General Question

2davidc8's avatar

NTFS or FAT32, which is better?

Asked by 2davidc8 (9877points) November 21st, 2019

If I’m going to reformat a thumb drive, or hard drive for that matter, is NTFS or FAT32 better? What are the implications of each? Do I have a choice?
A friend of mine said always use FAT32. I just wanted to double-check.
Also, do CDs and DVDs have to be formatted before I use them?
I know that they are probably already pre-formatted, but if they are NTFS, should I re-do them into FAT32 first?
I’m talking about Windows desktops and laptops.

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11 Answers

Zaku's avatar

There are trade-offs.

* FAT32 can’t handle files larger than 4 GB. That usually only matters for very large files such as an entire very long high-def video or something.

* FAT32 can’t handle a partition larger than 2 TB, but your thumb drive probably isn’t 2TB.

* FAT32 may also have problems with very long file names.

* NTFS isn’t necessarily compatible with every type of computer, particularly older operating systems and won’t be able to be easily written to by many (all?) Macs.

2davidc8's avatar

@Zaku Which file system is newer? If I’m not overly concerned with older computers, should I go with NTFS?

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

NTFS is faster, more secure, allows for larger files and supports larger file names.

elbanditoroso's avatar

NTFS for all the reasons @Zaku mentioned. FAT is 30-year-old technology.

You should think about exFAT as well.

SEKA's avatar

You might want to see what How To Geek has to say on the subject. I have 2 friends who are computer nerds. One swears by FAT32 and the other NTFS. HTG recommends the NTFS. My rule of thumb is that always go with the newer releases that have been tried by many especially when users aren’t screaming how bad it is. I think Win10 defaults to NTFS but I could be mistaken

Zaku's avatar

NTFS is newer, and yes Win10 uses NTFS by default.

NTFS is somewhat more complex and has security features and some of those details, plus the chance you might want to use a thumb drive some times with something that doesn’t handle it, may have some people preferring FAT32 for thumb dives. (Or they might have had experience with the ease and simplicity of recovering files in FAT32 using DOS or some utilities, and then had some experience with NTFS having a problem with its security system that might have left a bad taste in their mouth, or who knows what other experience.)

FAT32’s simplicity also makes it more efficient for smaller volumes, according to Microsoft a drive under about 200 – 400MB would be a good choice for FAT32. Over 200 MB, Microsoft says NTFS will be faster. Under 400 MB, NTFS will tend to consume significantly more of your drive’s data space for itself than FAT32 would.

The bottom line is it’s complicated and probably not a big deal, but there can be advantages in certain situations, and/or preferences from certain various points of view.

RocketGuy's avatar

I have a 32GB USB drive formatted to FAT32. I was disappointed that it could not save a 30GB data file that I had.

2davidc8's avatar

@RocketGuy Your 32 GB USB drive may actually have less than 30 GB of usable space even when new, and your problem may have nothing to do with FAT32 or NTFS. Yes?

My friend swears by FAT32, but I know NTFS is newer, that’s why I’m asking this question here.
But nobody has addressed whether CDs and DVDs have to be formatted or do they come automatically pre-formatted. If they are FAT32 and you want NTFS, can you reformat?

Zaku's avatar

Writable CDs and DVDs are unformatted.

Written CDs and DVDs have their own formats, which are neither FAT32 nor NTFS.

RocketGuy's avatar

@2davidc8 – data save stops at 4GB, so it’s a FAT32 limit/problem.

2davidc8's avatar

Ah, OK, thanks, @Zaku, @RocketGuy for your answers.

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