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What is File system, NTFS or FAT32 or exFAT which is best? explained

In computing, a file system specifies how data is stored and retrieved on the drive. Also, we can say file system is the method or Data structure that an OS uses to keep track of files on the disk drive. And without a file system, the information stored on your drive wouldn’t be isolated into individual files that make it difficult to identify and retrieve data. Windows 10 supports three different file systems which are NTFS, FAT32 and exFAT where the NTFS file system is the modern one.

While format a USB drive or SD card getting confused about which one to choose between FAT32, exFAT or NTFS file system, which one is better? Let’s take a look at the Difference Between FAT32, exFAT or NTFS file systems.


What is File Systems?

A file system is a method of organizing and retrieving files from a storage medium or hard drive. Computers use different kinds of file systems to store and organize data on media such as HDD, SD card, USB flash drive, CD & DVD. Without a file system, all data would be out of order and can not be even found or retrieve by users.

There are three file formats that the most used Windows OS supports – FAT32, exFAT and NTFS. They have their own ways of organizing data, Some have faster speed and provide better compatibility some others have better security.

The transition of these file systems was as follows:

  1. 8-bit FAT (Original 8-bit FAT)

  2. FAT12 (8-bit File Allocation Table)

  3. FAT16 (Initial 16-bit File Allocation Table(with 16-bit sector entries))

  4. FAT16B (Final 16-bit File Allocation Table(with 32-bit sector entries))

  5. FAT32 (File Allocation Table-32)

  6. exFAT (Extensible File Allocation Table)

  7. NTFS (New Technology File System)

FAT32 and NTFS are the most common types of file systems used in an operating system. Here are some brief introductions about the different features of file systems.

NTFS (New Technology File System)

NTFS stands for New Technology File System first introduced in 1993 as a part of Windows NT 3.1 release. It is the most secure and robust file system that the Windows operating system uses for storing, organizing, and finding files on a hard disk efficiently. When you install Windows, it formats your system drive with the NTFS file system. NTFS is packed with other modern features that support, file permissions for security (that can help quickly recover errors if your computer crashes) shadow copies for backups, encryption, disk quota limits and more.

Pro tip:  NTFS provides compatibility across platforms and efficiency when compared to other file systems.

By default, Mac OS X can only read NTFS drives, not write to them. Some Linux distributions may enable NTFS-writing support, but some may be read-only.

Today, the most commonly used file system with Windows is NTFS.
  1. It’s highly secure because it prevents unauthorized access to file contents by enforcing Encryption File System(EFS)

  2. It is less susceptible to fragmentation and performs well even in partitions of size over 400 MB.

  3. Supports file compression and its compatible with Windows NT/2K/XP/Vista/7/8/10, macOS X, Linux

  4. Accessing speed is Relatively higher than other File Systems

  5. The maximum number of characters supported in a file name and maximum file size support is 16TB

  6. Enables users to set disk quotas, limiting the number of space users can consume.

It’s not applicable for MS-DOS, Windows 95, and Windows 98 systems and NTFS performs slow with a small disk size.

FAT32 (File Allocation Table-32)

FAT32 stands for File Allocation Table an upgraded version of FAT 16 designed to overcome the limitations of FAT16 (its supported maximum volume size is 2GB) support larger media. It was the file system used in an older version of Windows 95 up until windows XP. But still the file size limit of 4GB, which can be a problem with today’s Blu Ray rips and 4K video files. If you’re just sharing small files between computers, however, it’s a fine system to use.

Pro Tip: If the maximum file size is less than 4GB, FAT32 is the best file system for your memory stick.

  1. Works with all versions of Windows, Mac, Linux, game consoles, and practically anything with a USB port.

  2. File compression is not allowed and supports older Windows 95/98/2000/2003/XP Access speed is slower compared to NTFS.

  3. This file system supports drive sizes up to 2 TB or as high as 16 TB with 64 KB clusters.

  4. It’s ideal for removable drives for maximum compatibility with the widest range of devices

Modern versions of Windows can no longer be installed to FAT32, and must be installed onto drives formatted with NTFS.
  1. Not compatible with older disk management software, motherboards, and BIOSes

  2. Didn’t provides the file security, compression, fault tolerance, or crash recovery abilities that NTFS does.

  3. You cannot create a FAT32 partition that is larger than 8 TB.

  4. With  FAT32 file system, you cannot install current versions of the file windows.

exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table)

The exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table) was introduced in 2006, This is an updated file system created by Microsoft to replace FAT32. It is a middle ground between FAT32 and the more modern and more sophisticated NTFS file system. If you are wondering if Windows 10 can read exFAT, the answer is Yes! Also drives formated with exFAT are faster at writing and reading data than FAT32 drives.

Pro Tip: exFAT is very efficient in copying large files when compared to other file systems.

  1.  exFAT has very large limits on file and partition sizes., allowing you to store files much larger than the 4 GB allowed by FAT32.

  2. It works with all versions of Windows and modern versions of Mac OS X, but requires additional software on Linux. More devices support exFAT than support NTFS.

  3. There is No realistic file-size or partition size limits.

  4. It’s ideal toUse it when you need bigger file size and partition limits than FAT32 offers and when you need more compatibility than NTFS offers.

More devices support exFAT than support NTFS, but some—particularly older ones—may only support FAT32 (Source: howtogeek)

It does not offer journaling functionality and other advanced features built into the NTFS file system and it’s Not as compatible as FAT32.

Here is the summary of key differences between FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS File System

FAT32 exFAT and NTFS File System

Here a video tutorial explains NTFS, FAT32, exFAT what are the differences between file systems, and what does a file system actually do, anyway?

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