One of the fundamental procedures one needs to learn sooner or later when using a PC is how to format a USB drive on Windows 10. The reasons for wanting to do this procedure are many:
- You were previously a macOS user and now wish to use a flash drive that was formatted using Apple’s proprietary format.
- Your USB drive was incorrectly ejected and ended up corrupted somehow.
- You need a particular format to burn an ISO file on your pen drive.
Whatever is your reason to want to format your USB drive on Windows 10, you will find below a handy guide on how to do so from your Microsoft operating system. This tutorial uses the integrated formatting tool provided by Windows 10.
If you are unsure of which file system to use, I recommend reading this article. It details each format you might encounter during the formatting process, such as FAT32, exFAT, NTFS, HFS+, etc. For each file type, you will find a description, its use, its limitations, and its operating system(s) compatibility.
Note for those looking to format their pen drive to burn a Windows 10 disc image:
Even though you are already using Microsoft, you might still want to format your USB drive for a Windows 10 ISO file. For instance, you might have built a desktop computer and now wish to install an operating system on it. Or you might have a Linux laptop and want to dual-boot it with Windows 10.
At any rate, you will have to take special precautions when formatting your pen drive. Indeed, this procedure requires a specific file type to boot the OS (i.e., FAT32). However, this format is almost always incompatible with the one needed for the OS itself (as the OS is bigger than 4GB, the maximum file size on FAT32). Instructions on how to burn the Windows 10 disc image on your pen drive can be found HERE for macOS and HERE for Linux.
The only exception to this rule is if you find a release with a total size under 4GB. In that case, you can format your USB drive for Windows 10 as per this article’s guide for your current OS, making sure to choose FAT32 as your file type.
Before you format your USB from your Windows 10 operating system, back up!
Before you format your USB drive on Windows 10, make sure that you have backed up its content (if any) beforehand. You will also need to do a backup if you only want to change your flash drive’s filetype. This procedure, even if technically not called “formatting,” will also erase your data. If you formatted your USB using Window’s NTFS format and now want to open its content on macOS, do a backup! You can’t change a USB’s filetype from NTFS to HFS+ (the Apple proprietary format) using this guide and hope to be able to access its data on another OS. You will have to backup, then switch to HFS+, then add the files back on the USB drive. Changing a filetype without any data loss is sometimes possible but beyond the scope of this article.
What about third-party software?
If you require NTFS read-and-write compatibility with Mac, then I suggest taking a look at third-party applications. For instance, Paragon Software (https://www.paragon-software.com/us/home/ntfs-mac/) allows you to create a USB drive whose NTFS partition is compatible with macOS. Note that I haven’t tested this software myself. If you wish to use a filetype compatible with macOS out-of-the-box, my suggestion is to use exFAT. It will allow you to do the same, without the limitations of a proprietary file type.
How to format a USB drive on Windows 10
It is easy to format your USB on Windows 10. The integrated formatting tool provided with this operating system is efficient and user-friendly. Follow the steps below:
Insert the pen drive.
Open the File Explorer.
Locate your USB drive (usually the letter E:)
Right-click on the drive, then click on “Format…“
A window will appear. On it, you will find the following
- The capacity of your USB key (for informational purposes only)
- The file system: You will have the choice between FAT32 (Default), NTFS, or exFAT. If you aren’t sure of which format to choose, refer to THIS article which highlights the characteristics and usage of these formats.
- The Allocation unit size: either leave the bytes selected as-is (in this example, “4096 bytes” was already preselected) or click on “Default allocation size.” Ideally, do not change whatever setting was set by Windows by default.
- The volume label, which is the name you want to give to your pen drive
- The format options: by default, “Quick Format” is selected. Unless you want to overwrite the data that you are erasing (e.g., when formatting a USB that contained sensitive data), you may want to keep this option checked. The formatting process will go by much faster this way.
Click on “Start.”
You will get a warning saying that “formatting will erase ALL data on this disk.”. Click OK.
After a couple of seconds (or minutes, depending on whether you checked the “Quick Format” option), a window will pop up indicating that the formatting process is complete.
Voilà! Your newly formatted pen drive is now ready to use.
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