A reader wrote in asking if there was a way of converting an external hard drive from FAT32 to NTFS without losing the data stored on it. Our Helproom Expert explains.

QUESTION I want to format my Windows 7 PC, but its hard drive contains 200GB of files that I must first transfer to my external hard drive. The problem is this drive uses a FAT32 system, which won't let me transfer any file larger than 4GB, and I can't convert it to NTFS as it already has files stored on it. Is there a way to convert my external drive from FAT32 to NTFS without losing the data stored on it? Autoschediastic

HELPROOM ANSWER Windows includes a utility for converting FAT32-formatted drives to NTFS. It takes a few minutes to run and is usually reliable, but we wouldn't recommend using it without having backed up your files. If something goes wrong, you stand to lose a lot of data or endure a lengthy file-recovery process.

The convert.exe command line utility can convert a drive partition from FAT32 to NTFS, keeping all data intact. Note that it can't convert in the opposite direction, from NTFS to FAT32. You will need to be logged in with administrative privileges to use it.

After you've backed up your files, head to the Start menu and type cmd into the Search box. Right-click cmd.exe in the results pane and select ‘Run as Administrator' to open a command prompt.

In the following example, our system drive is drive C and the NTFS drive is drive E; substitute the correct drive letters for your personal setup. It's important to select the correct drive letter for conversion. Within the command prompt type E:, then DIR, and press Enter. This will show you the list of files and folders on the drive in question so you can verify that it's the correct drive.

Now enter the following commands, pressing Enter after each line:

convert E:/fs:ntfs

As a safety precaution, you may be prompted to enter the volume label for your hard drive. Ours is called ‘USB DISK'; you should substitute this with the name of your drive and press Enter.

This process may take a while depending on the size, speed and content of the drive you're converting. When it's finished, you'll receive a ‘Conversion complete' message.

An easier, but more expensive, option is to purchase a new NTFS-formatted external hard drive and transfer the contents of your old drive to it. You can then convert the old drive to NTFS and use it to back up files stored on the new drive.

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