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

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.

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Vincent Clarke

Vincent Clarke is the Universal Serial Bus (USB) Guru for USBtips.com. When he's not writing tutorials and catching up on the latest USB news, Vincent is busy preparing his next blog post and answering USB questions from his readers and subscribers.

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