How to format a USB stick or Hard disk on your Chromebook

All Chromebooks come with internal storage, which you can use to install Android apps and files you’ve downloaded from the internet. If you have files stored locally that you want to keep safe, you can either upload them to Google Drive or copy them to an external disk.

You can easily connect a USB stick or external hard disk to your Chromebook or Chromebox. Apart from allowing you to keep a copy of files you want to keep safe. It’s also a great way of adding extra storage to your Chromebook.

Whether your Chromebook comes with a USB Type-A port or USB Type-C port. You can buy external storage devices such as a USB stick or an external HDD that will work with either port type. If you already have a USB stick or HDD to use, you may need to format it depending on what you’ve been using the disk for previously. Find out how to remove partitions from a USB stick or external HDD.

How to format an external HDD on Chrome OS

The first thing you’ll need to do is to connect your external storage to your Chrome OS computer. Once you’ve done this you should see the disk as a drive in your Chrome OS file system. It should look similar to the image below where I’ve connected a USB Type – C stick.

External disk showing in Chrome OS file system
Your external storage will show up below Google Drive in Chrome OS

To format the disk you need to right-click on the device and choose ‘Format Device’. You’ll then be presented with a dialogue window with the options you have available to format your external storage.

The first option is to name the device, and the second option, which you choose from the drop-down box is the file system. When you format any external storage device you need to choose the file system that you wish to use. The file system you choose will depend on what you’re intending on using the storage device for.

File system options when formatting external device in Chrome OS
You can choose FAT 32, exFAT or NTFS file system when formatting

FAT 32 File system

When you format an external storage device on Chrome OS the file system will default to FAT 32. This file system is a good choice if you need to use your external storage on other devices such as a video camera. This is because most video cameras use FAT 32 because it’s the oldest file system.

Because FAT 32 has been around for the longest time. Many manufacturers choose to make their devices compatible with this file system type. Find out more about FAT 32.

exFAT File system

The exFAT file system is a newer version of FAT 32 and fixes many of the floors you get with FAT 32. That being said, it isn’t as widely used as FAT 32, so you may find not all of your devices work with exFAT.

NTFS File system

The NTFS file system is arguably the best because it provides more security. If we go back many years when hard disks typically ranged from 1GB to 2GB, FAT 32 was a popular choice. Find out more about NTFS.

The issue with FAT 32 is that it cannot write files that are larger than 4GB in size. Not a problem when most hard disks’ total size was lower than 4GB. However, as soon as we started to see hard disks in their TB rather than GB, the FAT 32 file system caused further issues.

It stands to sense if you have a hard disk that can store TBs of data. It’s most likely you may start working with files that are more than 4GB in size. Because FAT 32 is unable to handle files of this size, NTFS was necessary for any hard disk that was larger than 4GB.

If you’re intending on using the external disk to backup your Chrome OS Linux install. Then you’ll want to format the disk using NTFS. This is because your Chrome OS Linux backup file could easily exceed the 4GB limit possible using FAT 32. Find out more about backing up your Chrome OS Linux install.

Eject button before removing external disk on Chrome OS
Removing your external storage incorrectly can corrupt your disk


Formatting an external device on Chrome OS is an easy process. The only thing you need to consider is the file system. If you’re not intending on using the external storage for a Chrome OS Linux backup, and not expecting to transfer files over 4GB in size. Then choosing the default FAT 32 option is possibly the best choice. This is because it’s compatible with more devices overall.

However, if you will be transferring files over 4GB in size or you’ll be using the external device to backup your Chrome OS Linux install. Then you’ll want to use the NTFS file system instead.

Always remember to eject your external storage correctly before removing it from your Chromebook. You should not simply remove an external hard disk or USB Stick as you could corrupt the disk and lose your files.

1 thought on “How to format a USB stick or Hard disk on your Chromebook”

  1. Sorry, NTFS works, but is incredible slow.
    Copy your latest 50 GB photos and videos (hundreds!) from your DSLR SD Card to an external SSD, formatted with NTFS. It takes like forever.
    exFAT works so much better, also allows big file sized and the read and write speeds are much more faster. NTFS is like a very strong handbrake on Chromebooks.

Comments are closed.