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How to format USB

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How to format USB: You have been asked to format some USB sticks but, being a beginner with the PC world, you don’t know how to do it? Have you recently moved to Mac and can’t find the right option to format your portable hard drives? Are you undecided about which file system to use to format your USB sticks? Don’t panic. Take five minutes of your time and I will try to clear up any doubts you have on the subject.

We will see together how to format USB on all the latest versions of Windows, on OS X and on the hugely popular Linux Ubuntu distro. We will also find out how to avoid the recovery of data deleted after formatting and we will try to understand what is the file system – that is, the system of organizing data on the device – that best suits your needs.

In short, if you need to format a USB drive and you don’t know how to do it, read the instructions below and I assure you that you will be able to successfully complete the operation. The procedure to follow is the same both in the case of USB sticks and in the case of portable hard drives. So stop wasting time and let’s go straight to action. There are USB devices waiting for nothing but to be refurbished!

Format USB on Windows

Do you use a PC equipped with Windows? Then know that you can format USB sticks and portable hard drives simply by accessing their properties and pressing on a special button. To be precise, you need to open the Windows Explorer (the yellow folder icon located in the taskbar at the bottom of the screen), select the Computer (or This PC ) item from the left sidebar and locate the key or disk icon to be formatted.

At this point, right click on the icon of the drive to be formatted and select the Format item from the menu that appears. In the window that opens, select the file system with which to format the drive from the drop-down menu, type the name to be assigned to the drive in the Volume label field and choose whether or not to perform a quick format (keeping or removing the sign of check the appropriate option).

Once you have adjusted all the settings, press the Start button and wait for the formatting to be performed. If you deselect the quick format option, the procedure will last longer as Windows will check the integrity of the disk and identify any bad sectors present in the latter.

If you are unable to complete the formatting of a stick because the drive is protected, try putting one of the solutions listed in my tutorial on how to format a protected USB stick into practice .

Note: with the quick format procedure, the free space present on sticks and portable hard disks is not cleaned up. This means that as long as the drives are not overwritten with other files, it is possible to recover deleted files from them. To carry out the reclamation of the free space – that is, overwrite the deleted data with “empty” information that makes it impossible to recover the latter – you can use the complete format function. Or, if you want to do more writes to the disk, you can contact CCleaner as I explained in my tutorial on how to format external hard disk. Warning: if you are still using Windows XP, the standard formatting procedure does not write random data to the disk on the latter. To reclaim the free space you must necessarily use third-party software such as the aforementioned CCleaner.

Format USB on Mac

On Mac you can format USB simply by starting the Disk Utility that you find in the Other folder of the Launchpad and selecting the drive to format from the left sidebar, in the window that opens.

Then go to the Initialize tab , choose the file system to be used for formatting the drive from the Format drop-down menu , type the name you want to assign to the volume in the Name field and press the Initialize button to start formatting.

If you want to avoid the risk that someone, using software suitable for the purpose, may recover files from sticks and hard disks that you have formatted with your Mac, before starting the format, press the Security Options button and move the indicator that appears on the 3-step secure initialization entry (watch out that formatting will take much longer).

Format USB on Ubuntu

If you use Ubuntu, you can format a USB stick or external hard drive in a very simple way. All you have to do is click on the Ubuntu logo located on the left side of the screen, search for the Disks application and start it.

In the window that opens, select the icon of the drive to be formatted from the left sidebar, press the gear icon located at the top right and select the Format disk item from the menu that appears.

Then set the Compatible with all systems and devices (MBR / DOS) option from the Partitioning drop-down menu and click the Format twice in a row button to start formatting. If you want to prevent the potential recovery of files from drives formatted with Ubuntu, select the option Overwrite existing data with zeros from the Delete drop-down menu .

Which file system to choose?

Now you know how to format USB but maybe you still have doubts about the file systems to be used to restore your keys and hard drives. Well, let’s find out together which file system is best suited to your needs.

  • FAT32 – is a very dated file system, and for this reason it manages to ensure a very high level of compatibility with all operating systems and multimedia devices. The units formatted in FAT are fully compatible with Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Smart TVs, multimedia decoders, video game consoles and many other devices. However, they have two major limitations: they do not allow to host files larger than 4GB and suffer from strong data fragmentation (which makes their performance less and less brilliant). In addition, it should be noted that some operating systems and some devices do not allow formatting USB drives larger than 32GB in FAT32. To overcome this problem you need to use the Fat32Formatter software. Use the FAT32 only if you need the highest degree of compatibility possible and don’t have to work with files larger than 4GB.
  • ExFAT – is an evolution of FAT32 which has no 4GB limit and suffers from a lower degree of data fragmentation. Its level of compatibility with operating systems and multimedia devices is high, but not as high as that of the FAT32. It is the most recommended file system for those who must use USB sticks and hard drives on various devices and various operating systems.
  • NTFS – is the default Windows file system. It does not have the 4GB limit of the FAT32, it undergoes fragmentation less but unfortunately it cannot guarantee the same level of compatibility. On Macs, for example, NTFS drives can only be used for reading and not writing, unless you resort to third-party drivers . Choose the NTFS file system only if you need to use your drives mainly on Windows PCs.
  • HFS + – is the default file system of Mac OS X. It has a very low degree of fragmentation, has no stringent limits on the size of the files, but outside the Mac world it is almost unusable. On Windows, for example, drives formatted in HFS + can be read and written only after installing the appropriate third-party drivers .