This post needs a cleanup, as I’ve committed the journalism sin of burying the lede.
For those new arrivals, here is a summary:
If you are attempting to format (either an internal or external device) with a fat32 or fat16 partition using Windows Vista, the built-in tools limit you to partitions <= 32 GB in size.
If you have a device that is bigger than 32GB, you have the following options:
- Using the Logical Disk Manager, break the device into several different partitions < 32GB in size and format them independently (obviously suboptimal)
- Download a copy of Fat32Format, which will replace the existing format utility built-in to Windows Vista. Disclaimer -> I know nothing about the author of this software, and therefore cannot vouch for it, but many visitors to the blog have reported success.
- Purchase and install Acronis Disk Doctor, which works in Vista. This is not free, but has some nice additional functionality.
- Download a Knoppix ISO image, burn it to CD, and boot into the Linux OS. Linux file manager tools will enable you to format any disk <8 TB with Fat32. I don’t recommend this either, unless you know what you’re doing.
To make a long story short, if you want a free solution and you’re not a power user, try the Fat32Format solution. If you want a free solution and you’re already familiar with Linux, use the Knoppix solution. If you don’t mind spending a little money, buy Acronis.
— original post —
If you’re using Vista, here’s a gotcha.
EDIT (25-Apr-07) : This applies to partitions larger than 32 GB in size. The GUI tools will support formatting partitions smaller than 32 GB in size. This is apparently by design. Although the maximum size of a Fat32 partition is ~8 TB, Windows formatting tools will not format large partitions.
The “right-click and choose format” instructions only give the option to format with NTFS, in spite of that second page.
Fdisk is no longer included in the OS. Format is still included, but you cannot run the format <drive> /fs:fat32 command at the command line using an account with Administrator privileges, you need to run it in elevated mode. More on that in at the bottom. Trying to format the disk using the Computer Management MMC doesn’t provide you with the option to choose anything but NTFS.
This workaround (which was required on the XP 64bit Itanium) doesn’t work, either.
People with dual boot machines, or people who use flash memory cards (say, for a digital camera?) are going to have problems. If I connect my digital camera via USB, it shows up as a drive. If I’m thinking about cleaning out all the pictures on my camera, I may choose to format the card, instead of deleting all the files. Well, your digital camera won’t read an NTFS partition, so if you format your card… you’re going to have to refer to my last post, or buy partition magic, or re-enable the Administrator account (which is disabled by default during the installation process, or run the command prompt in elevated mode.
** Update 09-Apr-2007 **
Apparently now that Vista is getting some penetration into the marketplace, some people are noticing this. From my stats page today, people have found this post by the following searches:
- format FAT32 in windows vista
- format to fat16 in vista
- vista format drive fat32
- fat16 formatter windows
Welcome, gentle reader(s)!
** Update 11-Apr-2007 **
5 more visits (10 & 11 Apr 2007) to the blog from searches containing FAT, Vista, and format. Looks like more and more people are starting to experience this problem…
** Update 16-Apr-2007 **
14 more visits in the last two days (15 & 16 Apr 2007).
** Update 16-Apr-2007 **Comments report Partition Magic 5 doesn’t run on Vista, which isn’t much of a suprise, as the current edition of Partition Magic is 8.0. However, Norton’s web site reports that PM 8 supports XP, 98, etc., but Vista is not listed.
** Update 25-Apr-2007 **
Still getting between 4-6 hits a day on this post. It’s currently the #1 response to a Google Blog Search for “format vista fat 16”.
According to their web site, Acronis Disk Director will run on Vista. I’ve just acquired a copy of Partition Magic 8, I’ll post results here when I get a chance.
** Running the Command Line in Elevated Mode **
See this blog page for a screen-shot description of running the command prompt as Administrator. When at the command prompt, in elevated mode, you can format using
format <drive>: /fs:fat32
Note, this limits you to a partition of 32 GB in size, for no real reason.
If you want to format a fat32 partition > 32GB, you need to use Ubuntu, Acronis, etc.