FAT32 versus NTFS: What Should You Choose

By Angsuman Chakraborty, Gaea News Network
Sunday, October 8, 2006

When installing Windows 2000 or Windows XP, you have to decide the evergreen question: Should I choose FAT32 or NTFS and why? Today I will try to answer it once and for all.

Note: I haven’t discussed FAT file system because it is very much obsolete with todays high volume hard-disks. The real choice is between FAT32 and NTFS

The default choice should be NTFS for modern disk drives. NTFS5 works on Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server. NTFS works on Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server.

However you may have to choose FAT32 if you have dual boot or multi-boot systems and one of the operating system is Win95B (OSR2, OSR2.1) or Win95C (OSR2.5) or Win98 or Win98SE or WinME and you want that operating system to access this partition. NTFS volumes are not recognized by Windows 95 or Windows 98 or Windows Me.

For partitions less than 8GB, FAT32 may perform better.

Another small benefit: FAT and FAT32 volumes can be converted to NTFS volumes. However NTFS volumes cannot be converted to FAT32 without reformatting.

That pretty much sums up the benefits of FAT32 over NTFS. Now lets look at the benefits of NTFS over FAT32.

NTFS has all of the basic capabilities of FAT, and it provides the following advantages over the FAT and FAT 32 file systems:

1. Security FAT32 provides very little security. Any user with access to a drive using FAT32 has access to all the files on that drive.

NTFS allows the use of NTFS Permissions. In NTFS folder and file access can be controlled individually, with fine granularity if necessary.

NTFS5 can automatically encrypt and decrypt file data as it is read and written to the disk. Win2K/XP includes the ability to encrypt data directly on volumes that use the NTFS file system so that the data cannot be used by any other user. Files and folders can be encrypted, using encrypting file system technology, by setting an attribute in the object’s Properties dialog box.

2. Better hard disk space usage efficiency NTFS supports disk quotas, allowing you to control the amount of disk usage on a per user basis.

NTFS supports file compression natively which can save significant space without compromising accessibility of the file / folder.

Beyond 8GB partition size, NTFS handles space management much more efficiently than FAT32. NTFS provides smaller cluster sizes and wastes less disk space waste than FAT32.

In Windows XP, the maximum partition size that can be created using FAT32 is 32GB. You can create 16TB (terabytes) partition using NTFS.

Note: There is a workaround for the 32GB limitation under FAT32, but it is a nuisance especially considering the size of drives currently being manufactured.

3. Reliability

  • FAT32 drives are much more susceptible to disk errors than NTFS.
  • NTFS volumes have the ability to recover from errors more readily than similar FAT32 volumes.
  • Log files are created under NTFS which can be used for automatic file system repairs.
  • NTFS supports dynamic cluster remapping for bad sectors and prevent them from being used in the future.

4. Hard LinksYou can create hard-links to a NTFS files. When you create a hard link to a file on an NTFS volume, NTFS adds a directory entry for the hard link without duplicating the original file. You can use the fsutil hardlink create command to create hard links. You can also use the NTFS Link shell extension to easily create hardlinks from Windows Explorer.

In conclusion NTFS is clearly superior to FAT32 files system, whenever you can.
Note: You can access the Recovery Console from Win2K/XP’s boot menu, or selecting Repair when you boot up from the Win2K/XP CDROM.

References: 1, 2 & 3

October 8, 2006: 4:12 pm

I use FAT32 because I can’t mount NTFS drives on Linux/Solaris…

will not be displayed