NTFS stands for New Technology File System and is Microsoft’s file system of choice in all of its operating systems since Windows NT 3.1 in 1993. Before this there was File Allocation Table or FAT (the 32 on the end came about later for 32-bit versions of Windows). NTFS is the more modern file system and the one that you’ll probably find yourself using the majority of the time (even if you don’t realise it). However, there are occasions when it may be necessary to use FAT32. But what are the differences between these two file systems?
If you want to host Active Directory (which provides a centre for network administration and security) and have domain-based security then you’ll only be able to do this with NTFS. It also provides much more security as folder and file access can be individually controlled. File permissions can be set to help protect your data from any malware that could try and bury itself within. FAT32 has little security and is not supported by Active Directory, although there are other methods available to restrict data access.
FAT32 supports partitions up to 2 terabytes in size, although Windows 2000 only supports FAT32 partitions up to 32 GB. The downside to this is that there is a 4 GB file size limitation with FAT32. Volumes much larger than 2 TB are possible when running NTFS and are limited only by the size of the volume. The only downside is that NTFS cannot be used on floppy disks, but this is an archaic format by today’s standards. Also, NTFS is much more space efficient. The file system allows for file compression and lets you control how much disk space each user is able to use. NTFS uses small cluster sizes and as a result wastes less disk space than FAT32 does. If you are using a disk that has a lot of space (and most consumers are since larger drives are becoming more common and cheaper) then NTFS is the file system that works best.
NTFS is more reliable and stable than FAT32 too. A drive running FAT32 is more prone to errors and cannot recover as easily. NTFS makes use of log files which can then be used for automatic system repairs. It also has dynamic cluster remapping on bad sectors to stop them being used and causing problems.
NTFS is, essentially, the file system of choice as it is superior in pretty much every way. However, there may be situations when it is necessary to use FAT32 as the file system. One advantage is that FAT32 is more universally readable by other operating systems. Another is that some older programs are not compatible with NTFS and will not run on it. In this case it may be necessary to run an earlier version of Windows and have a FAT32 partition running primary on the hard drive. The majority of early versions of Windows will not be able to access a partition if it makes use of NTFS (apart from Windows 2000 and Windows NT 4.0 running Service Pack 4 or later).
FAT32 vs. NTFS: Pros and Cons
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