FAT32, exFAT Or NTFS! Which Is The Best File System?

FAT32 ExFAT or NTFS 1FAT32 ExFAT or NTFS 1

A file system is a set of rules that determines how data is stored and organized on the storage system e.g., hard drive, flash drive, CD-ROM, etc. Windows supports three popular formats: FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS. All three formats have their own advantages and disadvantages.

In this article, we will discuss each of these file systems and where they should be used for maximum performance and compatibility.

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Different file systems

FAT32 (File Allocation Table)

FAT32 is probably the most compatible file system as it is compatible with almost all operating systems, including all versions of Windows, starting with Windows 95. Other operating systems such as Mac OSX, Linux, Unix also support this file system.

That said, FAT32 also has its limitations, like it supports a maximum file size of 4 GB and volume size of 8 TB. Its performance also slows down if there are a large number of files on a single volume.

This is why it is most suitable for storage devices with less space and where cross-platform compatibility is required, such as USB flash drives, Micro SD cards, etc.

Supported Platforms

  • Windows XP
  • Windows 7/8/10/11/Vista
  • Mac OS Leopard
  • Mac OS X
  • Linux
  • PlayStation
  • Xbox

Pros

  • Cross-platform compatibility
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Very limited file size
  • Very limited partition size
  • Performance is degraded in case of large amount of files on a single volume

Ideal Use

Removable storage drives such as USB flash drives, Micro SD cards, small external hard drives.

exFAT (Extensible File Allocation Table)

exFAT was introduced to overcome the limitations of the FAT32 file system. While everything else is similar to FAT32, the maximum file size for the exFAT file system is 16 EB (ExaByte) and the maximum volume size is 24 ZB (ZettaByte).

exFAT is not compatible with Linux by default but you can run it using FUSE.

Compatible Platforms

  • Windows XP
  • Windows 7/8/10/11/Vista
  • Mac OS X
  • Linux (only with FUSE)

Pros

Larger file size is supported.

Cons

Performance degradation in case of larger drives and large no. of files.

Ideal Use

For USB flash drives or other external drives when saving files of size more than 4 GB are required.

NTFS (New Technology File System)

NTFS is the best file system to date when it comes to performance and security. But since it is proprietary to Microsoft, it is not compatible with all operating systems. Mac OSX and Linux can read NTFS partitions but can’t modify or write any data on the system. The maximum file size you can store on the NTFS file system is 16 EB while the maximum volume size is also 16 EB.

Compatible Platforms

  • Windows NT
  • Windows XP
  • Windows 7/8/10/11/Vista
  • Linux (Read-only)
  • Mac (Read-only)

Pros

  • Greater security
  • Improved speed and performance

Cons

  • A file path is limited to 255 characters only
  • Incompatible with other major operating systems

Ideal Use

Use with Windows everywhere to enable better performance and enable security features.

Which File System To Choose

Before we conclude which file system you ought to choose in different scenarios, let us briefly go over their comparisons.

FAT32 Versus exFAT

As we have already highlighted above, the key difference between the FAT32 and the exFAT filing systems is that exFAT supports larger-sized files than FAT32. However, since both of them are ideal for removable devices which one should you choose?

Since FAT32 only supports files of up to 4 GBs, you will need to use the exFAT in case you wish to move a file larger than 4 GB. This is probably why you may have come across an error “File is too large to move” while moving a file larger than 4 GB to or from a USB flash drive.

exFAT Versus NTFS

NTFS is Microsoft’s proprietary filing system. Therefore, you will need to use NTFS if you want to install Windows to a hard drive. Although exFAT supports a larger volume size, NTFS offers more options such as encryption support and control permissions.

Furthermore, files can also be compressed on an NTFS system.

If you consider the performance for both it is relative. It is so because the NTFS filing system can perform faster on an internal hard drive, while a USB flash drive with exFAT may out-perform a USB flash drive with NTFS.

Preferred File Systems

Like Windows’s proprietary filing system is NTFS, each operating system can perform differently on different filing systems. Here is a table depicting the best file system for the different operating systems in the market:

Operating SystemPreferred File System
WindowsNTFS
LinuxExt4
MacOSApple File System (APFS)
AndroidExt4 or YAFFS2
iPhoneAPFS
Operating systems and corresponding file systems used

Closing Words

File systems can be confusing for a few. However, with this guide, you will know exactly which option o select the next time you are formatting a hard drive, a USB flash drive, or a memory card.

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Itechtics staff is a team of technology experts led by Usman Khurshid. We verify everything we write so that our users can be sure to trust us in everything we write. You can reach out to us for further help and support.

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