What are the differences between FAT32, NTFS, or exFAT file systems?

What are the differences between FAT32, NTFS, or exFAT file systems?

You may have ever encountered the following situation: you want to format a disk drive in Windows , either external or internal, and the software offers us three types of file systems to do so. These are FAT32, NTFS, and exFAT .

Unfortunately, Windows does not give us a clear explanation of what each of these systems consists of . We do not know what their differences are, which one is more suitable for each type of unit, or what their problems are. So we are going to explain it to you today in the simplest way possible.

First of all, what is a filesystem? It is the computerized procedure by which files are organized within a unit. It is the system that allows us to recognize files, differentiate them by type and manipulate them. The file system is indispensable for the structural organization of a file-based operating system. Let's now see these three main alternatives.



The most generic of the three systems is FAT32. It came to replace FAT16 back in 1995. It was designed for Windows 95 and did not go beyond Windows 2000, which already introduced Fat64, in reference to 64 bits. Today it is practically impossible to find internal drives that accept FAT32, but we still find it a lot on USB sticks .

The good thing about the FAT32 system is, as we said at the beginning of the section, that it is a standard. Thus, by formatting an external drive with this system, it will be compatible with several different softwares, such as Mac OS X or Linux , as well as televisions and consoles.

What is the bad part? Being old, it has a maximum limitation of 4 GB of storage, or 8 TB of partition . Probably in 1995, when the system was created, it was thought that 4 GB was a capacity that could hardly be surpassed, however today, there are hardly any mobile phones that are content with that internal memory.

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Although it was born to be used in Windows NT, from Windows XP NTFS (New Technology File System)  became the new standard as a file system . Currently, it is the system that is used by default in Windows if we format a drive, either internal or external.

NTFS is very versatile: its limit reaches up to 16 TB of storage , making it ideal for modern computers, as well as allowing you to encrypt files and use long names to name them (In FAT32 there is a limitation of eight characters, not counting the extension). Another fact, which is not trivial, is that it allows you to recover files more easily when the system hangs.

However, there is also a bad part, and this is the compatibility. NTFS Mac OS X and Linux can only support these files as read-only , but they cannot be written. Neither Sony recognizes the system (which includes PlayStation) nor surprisingly XBOX, owned by Microsoft.

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The most recent of these systems (dating from 2006), has not begun to be used in a massive way until recently. And is that exFAT is the natural replacement of FAT32, largely maintaining its virtues and correcting some of its limitations. The main one, storage: exFAT is capable of holding up to 16 million TB , making a fool of the 4 GB of FAT32.

Furthermore, it has a compatibility that, if it is not as great as that of FAT32, is much more than that of NTFS. MacOS and Linux, for example, do support writing on this system . Android recognizes it via microSD or USB OTG drives. Lastly, Playstation 4 (not 3) and XBOX One (not 360) also support the system.

exFAT is also a lightweight system, since it is designed directly for flash drives , so it does not require the more complex functions of NTFS.

Choosing system

Probably now you understand why there are USB memories that are recognized in our SmartTV and others that are not , or why some hard drives, without explanation, are not read by our iMac. What is the ideal method? It depends on our needs.

If we talk about an internal drive or an SSD hard drive, the most recommended is NTFS. For modern external drives that require moving between different systems, exFAT . And if we want to have a small external drive that works for any software, FAT32. Think about what you need and act accordingly.