FAT32 format for external drives

Posted on 2014-12-09
Medium Priority
Last Modified: 2014-12-09
My understanding of FAT32 partitions is that they are limited to 32 Gigabytes.

However ... on several occasions I have see 320-GB and 500-GB external hard drives formatted with FAT32 and the partitions are 320 and 500 GB respectively.

What are the actual limitations on FAT32?

can someone comment on this?

Question by:scottjnorris
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Accepted Solution

☠ MASQ ☠ earned 668 total points
ID: 40490099
The 32 GB limit on volume size you'll see described only applies to the XP installer format tool which was deliberately limited by Microsoft to a 32GB volume limit in FAT32 to encourage users to switch to NTFS.  Other formatting tools can create large volumes with no problem (including for example the command line format tool in Windows 98SE). In terms of physical limits FAT32 can support a volume with up to 268,435,445 clusters so the usual quoted maximum theoretical volume size would be to make each cluster 32KB giving you about 8TB - (You could double that by making the clusters 64KB but at that size (16TB volumes)programming designed to calculated disk capacity will return unexpected results and you may see bizarre performance errors).  In practical terms you could get a FAT32 MBR volume up to 2.2TB but you are then looking at a far less efficient use of storage compared to using NTFS.

Is that the kind of thing you are looking for?
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Assisted Solution

by:Lee W, MVP
Lee W, MVP earned 668 total points
ID: 40490172
The limits of FAT32 as well as NTFS and other versions of FAT can be referenced here:

As stated, the OS can have issues (as in, some won't) formatting drives larger than 32GB, but the actual limit is 2TB or so.
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Assisted Solution

rindi earned 664 total points
ID: 40490200
The biggest stumbling block or limit with Fat32 isn't the partition size, but rather that the maximum file-size is 4GB. So if you have files larger than 4GB you won't be able to store them on a Fat32 partition.

Another problem is that it doesn't do any transactional logging as ntfs does. That means that if there is a corruption, the files at that location are gone or unusable, while with ntfs you can often repair those with a chkdsk /f /r.

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