File Systems: What is FAT and NTFS? Which one is better?

You probably know someone, who is always miss placing stuff, I do personally. Whether they can not find their keys in the morning, they leave clothes everywhere, like my sweaters. Especially, when it comes to TV Remote and USB Flash Drive, I always miss place them.

Could you just imagine, if your computer was that forgetful and never remembered, where you put stuff like saved games, important papers or tax documents or your Operating system?

Well, fortunately all computers use some kind of file system. So, it can keep track of where all your stuff is. Just like how you might use a closet space or cabinets at home to keep your collection of random clothes and kitchen items from being a complete mess.

So, how do Computer do that?

Well, there are many different types of systems out there. But what they all have in common is that they divide up your hard drive, SSD or flash drive into small units, that store data and have some kind of way to remembering, what data is in each unit.

File Allocation Table (FAT)

So, it can go and find it later on. To better understand, How this works and to figure out what system to use for your own stuff, let’s have a look at some common file system starting off with File Allocation Table or FAT.

Although it’s name is incredibly unflattering that was used by the vast majority of home windows-based PCs until XP came out that worked by splitting the disk into a bunch of clusters. Giving each cluster a unique ID number, then using a table to track what part of what was stored in each cluster.

Alright, pretty straight forward and simple. No big Deal there. But as hard drives became larger and larger, FAT ran into some problems namely it resulted in a lot of wasted space.

Because it often couldn’t fill clusters completely. A problem called Slack and could only support drives that were kind of smaller to the way that FAT stored information about file locations.

FAT32, which came to prominence with Windows 98 was an improvement, but still couldn’t deal with partitions larger than 2 Terabytes. Which is not that big these days to overcome these limitations.

New Technology File System (NTFS)

Every version of Windows since XP + NT 3.1 on the business side of things has used the only slightly less awkwardly named “New Technology File System (NTFS)“.

NTFS uses some space management tricks to make it use space much more efficiently than FAT resulting in better real-world capacity in many cases and can support massive partitions of Hundreds of Terabytes.

As well as huge individual file Sizes important in the age of 4K videos that can span multiple hours making the massive.

It also has features to help prevent data loss in the event of a crash native file compression and security features including native file encryption support to keep out unauthorized users.

These features have made NTFS an almost universal choice of Windows based PCs these days. But just like it is hard to get rid of those last 10 pounds of fat at the Gym.

FAT the file system has not completely gone away. FAT32 is still commonly used on USB flash drives to maintain compatibility with older version of Windows as well as operating Systems such as Linux.

exFAT for Flash drives

Speaking of Flash drives, there is a new version of FAT called exFAT, which is surprisingly not the name of a line of diet supplements.

exFAT was designed specifically with high capacity flash drives and memory cards in mind and support much larger capacities and file sizes than older versions of FAT.

Well, not including features of NTFS, that flash drives don’t really need in order to keep things running quickly. exFAT is not always compatible with some quite a bit older versions of Windows though.

So, keep that in mind when choosing what you are going to use for your flash drive if you for some reason are still using like unpatched version of Windows XP.

The good thing though is that it is pretty easy to switch file systems on your flash drive, by just doing a quick reformat after you have saved your file somewhere else of course.

I don’t want to be responsible for that but, no matter what you choose, you can bet that your drives will keep track of your data better than your roommate. Who is always asking you where the TV remote is.


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