) : This applies to partitions larger than 32 GB in size. The GUI tools will support formatting partitions smaller than 32 GB in size. This is apparently by design. Although the maximum size of a Fat32 partition is ~8 TB, Windows formatting tools will not format large partitions.

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You think Microsoft would but something on their Knowledge Base that "probably" doesn't work? Hopefully I can find you a better source tomorrow then –  Ivo Flipse Jul 27 '09 at 20:17

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