I'll soon be getting a new laptop with Windows Vista or Windows 7 and turning my current laptop into a Linux box. Since FAT32 works out of the box on both Windows and Linux machines and I've had some problems with Linux and working with NTFS drives in the past (although things might have gotten better - I'll be playing around with it, for sure), I want to back up my important files to my external hard drive, but I want it in FAT32 format for the time being. The only option there is when I go to format the drive is NTFS, though.

How can I force Windows XP to format my external hard drive as a FAT32 drive? Or has Linux support for reading and writing NTFS gotten good enough where it doesn't matter anymore?

  • Linux has no problems in reading + writing NTFS partition – Sathyajith Bhat Aug 12 '09 at 2:30

It's a limitation of Windows XP. It can read FAT32 drives larger than 32GB, but it cannot format over 32GB. Either boot up with a DOS or Windows 98 boot disk and format it there (with large hard drive support) or download and use fat32format.


Reduce the size of the partition to less than 32GB and Fat32 should appear as an option. You can also use PartitionMagic. Check out the Limitations of Fat32 for more details ...

If you need to format a volume that is larger than 32 GB, use the NTFS file system to format it. Another option is to start from a Microsoft Windows 98 or Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition (Me) Startup disk and use the Format tool included on the disk.

  • That limitation you are reading is during windows installation. Since this is a question about an external device it does not apply, as he will not be installing his OS on it. – MDMarra Aug 12 '09 at 1:58

You can always install NTFS-3G and just leave the drives NTFS. I have used it in both Linux and MacOSX for years with no problems reading and writing NTFS drives. It is constantly updated and most definitly stable. I don't install a Linux box without it.

It is currently also included in quite a few distros, although not enabled by default.

  • +1 Linux NTFS support has been pretty good for almost 2 years. Not sure about x64 though. – hyperslug Aug 12 '09 at 16:04
  • Works fine on x64. I have not used an x86 version of Linux in about 3 years. – BinaryMisfit Aug 12 '09 at 16:15

Keep in mind, one of the biggest issues with FAT32 - it does not support files larger than 4 GB.

Also, if you intend to run multiple operating systems, I would suggest you consider using Virtualization instead. Then you can run both operating systems at the same time.


Right click on the volume in My Computer, select format. There is a drop-down box for filesystem. Select FAT32

From Linux: - mkfs.msdos -F 32 /dev/devicename

  • 2
    The guys question is about why the option 'fat32' not available in the drop-down... – fretje Aug 12 '09 at 9:04

I would use a linux live-cd to temporarily boot it under Linux and create the partition. As somebody said, Windows can happily read a >32Gb partition but not create them

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