Whether you need to format an internal drive, an external drive, a USB flash drive or a Windows SD card, you will be asked to choose the “format” format, which can be FAT32 exFAT and NTFS. The formatting dialog in Windows does not explain the difference between these formats, so we will do it with this guide.
FAT32 is the oldest file system, which is more prearranged for USB flash drives and other external drives.
Windows uses NTFS for its system unit and is also ideal for other indoor units. exFAT is a modern substitute for FAT32 while more and more devices support the NTFS format, although it is not as widespread as FAT32. If you want to know the difference between FAT32 exFAT and NTFS and choose them for formatting your pendrive, read on.
Difference between FAT32 exFAT and NTFS
FAT32 is the oldest file system among those mentioned. It was introduced with Windows 95 to replace the older FAT16 file system.
This file system has advantages and disadvantages. Precisely because it is so old, it has become the de-facto standard. The Flash Units that you buy, are often formatted with FAT32 for maximum compatibility not only with modern computers, but also with other devices such as game consoles and anything that has a USB port.
However, this format has age-related limitations. The individual files on a FAT32 unit can not be more than 4 GB in size – which is the maximum allowed by this format. A FAT32 partition must be smaller than 8TB and may appear to be a minor limitation, but the limitation is more evident if you have a new high capacity disk.
Although this file system is fine for USB flash drives and other external media, it is not used for an internal drive. Missing permissions and other security features built into the most modern NTFS file system. Modern versions of Windows can no longer be installed on dichi formatted in FAT32, and should only be installed on NTFS-formatted disks.
Compatibility: Works with all versions of Windows, Mac, Linux, game consoles, and virtually any device with a USB port.
Limits: 4 GB of maximum file size, 8 TB of maximum partition size.
Ideal use: to be used on removable drives for maximum compatibility with the widest range of devices, as long as you do not have any 4 GB or larger files.
NTFS is the modern file system that Windows prefers to use. When installing Windows, you must format the system drive with the NTFS file system. The NTFS format provides theoretically huge file and partition sizes, which does not allow for incompatibility. NTFS appears for the first time in consumer versions of Windows XP.
In addition to these limitations, NTFS is packed with other modern features. It supports security file permissions, a registry that can help you quickly recover errors if your computer crashes, shadow copies for backups, encryption, disk quota limits, hard links, and other functions. Many of these are crucial to the unity of the operating system – especially file permissions.
The Windows system partition must necessarily be in the NTFS format. If you have a secondary disk with Windows and plan to install programs on it, you will probably need to format this in the NTFS format as well.
The major limitation of a disk formatted in NTFS is that it is not compatible with other operating systems. It is compatible with all recent versions of Windows – up to Windows XP – but has limited compatibility with other operating systems. By default, Mac OS X can read NTFS drives, but can not write to them.
Some versions of Linux may allow writing to a secondary NTFS disk, but others may be read-only. None of Sony’s PlayStation consoles support NTFS. Even Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is not able to read NTFS disks, even if the new Xbox allows it.
Compatibility: Works with all versions of Windows, while with the default Mac it works only for reading, and works in read-only by default even with some Linux versions. Other devices – with the exception of Microsoft Xbox One – probably will not support NTFS.
Limits: No real limit on partition sizes.
Ideal use: Used for the Windows system drive and other internal drives that can be used with Windows.
The exFAT format was introduced in 2006, and was added with previous versions of Windows, starting with Windows XP and Windows Vista updates.
This is a file system optimized for flash drives. It is designed to be a lightweight file system like FAT32, without all the additional features of NTFS, but without the limitations of FAT32.
Like NTFS, exFAT has the file and partition sizes with very high limits. This means that you can store files that are larger than 4 GB each on a flash drive or SD card, if they are formatted with exFAT. The exFAT format is a rigorous update of FAT32, and should be the best choice for external drives where you want a lightweight file system with no file size limits like those found in FAT32.
exFAT is also more compatible than NTFS. Although Mac OS X includes read-only support for NTFS, Mac offers full read-write support for exFAT. ExFAT drives are compatible with the Linux operating system by installing appropriate software.
The exFAT format is compatible with Mac and also with some devices that do not support NTFS, such as digital cameras – even if they are not yet fully compatible. In addition, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is not supported, while the Xbox itself. Several other older devices can only support FAT32 and not exFAT.
Compatibility: Works with all modern versions of Mac OS X and Windows, but requires additional software on Linux. Multiple devices support exFAT instead of NTFS, but some – especially older ones – can only support FAT32.
Limits: No real limit on partition sizes.
Ideal use: Used for USB flash drives and other external drives, especially if you need to store files with more than 4 GB in size.
FAT32 exFAT and NTFS are three formats with different characteristics, NTFS is ideal for indoor units, while exFAT is generally ideal for flash units. However, it may sometimes be necessary to format an external disk with FAT32 if exFAT is not supported on a device.