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How to format a USB stick

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How to format a USB stick: Has the USB flash drive you usually save your work documents started messing around with? Has copying of files become slow and, from time to time, data transfer is interrupted by strange error messages? Unless your USB stick is damaged in hardware, you can try to fix all these problems with nice formatting, a bit like doing with computers. How do you say? Do you agree perfectly with me but you have no idea how to format a USB stick ? Well, you don’t have to worry … I can explain everything to you, step by step.

Yes, I know, said in this way it may seem a complicated thing, almost impossible for those who do not yet chew computer science well. But no! I can assure you delete the entire contents of a USB stick and format is a real snap, regardless of whether the operating system installed on your computer is Windows or OS X . Anyway, don’t worry, I will explain everything in detail.

But now, call to the talk and let’s get to work immediately. Come on, take five minutes of free time and find out with me how to format a USB stick. I have no doubt that everything will go well and that if necessary you will also be ready and well available to explain to your friends in need of receiving a similar tip how to do it.

Format a USB stick on Windows PC

If you use a computer equipped with Windows and you are interested in understanding how to proceed to format a USB stick, you know that to perform this operation it is not necessary to resort to the use of special programs, simply use the “ad hoc” utility present on all PCs with one of the Microsoft operating systems installed.

In order to format a USB flash drive on Windows, the first step you must take is therefore to connect the device to the computer through one of the appropriate ports of the same after which you must access  Windows Explorer  or  File Explorer  (the item changes depending on the version of Windows in use) by clicking on the icon depicting a yellow folder which is located on the taskbar. Then select the  Computer  or  This PC item (also in this case the item changes according to the version of Windows used) from the left sidebar of the window that is shown to you and then locate the key icon to format. If you are using a computer with Windows XP installed click on the Start button and then go to My Computer to locate the USB stick icon to format.

USB Windows screenshot

At this point, click with the right mouse button on the icon of the unit to be formatted and select the Format item   from the menu that appears. In the window that opens choose between  FAT32exFAT  and  NTFS  the file system with which to format the drive by selecting it from the appropriate drop-down menu located under the item  File system :.

USB Windows screenshot

The file system to choose depends on your needs, or rather the type of file you intend to store on the stick and the devices in which you want to use it: PC, multimedia players, televisions and so on. Below are the file systems to choose from for formatting the key and its characteristics.

  • FAT32  is the default setting and allows you to create units that are perfectly compatible with all devices. On the other hand, it does not allow the archiving of single files whose weight exceeds 4GB.
  • NTFS  is the Microsoft home file system, it allows you to store even files larger than 4GB but is less supported than FAT. On Mac, for example, it is normally accessible only for reading and various multimedia players are not able to read it.
  • exFAT  is an evolution of the FAT file system that allows you to store files larger than 4GB and is supported by most devices.

Once you have chosen the file system, type the name to be assigned to the stick in the field located under the Volume label item   and then choose whether to perform a quick or complete format by keeping or removing the check mark from the box located next to the Quick format item  .

The difference between fast and complete formatting is that the integrity of the formatted drive is also performed in the second (so it takes longer). If you have to choose the quick format procedure, keep in mind that the free space on the key will not be reclaimed, therefore, until the drive is overwritten with other files, it will always be possible to recover the data deleted by the latter. .

Once you have adjusted all the settings, press the Start button   to start the operation and then wait for the procedure by which you format a key to be started and completed.

When formatting is complete, to eject the key from the computer, press again with the right mouse button on the device icon in the Windows Explorer or File Explorer window and click on the Eject item   attached to the menu that is shown to you.


If errors appear and you are unable to format your key, check that your device does not have write protection. In this case, try moving the lever on it or try one of the “tricks” illustrated in my guide on  how to format a protected USB stick .

Format a USB stick on Mac OS X

If, on the other hand, you use a Mac and you are interested in understanding what you need to do in order to format a USB stick, keep in mind that to succeed “in the enterprise” you just have to take advantage of  Disk Utility , the application available “as standard” on OS X thanks to which it is You can easily manage hard drives, pendrives and external media of various kinds.

The procedure you have to face is very simple. All you have to do is connect the USB stick to be formatted to the Mac and start Disk Utility by clicking on the Go item   attached to the menu bar, then pressing  Utility  and double-clicking on the application icon. Alternatively, you can access Disk Utility by pressing on the magnifying glass located at the top right of the Mac desktop, typing  disk utility  in the Spotlight search bar   and double-clicking on the first result displayed, the one indicated as the  best .

Screenshot of Disk Utility on Mac

In the window that opens, select the name of the stick from the left sidebar and then click the Initialize button   located at the top. Then choose the file system you want to use to format the stick by selecting it from the Format drop-down menu  .

Even on Mac, the file system to choose essentially depends on the type of file you intend to store on the stick and on the devices in which you want to use it. You can clear up your ideas about choosing the file system by looking at the following list.

  • MS-DOS (FAT)  is a fairly dated file system but precisely for this reason it is able to guarantee a high level of compatibility. The pendrives that are formatted with this file system can be used, both for reading and writing, on all computers, all the main operating systems and also on various other devices including tablets, Smart TVs, decoders and DVD / Blu-players. Ray. Apart from that, this file system brings with it some defects that are anything but trivial, such as the high fragmentation of data and the impossibility of storing files larger than 4GB.
  • ExFAT  is a file system which, as the name suggests, represents an evolution of MS-DOS (FAT) which reduces the level of data fragmentation and eliminates the 4GB weight limit. This file system is not as compatible as the previous one but is still supported without particular problems by all the main operating systems for PC and by many other devices including Smart TV, decoder, tablet and living room player.
  • Mac OS Extended  is a default file system of OS X. It does not have particular limits for the size of the files and does not generate much fragmentation but its degree of compatibility outside the Mac world is very poor.

After having chosen the file system, assign any name to the key by typing it in the Name field   and leave the option selected in the Schema item unchanged  . If the Security Options … button is available  , you can also press on it to indicate the degree of security with which to perform the operation, i.e. the number of times the data on the formatted device is overwritten. To finish, click on the Initialize button   in order to start the procedure to format the pendrive.

Screenshot of Disk Utility on Mac

Within a few seconds you will then be shown a blue progress bar located in the center of the window and indicating the degree of completion of the operation. Once you have completed the procedure to format a USB flash drive, click the Finish button  .

You can then eject the key from the Mac by clicking with the right mouse button on the device icon that you find on the desk and choosing the  Eject “key name”  (instead of  “key name”  you find the name of your pendrive) attached to the on-screen menu. Alternatively, you can eject the key from the Mac by dragging the icon of the latter on the Trash icon   on the dock.

How to format a USB stick

As I explained to you how to format a USB stick on a PC, Macs support NTFS drives only for reading (that is, they allow you to read the files on the sticks formatted with this file system but not to modify them or add new ones). To format a USB stick in NTFS on OS X you need to install third-party drivers, you can find all the details in my tutorial on how to format NTFS with Mac .