If you have ever tried to format a USB memory stick or memory stick, you may have noticed that the only file system options you have are FAT and FAT32. This is standard in Windows. However, with a little tweaking of the settings, you can actually format removable storage devices in NTFS format, including external hard drives, etc.
Of course, Windows standards for formatting removable storage on FAT and FAT32 for certain reasons. There are actually a couple of pros and cons to formatting a USB drive in NTFS format, so we’ll go through these before you actually talk about how to do it.
The benefits of enabling NTFS
The benefits of enabling NTFS on removable storage devices are quite tempting. For example, an NTFS file system, you can add Allow and Forbid permissions to individual files and folders for specific Windows users, something you cannot do in FAT file system. For security reasons, you can also encrypt files using the built-in drive encryption in Windows.
Another great benefit of switching to NTFS is that you are no longer limited to storing files smaller than 4GB in size of device. FAT32 can only work with files up to 4G in size and volumes up to 2TB in size. So if you want to format 5 TB external hard drive as a single volume with FAT32, you would not be able to do that.
Files stored on the FAT32 file system also have a much higher risk of being corrupted unlike NTFS. NTFS is a journaling file system, which means that before an actual change is made to the data, it is first logged in a “diary”, so that if something happens in the middle of writing data, the system can recover quickly and does not need to be repaired.
Other benefits include the ability to compress files, thus saving space on your USB drive. You can also set disk quotas and even create partitions! Formatting USB drives with NTFS has several advantages that would be good if you need to use some of these advanced features, i.e. extra security or large file storage.
However, there are also some disadvantages to using NFTS on a USB drive. First, there is much more writing to the drive required when using NTFS and thus access to the device will be slower. It will also reduce the life of your flash memory on USB drives, due to the extra printer. Also, versions of Windows older than 2000 (except for some versions of Windows NT) cannot read NTFS file systems, nor can most Linux systems until recently, so your compatibility drops significantly. All other devices such as cameras, smartphones, TVs, tablets, etc. will most likely only be able to read FAT32.
The other major drawback is that if you encrypt your files on a USB drive or use any type of file permissions, you will not be able to open them anywhere else. In fact, this can be considered a disadvantage or an upside depending on what you want to do. If you want to secure your USB stick so that only your user account on a computer can open files, then using encryption or permissions is perfectly fine. If not, do not add permissions or encrypt files.
How to Format the USB Hard Drive with NTFS File Format
If you are running Windows 7 or Windows 8, that process can be very simple. First, go ahead and disconnect the USB device and then open Computer from the desktop.
Just right-click on the USB device and select Format.
Now open the File system drop-down menu and select NTFS. You do not need to do anything else and the NTFS option should appear in the list.
In Windows Vista and XP, you can not see the NTFS option under File system, in this case you need to adjust the setting first. First, connect the USB device to the computer and then right-click on My Computer from the desktop and select Manage.
Next click Device Manager and then expand Hard Drives. You should see the USB drive listed as “Generic USB 2.0 USB Drive” or something similar.
Now right-click on the USB drive under Disk Drives and select Properties, then go to the Policies tab.
You will now see two options, optimized for quick removal selected by default. Go ahead and change this by selecting the “Optimize performance to” option. This makes it possible to write caching in Windows, and therefore you can format it as NTFS! Sweet.
That’s about it. Before starting format, disconnect the USB device and then reconnect it. Now you can click OK and go to My Computer, right click on the USB drive and select Format. In the File system drop down you should now see the option for NTFS!
Troubleshooting NTFS Formatting
If you encounter a problem while formatting to NTFS, you will probably receive an error message stating that Windows was able to complete the format. The main reason this can happen is when it tries to delete the primary partition and for some reason fails.
In that case, you can only manage disk to format the hard disk instead of using Explorer. Go ahead and right-click on My Computer or Computer, select Manage, and then click on “Disk Management”.
Now you can find the disk listed on the bottom with the label Removable and make sure it is the right size. Right-click on the white field and select Format. You will receive a message that there is an active partition on the disk and that all data will be lost, go ahead and click Yes to continue. Now you can select NTFS and execute the format.
Now you can use the advanced features of NTFS off on your USB device to make it more secure, save large files, etc. If you have any questions, please leave a comment. Enjoy!