ARCHIVED: In Windows 2000 or XP, how do I choose between NTFS and FAT32?

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You can choose between three file systems (NTFS, FAT, and FAT32) for disk partitions on a computer running Windows 2000 or XP. UITS strongly recommends NTFS over FAT32. So does Microsoft; in fact, Microsoft says you should only use FAT32 in situations where there's no other choice, and recommends you place limits on how it's used (e.g., don't store sensitive files on a FAT32 partition).

UITS and Microsoft no longer recommend FAT, also known as FAT16, as a viable option at all.

In short, nowadays there's very little need to run anything other than NTFS, and there are strong recommendations from UITS and Microsoft against choosing FAT/FAT32.

FAT and FAT32 are similar to each other; FAT32 is designed for larger disks than FAT. The file system that works most easily with large disks is NTFS. This document provides information to help you compare the file systems.

NTFS has always been a faster and more secure file system than FAT and FAT32. Windows 2000 and XP include a newer version of NTFS than Windows NT 4.0, with support for a variety of features including Active Directory. By default, Windows XP computers come configured with NTFS.

Note: You can use important features such as Active Directory and domain-based security only by choosing NTFS as your file system.

The NTFS setup program makes it easy to convert your partition to the new version of NTFS, even if it used FAT or FAT32 before. This kind of conversion keeps your files intact (unlike formatting a partition). If you do not need to keep your files intact and you have a FAT or FAT32 partition, UITS recommends that you format the partition with NTFS rather than converting from FAT or FAT32. Formatting a partition erases all data on the partition, but a partition that is formatted with NTFS rather than converted from FAT or FAT32 will have less fragmentation and better performance. However, it is still advantageous to use NTFS, regardless of whether the partition was formatted with NTFS or converted. You can also convert a partition after setup by using Convert.exe. (For more information about Convert.exe, from the Start menu, select Run..., and then enter cmd. In the command window, enter help convert.)

Note: If your computer must sometimes run an earlier Windows operating system and also sometimes run Windows 2000 or XP (in other words, dual- or multi-boot between the multiple versions), then in this case you must have a FAT or FAT32 partition as the primary (or startup) partition on the hard disk. This is because earlier operating systems, with one exception, can't access a partition if it uses the latest version of NTFS. That one exception is Windows NT version 4.0 with Service Pack 4 or later, which has access to partitions with the latest version of NTFS, but with some limitations. Windows NT 4.0 cannot access stored files using NTFS features that did not exist when Windows NT 4.0 was released. Be aware that multi-boot systems, using the FAT/FAT32 partition, are much less secure than a system using NTFS. Files cannot be encrypted and other security features do not work in a FAT/FAT32 based environment.

If you're multi-booting between Windows 2000 or XP and a non-Windows operating system (e.g., Linux, Solaris, BSD), then the presence of a FAT partition may or may not be necessary. Consult the documentation for those non-Windows operating systems' boot loaders for details.

The following table describes the compatibility of each file system with various operating systems, compares possible disk and file sizes for each file system, and lists the major drawback of each file system:

NTFS FAT FAT32
A computer running Windows 2000 or XP can natively access files on an NTFS partition. A computer running Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 4 or later might be able to access some files. Computers running Linux with later versions of the 2.6.x kernel will be able to fully access (i.e., read and write) to an NTFS partition, but earlier kernels will have only read-only access; note that a kernel recompile may be necessary with your distribution to enable full NTFS access. Read your distribution's FAQ and other resources for more information. Other operating systems allow no access at all.
Access is available through MS-DOS, all versions of Windows, Linux, and OS/2.
Access is available only through Windows 95, OSR2, Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Linux.
Recommended minimum volume size is approximately 10MB. Recommended practical maximum for volumes is 2 terabytes (TB); much larger sizes are possible.
Volumes from floppy disk size up to 4GB
Volumes from 512MB to 2TB. In Windows 2000, you can format a FAT32 volume only up to 32GB.
Cannot be used on floppy disks Does not support domains Does not support domains
File size limited only by size of volume
Maximum file size 2GB Maximum file size 4GB

This is document ajqm in the Knowledge Base.
Last modified on 2018-01-18 12:56:06.

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