FAT32 vs NTFS – how to pick the right format for your USB drive

Drives on computers need a ‘format’ – there are several options and the format chosen will define how the files and folders are stored on the drive and may have limitations.

When it comes to USB drive there are two main formats – FAT32 and NTFS. I recommend formatting a USB drives as FAT32, but the information below will you decide based on your requirements.

NTFS limitations


NTFS has limited compatibility. You will not many many devices such as camera, phones, TV’s that support it. Older Macs will not be able to access the files and folders and newer Macs will have read-only access.

This is the main reason why NTFS is not used on USB drives, as portabilities places emphasis on compatibility.

FAT32, on the other hand, is the most widely supported format. You should find that almost any system or device will support it – cameras, phones, TV’s, Macs, Linux and of course Windows.

FAT32 limitions

File size

Individual files which can be saved to the drive are limited to 4 GB. Typically this is not an issue unless you want to save large or extremely high quality videos on the USB drive.

Disk/partition size

Partitions are limited to 2 TB (using 512 byte sectors) or 16 TB (using 4096 byte sectors).

You will however need to use a third-party tool to format larger than 32 GB on a Windows computer, see Format USB drives beyond FAT32 32GB limit.


FAT32 does not support the access control list (ACL) that NTFS does.

This is normally not an issue, but would make the drive useless for backing up files if you need to retain the security permissions placed on files and folders.