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Old 10-09-2019, 05:51 PM
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Difficulty formatting a thumb drive for Windows Vista


I got a 1tb thumb drive, for the purpose of backing up my Itunes library, which lives on a desktop computer running Windows Vista. Try as I may, I am unable to format the thumb drive on that computer. On the other hand, I stuck it into my laptop running Windows 10 and it formatted within a few seconds. But, the desktop computer still won't recognize it....

Any thoughts? Thanks!
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Old 10-09-2019, 09:11 PM
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My only thought is that it could be a FAT vs. FAT32 vs. NTFS formatting kind of thing. I know there are size limits with at least one of those. Might it be that Windows 10 is capable of doing the specific type of formatting you tried for but Vista is not?
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Old 10-09-2019, 09:24 PM
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FAT32 and exFAT both support 1 TB volumes, but you may as well format it as NTFS; any Windows would be hard-pressed not to support that format.
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Old 10-09-2019, 09:37 PM
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OK, but how do I actually do it? I am getting an error message when I try to format the drive.
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Old 10-09-2019, 10:13 PM
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I don't have ready access to Windows Vista, but this page gives step-by-step instructions on doing it from a CMD shell window run as administrator, and this one suggests the Disk Management utility. I would try the command prompt first.

What error message do you get in case the above methods fail?
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Old 10-09-2019, 10:27 PM
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Search for and download HPUSBDISK. It's an old program, but will allow you to force format a flash drive.
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Old 10-09-2019, 11:57 PM
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NTFS - Windows only, might be readable but not writable in other OS, exceptions with third-party software exist
HFS+ - Mac, same thing
ext4, ext3, etc - Linux, same
FAT or FAT16 - old, don't use
FAT32 - the most cross-platform support, but only allows 4 GiB files
exFAT - allows bigger files, almost as supported as FAT32, modern OSes including Vista should handle as long as you have SP1

You should try exFAT or FAT32 if that doesn't work. If you absolutely can never fathom needing to put it in a Mac, NTFS is fine too.
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Old 10-10-2019, 04:38 AM
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Originally Posted by jaycat View Post
OK, but how do I actually do it? I am getting an error message when I try to format the drive.
What does the error message say?
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Old 10-10-2019, 04:49 AM
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I would guess that Windows 10 formatted it as exFAT, and that your Vista is very behind on updates and doesn't support that. Vista, on the other hand, is trying to format it as FAT32, but Microsoft artificially limits its built in format utility to 32GB.

If this is correct, the way to fix it would be to download FAT32 Format. It will allow a FAT32 format. To keep speeds reasonable, I'd choose the 65,000ish option for the block size.

That said, there is one other possibility. How much did you pay for that 1TB drive, and did you get it from a reputable seller? Because, if you didn't, it's very likely that the drive is fake, and can't actually hold 1TB. Vista may attempt a full format, which would notice this problem, while Windows 10 is doing a quick format, which would not.

Thumb drives and other flash memory devices are one thing where you need to use reputable sellers, and not just get something off eBay, or use some sort of offbrand. Fakes abound. Heck, fakes that install malware on your system abound.

A final possibility is just a broken USB port on the Vista machine. Try the drive in a USB port that you know works. If it works, get a USB hub.

Finally, since I'd be remiss if I didn't say anything: Vista without updates is very, very insecure, and I implore you to update to at least SP2 if you ever let that machine go online.

Last edited by BigT; 10-10-2019 at 04:51 AM.
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Old 10-10-2019, 05:00 AM
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An additional suggestion, if Windows Vista continues to be perplexed by the drive, is to first wipe it on another computer, for instance by writing a few megabytes of zeros to the drive.

The diskpart CLEAN command run with administrator privileges, described in the first link in my previous post, is supposed to initialize the disk, but if that method doesn't work then try a bit of zeroing (just a few MB is more than enough) to make sure you are beginning with a clean slate, then starting again.

Worst-case (or you can do this first), burn a copy of Gparted Live on a spare USB key or CD or whatever and boot from that; the GParted utility should be able to nuke all existing partitions from the drive, create a new one, and format it as NTFS, assuming your 1 TB USB drive is ok.
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Old 10-10-2019, 08:52 AM
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. . . That said, there is one other possibility. How much did you pay for that 1TB drive, and did you get it from a reputable seller? Because, if you didn't, it's very likely that the drive is fake, and can't actually hold 1TB. Vista may attempt a full format, which would notice this problem, while Windows 10 is doing a quick format, which would not.

Thumb drives and other flash memory devices are one thing where you need to use reputable sellers, and not just get something off eBay, or use some sort of offbrand. Fakes abound. Heck, fakes that install malware on your system abound. . . .
Yes, I got it off Ebay and yes it was very cheap. The one thing I don't want to do is to jeopardize my Itunes library of 28,000 songs. Would it be better to abandon the project for now and spring for a "real" thumb drive?

Last edited by jaycat; 10-10-2019 at 08:52 AM.
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Old 10-10-2019, 09:36 AM
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It does seem to work fine with Windows 10, though.
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Old 10-10-2019, 01:56 PM
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If this is correct, the way to fix it would be to download FAT32 Format. It will allow a FAT32 format. To keep speeds reasonable, I'd choose the 65,000ish option for the block size.
I think this worked! Thanks all.
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Old 10-11-2019, 01:30 PM
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a desktop computer running Windows Vista.
I found your problem - Vista's a giant steaming dog turd. Upgrade to Win 7 or 10, and I'll bet you won't have half the issues you have with Vista.
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Old 10-11-2019, 07:20 PM
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Originally Posted by jaycat View Post
Yes, I got it off Ebay and yes it was very cheap. The one thing I don't want to do is to jeopardize my Itunes library of 28,000 songs. Would it be better to abandon the project for now and spring for a "real" thumb drive?
Unfortunately, yes.

If it was cheap and from eBay, I would not trust it to actually hold data. A common trick is to hack a lower capacity drive to make it report that it is bigger than it actually is. This means that, when you copy files to it beyond its capacity, they will be written to space that doesn't exist, and will just vanish. (They may appear to be there when you write them, but when you remove the drive and put it back in, they'll be gone, or be listed but unreachable.)

The drive may not be completely useless if you can run some sort of testing on it and try to reformat it to its actual capacity. But I would not trust it for any data you want to keep.

That said, you can probably back up that iTunes library fairly cheaply. Disk space is a better measure than number of songs (due to variations in length and quality), but I can use averages to try and estimate the size you need. A good average is about 5MB per song, so I would guess your collection takes up around 150 GB. The next larger drive size would be 256 GB. You can get a decent quality 256 GB thumb drive for $30 here. The main complaint is that it can run slow, but that's likely fine given your older computer and only using it for backup.

It's unclear to me if it's formatted as FAT32 or exFAT. But, if the latter, you now know how to reformat it to FAT32 with the program I linked.

If you do want 1TB of backup, I would recommend looking not for thumb drives, but for portable hard drives. Those are best bang for your buck at those sizes. I won't find a specific model for you, but still look for more well known brands. On Amazon,the good brands that stick out to me are Samsung, Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba (or other computer manufacturers). I might use Silicon Power, as I've had good luck with them, but they are lower tier.

Last edited by BigT; 10-11-2019 at 07:21 PM.
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Old 10-11-2019, 07:28 PM
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Oh, and if you're willing to spend more, I might also suggest the 256 MB Samsung drive. I got a bit too focused on staying cheap.

Though, at that price, you are getting into the price for 1TB portable hard drives.
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Old 10-11-2019, 09:13 PM
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If you want flash, you should be able to find a (real) 1 TB SSD drive for under $100 which can read and write at over 5 gigabits/s.
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