How can I format my USB drive as NTFS?


You have to promise to play friendly.

Go to Device Manager and set the policy of the USB Stick device to "Optimize for Performance". The default is to optimize for Quick Removal, which restricts you to the FAT filesystem.

If you do this, then you absolutely must go through the the annoying removal dialog to unmount the filesystem before unplugging the drive. If you don't, then you have a good chance of losing data.

[Raymond is currently on vacation; this message was pre-recorded.]

Comments (26)
  1. Anonymous says:

    This is a silly Windows XP thing again, Windows 2000 will let you format to NTFS without a problem. The only issue is that it defaults to Fat32 on the format dialog, but NTFS is an option still

  2. Anonymous says:

    Why would one have a journaling file system on a media that has limited number of write operations. In no time, you’ll have a flash that won’t work anymore. Same goes for people defragging USB sticks.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Robert MacLean: Maybe it’s silly for a reason?

  4. Anonymous says:

    It is really for a reason as Windows 2000 does not support quick-removal so it’s the same thing as mentioned above. If you disable the quick-remove feature in Windows XP you can use NTFS as filesystem.

  5. Anonymous says:

    puzzled> For me there are two reasons : to simply encrypt and compress files on the fly.

  6. Anonymous says:

    What’s the issue? Optimize for Performance to format. Format. Change to Optimize for Quick Removal. Done. (Had to do just this a couple of weeks ago for my external firewire drive.)

  7. Anonymous says:

    Wie man einem USB Drive / USB Stick trotz allem ein NTFS aufzwingen kann (anstatt FAT) findet sich hier in diesem Post von Raymond….

  8. Anonymous says:

    What’s the issue? Optimize for Performance to format. Format. Change to Optimize for Quick Removal. Done. (Had to do just this a couple of weeks ago for my external firewire drive.)

    I’m afraid that won’t work. A filesystem that supports quick removal will flush lazy writes quickly (~1 sec). The FAT driver in XP does this, while the NTFS driver in XP doesn’t. So fiddling with the optimize option after the formatting won’t help.

    NTFS also plays poorly with hibernate. Here’s a good way to corrupt your drive:

    1. hibernate with your 1394/USB drive attached

    2. Take it to another machine and add files

    3. Bring it back to the original machine and resume

    The FAT driver will remount the drive, tossing out all its cached state on the assumption an offline edit may have occured. NTFS doesn’t do this. Thus it’ll be using stale cached metadata after the resume, the result being drive corruption.

    In summary – NTFS in XP just doesn’t play with removable media well.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Puzzled:

    Quick calculation: Assume 128 MB, the flash has ideal wear leveling, 100,000 cycles, 2 MB/sec write rate (greater than USB 1.1 transfer rate)

    So, in order to hit the cycle limit, it’ll take 128*100,000 MB, which is 6.4 million seconds, or 74 days of continuous writes. Additionally, good flash is good in excess of 1 million cycles, in which case you’re talking two years.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Well except that the wear is nonuniform. Directory entries get much more writes than data files (updating the last access time for example). And the sectors holding the freespace array are probably going to see a lot more wear than normal.

  11. Anonymous says:

    The cycle limit on flash is the number of times a flash sector is erased, not written, so usually the controller will write changed sectors elsewhere and handle a separate physical to "logical" mapping transparently. There’s several other issues requiring a hidden remapping, such as the fact that flash erase sectors are large, often on the order of 64 Kbytes.

    I recall some of the embedded flash systems understand FAT and FAT deletions, so they know which sectors are empty, it might apply to USB drives. Otherwise the controller is limited to moving data around, so you have to divide the times by 2.

  12. Anonymous says:

    All these concern the base note.

    > How can I format my USB drive as NTFS?

    WHY would I want to format my USB drive as NTFS? If I attach it to one machine and write files owned by a user there, then move it to another machine, won’t the files be inaccessible there? Well OK on the first machine I could give full control to everybody and on the second machine take ownership (and then on the third machine or back to the first machine etc.) but what a pain.

    Nonetheless Windows XP (and 2000) already half-answered my question. They ONLY allow my USB hard drive to be formatted as NTFS. Unless I divide it into partitions of less than 32 GB each.

    > You have to promise to play friendly.

    And what’s friendly about forcing a USB hard drive to be divided into partitions of less than 32 GB each? It’s not as though the user is going to do separate installations of OSes into each separate partition. These are for file backups.

    > "Optimize for Performance"

    […]

    > If you do this, then you absolutely must go

    > through the the annoying removal dialog to

    > unmount the filesystem before unplugging the

    > drive. If you don’t, then you have a good

    > chance of losing data.

    You absolutely must go through the removal dialog regardless. I’ve had cases where Windows XP (even with its default setting of "Optimize for Quick Renewal" permanently unchanged) answers repeatedly that it’s not safe to remove the drive yet. Sometimes after 5 or 10 iterations it’s finished and it lets the drive go. But at least one time after about 10 minutes I gave up and did a shutdown (power down) of the entire computer. If I disconnected the USB drive before that, data loss would surely be guaranteed.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Can’t you just eject rather than remove? I haven’t had a problem doing that, and it’s quicker.

  14. Anonymous says:

    4/6/2004 5:56 PM David Nicholson:

    > Can’t you just eject rather than remove?

    That statement is vaguely familiar. Due to something I once read, I once tried that under Windows 98, since Windows 98 doesn’t have the "Remove" icon for USB devices. I opened Windows Explorer, right-clicked on the icon for a USB hard drive, and wanted to select "Eject". But there was no such thing. In Windows 98, I had to do a shutdown in order to make it safe to disconnect the drive.

    Of course ejection is possible for CD and DVD drives, but that means ejecting the medium not ejecting the drive.

    For PCMCIA-SCSI adapters (with SCSI hard drives attached), the "Remove" icon can be used in Windows 95, 98, 2000, XP, and 2003. For USB hard drives, it’s only 2000, XP, and 2003. (And maybe ME but I’m not going to install ME to test this.)

  15. Anonymous says:

    Florian – Be careful if you use EFS on a removable drive. There are the obvious problems with key distribution, of course. Beyond that, though, there’s a nasty bug in XP RTM that will allow a user to "decrypt" a file that was encrypted using AES. The problem is that XP didn’t grok AES until SP1, when AES became the default symmetric algo for EFS. The result is a file that’s complete garbage with no way to reverse the operation unless you can scavenge the file’s previous encrypted self from the volume.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Norman: If both machines belong to the same domain, then the user SIDs will match and the files will be readable in both places.

    The other problem is when two different policies collide in unexpected ways. "No NTFS on removable drives" vs "No FAT on drives bigger than 32GB". Having a removal drive that big was absurd back in the days of Windows 2000…

  17. Anonymous says:

    4/6/2004 10:51 PM Raymond Chen:

    > If both machines belong to the same domain,

    then the machines aren’t typical of the machines that are used by most purchasers of USB hard drives. Most of us are home users, most of us aren’t MSDN subscribers (though I am sometimes), and most of us don’t operate domains at home (though I did a few times for personal study).

    > Having a removal drive that big was absurd

    > back in the days of Windows 2000…

    Was not. It wasn’t even absurd in the days of Windows 98, though in the early days of Windows 98 they were usually SCSI (attached through PCMCIA-SCSI adapters) rather than USB. I don’t remember if I saw 40GB external drives in 1998 but I sure saw them in 1999.

    I’m not sure whether to mention that the same SCSI drives existed in the days of Windows NT4. In order to eject PCMCIA cards while NT4 was running, one had to have a third-party add on (Card Wizard or something like that). I’m not sure if it took care of disk drives attached to the other side of a PCMCIA card, as Windows 98 did, and as Windows 95 (except for the egregious and disastrous exception of FDISK) did. ‘Course Windows 95 couldn’t handle a drive larger than 32GB but that’s a separate matter. ‘Course Windows 95 FDISK was unsafe at any size but that’s a separate matter.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I stupidly formatted my USB thumb drive in NTFS, now when i plug it in it prompts me to install drivers etc :( so yeah i cant get access to it.

    Any ideas on how i could reformat it in fat32?

  19. Anonymous says:


    Any ideas on how i could reformat it in fat32?

    The command below should work just fine. Just hit the Start button, go to run, and punch in "cmd". Then enter the below command, replacing the letter Z below with the appropriate drive to reformat:

    format Z: /FS:FAT32 /V:My_Label /X

    Note: I’m running XP, and noticing that when I format in FAT or FAT32, the "Free Space" and "Total Size" entries are blank when I open My Computer. However, right-clicking the drive shows that ol’ familar pie chart with that info.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Free space on removable and disconnected network drives are not show in My Computer, because you don’t want to tickle them unnecessarily.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Commenting on this article has been closed.

  22. Anonymous says:

    You have to promise to play friendly.

    Go to Device Manager and set the policy of the USB Stick device…

Comments are closed.