FAT32 is a file system that came as an improvement of FAT16 and the old FAT created for MS-DOS. Although there are other more advanced ones natively supported by Windows(such as exFAT and NTFS) it is still one of the most used.

FAT32 has certain limitations, as it is not capable of storing files larger than 4 Gbytes and does not allow to create partitions larger than 8 Tbytes. It is also problematic when using many levels of subfolders and lacks certain security features that more modern file systems have. That is why it is recommended to use others like NTFS in operating system installations.

However, its simplicity, versatility and compatibility with other operating systems (Linux, macOS, Android or other alternatives such as FreeBSD) makes it especially suitable for external/removable storage drives such as USB pen drives or microSD memory cards.

FAT32 on Windows

The problem is that the standard tool present in Windows 10 or Windows 11 for formatting disks (the function we can find in the file explorer by right-clicking on a connected drive) does not allow you to use this file system and if you try it you will only see the option of exFAT or NTFS. Also, in previous systems that did offer it, it didn’t allow formatting drives with storage capacity over 32 Gbytes.

Personally, I tinker a lot with all kinds of equipment and I can not miss a USB flash drive or a microSD with this type of file system, the most compatible and suitable for use in devices that do not support others or that work worse. I think in software testing, working with the Raspberry or to update the firmware of the TV set-top box, to name a few examples. If this is your case and you ever find yourself needing to use FAT32, there are methods to overcome the situation.

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Third party tools

One of those available is FAT32 Format. A free, portable application that requires no installation and makes it easy to format drives with this file type. Simply: download (Start button in the link), run, select the drive, enable formatting (it has a quick format option) and start.

FAT32 en Windows

Powershell

Applications like the above is recommended for ease of use and speed of execution, but if you want to use the same Windows there is another method that saves the limitation of the standard formatting tool. Simply access the consUse the advanced Windows Powershell command and use the command “format /FS:FAT32 X:” where “X” is the drive you want to format:

FAT32 en Windows

Consoles will take considerably longer to format and are more complicated to handle so we recommend using the FAT32 Format application. In both cases remember that the FAT 32 individual file handling is 4 Gbytes. The theoretical limit of the drive capacity with this type of file system is 16 TB, enough for the entire base of devices on the market.

exFAT: better, but less compatible

exFAT was introduced in 2006 and introduced in Windows XP and Vista. As its name suggests, it is related to the FAT file system, and is specifically an evolution of this one that tries to eliminate the limitations that FAT32 had, although without introducing many of the improvements present in NTFS.

The main advantage of exFAT over its predecessor is that it eliminates the storage limitations, being able to create larger partitions and giving the possibility of storing files larger than 4 Gbytes and all without losing one of the outstanding features of FAT, the speed of reading and writing.

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Like FAT32, exFAT is ideal for use on pen drives and external drives in general, with special mention to devices with more than 16 Gbytes of capacity, although FAT32 offers more and better compatibility with a wider range of systems, so exFAT is relegated to specific contexts.