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What does it mean to format a USB flash drive

What does it mean to format a USB flash drive

For many, the concept of “formatting a USB flash drive” means deleting all unnecessary files, including those that are broken or infected with a virus.

In the first case, formatting is used only to free up space on USB drives, and in the second and third, to restore the safety of using the flash drive and its normal operation.

What is to format a USB flash drive is software recovery and clustering of memory cells. As a result, it turns out that deleting all files is just a consequence of formatting and not the main process. What is the output after formatting the external drive:

  • Cleaning the drive from viruses.
  • Normalization of the process of loading, downloading and reading, if there is no mechanical damage to the storage device.
  • Ability to remove the limit on the size of the boot file.

Consider the options for cleaning a flash drive in different ways, as well as quick, deep cleaning processes.

How to clear a USB flash drive?

On a USB flash drive, as well as on “real” disks on computer devices, when you delete individual files or programs, hidden folders and files remain that clutter up the USB flash drive.

This, in turn, leads to a decrease in the volume of its memory, when it seems to be empty, but hundreds of meters, or even gigabytes, disappeared without a trace. In this case, simple deletion via “delete” will no longer help, you need to format the external drive.

This may also be needed if a virus is added to a USB flash drive, when antivirus programs do not see it, but the USB flash drive still does not work normally, and the computer beeps when connected. If clearing the flash drive is needed only for this purpose, then you can do a quick formatting:

  • Insert the USB stick into the USB port.
  • Go to Explorer (Start> My Computer).
  • Right-click on the USB drive, select “Format” from the drop-down list.
  • Select the file system type – FAT or NTFS.
  • To format the USB stick, click the “Start” button.
  • Confirm that you really want to erase all data on the disk.
  • The flash drive is formatted.

After that, the process of quick formatting of the flash drive will be launched, it will last 10-20 minutes (depending on the amount of memory and the amount of stored information).

In what format to format the USB flash drive

During the formatting process, it is given the opportunity to choose the file system, according to the principle of which the external memory device will work after cleaning.

In total, four options will be offered:


FAT is a classic file system architecture that was developed back in 1976-1977. But, despite its considerable age and due to its simplicity, it is still used today. Previously, FAT was used on hard drives and floppy disks. Now – on memory cards.


FAT32 is a file system developed by Microsoft. It is a type of the FAT file system, or rather, its penultimate version. FAT32 is a logical chain of development of the file system architecture, when the cluster size was increased to 32 KB. Before that, there were other solutions FAT12, FAT16, but now they are not relevant. Going back to FAT32, we can say that the data transfer rate has been increased compared to FAT. In addition, this format is compatible with Windows, Linux, Mac OS X. Its only drawback is the limited size of the downloaded file up to 4 GB. That is, if you need to upload a file larger than 4 thousand MB, then it will be divided into parts, which is inconvenient.


NTFS is the standard file system in the Windows NT line of operating systems. It was developed in 1993 and practically replaced the FAT file system that was actively used at that time. Several versions of NTFS have been released since development. The latest version of NTFS 3.1 was released in 2001 and works on all operating systems from Windows XP and up. This flash drive format is preferable because it does not share files over 4 GB in size. Also works with all modern operating systems.


exFAT or, as it is also called, FAT64 is a new clustering system that has been developed specifically for external SSDs, HDDs and flash drives. The advantages of the file system are high performance, the possibility of saving space due to the improved information compression process. At the same time, exFAT has no restrictions on downloaded files. Unlike NTFS, there is no redundant functionality in the structure. The format is suitable for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X. The disadvantage of exFAT is that computers running Windows Vista without Service Pack 1, WINDOWS XP and older operating systems do not support it. And since this encoding format is not supported, the user will not see the files on the drive and will not be able to carry out any operations with them.

But Microsoft has released an official update that makes exFAT run smoothly on Windows XP SP2 and later.