Why can’t I copy large files over 4GB to my USB flash drive or SD card?

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The capacity of your external flash drive or SD card is large: 8GB, 16GB, or more. There is enough free space on the drive. You can copy the smaller files to the external drive just fine. Yet, when you attempt to copy a large file (4GB or larger) to the external drive, Windows gives you an error (such as: There is not enough free space on the drive, or similar.) Does this sound familiar?

If you experience such a problem, most probably it’s caused by the fact that your external drive or card is formatted with the FAT32 file system. This type of 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 FAT32 drive could be as large as 2TB (or the physical capacity of the drive, whichever is smaller), the size of each individual file may not exceed 4GB.

This limitation may sound silly: why would anyone design a system that would not allow for the larger files? The problem is, when the FAT32 file system was designed (that was back in the days of Windows 95), no one anticipated that we would have such large files in use today. Or, maybe the designers hoped that by the time such large files become common, the use of the FAT32 system would be replaced by the more modern systems.

In any case, how to solve the problem of copying the 4GB files? Easy: you need to replace the FAT32 file system on the drive with a more modern one, such as NTFS or exFAT. These newer file systems do not have the 4GB file size limitation! Scroll down this page for the instructions on how to change the file system.

Which file system is better, NTFS or exFAT?

They both are pretty good, but which one to choose depends on how else you are going to use the external drive or SD card.

The NTFS file system is supported by all modern versions of Windows (including such dinosaurs as Windows XP, Windows 2000, and Windows NT), and it also supports many other functions not supported by FAT32: file security, encryption, compression, etc. However, if you plan to use the external drive with non-Windows devices (such as an Android tablet or a Mac computer), it would not be recognized by such devices out of the box, and you would need to install additional software or tweak their settings quite a bit to make them work with the NTFS drives.

The exFAT system is not as advanced as NTFS (it does not support file permissions and access control, for example), but it has more support on the non-Windows platforms. For example, many Android phones and tablets, as well as the recent versions of macOS support exFAT devices pretty well.

How to change the drive from FAT32 to NTFS or exFAT format?

Let’s show how to do it for NTFS first:

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

2. Open the Computer folder and locate the drive letter assigned to the flash drive you want to format with NTFS (in the example below, it’s drive F:)

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, and right click on the icon of the external drive:

Windows offers the Format command on the shortcut menu
(Click to enlarge)

5. Select Format from the menu, and then choose the formatting options:

Options for formatting the external drive with NTFS file system

6. Make sure to select NTFS in the File System drop-down list. That’s what determines the kind of the file system that the drive should have. Also, you may want to select the Quick Format option, which should speed up the formatting process quite considerably.

7. Press Start, 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

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

As a result, you should have the same drive, but now it should have the NTFS files system on it. Now you should be able to copy the files larger than 4GB to the drive just fine.

In addition to formatting a drive with the NTFS file system, Windows also offers a way to convert a FAT32 drive to NTFS. The difference is that the conversion process would keep the existing files on the drive. See Windows Help and Support of your computer for the instructions on how to do the conversion.

What if I want to use exFAT instead of NTFS?

The steps to change to exFAT are the same as for NTFS, you only need to select exFAT in the dropdown box instead of NTFS.

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P.S. Our encryption software USBCrypt can create a NTFS- or exFAT-formatted Virtual Encrypted Disk even if the host drive is formatted with FAT32. This suggests yet another solution: instead of formatting the host disk with NTFS, you can instead use USBCrypt to create a NTFS-formatted Virtual Encrypted Disk. If you do that, then in addition to breaking the 4GB file size barrier, you would 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.

P.P.S. If you only need to transfer a large file from one computer to another, you can get by with the FAT format if you use a file splitter utility, like the one included in our file manager AB Commander. Using its Split command, you can split a large file into smaller chunks (say, 2GB each). Such chunks can be put on a FAT-formatted drive without a problem. Then, on the destination computer, use the Merge command to combine the chunks together into the original file. Of course, if you want to open the file directly from the external FAT drive, this won’t help you, but just to transfer the file between Windows computers should work fine.

P.P.P.S. Here is what to do if Windows does not offer the NTFS format option.

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Comments

  1. This had been frustrating me and I thought I was going to need to split my files into 4 GB sections, very happy how easy a fix this was. Thanks.

  2. George: it could be a hardware problem with the drive itself. You may want to visit the support web site of the company that manufactures your drive to see if they offer a diagnostic software utility for your drive. Good luck!

  3. Thank you so much for the information. Simple and right to the point. Also helped me get done what I needed to get done!

  4. Thank you so much for confirming my suspicion the cause of my 16gb memory stick not accepting a 6gb file I was trying to copy to it – and especially for giving me 2 easy to follow solutions to the problem, especially as the latter can be used on drives with data already on.

  5. DID NOT WORK, i have a Lexar 120GB USB flash drive and the only choice is exFAT, NTSF is not an option, how do you get around this?

  6. Steve: I’m not sure why the NTFS option is not available for that drive. exFAT should work fine, it allows for the files larger than 4GB. The drawback is that if you plan on using the USB drive with an older Windows XP computer or with a Mac, the drive may not be recognized. It should work fine with Windows 7 or Vista though. Good luck!

  7. Wow. You’re awesome. Can’t believe me it took me this long to google and find out the reason my external wouldn’t take large files.

  8. hey i tried this to transfer a 11 gb file onto my 16 gb pen drive and it worked unfortunately the ntfs system could not be recognized by my tv ..any solution of putting a 11 gb file without formatting it in ntfs format

  9. Shreyas: unfortunately, there is not much you can do if the TV does not recognize the NTFS format. Can the TV connect to your computer via a network? If so, you can try to share the hard drive or a folder of your computer and access it from the TV via the network. Or, you can try to contact the TV manufacturer for help. Good luck!

  10. Thank you for posting this. I was stuck for about an hour until I found it. I have a large movie for an anniversary tomorrow and was really in a bind to transfer it. Using your post it took me about 2 minutes to figure it out.

    Thanks again!

  11. thx a lot.i thought something wos wrong with my pen drive and this gave me the solution.
    U ROCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Having the same issue as Steve: NTSF is not an option, only exFAT and when I try that it says: “Windows was unable to complete the format”

  13. Having the same issue as Steve and T: NTSF is not an option, only exFAT and when I try that it says: “Windows was unable to complete the format”.

  14. Steve, T, Kov, and others who don’t get the NTFS format option: please include the model and size information for the problematic drives, also please check with the manufacturer web site for a possible explanation, and post the results here for others to use.

  15. I almost returned the flash drives I just bought, then I found this article. Thank you very much for this!

  16. Hi
    I would like to use FAT32 since PS3 doesnt accept NTFS format therefore I have to copy a big media file of 10GB to my PS3 to my USB instead of using all other methods.
    Thank you,
    regards

  17. Hey, many a thanks but just a question….will this fat32 conversion to ntfs will affect movies playing in my TV??? i have a 16gb kingsten pen drive, use to see pics n movies on my TV…will it affect the playback???

  18. Karan: the answer depends on the TV that you have. You may want to contact the TV manufacturer to see whether it supports the NTFS format. Or, if you have a spare removable drive, you may want to format it with NTFS and test whether it works with the TV. Good luck!

  19. Fantastic! I reformatted one just the other day (for other reasons), and noticed the old FAT32 designation. But my synapses didn’t click on why that was significant. Thanks for the reminder of our computer heritage! Not to mention helping us bring our multigig thumbdrives up to the current day standard. Cheers!

  20. i dont normally comment on forums, but i am doing so to give my deepest thanks for your very comprehensive article. i thought at first my microsd was the problem, but reading this solved my month long problem in just a snap! thank you very much. hopefully other people who have the same problem like mine could find this article.

  21. well i have a move that is 12GB lol its a Blue-ray file and my terabyte is already under NTFS (default)
    and im still getting the error pop up i do have the room on it i still have 75GB free so i was wondering if you could help :D ?

  22. Thank you very much, you have solved my problem. God Bless you.

    Again thanks, for updating my knowledge.

  23. Matt: sometimes Windows does not offer the NTFS option for the removable drives. In such a case, the exFat option should make it possible to keep the lager files, just like NTFS. Good luck!

  24. Thank you so much for this!! I was desperate trying to figure out how on earth i am going to copy an iso file of windows 7 on my usb!

  25. Thank you so much! For the people who are having trouble because the NTFS format option doesn’t appear, check the Read More section and look for the article titled “Windows does not offer the NTFS format option for the removable drives”. It worked for me. Thanks again!

  26. Thank you! It works!

    note: If you are using XP – it will not work, there will be no option for NTFS. You should format it on win7 or win8, format on NTFS, and than it will work even on XP.

  27. Great help here! Thanks.
    About Windows (XP in my case) does not offer NTFS option: Odd behavior, but R.click on Start / Explore. That path to Windows Explorer did not offer the NTFS option when R.click on the USB drive/ Format. BUT – Click Start / My Computer / R.click on the USB drive/ Format did offer NTFS.
    note: I dont think this had any effect, but I did change “Policies” (double click the drive in the Hardware tab of Properties) to “Optimize for performance” between the format attempts.

  28. Microsoft XP privides answers on “How-To” “Convert” Drives to NTFS Format.

    Microsoft XP instructions for changing drives to the NTFS format can be found by googling this line:
    “Convert” in Windows XP
    Copy and paste the Line above in a Google search box.
    = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
    Open a CMD; found in: Start~{Programs}~{Accessories}
    Choose the appropriate command Line {below} which corresponds to the {Fat32} Drive; that you wish to
    convert to NTFS. Example; Let’s use Drive G: as a Fat32 Drive – which could be an external USB Drive.

    Copy this Line, and paste it in the CMD window; and touch Enter.
    Convert G: /FS:NTFS /NoSecurity /X
    Wait for MS-DOS to complete the proces.

    Convert (Fat32) Flash Cards, drives, & SD Cards to NTFS.

    Convert E: /FS:NTFS /NoSecurity /X
    Convert F: /FS:NTFS /NoSecurity /X
    Convert G: /FS:NTFS /NoSecurity /X
    —————————————————————————
    To find out what the “Convert” command is; and does:
    Copy this Line, and paste it in the CMD window; and touch Enter.
    Convert /?

  29. This was amazing to happen upon. I was in dire need to change my usb to this format without even knowing it and in time for a school project that exceeded the 4gb. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I do not believe I could say it enough!

    Katie

  30. Many thanks, you solved my problem! I found the article VERY easy to read, follow and understand.

  31. I was lost of wondering what happen as i can’t transfer big files to my thumb drive / pen drive at all & i tried my luck searching on the net ” how do i transfer big files to my thumb drive” and it straight lead me here so just like Jack mention, i also dont normally comment on forums, but sincerely i would like to say a big big thank you for leading to me this article. It help me instantly and now i can transfer all my files easily.

    Thank you so much again.

  32. Thank you very, very, much to the person that wrote these instructions – I could hug you right now! ^_^

  33. Thank you so much…also, very important to note my transfer speed when writing to the drive was 10x faster after i did this…thanks again. Even though it slows as the transfer progresses it’s still faster.

  34. Super helpful and worked perfect. Also gave me a good excuse to erase those default files on the USB I never know if I really need.

    James

  35. Pennysworth: Try entering this question in your favorite search engine, and chances are you will get the instructions you are looking for. Good luck!

  36. thank you very match for giving this tips of transferring files larger than 4gb I really appreciate this. God Bless

  37. Hey that was cool!!!!!!!!!!! thanks I have been figuring out an answer to find a solution and you were spot on . Cheers!!!!!!

  38. Thanks for the information! I had a 16GB Flash Drive that i was trying to copy a 8.6GB Movie to and could not copy. Found your blog and it fixed the problem.

    Regards,
    Kevin Clay

  39. Thank you for this helpful advice. Clear, expert and it worked: just what this sort of article needs to be (and so often isn’t!) Cheers, CW

  40. Thank you very much for your instructions, thankfully I can now avoid destroying my laptop and flash drive in sheer frustration.
    :-)

  41. Thank you very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very much !!

  42. Thank YU so much.. When ever I seem problem that I can not solve then I get help of this site. It’s very good.. Thank YU so much.

  43. Love how detailed these instructions are and it seems super easy to do! Do you have instructions to do this on a Macbook? Or do you know a reliable source where I can find it?

  44. @Aron: please refer to your Mac documentation for the instructions on how to format a drive. Everything else applies just the same. Good luck!

  45. Thank you very much for this article !
    This article is very very helpful for my windows xp pc..
    by very simple language and easy steps with hq pictures you solved my bid problem ..so thank u :-)

  46. normally on the net when looking for an answer to a specific problem finding a solution to the actual problem is problematic in itself.
    You addressed the problem and even weirder you solved it.

    Thank you very much.
    Wally

  47. THANKS A TON MANNN!!!! LITERALLY MADE MY DAY!!!! Took bloody days to download Gravity in Blueray 3D. 8.83 gb nd bought a 32gb pen drive just to watch it on my 3D tv but the s**t wont transfer. THANKS FOR MAKIN MY DAY!!

  48. This is great, I’ve been trying for hours without success to copy a single 4gb file to my 8gb flash drive but this my it easy. U need to see the joy on my face has the data began flowing into the drive. God bless

  49. If someone wants to answer for any question they should follow these ways…You really rocked….Hats off..

  50. WOO HOO!!!! YAY!!! YES!!!!
    EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED – MY 2GB WAS GOING TO TAKE 8 HOURS NOW IT SAYS 55 MINUTES!!!!!

    YOU SAVED MY DAY!!!

  51. This explanation is extraordinarily helpful. Thank you very much for posting it. Excellent job.

  52. This article was a great help. I was struggling to copy a MOVIE and now the problem would be fixed.
    Thanks a lot.

  53. hey if you have e drive that have the exFat formatting system you can use this to transfer large file to for eg a 16 gb pen drive

  54. Thanks for the information! I had a 8GB Flash Drive that i was trying to copy a 5.91 GB Movie but could not copy. thanks for your suggestion it fixed the problem.

  55. Great help, thanks. Wasted time on Microsoft and other sites and then found this. Straight forward explanation and a simple solution. Again, many thanks!

  56. This is very helpful. It may be old school for others but this article totally gave me the whole solution. Thank you author.

  57. What do you do when the usb drive is NTFS already, you can transfer a folder with 20 1gb files onto it, but not a folder with 1 4.4gb file?

  58. Thank you so much! I was trying to save a 6gb video to a 26gb thumb-drive and it was not working. This worked perfectly. Thank you so much!

  59. Very Helpful. What bothers me is I didn’t realize this when I fist had the trouble. Thanks again. :-)

  60. Thanks a lot!

    This is a very useful article.
    Not many people know such obsolete file system still exists and used as a default when formatting a drive. You mentioned that you can still use it with Win2000. It means you can’t use it with system older than 16 years. Come on, in terms of technology and computer, 16 years ago is like, you know, prehistoric. Jurassic, even.

    Thanks again. You’re a life saver.

  61. I’m so glad that I came across this article!!! I really needed to transfer a 7 GB file containing large video files to my 64 GB thumb drive. I thought it was really stupid that it couldn’t transfer when there’s plenty of more space on the thumb drive. I did everything this article and it really works!!!! Thank you! You’re a true life saver!!!!!

  62. Awesome! Thank you. Had to move a 20.7 GB Video file to my 32 gig Thumb Drive at work. Rather than deal with asking I.T. i found this article and 2 mins later had my answer.

  63. I was looking for a place to like this article.
    It rescued me. …got a 64gb drive to carry and transfer video files and when i went to send an 8gb file it told me it was too large.
    Thought my new drive would be a waste, though it made no sense because of the size. Googled, landing on this page. Blessing!
    Bless up!

  64. That was so awesome! Thank you very much. I’ve been breaking my head trying to copy a large movie. You are great!

  65. 100% accurate information here, glad I found this site before actually buying a slight larger flash drive.

    Thanks for publishing this.

  66. Thank you so much! I find it almost impossible to find technical solutions on the internet but this was really quick and easy! Your explanation was also really easy to understand, thanks again!

  67. i never ever comment on these, but this actually worked flawlessly, I had no idea FAT32 had this type of limitation, and was baffled when trying to move a 4GB ISO onto a fresh 16GB flashdrive and it wouldn’t work (said ISO was too large)

    this solution fixed it perfectly. thanks again

  68. I just tried it and now the app for U-Drive on my phone won’t recognize the flash drive when I plug it in. Any advice?

  69. @Ebony: most probably, your phone does not support the NTFS format. You may want to try exFAT instead. Good luck!

  70. Thank you very much for this help! I had no idea about this limitation and was about to destroy my USB with a sledgehammer.
    No need for that anymore!
    Have a nice day!

  71. Thank you so much for the help, almost had a mini heart-attack! This information has not only helped me, but it has also educated me on the different formats used by computers.

  72. I thought I would have to buy another thumbdrive. I couldn’t move a 4.5 GB video file to a 16 GB thumbdrive. There a lot of buttons I don’t know what they do. I learned “format” meant to wipe clean a SD card, etc. I now have learned there is more to it to a simple reformat. Thank you.

  73. Thank you so much for this, very frustrating issue to have and after formating it to erase everything completely my 14GB USB was still saying it was full when trying to move a 5GB file over, it’s so frustrating. Changing the system fixed it completely though.

  74. Very helpful and thank you for showing a step by step guide! Really appreciate the history behind the FAT32 and being able to go above its limitations for above 4gb file transfer using your content!

  75. I have successfully formatted my usb stick to NTFS. Perfect! Now I plug it into my Samsung tv and it won’t play back. This is so confusing, any ideas? Regards Elaine

  76. Elaine Farley: it means that your Samsung TV does not support the NTFS system. To solve this problem, you may want to format the stick again, but this time choose the exFAT system. Chances are, the TV will recognize it now. Good luck!

  77. This article really helped me. Microsoft wants you to pay for everything. This article perfectly answered my question and solved my problem.

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