Why use FAT32?

Q I have a Pentium 200 with an 800MB hard drive which is running out of space. Can I use FAT32 on Windows 95? I have been advised against it. Why would that be? And if I can do it safely, how would I install it?

- Alan Devery

A Firstly, there are several versions of Windows 95 and not all of them support FAT32. To check which version of Windows 95 you have, go to the Start menu and choose Settings-Control Panel. Double-click the System icon. On the General tab you will see Microsoft Windows 95 4.00.950 for the first release. If you have the first release and have added Service Pack 1, you will read Microsoft Windows 95 4.00.950A. In 1996 Microsoft released a version called Windows 95 OEM Release 2, which is abbreviated to OSR2 and was only available for installation on new computers. For this version the message will read: Microsoft Windows 95 4.00.950B. If you see Microsoft Windows 95 4.00.950C then you have OEM Release 2.5 (OSR2.5).

Only OSR2 or later supports FAT32. A number of people who have a legal copy of the first release of Windows 95 have obtained a copy of OSR2 and installed it on their computers. The problem with this is, apart from it being illegal, that OSR2 was not designed as an upgrade, so you really need to wipe the hard drive and install from scratch. You can, however, upgrade to Windows 98 which supports FAT32.

If you have OSR2 or 98 you can use FAT32. The main reason for the creation of FAT32 is that the old FAT16 does not support hard drives larger than 2GB. In addition, FAT16 stores files in a very wasteful fashion on hard drives that are larger than 500MB. The problem relates to the size of clusters - units of storage on your hard disk. To support larger drives, rather than increasing the number of clusters, Microsoft increased the size of each cluster. For an 800MB hard drive you have to have a minimum cluster size of 16KB. A file that contains 17KB of information has to use two clusters and takes up 32KB of space on the drive. If you have lots of small files this can be very wasteful. However, many files are large enough that the resulting space wastage is not that great.

Converting to FAT32 will save some space, most likely between 50MB and 100MB, depending on the size of your files. This may be enough if you need more space for data files, but probably not if you want to install additional software packages.

There are two disadvantages to converting to FAT32. A minor one is that FAT32 is not compatible with other operating systems. This is only a problem is you want to dual-boot your computer with, say, DOS or Windows NT.

The other problem is that the conversion to FAT32 involves wiping your hard drive and restoring data from backups. A more attractive alternative is to use a utility that can convert you hard drive without loss of data, such as PartitionMagic from PowerQuest (http://www.powerquest.com) or Quarterdeck's Partition-It (http://www.quarterdeck.com).

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