Despite the ever increasing size of USB pen drives, they generally all come preformatted as FAT32 or FAT (for up to 2GB.)

While FAT32 offers the greatest compatibility between hosts, such as Linux & MAC OS, set-top Media Players and so on, one of the greatest drawbacks with FAT32 is the inability to store files over 4GB in size. While exFAT does allow for larger than 4GB files such as on SDXC cards, it is not as widely supported as NTFS, especially in set-top media players.

So how do you format a pen drive as NTFS?

One drawback with NTFS is that Windows must dismount a drive before it can be safely removed, where as with FAT32, the drive is ready for removal as long as there are no open files or pending write operations. For this reason, Windows does not list NTFS as a format option by default.

To format a pen drive as NTFS, the drive removal policy must be changed as follows:

  1. Plug in the USB pen drive you wish to format as NTFS
  2. Go into the start menu, right-click on “Computer” (“My Computer” on XP) and click ‘Properties’
  3. If you’re using Windows XP, go into the “Hardware” tab
  4. Go into “Device Manager” and then into the “Disk Drives” section.
  5. Right-click on your USB pen drive and click ‘Properties’
    (If you’re not sure which one, remove the pen drive and click “Scan for hardware changes” to see which disappears)
  6. Go into the “Policies” tab.
  7. Tick the “Better performance” option and click ‘OK’.

Now when you go to format this pen drive, you should see NTFS as a format option:

Due to the new write policy, you must remember to perform a safe removal operation before removing the drive. To do this, click on the safe-removal icon in the task tray and click the pen drive:

Wait until the safe removal confirmation message appears before unplugging. This can take a while depending on how much data is waiting to be written, especially if a large media file has been copied to the drive. If it gives a “This drive is currently in use” error, try the safe removal again. Note that some applications such as GIMP will prevent a safe removal until these applications are closed.

Note: Windows cannot format pen drives over 32GB in FAT32, so if you decide to format your >32GB pen drive in NTFS, you will need a third party application such as partition software to be able to format the pen drive as FAT32 again.