ARCHIVED: In Windows, what file system should I use?

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NTFS and FAT32 are two file systems used in Windows operating systems. Their features and differences are described below.


NTFS, short for NT File System, is the most secure and robust file system for Windows 7, Vista, and XP. It provides security by supporting access control and ownership privileges, meaning you can set permission for groups or individual users to access certain files.

NTFS 5.0 was released with Windows 2000, and is also used in Windows Vista and XP. NTFS offers the following features:

  • NTFS supports compression of individual files and folders which can be read and written to while they are compressed.
  • NTFS is a recoverable file system, meaning it has the ability to undo or redo operations that failed due to such problems as system failure or power loss.

In addition to the above features, NTFS 5.0 also provides the following functionality:

  • Disk quotas: Administrators can limit the amount of disk space users can consume on a per-volume basis. The three quota levels are: Off, Tracking, and Enforced.
  • Encryption: The NTFS 5.0 file system can automatically encrypt and decrypt file data as it is read and written to the disk.
  • Reparse points: Programs can trap open operations against objects in the file system and run their own code before returning file data. This feature can be used to extend file system features such as mount points, which you can use to redirect data read and written from a folder to another volume or physical disk.
  • Sparse files: Allows programs to create very large files, but to consume disk space only as needed.
  • USN Journal: Provides a persistent log of all changes made to files on the volume.


FAT32 is the file system used in some older versions of Microsoft Windows. You can also install the FAT32 files system on Windows XP (all versions), and even Windows Server 2003. However, for all operating systems capable of running it, both UITS and Microsoft strongly recommend using NTFS instead. Although FAT performs better on smaller volumes (under 500 MB), NTFS out-performs it on larger volumes.

Advantages of FAT32

  • FAT32 supports disk partitions as large as 2 TB. FAT16 supports partitions up to only 2 GB.
  • FAT32 wastes much less disk space on large partitions, since the minimum cluster size is a mere 4 KB for partitions under 8 GB.

Disadvantages of FAT32

  • FAT32 does not allow compression using DriveSpace.
  • FAT32 is not compatible with older disk management software, motherboards, and BIOSes.
  • FAT32 may be slightly slower than FAT16, depending on disk size.
  • None of the FAT file systems provide the file security, compression, fault tolerance, or crash recovery abilities that NTFS does.

For more about FAT32, refer to the Microsoft Windows 98 Solution Center.

This is document aexw in the Knowledge Base.
Last modified on 2018-01-18 12:23:53.

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