My external drive is FAT32 formatted so I can access its files from any operating system. Windows 7's built-in system image feature doesn't allow backing up to this drive. Are there programs that can do this? I didn't see anything on the websites for Ghost or True Image.

Edit: If FAT32's file size limit is the problem, can I still store the image to another format like HFS+ or ext3?


Linux has amazingly good NTFS support now. Why not just use NTFS. Which other operating systems are you interested in accessing the image from? Mac OS X can also take advantage of the FUSE NTFS 3G driver for accessing NTFS. As much as I dislike having to use a proprietary storage format, because MS refuses to support stuff like ext3, NTFS is really quite stable and accessible from almost all modern operating systems, and I use it on all my removable media.

  • Unfortunately I wanted to get this done tonight, and I already have tons of things on the external HDD so I can't reformat it... BUT... I think once I get myself a second HDD I will definitely go this route. NTFS seems to be the best cross-platform file system, at the moment. Or maybe exFAT, I've heard good things about that one.
    – Neil Traft
    Sep 26 '11 at 2:26
  • 2
    @NeilTraft every version of Windows since XP comes with convert to convert a FAT file system to NTFS without losing data.
    – Chris S
    Sep 26 '11 at 2:32
  • No kidding?! Is that dangerous? Does it really work?
    – Neil Traft
    Sep 26 '11 at 2:35
  • 4GB thumb drives can be had for cheap... backup the files on a thumb drive and covert. Nothing like doing to learn.
    – WernerCD
    Sep 26 '11 at 2:59
  • @NeilTraft - I can attest it works, but the disks are blank, it's much quicker to just do a quick format on them. Sep 26 '11 at 6:10

The issue with FAT32 and windows system images is that FAT32 has a 4Gb per file size limitation.

FAT32 would suffice if your backup solution can split the image up into multiple 4Gb files, but then you can't use the file in its current state. I believe a Windows System Image from wbadmin is a VHD that can be mounted or files extracted from, etc. This would not be possible if the file is split into multiple parts.

  • FAT32's limit is 4GB, but yes, I get you. I guess what I'm looking for would have to write images that are a set of files rather than a single contiguous one.
    – Neil Traft
    Sep 26 '11 at 1:52
  • Older versions of Acronis allowed you to split the backup image into any size chunks you wished, I think this was removed from later consumer versions though.
    – Moab
    Sep 26 '11 at 2:05
  • Whoops, you're quite right - 2Gb was for FAT16, not FAT32 Sep 26 '11 at 2:09
  • 1
    most good backup software allows for chunking up data methinks
    – Journeyman Geek
    Sep 26 '11 at 2:19
  • @JourneymanGeek most good software is made to be run on a reasonably good system, including an appropriate file system.
    – Chris S
    Sep 26 '11 at 2:31

You should be able to use TrueCrypt to create an NTFS encrypted disk within a file on your FAT32 file system, subject to size limitations on the container file.

  • Interesting alternative to simply creating a partition on that same drive.
    – Neil Traft
    Sep 26 '11 at 2:22

XCopy/RoboCopy? Do you actually need an image of the data, or can you just recursively copy things from it?

  • I think I really want a full system image, for restoration purposes. Can I install Windows, with all my existing programs, on a completely different machine using your method?
    – Neil Traft
    Sep 26 '11 at 2:23

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