Why can’t I copy a 4GB file to my external USB drive?

Have you encountered an error while copying a large file (4GB or larger) to the external USB drive, even though the drive is large (8GB, 16GB, or more) and has plenty of free space? Most probably such an error is the result of the FAT or FAT32 file system that your external USB drive has. Such a file system has a built-in limitation on the size of the files that it may contain. Although the total size of the files that you can copy to a FAT/FAT32 drive could be as large as 2TB (assuming the drive itself is large enough), the size of any individual file may not exceed 4GB.

How to solve this problem? Easy: you need to replace the FAT/FAT32 file system on the drive with the NTFS file system. The latter does not have the 4GB file size limitation, and you should have no problem copying large files to such a drive. Besides, the NTFS file system allows for many other features not supported by FAT/FAT32: file security, EFS encryption, file compression, etc.

Keep in mind, however, that the older versions of Windows (such as Windows 95, 98, or Windows Millennium) do not support the NTFS file system. If you plan on using the external drive with such old computers, then DO NOT change the file system to NTFS, because you won’t be able to get the old Windows to recognize it anyway. If, however, you only plan on using the drive with the more recent versions of Windows, such as Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, and of course Windows 7 or 8, such computers should work with the NTFS drives just fine.

How to change the drive file system from FAT/FAT32 to NTFS?

The easiest way is to use the Windows Format command to format the drive with the NTFS file system. Specifically:

1. Attach the external drive to the computer, wait for Windows to recognize it and assign a drive letter to it.

2. Open the Computer folder and locate the drive you want to format with NTFS.

3. Before continuing, open the drive in a window and make sure it’s empty or does not contain any important files, because after you format a drive, all information that was on it will be erased! If there are files on the drive that you want to keep, take this opportunity to copy them over to the hard drive or some other drive.

4. If you are sure that the external drive contains no important files of yours, go back to the Computer folder, right click on its icon and select Format from the menu:

Options for formatting the external drive with NTFS file system

5. Make sure to select NTFS in the File System drop-down list. Also, you may want to select the Quick Format option, which should speed up the formatting process quite considerably.

6. Press the Start button on the Format window, and Windows should warn you once again about erasing any existing information on the drive (see step 3 above). Again, if you are sure the drive does not contain any irreplaceable documents, confirm that you want to proceed with the formatting:

Windows warns you about erasing the existing files during the drive formatting

7. If you’ve selected the Quick format option, the formatting should take no longer than a minute or two.

When the formatting is finished, you should have the same drive, but now it should have the NTFS file system on it. Now you should be able to copy the files larger than 4GB to the drive just fine.

One last note: our encryption software USBCrypt can create a NTFS-formatted Virtual Encrypted Disk even if the host drive is formatted with FAT/FAT32. This suggests another solution: instead of re-formatting the host disk with NTFS, you can instead use USBCrypt to create a NTFS-formatted Virtual Encrypted Disk. In addition to breaking the 4GB file size barrier, you will also get the strong security and password protection for files you put inside of the Virtual Encrypted Disk. See the USBCrypt web page for more information or to download a free 30-day trial.

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