What is NTFS and FAT file system?

When formatting external hard drives and USB sticks, you are quickly faced with the choice between NTFS, exFAT or FAT32. These file systems are responsible for storing and retrieving your data. You can find out which file system is suitable for which purpose and what you should pay attention to.

What is FAT?

Microsoft created the File Allocation Table file system in 1977 and is the simplest file system supported by Windows NT. It is the older of the two file systems and therefore isn’t as efficient or advanced. However, it does offer more compatibility with other operating systems and removable storage devices.

The FAT is used to describe the allocation status of the clusters (the basic units of logical storage on a hard drive) in a file system, as well as the link relationship between each. It acts as a Table of Contents for the operating system, indicating where directories and files are stored on the disk.

A FAT is often most used in removable storage devices, such as digital cameras, Smart TVs and other portable devices. The file allocation table is a critical part of the FAT file system. If the FAT is damaged or lost, the data on the hard disk becomes unreadable.

There are several limitations to using a FAT32 file system:

  • FAT32 only supports files of up to 4GB in size and volumes of up to 2TB in size
  • FAT32 isn’t a journaling file system, which means corruption can happen more easily
  • FAT32 doesn’t support file permissions

What is NTFS?

Microsoft created the New Technology File System in 1993, and it is now the most widely used file system in Windows.  It was introduced as a replacement for the FAT file system, designed to improve upon FAT by increasing performance, reliability and disk space.

NTFS supports:

  • Very large files
  • Different file permissions and encryption
  • Automatically restores consistency by using log file and checkpoint information
  • File compression when running out of disk space
  • Establishing disk quotas, limiting space users can use
  • NTFS vs FAT32
  • FAT is the simpler file system of the two, but NTFS offers different enhancements and offers increased security. Choosing the right operating system depends on your needs.


  • FAT32 does not offer any compression option. NTFS does allow for individual compression of files and folders so you don’t slow down the system.
  • Compatibility: NTFS is compatible with operating systems back to Windows XP. For Mac OS users, however, NTFS systems can only be read by Mac, while FAT32 drives can be both read and written to by the Mac OS.
  • The biggest disadvantage of using the NTFS file system is compatibility:
  • Many removable devices, such as Android smartphones don’t support NTFS
  • While Mac OS X can read support for NTFS drives, but it can’t write to NTFS drives without third-party software
  • Some media devices, including Smart TVs, media players, and printers, don’t support NTFS
  • NTFS file systems are only compatible with Windows 2000 and later versions of Windows
  • When it comes to removable devices, it’s safer to use FAT32 so they can be used with almost any device.