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Windows 98 FAT32

By: Arie Slob

FAT32 is an improved version of the File Allocation Table (FAT) file system. FAT32 originally appeared in Windows 95 OEM Service Release (OSR) 2. FAT32 uses smaller clusters than FAT16 drives do, thus using space more efficiently on larger disks (disks larger than 1GB in size). You can also use FAT32 to format disks larger than 2GB as a single drive.

Drive size Cluster size
256MB - 511MB  Not supported 
512MB - 8GB  4KB 
8GB - 16GB  8KB 
16GB - 32GB  16KB 
> 32GB  32KB 

FAT32 drives have a different on-disk format than FAT16 drives. To date, most disk utilities, including those from all the major vendors, have already been revised to work on FAT32 volumes. The disk utilities included with Windows 98 have been revised to include FAT32 support, in particular: Fdisk, Format, ScanDisk, Defrag, and DriveSpace. However, DriveSpace does not and will not support compressing FAT32 drives.

The Save to File (Hibernate) feature may be incompatible with FAT32. On computers containing a BIOS made by Phoenix Technologies, you might not be able to use the Save to File feature if your primary (boot) drive is formatted using FAT32. If your PhDISK utility is earlier than version 5.0, you must obtain an updated version of the utility and an updated ROM BIOS from your computer manufacturer in order to use a Save to Disk file. With older versions of the ROM BIOS, your computer may be unable to start if it tries to read a Save to Disk file from a FAT32 drive. If this occurs, you must disable the Save to File feature in your ROM BIOS. This does not affect computers using a disk partition to store the Save to Disk data.

Converting a drive to FAT32 in place is a safe, fast operation using the build-in graphical FAT32 conversion utility (Note: Drive Converter will not work on drives under 512Mb). It typically takes only a few minutes. After you run the Drive Converter, Defrag runs on that drive during your next startup. It may take several hours to defragment your drive.

Note: Running Defrag to completion after converting to FAT32 is important. Not defragmenting your disk after converting to FAT32 will result in a less effecient (slower) computer.

There are three ways to enable FAT32:

  1. Convert an existing FAT16 drive in place.

    Click Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools and click Drive Converter (FAT32).

  2. Set up Windows 98 on an empty, un partitioned disk.

    Start your computer from a floppy disk and then run Oemsetup.exe (not Setup.exe).

  3. Run Fdisk on a disk larger than 512MB.

    An Fdisk prompt gives you a choice to enable large disk support. If you click Yes, any partitions you create that are larger than 512MB are marked and formatted as FAT32 partitions. (You cannot install FAT32 on a disk smaller than 512MB.)

Note: Windows 98 does not include a utility for converting a drive back to FAT16 after it is converted to FAT32. However, several third-party utility products do support converting back to FAT16 from FAT32.

Dual booting

You cannot dual boot a FAT32 computer with Windows 98 and another operating system such as the original release of Windows 95, Windows NT, Windows 3.x, or MS-DOS 6.x. Other operating systems cannot access a FAT32 partition because older operating systems do not recognize the new data structures.

You can dual boot Windows 98 with another operating system if drive C is FAT16. However, if you have other FAT32 partitions, they will not be visible to operating systems other than Windows 98. Windows 98 supports dual-booting between Windows 98 and earlier MS-DOS operating systems such as MS-DOS 6.22 if you are using FAT16.

And don't forget to Create a Startup Disk with FAT32 Support.


Note: If you work a lot in real-mode MS-DOS, FAT32 is considerably slower than FAT16. Loading Smartdrv.exe in your Autoexec.bat or MS-DOS.PIF file will be beneficial.


Microsoft has a handy utility [40KB] to see just how much space you could gain by converting to the FAT32 file system.

FAT32 Info



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