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Hard Drive Problems/Formating Portable Hard drive


QUESTION: I have a few portable hard drives that seem to have a file size limit of 2GB. I would like to backup up some large .ISO image files that are larger than 2GB and do not want to have to segment the files into pieces. I think it has to do with the format? What is Fat32 and the NT** format that is used? What are the pros and cons of each? Windows should be able to format for either?

ANSWER: Hi James!

Yes, Windows can handle both file systems.  NTFS has a max file size of 16TB (depending on your OS), while FAT32 has a max file size of 4GB.  NTFS allows you to set individual permissions on files and folders - FAT32 cannot.  NTFS tracks changes to files, supports shadow copies and encryption.  NTFS should be used on any Windows OS disk (in fact, Windows 7 and 8 can no longer be installed on a FAT32 partition).  NTFS is also a better choice (for a data partition) if files will be accessible only to Windows devices.  FAT32 has broader support (expecially "write" support) on non-Windows devices.

If you are experiencing a limit of 2GB for file size, then you must have your disks formatted with FAT16.  You did not say which OS you are using - that can also play a role.  Unfortunately, to switch from FAT16 to FAT32 or NTFS, it will require you to backup/reformat your existing data/drives.  Probably well worth the effort as opposed to breaking up your ISO's into segments.

Feel free to contact me with any follow-up questions you might have.

Good luck!

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QUESTION: Actually one of my portable hard drives seems now to be accepting files larger than even 8GB which is strange. I didn't reformat it or anything. I am thinking it might have been only one of the drives, or maybe more recently they've come formated in NTFS while before it was a FAT format. I am using Windows 7. Is there a way to view the format a portable hard drive was done in?

Secondly what are the minimum requirements for running simple computer programs? Could a portable hard drive have an operating system installed on it and use it to run programs using a TV as the screen?

ANSWER: Yes ... you can right-click the drive and go to Properties.  It will show you the File System on that drive.

Whether drives come formatted in NTFS or FAT is dependent on marketing and functionality.  If drives are pretty openly marketed to users of all types (Mac, Windows, Linux), then it will be FAT32, however, some are marketed to Windows users (usually has to do with the backup software that is included or other features of the drive or enclosure), which will be formatted as NTFS.

Many (but not all) programs can be run from an external hard drive - it depends on the installer and the specific requirements of the program.  For example, some programs will not install to "removable" media (USB drives); some programs will not install to a drive other than C:\; etc.  

It is possible to install an OS on a USB device (external hard drive/enclosure, SD card, USB flash drive, etc.), BUT not just any OS will work.  Many distributions of linux are popular OS's for installs like this ... it will allow itself to be installed to - and run from - removable media (provided the computer is capable of booting to USB devices - many older systems are not).  You can also run Linux as a "live" OS, meaning you can boot to a CD/DVD/USB flash drive, the Linux OS is loaded into memory and run from there.  It would then access the network and local drives as would a normal OS.  Windows will not allow itself to be installed to a removable disk (USB, etc.).  

Let me know if you have any other questions :)

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QUESTION: So if I had a 300GB portable hard drive I could install an OS to it and install software to it such as stuff I built in VB? I don't require any other hardware to run programs other than a portable hard drive? I could install it all and plug it into a TV with USB port and run programs on my TV?

No ... sorry if I misunderstood what you were asking.  Since an external hard drive does not have a processor, RAM, network controller, etc., you would need to plug it into a device that has/can do these things AND is capable of BOOTING to a USB device (not even all computers can do this).  You could use your TV as a computer monitor, but only if it is attached to a computer-like device that supports its input.  If you plug your external drive directly into a TV, the only thing the TV is capable of doing is browsing the device for media that it supports - most likely only music, picture, and video files.  I'm sure there is not a TV that would support booting to another device either.  The OS running on the external drive would also need to be specially configured and special drivers written for the TV hardware for this to work as well.  You would have to be one that designs and programs the electronics in these TV's and capable of writing OS code and device drivers to even get started, even then, TV's may simply not have the capability of doing anything like you suggest.

Take care.

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I can answer questions about server hardware RAID and general storage for servers and PC's - hard drive issues, troubleshooting, advice, specs, and information. While some apparent drive/RAID array failures can be recovered, I can only provide advice/recommendations in the event of catastrophic data loss. I don't assist in actually recovering from this type of data loss on this forum.


I worked as an analyst in Dell server support for 2 years, and have since worked with many Dell PowerEdge servers. I am currently employed as IT Manager. I am currently ranked in the top 5 All-Time in Server Hardware and Hard Drives in a very popular and large forum similar to AllExperts.

I have a BS in Computer Science and have earned the following certifications: CompTIA Security+, A+, Project+; CIW Web Design, Database Specialist; Microsoft Windows 7; Dell DCSE Server. I am also an expert in Windows 7, Servers, and Hard Drives (I don't normally do XP - not because I don't know it inside and out, but because I have "retired" personal support for XP, and I want to see it die :)).

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