Flash memory and USB drive file systems

Flash memory and USB drive file systems

FAT32 vs exFAT vs APFS: Which format do you need?

Most people who use flash drives regularly are unaware of the differences between file systems used by different computer makers.

When you use a flash drive, you just expect it to work in your computer. You want it to have a file system that can be read by whichever computer or machinery it is connected to.

It shouldn't matter if you are an Apple/iPhone devotee, or only use PCs and Androids. Today, many families or even individuals have all of these platforms in their homes and offices. They need their thumb drives to work across devices.

What do you need to know about file systems when choosing a flash drive?


First, what is a file system?

A file system is how data is organized on a disk. File systems translate physical recordings on a disk to the format read by the computer system. If it isn't written in a format the system recognizes, it just will not work.


What file systems do USB drives use?

There are common file systems formatted for flash drives to work with. Called the firmware, it also takes up some of the flash drive's memory.

We suggest either the FAT32 or the exFAT file systems for most thumb drives. There are reasons one of these two most common formats should be your default file format.

Here are the basic differences between the two:


FAT32 file system

FAT32 has an individual file size limit of less than 4GBs. It is the most common, and the default for flash drives. The read/write function is available to most systems, including:

Windows XP
Windows 7, 8 and 10
MacOS (10.6.4 and earlier, 10.6.5. and later)


exFAT file system

For exFAT, the file size limit is greater than any commercially available flash drive. As a format, it is optimized for flash drives. The read/write function is available to:

Windows XP
Windows 7, 8 and 10
MacOS (10.6.5. and later only)
Unbuntu/Linux (with exFAT packages)


Both FAT32 and exFAT may be read only with Xbox and PlayStation gaming systems. Check your system's user guide for its required formats, including SuperSpeed USB 3.0.

There are other, more platform-specific formats file systems available that users may want for their computing needs.


USB Drive File Systems


What other file systems are common?

FAT16 (File Allocation Table) was first know as just FAT and goes back to the 1970s. The 16 means it was for a 16-bit file system. FAT16 was originally made for floppy disks and was the routine format for the earliest removable memory, including flash drives and SD cards. It will read/write for Window, Mac and Linux. It has a maximum volume size of 4GB, and a maximum file size of 2GB.

Windows / NTFS:
The New Technology File System (NTFS) is used by modern Windows versions by default, so it will read/write for Windows XP and Windows 7/8/10, as well as for Ubuntu Linux. It is read-only for MacOS. The individual file size limit is greater than commercially available drives.

MacOS / HFS+ and APFS:
HFS+ (Hierarchical File System) is default the file system for modern macOS versions. It works with MacOS (10.6.4 and earlier, 10.6.5 and later), does not allow for read/write on Windows XP, and you need Boot Camp for it to work in Windows 7/8/10. In Ubuntu Linux, it will also allow read and write.

APFS (Apple File System) was developed as a replacement for HFS+. It was released with iOS 10.3 and macOS 10.13. It only allows read/write in that and newer MacOS versions.

With both Mac file systems, the individual file size limit is greater than commercially available drives.

Linux / EXT 2, 3, 4:
EXT (Extended File System) was created specifically for the Linux kernel so read/write is available. Windows 7/8/10 can read/write only with third-party software, and it does not work with MacOS.
EXT 2 and 3 have a 16GB individual file size limit. EXT 4 has a 16TB limit.

What is the difference between file systems for the end user?

FAT32 works across the largest spectrum of file sizes and for the most common computer systems.

We suggest exFAT as an option if individual files are massive.

However, you may be running equipment that calls for a specialized file format. If you are not sure which format you need, check with your equipment vendor.

Please tell your account manager if you need a specific file management system.

These are guidelines only, and there are downloads that allow Windows, MacOS and Linux to read unsupported file systems.

All of Logotech's customizable flash drives are available in any format, and many are available in USB 3.0. Create an account or ask for a quote today to get started.