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Why You Can’t Copy Large Files to External Hard Disk Drives or Flash Drives

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If you have been using computers for as long as I have been then you’ve tried to copy large files. With that, you have most likely come across some trouble in some of the cases.

These issues come as a system error. The error notifies you that you have run out of disk space or that your file is too big for your destination operating system. The error you get depends on the operating system.

The Problem When Trying to Copy Large Files

In most cases, if you do not know what is happening under the hood you will most probably get dumbfounded. The reason is when you try to copy large files, of course you know there’s plenty of space to receive the file until you get the error.

I’m sure for those who have encountered this you were most likely dealing with ISO files, disk images, Zip files, and others. Movies, compressed data or sorts can end up being packaged in a single large file and that may render it unable to be moved around using external hard drives or high capacity flash drives.

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The Problem With Large Files

Have you ever looked at the file structure of a DVD? Well, if you have you will notice the actual data files which form the video content is usually broken into several files. The maximum file size is 1 GB (1073741824 bytes). So why is this? Well, the problem lies in the underlying architecture. Traditionally most computers of the bygone era are 32bit architecture machines.

With it came a file system is known as FAT32. This FAT32 file system has a disk size limitation of 2 Terabytes. This basically means that’s the largest size of a hard drive that FAT32 file systems can support. The problem goes deeper. The size limitation of individual files within the same file system has a much smaller limit. This limit is capped at 4 GB.

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What Does This Mean

This means you can pack several files that make a single project such as the aforementioned DVD as long as none of the individual files are larger than 4GB. Most of the Flash drives and external hard drives come pre-formatted with a FAT32 file system. In spite of the file limitation, this makes sense. For one it allows the device manufacturer to target the most in terms of device compatibility. That way the drive can be read with the majority of the computers even those manufactured over a decade ago.

Again the limitation is rarely an issue as those with needs to move data around via flash drives rarely need to deal with single files larger than 4GB. With external drives where backups can be an integral role of the drive then you might find single archives packed into units larger than 4 GB.

So how do we solve this problem?

To actually copy large files, the most practical solution is to convert the drive into a file system that supports larger files. The ideal filesystem for this is NTFS. You can either choose to format the entire drive to the NTFS. You could also use the Windows command-line utility to convert the drive.

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Ideally, you want to format the drives afresh when the drive is new or it has no data as formatting will wipe out the contents of your flash drive or external hard drive. To convert the drive you would want to be careful and probably back up your data. This method is ideal for those who have no easy way of moving the contents to format.

Next, with this guide, we show you how to convert your FAT32 flash drive or external hard drive into the NTFS file system. This might just help in your quest to copy large files to external drives.