Format a USB Flash Drive: What Formats or File Systems to Choose

We always have a flash drive at home for anything we need: move files from one computer to another, play your own multimedia content on the Smart TV or share some photos or documents with family or friends. But your USB memory is not always compatible with any file or device and that is why we must format a USB flash drive and choose the format well.



Before using a flash drive you have to format it. That is, format the unit and prepare the USB memory to store what we want or need to store in it. The normal thing is that the USB memory in question comes formatted once we buy it but it is not always the case or there are times when we must change the file system we use or we want to delete everything there is to give it a new format and start to use it again for whatever you want.

Every time we go to format a USB flash drive, the files in it will be lost. In addition, each time you perform this process you can choose the file system that suits you or change it according to the use you are going to give it, the computers or devices you have at home or the content you are going to store in it and it is more recommended in each case, as we will see later.

usb-flash-drive

How a pendrive is formatted

Formatting a USB flash drive will only take a few minutes and allow us to remove all the content in it and give it a new file system you want.

  • Insert the USB stick into your computer
  • Go to “This team”
  • Find the USB drive you want to format
  • Right click on it
  • Click on “Format”

Formatear USB

Once here, you will see a pop-up window with the USB pendrive’s capacity, the file system it uses or the allocation unit size. Choose the one that corresponds (in the next paragraphs we will explain its differences and advantages) and click on the “Start” button. Once the process is finished, you will have your USB ready to transport files, make backup copies, etc.

What are file systems?

File systems are the types of formats that we give to a USB drive or USB flash drive when we format them. We will choose according to the needs we have or the use we want to give (type of file or weight of it) to that USB memory but also according to the device to which we are going to connect it, depending on whether it is a computer or a television or according to the operating system with the so it works.

What file systems do is manage memory, allow access or “organize” the content in it. There are several types among which we can choose when you are going to format a USB flash drive and each one has its own advantages and disadvantages or compatibility.

What types are there?

FAT32

It is the oldest file system, born in the nineties, very universal but perhaps somewhat obsolete. It is compatible with virtually any device and that is why it is the file system that you will find in almost the majority of USB drives that you buy in the market. You can use it on Windows, OS X and Linux but also in other formats such as smartphone, for example, or on televisions and game consoles. In addition, it is compatible with USB 2.0 without any problem.

The main drawback of FAT32 is that you can only save files up to 4 GB if you use this file system. If you have a 1TB USB drive or USB stick and want to store games or heavy documents, you won’t be able to do it. Another drawback of FAT32 is that it does not have as many security levels as other file systems released later.

What is it recommended for? For any type of USB memory in which you are going to use lightweight documents or multimedia files. It is the most universal and versatile and will not give you compatibility problems on virtually any device. For the day to day, if you need to give some photographs to someone or carry print documents, if you need to transport data from the office to your home … FAT32 is a very extended and totally reliable option for your day to day without finding any inconvenience.

exFAT

The update of FAT32 arrived in 2006 and has fewer limitations than the previous one but it maintains great compatibility with devices: it allows larger files and has a higher speed. In this case, we have a file system that allows you to save documents of more than 4 GB in size in the USB flash drive and is compatible with virtually all computers (Windows, OS X or Linux) although we may find some problem on other devices such as televisions or Smart TV.

What is it recommended for? If you want to move bulky files between computers or make backup copies, for example. You can share files larger than 4 GB between computers of different operating systems without problem. Or simply if you want to make backup copies on USB sticks or SD cards where you need to store large files and documents.

NTFS

The NTFS system is the most advanced and modern. It is the file system that Windows uses in its documents by default. It has many advantages, it is one of the most advanced and it is fast , it does not have limitations by size and it is much more secure since it allows us to encrypt the content or put passwords , assign permissions on saved files, compress or create backup copies.

But NTFS not only has advantages, its main drawback is that it does not work on many devices such as televisions, consoles or smartphones. It also gives writing problems to computers that work with macOS or Linux and there might even be reading problems in these operating systems. That is, you will not be able to save any file on a pendrive from the Mac but it is possible that you can see the content in the USB memory when you insert it into the computer. Even so, if you only work with Windows , the NTFS system is a highly recommended and sophisticated option.

What is it recommended for? If you only use Windows at work and at home or on several computers, it is the best option. To make fully encrypted and protected backups or if you want to move heavy files between one PC and another and both use the Microsoft system.

HFS +

If you have Windows, you will use NTFS. If you work with Mac devices, the file system you will use is HFS +. It is an exclusive Apple format compatible with the apple’s operating system and ideal if you usually work with any brand device. In the case of using Windows, you can read a USB memory with this system but you cannot write to it. In the case of Linux you will not find any compatibility problem with HFS + even if it is developed by Apple and especially focused on the products of this brand.

What is it recommended for? You use Mac for both work and leisure, at home or in the office, and you want to carry or transport files between Apple devices.

Ext2, ext3, ext4

If Apple and Microsoft have their own file system, GNU / Linux also has the systems ext2, ext3 and ext4 that are evolutions of the same system that only works natively in this operating system and not in Windows or macOS. Ext4 is the most advanced and recommended, with almost no file size limitations.

What is it recommended for? If you only use computers with GNU / Linux operating systems it is the best option whether you want to share files with each other or if you want to make backup copies without worrying about the size since Ext4 has a limit of 1 exabyte.

Which one should I choose?

As we have explained in previous paragraphs, betting on a file system or another when you are going to format your USB flash drive depends on the type of content that you want to insert into it or the devices on which you are going to use it …

File systems

File limit For…
FAT32 Less than 4 GB All types of devices
exFAT Unlimited All types of devices
NTFS Unlimited Windows
HFS + Unlimited Manzana
Ext2, Ext3 Less than 16 GB GNU / Linux
Ext4 1 exabyte GNU / Linux