With FAT16 the maximum partition size is 2GB when your maximum cluster size is 32K.

This is calculated by multiplying the number of addressable units by the cluster size.

(216 Allocation units) * (215 bytes/cluster) = 2 GiB

However with FAT32, when I do the same calculation I get a much larger number than the 8 TiB maximum when using 232 clusters.

(232 Allocation units) * (cluster size)

If I use a cluster size of 512 bytes, I've already arrived at 2 TiB.

In an XP TechNet article, Microsoft says

The maximum possible number of clusters on a FAT32 volume is 268,435,445, and there is a maximum of 32 KB per cluster, along with the space required for the file allocation table (FAT).

This puts the maximum cluster size at 228 - 11.

Why is the maximum number of clusters in FAT32 228-11 and not 232, given that it was 216 in FAT16?


1 Answer 1


FAT32 only uses 28 bits not 32. Four bits are "reserved for future use".

So, a FAT32 partition has a maximum cluster count of 268,435,455 (228-1)


Although VFAT was a clever system, it did not address the limitations of FAT16. As a result, a new file system (and not just better FAT management as was the case with VFAT) appeared with Windows 95 OSR2. This file system, called FAT32 uses 32-bit values for the FAT entries. In fact, only 28 bits are used, as 4 bits are reserved for future use.

With the appearance of the FAT32 file system, the maximum number of clusters per partition went increased from 65535 to 268,435,455 (228-1). FAT32 thus allows much bigger partitions (up to 8 terabytes). Although the maximum theoretical size of a FAT32 partition is 8 TB, Microsoft has voluntarily limited it to 32 GB on Windows 9x systems to promote NTFS

  • 3
    Excellent :D That's exactly what I was trying to find out. Also, googling FAT28 shows that though they were "reserved for future use," they were never actually used.
    – QMord
    Oct 6, 2015 at 21:01
  • 57
    That's the usual meaning of "future". Oct 6, 2015 at 22:21
  • 2
    @RussellBorogove, Even after 40 years?
    – Pacerier
    Oct 7, 2015 at 8:21
  • 13
    @Pacerier welcome to software. It is better to have wriggle room to mitigate any surprises!
    – Gusdor
    Oct 7, 2015 at 9:11
  • 6
    @Pacerier: FAT32 is only 20 years old... Oct 7, 2015 at 11:26

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