Older Windows operating systems relied heavily on the FAT32 file system for storage. This file system was designed with 32-bit operating systems in mind, limiting the maximum storage capacity of a FAT32 drive to 2 TB and file sizes from 2 GB to 4 GB (depending on your operating system). However, FAT32 is an old file system.
NTFS has been the default file system for Windows users since the days of Windows XP, so if you are still holding onto drives that use FAT32, you are missing out on the speed and technical advancements that currently supported NTFS offers. If you want to convert Windows drive from FAT32 to NTFS, you need to do the following.
Use Windows PowerShell to convert FAT32 to NTFS
There is no graphical option to convert FAT32 drives to NTFS on Windows. However, you can convert a Windows drive from FAT32 to NTFS using Windows PowerShell, although that will not work for the drive where your Windows installation is installed.
- To open a PowerShell window, right-click the Start menu and click Windows PowerShell (Admin).
- With a PowerShell window open, enter convert E: / fs: ntfs, replacing E: with the drive letter for your drive.
The process will take a little time. After completing the process and assuming there are no errors, the file system on your disk should be converted to NTFS without any additional steps.
If the error still occurs, it could indicate a problem with your drive, so be sure to check your hard drive for errors before trying the process again.
Convert FAT32 drives to NTFS using Windows File Explorer
While converting the drive from FAT32 to NTFS without formatting is the preferred option, you may not be able to do this. If your filesystem has errors or you just want to clean up the disk and change its destination, you might find formatting is the best option.
This means that your current FAT32 file system will be deleted along with all existing files and replaced with an empty NTFS drive. You can do this in several ways, but the fastest way is to use Windows Explorer.
- In Windows Explorer, open This PC using the navigation bar on the left. Your disks will be listed under Devices and Disks.
- To format a FAT32 drive, right-click the drive you want to convert. Select Format from the context menu.
- In the “Format” window, you can specify the name, file type and formatting type. Make sure to select NTFS from the File System drop-down menu. If you want to name your drive, set a new label in the Volume label field. You can also quickly erase data from the disk by checking the “Quick Format” checkbox.
- When you’re ready to start formatting, click the Start button.
- Windows will ask you to confirm that you really want to format the drive, warning you of the risk of data loss. Click OK to confirm.
Formatting speed will vary depending on the size of the disc and whether you have selected the quick format option. Once the NTFS formatting process is complete, you can immediately use the drive.
Convert FAT32 drives to NTFS using Disk Management
You can also use Windows Disk Management tool to format your FAT32 drive by converting it to NTFS. Like the above method, this will also erase your data, so be sure to back up your files.
- To open Disk Management, right-click the Start menu and select the Disk Management option.
- The Disk Management window will list your disks and partitions. To format a disk partition, right-click an entry in the disk list (top) or volume list (bottom) and select the Format option.
- In the Format window, you can select the volume label and file system. Select NTFS as the file system. You can also check the “Perform a quick format” checkbox to quickly format the drive, but if you want to safely erase it, make sure this checkbox is not checked. When ready, click OK to confirm.
- You will be prompted to confirm that you really want to format the disk, and all saved files will be lost. Click “Yes” to continue.
At this point, the drive will be formatted. Once the process completes, your newly formatted drive will appear in Windows Explorer for you to use.
Using third-party software to convert FAT32 drives
Windows includes various built-in methods to format or convert drives from FAT32 to NTFS, but third-party options are also available.
One example of free software that can accomplish this task is AOMEI Partition Assistant. Although there is a paid version of this software, the free version can convert FAT32 drives to NTFS without formatting the drives and losing your data.
- In the main window of AOMEI Partition Assistant, you can view a list of installed disks and individual disk partitions. To convert a disk partition, select it in the list below, then click the Convert to NTFS button in the left menu.
- Make sure NTFS is selected in the Convert to NTFS Partition drop-down menu, then click OK to confirm.
- With the transformation options selected, now you need to apply the changes. To do this, click the “Apply” button in the upper left corner of the window.
- In the Pending Operations field, you can see a list of tasks that the program should perform. Make sure the correct FAT32 to NTFS drive conversion settings are set (for example, you are converting the correct FAT32 drive). If you are ready to proceed, click the “Continue” button.
- You will be prompted to confirm that you really want to continue. Click Yes to confirm and start converting the file system.
- You can follow the progress bar on the screen to track the conversion. Upon successful completion, AOMEI will inform you about this.
Your newly converted NTFS drive will be ready to use as soon as this process is complete.
Alternative File Systems for Windows Drives
FAT32 may be an old file system, but that doesn’t mean it should be abandoned entirely. You can use an older FAT32 drive as shared storage for dual-boot systems, but you will probably find it easier to switch to NTFS or another type of filesystem like EXT4, the filesystem used by many Linux distributions.
If you’re on older computers, you may prefer to use FAT32 for the USB stick, but for the most part NTFS is the best file system for USB sticks and external drives, even though FAT32 is considered the most compatible option However, if you have a Mac, you can try exFAT as both Windows and macOS support it.