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I have just tried to change the format a 1tb NTFS drive to fat32 and I'm getting a message that the drive's too big. Can anyone help?

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migrated from Nov 16 '11 at 21:22

This question came from our site for system and network administrators.

Why would you want fat32 for anything these days? – Zoredache Nov 16 '11 at 21:25
presumably compatibility. Some people seem to prefer fat32 for OS portable drives – Journeyman Geek Nov 16 '11 at 23:44
Also useful for people transferring files between a Mac and PC, and don't want 3rd party software. Also supported by game consoles – Simon Sheehan Nov 17 '11 at 4:41

According to this technet article, the largest FAT32 volume that Windows can create is 32GB. There are other methods to make larger volumes, since the theoretical max is 2TB, but you'll find support for large FAT32 volumes to be sparse.

If you're using this on an external device, you might want to look at exFAT.

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Couple this with the fact that there's no reason to use FAT32 on a device this size. What, you're going to install Windows 95 on it? I don't think it'll recognize a partition that large anyway. :) – Shinrai Nov 16 '11 at 21:26
The restriction is there because large FAT32 volumes slow down the computer. – kinokijuf Nov 16 '11 at 21:26
@kinokijuf I'd be interested to read documentation on how large un-fragmented FAT32 volumes slow down a system. Do you have a link to this assertion? – MDMarra Nov 16 '11 at 21:28
@MarkM A Brief and Incomplete History of FAT32 „For a 32GB FAT32 drive, it takes 4 megabytes of disk I/O to compute the amount of free space” – kinokijuf Nov 16 '11 at 21:32
@MarkM: Regardless of how much modern drives can handle, I see absolutely no reason to switch to a filesystem that is very inefficient, more limited, and less reliable in comparison. (FAT only handles files up to 4 GB in size. Its long file name support is a horrible hack. Directories are kept as a linear table rather than NTFS B+tree. I've already lost a filesystem after a single interrupted rename; NTFS would have repaired this without me even noticing.) – grawity Nov 16 '11 at 23:00

You can use the ridgecrop fat32 formatter to format the drive - bizzarely, while modern versions of windows cannot format large fat drives, they read them fine. The formatter is monumentally fast, so don't worry if it zips through the process.

If you don't want to read through all the juicy theory do a quick in page search for "fat32format binary ~20K"

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The restriction when formatting was added intentionally. – grawity Nov 17 '11 at 21:11

TV sets only recognise FAT32 partitions. Using an external HDD instead of a USB stick is great for storing home movies. Most modern video cameras have an 80GB HDD so you need somewhere to dump these files/movies to allow you to take more family videos. Alternatively you can use a media player like WDTV live & attach the 1TB HDD but when you're on a tight budget, there's no real need if you can format the HDD to FAT32

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while I agree that there is no reason to use FAT32 anymore, I ran into this recently when connecting a hard drive to my Pioneer AVIC-Z130BT navigation. It only supports FAT32 much to my dismay. I got a portable 750GB drive and discovered through trial and error that I can't seem to get it to format any bigger than about 450GB. The utility was called fat32format, which is the same utility that Journeyman Geek mentioned. Google can point you to where you can pick up a copy for free.

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Could you provide a link instead of suggesting google? The point of using this site is to not use google – Simon Sheehan Nov 17 '11 at 4:42
the link i've given points at where you can get it for free. And if anyone charges you for it, you've been scammed. – Journeyman Geek Nov 17 '11 at 5:32

While you're using larger drives, obviously you will be using large files to work with. there are several limitations with FAT32 file system including the size of the files, size of the volume can be created. Later it will be hard to go back if you use FAT32. exFAT is an alternative but I am not sure how well it performs better than NTFS. NTFS is a mature file system and most of the operating system supports read and write (especially Linux). So I'd suggest you to stay-back with NTFS for better performance and reliability.

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NTFS has no support and 'might' be OK if there is an IT technical department very close by. For home PCs using FAT32 is much more sensible as if/when there are problems, there's a much better chance of fixing most of what can go wrong. With NTFS the only option is an advanced data recovery commercial program such as Recoverer Ultimate Pro and even then you need restore space on another hard drive.

It isn't difficult to format even a 3TB drive with FAT32. Get a disk format utility from any major hard disk manufacturers' websites. DON'T use the MBR option, instead use the GUID option for the partition table, select FAT32 and let the utility do the rest. Reboot and all sorted!

Even Microsoft who invented NTFS DON'T recommend NTFS for home use!

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Do you have any sources to base your recommendation on? – Raystafarian Jan 16 '14 at 15:55
Yes, Microsoft and most tech websites that know what they are talking about! is mostly accurate, except that GUID is now available for super-size hard drives and FAT32. – Charles Jan 16 '14 at 18:56
Interesting page there. It's ten years old, and not from a Microsoft employee. Take with pinch of salt. – Kevin Panko Jan 16 '14 at 19:37
@Charles use the edit button to update your first post, and please don't put multiple answers to a single question. You will need to edit your more recent answers into this original answer; they've been deleted. – nhinkle Jan 16 '14 at 21:41

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