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Everything you need to know about How to Format a USB Flash Drive

If you want to format your usb flash drive, jump drive, or memory stick, you can follow these simple steps to learn how:

How to format a usb flash drive in Windows

The steps for formatting usb jump drives are basically the same regardless of whether you’re currently running Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7.

Plug your usb or jump drive into a usb port on your computer. Usually Windows should find it as a removable disk drive automatically.  

Open “My Computer” and right click your removable disk drive, then select “Format”.

A dialogue box named “Format Removable Disk” should appear. From here you can format the File system, the allocation unit size, the volume label and some additional format options.

Formatting options

  • File System
  • Allocation Unit Size
  • Volume Label
  • Additional Format Options

To format your usb, just make your selections then click Start, and OK to confirm that you really want to erase all data and the flash drive will be formatted.

However, before you continue with formatting, you’ll want to understand what each of these options actually means. So let’s go through them one by one.


How do I choose the right File System?

Windows 7 will offer you a maximum of 4 different file systems:

  • NTFS
  • FAT
  • FAT32
  • exFAT

You will not see an option for FAT and FAT32 if your usb flash drive has a larger capacity than 32GB. So what are the differences between these file systems and which one should you choose to format your drive? Let’s take a closer look.

NTFS vs. FAT & FAT32

  • read/write files larger than 4 GB and up to maximum partition size
  • create partitions larger than 32 GB
  • compress files and save disk space
  • better space management = less fragmentation
  • allows more clusters on larger drives = less wasted space

FAT & FAT32 vs. NTFS

  • compatible with virtually all operating systems
  • takes up less space on USB drive
  • less disk writing operations = faster and less memory usage

exFAT vs. FAT & FAT32

  • read/write files larger than 4 GB.
  • create drive partitions larger than 32 GB.
  • better space management = less fragmentation

FAT and FAT32 are suitable for usb flash drives smaller than 32GB in an environment where you’ll never need to store files larger than 4GB. As a result, any regular sized hard drive (60GB+) should be formatted with NTFS.  

However, because of the way NTFS works it is not recommended for jump drives, even when they are larger than 32GB. This is where exFAT comes in. It combines the essential advantages of FAT (compact, fast) and NTFS (larger file sizes) in a way that is optimized for usb drives.

Don’t forget though that FAT and FAT32 are the only file systems that are cross-platform compatible. NTFS is fully supported by Linux, but requires a third party application to work on the Mac OS. exFAT is supported by Mac OS, but requires extra drivers to work on Linux.

If you want to choose FAT or FAT32 for speed or compatibility reasons, always go with FAT32, unless your usb drive has a capacity of 2GB or smaller.


How do I choose the right Allocation Unit Size?

Hard disks are organized into clusters of information and the Allocation Unit Size describes the size of a single cluster. The File System records the state of each cluster, noting whether it is free or occupied. As soon as a file or a portion of a file is written to a cluster, that cluster is considered occupied, regardless of whether or not there is still space.

As a result, larger clusters can lead to more wasted space. With the smaller clusters, however, the drive becomes slower as each file is broken up into smaller pieces and it takes much longer to draw them all together when the file is accessed.

So choosing the right Allocation Unit Size depends on what you want to do with your flash drive. If you want to store large files on it, a larger cluster size is better as the drive will run faster. But If you want to store small files or run programs off your usb, a smaller cluster size will help preserve space.

For a 500MB flash drive, for example, select 512 bytes (FAT32) or 32KB (FAT). While on a 1TB external hard disk, select 64KB (NTFS).


What Is A Volume Label?

The Volume Label simply refers to the name of your usb drive. It’s entirely optional and you can name your memory stick anything you’d like. There are some rules you have to abide by however, depending on the file system you’re going to format with.


  • maximum of 32 characters
  • no tabs
  • will be displayed with uppercase and lowercase, as entered


  • maximum of 11 characters
  • none of the following characters: * ? . , ; : / \ | + = < > [ ]
  • no tabs
  • will be displayed as all uppercase


Which Format Options Are Recommended?

During a normal format, files are removed from the drive and the usb is scanned for bad sectors. During a Quick Format only the files are removed and no scan is initiated. So go with that option if you don’t have time to run a scan or you’re dealing with a brand new usb drive.

And that’s it! The next step after formatting your usb drive would be to install antivirus software on it. Click here to find out How to Install an antivirus on your USB drive.

Vincent Clarke

Vincent Clarke

Vincent graduated from the University of Hawaii in 2007 with a Bachelors in English. Vincent works as a writer and enjoys surfing and mountain climbing. Connect with Vincent on Google+ About Myself

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  • Eka

     hi vincent, just read your website.

    so i have a problem after i format my usb flashdrive with exfat format, now my win7 cannot recognized my flash drive. any advice ?

    my flashdrive is cruzer switch 16GB. i dont mind if i need to re-format the drive but my windows just can’t read the flashdrive


    • Joxman2k

      Hi Eka

      Cruzer 16GB flashdrives by Sandisk have known problems. I believe there is a chip design feature that locks the drive after minor read/write faults. Usually it just locks the ability to write to it so you can get your data off of it  They are not very robust and it just seems to be that model. Sandisk is very good for offering replacements, but I can almost guarantee that it wont be the same model that they offer you.
      This might not be your problem. But just be aware that that might be a cause of Win7 not seeing it. It’s likely the flashdrive in this case. 

      I’d suggest formatting another drive in exFAT and see if it continues. I spent many HOURS trying all sorts of apps, Windows tricks and tips, and reading forums before I came to that conclusion.

  • gary beech

    when i copy files to my 32gig flash stick the files all seem to be empty even though in properties it says there is data there, any ides?

    • http://twitter.com/_VHClarke Vincent H. Clarke

      Hi Gary

      Checked the computer first for viruses then do this:

      1. Run cmd – Navigate to Accessories>Command Prompt (Run this with Admin rights)
      2. type attrib *.* X: -r -s -h /s /d (where X: is the drive, this is your flash drive letter)
      3. you can invoke other commands by typing attrib /?

  • http://www.facebook.com/eldinaee Rasim Hodzic

    i cannot format my usb , because my file system is FAT (Default) i tried everything always write windows was unable to complete the format , what will I do , how i can change file system , how i can format my usb plsssss helllp I need it

    • http://twitter.com/_VHClarke Vincent H. Clarke

      You’ll need to force format it. Plug in your USB and open command prompt ( start > all programs > accesories > command promt. or start > run > cmd).

      Then type: format x: /fs:FAT

      Where “x” is you usb drive letter.

  • Macaulay

    when i copy files to my 16 GB Kingston Thumb Drive, i cannot open it. it will create a shortcut then a pop up Rundll windows will appear saying there was a problem starting ~$WKPEU.FAT. the specified module cannot be found. how to solve it? besides that, the Kaspersky will inform me that there is virus detected once the drive is entered. but, it cannot be deleted, because the object was not found. please, anyone help me =(

  • laker15756

    I’m trying to backup a brand new out of box laptop, Windows 7. I read somewhere that it can’t be done with a flash drive; but other places implied it can. I’m talking about what is described as an “image” file of the static new system. If it is possible, what Allocation unit size would make the best sense for an image file, and the fact that we’re talking about an OS backup and need the best possible fidelity? Thanks for any input.
    Phil D

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