How to use exFAT-formatted disks in Windows

Updated: May 31, 2024

This may sound like a trivial task. You have an SD card, or perhaps a hard disk. It has a partition, and this partition is formatted with the exFAT filesystem. Quite a common scenario where you need large files but cannot use NTFS. Shouldn't be a problem, because modern Windows releases support exFAT natively, plus this is actually one of Microsoft's own formats. However.

I noticed that neither Windows 10 not Windows 11 automatically presented the connected exFAT storage devices in File Explorer. Whatever the official documentation said, I couldn't "see" the cards and the disks. And so, we have this little guide, which will show you what you need to do to be able to use your exFATs. Notice there are many wordy puns brewing in the offing. Let's begin.

Check if device is recognized

The first step you want to do is open the Disk Management utility and check whether your connected device is actually visible. You may be missing a driver for the actual storage, and it may not be an issue with the filesystem. In the list of your devices, search for the right one (say a USB-connected disk). In my case, the device is there, but it has no letter assigned to it, and therefore File Explorer cannot present it to you. Let's rectify the situation.

Recognized, no letter

Assign letter (to be shown in File Explorer)

What we need to do is quite simple. We need to assign a letter so the device is shown. The Disk Manager utility has two panes - the top one lists all of the partitions, the bottom one all of the disks. Technically, it's the same information, one presented vertically, the other horizontally and grouped by disk.

In the top pane, locate your exFAT partition - please be careful not to select a disk already in use. If you change a letter for a working partition, you may mess up things. Specifically, if there are any programs running that have open files (which reside on certain drives, say D: or K:), and you change the letters, the programs may no longer be able to save any new information. You could end up with some data corruption. If your software hardcodes to certain paths (as installers often do), then the programs may not even run.

You should be able to recognize the exFAT device by its size AND the fact it has no letter. Make sure you do not accidentally select any system partitions, or if you dual-boot, any Linux partitions, as they will also show in the list, they simply won't have a letter - mount point, in technical parlance.

Right-click > Change Drive Letter and Paths ...

Change letter path

Now, click Add.

Assign letter

Select the first available letter - or the one you want.

Add letter

And that's it. The drive should now show with a letter, and it should be immediately available. You do not need to disconnect, reconnect, no need for reboot or any such action. You can now use the device, and work with the data, including read and write operations. Native support, cor.

Device recognized

Conclusion

As I mentioned early on, this is a seemingly trivial problem. But I don't think it should ever happen, because ordinary users will struggle with the concept of drives slash mount points. They may also accidentally delete their own partitions and data. Working with the Disk Management tool is dangerous if you're not skilled enough.

Provided you are skilled somewhat, and you're careful, you should be able to fix the issue easily. If the disk is recognized, simply assign a letter to the (relevant) partition. Windows should then be able to present the device in File Explorer. This is somewhat like manually mounting a partition in Linux. And yes, you can do this on the command line, too. In Windows. The basic principles are identical. Hopefully, this was useful. See ya.

Cheers.