When we talk about format USB Flash Drive we can also refer to USB Flash Memory or USB Flash Stick, these being other names that such device can also have.

As any storage device, the space available for storage must be formatted to one of the most used file systems. By default, due to several reasons one of them being the lack of knowledge, people use FAT32 file system format. Most USB device providers offer them as FAT32 file system formatted devices so people won’t change it to something more close to our days which would increase and optimize its performance.

I can’t blame them too much as most of them don’t care about these type of things, but I still think that people should always be more curious and have the desire to learn. They just want to store data, no matter the file system and even if you tell them about the best way to format, most of them would be like “What’s that?”.

Differences between FAT32 and NTFS

To see the actual difference between FAT32 and NTFS I will talk a little about them, but keep in mind this is not the focus of this article and you can inquire more on the web or in a later article. I will mention them because you should know how they affect the performance of your computer/device.

FAT32 is a very used computer file system technology but it is not limited only for the use of computers, actually it is also used on a wide variety of memory cards. FAT32 is the most recent one when being compared to its predecessors FAT12 and FAT16 and it stands for File Allocation Table on 32 bits. Obviously, its predecessors carry the same name with the slightly difference that they are using a 12 or 16 bit file allocation table. It doesn’t have any built-in security and recover-ability features and file compression is not possible. The maximum volume size for all operating systems is 32GB with a few exceptions when this maximum size goes up to 2TB. The maximum file size for FAT32 is 4,294,967,295 bytes (4 GB – 1 byte  and there is another improved version of FAT32 called FAT32+ that supports up to 256 GB – 1 byte but there is no point to go now into any further details.

NTFS is the file system technology that all Windows NT and its later versions, including Windows 7 and Windows 8, use for storing and retrieving files on a hard disk. There are several versions already present in the IT field, transparent to the user and I will mention the latest, which are NTFSV5.0, NTFSV5.1, NTFSV5.2 and NTFSV6.0.

NTFS stands for New Technology File System and it has built-in features for security and recoverability and it also supports file compression along with other several features. The maximum volume size is 2 TB with a nearly unlimited number of files that can be stored. The maximum file size is a number too high to normally be mentioned but just for the fun I will add it: 16 EB – 1 KB (EB stands for Exabytes) for some environments while for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 and earlier, the limit is actually 16 TB – 64 KB.

When we talk about such high storage limits and huge file sizes there are other risks like higher possibility of file corruption making it unusable, harder to handle and the list could go on. So, in some cases the use of such high storage spaces can become impractical. To better understand why it can be harder to handle , I will give you an example: imagine we have an image of 10 TB, if you have to copy it from a computer to another and something happens and interrupts this, you will have to start all over again and it will take some time to do it and this is not the only drawback that I can see.

There is however another file type but you should keep in mind that it is a little incorrect to address it as a file type. We call it RAW while certain applications and operating systems see it as RAW file system and that is what it acts like. To learn more about this storage type “format” please consult my article about Recover Data from RAW USB Flash Drive, Memory or Stick“.

Format USB Flash Drive, USB Flash Memory, USB Flash Stick using NTFS

For a Windows based computer, the default file type you can use to format a Flash Drive is FAT or FAT32, these will also be the only available options when you try to do it from its options, by right clicking it and using format feature. In other words you won’t have NTFS file system available at “file system” pick list, as you can see below:

Format USB Flash Drive - Format window

To change this and make NTFS file system available for this device, you will have to change a simple checkbox in device manager. Hard to believe? Just see below.:

1. Open device manager. The simplest way to do that: Start – Run and type “devmgmt.msc” without the quotes.

2. Locate your device that you plan to format as NTFS file system under “disk drives” category, right click this device and select its properties.

Format USB Flash Drive - USB Properties

3. A new window will appear. Select the second tab, called “Policies”. At this moment, the first option should be selected by default: “optimize for quick removal”.

Format USB Flash Drive - USB optimize

4. What you have to do to make that NTFS file option appear under your file system pick list menu when you try to format the device, is to change this checkbox and select the second one called: “Optimize for performance” and then confirm with Ok. Anything else that the system automatically checks for you, like that grayed “Enable write caching on the disk” is also good. By deciding not to allow that option to perform as it was programmed, will just cut some of the features that would improve the device’s use.

Note: After you decide to change the way the device will function, like we are doing in this case, as you can see from the details under “Optimize for performance” feature, you will have to use “Safely Remove Hardware” option from now on before removing the device. If you don’t do this, you risk to have corrupted data on the disk and lose all your information, especially if you will remove the disk drive while it was performing an action on it, like writing for example. You should also consult this article for a few more details on this one: Recover Data from RAW USB Flash Drive, Memory or Stick.

5. The last step is to actually do the thing you made all these settings for. Navigate to your windows explorer, right click the device and select format. You should have now the NTFS file format available for use which will increase the performance of the device.

Format USB Flash Drive - NTFS Format

These same settings apply to most of the removable disk drives on the market, weather we are talking about Flash Drives, Storage Devices, Phones connected as mass storage devices (with the use of their flash memory, memory card or whatever else storage media inside it ) and many other such devices. As long as you can store data to it, you should also be able to format it to NTFS file system.

You can format USB flash drive and the others using other software, in some cases without the use of changing that option, but this is the safest and it won’t cost you a dime, thing that I can’t say about some of the software you could use.

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