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How to format a high capacity SD card for use with Nintendo 3DS

big-blocks3ds

As the age of digital games goes on, more and more people are downloading titles from the Nintendo eShop rather than purchasing physical copies. The convenience of this is you always have your games with you, so you don’t have to swap out cards or carry them with you. There are plenty of downsides that should be addressed by Nintendo in the future, but if you find yourself running out of space on a 32GB card for all of your games, this guide should help you.

[Note: This guide is for Windows computers. Mac and Linux formatting can be done using standard tools available on those platforms.]

Getting Started

You’ll need a 64GB SD card or larger. You’ll also need a PC in order to do the transfer after you’ve successfully formatted the destination card, as well as the Nintendo 3DS and your old card. The difficult part of this is that Windows 7 itself doesn’t make it easy to format the SD card. The SD card needs to be formatted to FAT32, but Windows 7 only supports this format up to 32GB. In order to properly format the card, we’ll need a partition tool.

I recommend MiniTool Partition Wizard, which can be downloaded for free. Once you install it, you should see a screen like this that has all of your drives.

partitions-hd

As you can see, I have two hard disks, and the third is labeled F, which is the SD card inserted into the computer. This is the drive I want to format for the Nintendo 3DS. Be 100% certain you select the proper drive, or you could do a lot of damage to your computer!

Select the proper partition, and then choose “Create”. You’ll want to select the following options:

options

Create As: Primary
File System: FAT32
Cluster Size: 32kb
Drive Letter:

Be sure you set a drive letter, otherwise Windows won’t recognize the drive to let you copy files to it. Hit “Okay” and it should format the card for use with your Nintendo 3DS. Once you hit Okay, you’ll need to “Apply” the settings in the main window. This will take a moment. After it’s complete, you’ll have an “all changes were completed successfully” window.

That’s it! It’s ready to be used in the Nintendo 3DS. Turn your machine off and then back on and insert the SD card and you should get an initializing screen. Once that is complete, check the Data Management app of the Nintendo 3DS and you should see a very large number of blocks, according to the size of the SD card you just formatted. Mine was a 64GB card and this is what it looks like:

big-blocks3ds

Transferring Files to the Nintendo 3DS

Now that you have both SD cards formatted for use in the Nintendo 3DS, you need to transfer files from your old card to the new card. Copy EVERYTHING on the old card to a new folder on your desktop named Nintendo. Depending on the amount of files you have on your old card, this transfer could take a while.

Once you have the files in a folder on your desktop, insert the newly formatted card into your computer and then drag all the files from the folder on your desktop to the new SD card. Once again, this process could take a while if you’ve got a lot of data. Once that’s finished, you’ve got one more step before you can enjoy your new high capacity card.

Open the “Nintendo 3DS” folder on your card and you should see two folders, both with large strings of letters and numbers as the name. Right click each and choose Properties to see the file size. Open the largest of the two folders and copy everything inside it to the smaller folder. Once that is done, you can delete the old folder. Then you should be able to insert the SD card into your Nintendo 3DS and see all the games you’ve downloaded, as well as have tons of extra space for new games!

If you have any questions about the process, don’t hesitate to leave a comment and I’ll try and help you through any issues you may be having with this method.

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  • Blue Hernandez

    Interesting. Why don’t all cards come pre loaded like this so the size wouldn’t matter?

    • Yen

      Because not every SD Card is made for a 3DS.

      • Blue Hernandez

        Let me explain it better. Would this technique work for other devices that only allow a 32gb maximum card? If so, why wouldn’t all cards come with this ability?

        • Yen

          Ah sorry misread you, yes this technique probably works for other devices if they have similar reasons (I’ll explain below) for not supporting larger cards. All cards don’t come preformatted with FAT32 already because it’s old. It’s like, most new computers wouldn’t come with Windows XP, they’d be Windows 7 or 8, but you can still install XP on it after you buy it. If that makes sense. Read on if you want to know more about why 3DS needs this workaround to use larger cards.

          For the 3DS in particular, I believe it was because of the technology in SDXC format. The SDHC format that 3DS supports only allow cards up to 32GB. SDXC supports up to 2TB. The problem is, SDXC cards come preformatted with exFAT, which Microsoft has a patent. It might just be my speculation but that’s why 3DS doesn’t support cards higher than 32GB, because all cards higher are SDXC which they’d need Microsoft licences to use. That’s why those don’t work out of the box on 3DS, but after partitioning the card to FAT32 like described in this article, it works. I’m guessing there are also reasons they can’t tell people to just re-partition the cards.

          • http://about.me/overlordror Ashley King

            This is very insightful, Yen. Thanks! :)

          • JB

            Oh my.. I just realized you already answered. Maybe I should learn to use the refresh button. Haha

          • Blue Hernandez

            Ohhh. Thanks for the info! and LOL thanks @JQuest81:disqus too haha.

          • Arthur Jarret

            There is a reason why they don’t advise customers to partition cards – and that is that the FAT32 system doesn’t officially support it.

            It is fully tested as stable for 32GB partitions but not beyond – which is why the developers official format tools created partitions capped at 32GB

            In practice, this means they give no guarantee that data over the 32GB will save correctly and not overwrite itself – and wether it can find all parts of a file later, when data runs out of bounds of the data partition table.

            This is unlikely to occur, though – as FAT32 supported discs up to 2TB already when formatted with tools that did not dictate a limit.

            However – it is VERY unlikely that the 3DS does not support SDXC cards due to the exFAT patent – as microsoft owns a patent for FAT32 too (Linux circumvents that patent, by the way – but the 3DS does not. It has to do with using both long & short filenames. Tomtom had to settle in court and change their devices due to this patent) as well as NTFS.

          • Yen

            Thanks for that explaination! I haven’t tried to format anything near 2TB in FAT32 in recent years.

            From what I understood the exFAT has a much more restrictive patent than FAT32 which is why I thought the licencing reason made sense for why 3DS doesn’t support it.

        • JB

          Here’s the technical reason: It’s the 3DS’s SD card reader. It only accepts cards formatted in FAT 32. Flash drives/cards above 32GB is generally formatted in exFAT because it’s more efficient in higher capacity flash memory, which is probably part of the reason Windows doesn’t natively format to FAT above 32GB.

          To directly answer your question, yes any device that accepts no more that 32GB max can benefit for this technique, though your more modern mobile devices like cameras and smartphones can read the exFAT format.

          I could be totally off base, but probably the reason Nintendo chose the FAT card readers is they didn’t want to pay Microsoft licensing fees for the exFAT format, or perhaps they felt the common, less tech savvy users didn’t need more than 32GB at a time. Of course it could be because FAT is more common and is the standard. I’m just speculating at this point.

  • Fred

    AWESOME!!! Very helpful article. Thank-you Ashley!!!
    With all the awesome games coming to 3DS this will be very useful.

  • AAAkabob

    I have almost a dozen full games and still have 2/3 of my card free. Really no reason for above 32GB

    • Saul Rivera

      I was thinking the same…you would need to buy tons of games to fill them up

  • Arthur Jarret

    Hey Ashley!

    40% of the time, I use my 3DS to enjoy full movies in 3D on the go (albeit cut-up in 9 minute 59 second pieces to fool the system into thinking it is natively-recorded video).

    I think a lot of people could use a guide for that.
    If you’re not up to writing it, I’m willing to.