What is File system, NTFS or FAT32 or exFAT which is best? explained

When calculating, the file system determines how the data is stored and retrieved to disk. It can also be said that a file system is a method or data structure used by the operating system to manage the files on the hard disk. And without a file system, the information stored on the hard drive is not isolated into separate files, making it difficult to identify and retrieve data. Windows 10 supports three different file systems: NTFS, FAT32 and exFAT, where NTFS is the current file system.

When formatting a USB stick or SD card, don’t you know which FAT32, exFAT or NTFS file system to choose and what is best? Think of the difference between FAT32, exFAT or NTFS file systems.

What are file systems?

A file system is a method of organizing and retrieving files from a disk or hard drive. Computers use different types of file systems to store and organize data on media such as hard disks, SD cards, USB sticks, CDs and DVDs. Without the file system, all data would be disorganized and could not be found or retrieved by the users.

There are three file formats most commonly used by Windows: FAT32, exFAT and NTFS. They have their own way of organizing data, some are faster and offer better compatibility, others have a higher level of security.

The transition to these file systems was as follows:

  • 8-bit FAT (original 8-bit FAT)
  • FAT12 (8-bit file allocation table)
  • FAT16 (Initial 16-bit file allocation table (with 16-bit sector records))
  • FAT16B (Final Allocation Table for 16-bit files (with 32-bit sector sets))
  • FAT32 (File allocation table – 32)
  • exFAT (Extensible File Allocation Table)
  • NTFS (New Technology File System)

FAT32 and NTFS are the most common types of file systems used in the operating system. Here are some brief introductions to the different features of file systems.

NTFS (New Technology File System)

NTFS refers to the new technology file system first introduced in 1993 as part of Windows NT 3.1. It is the most secure and reliable file system used by the Windows operating system to efficiently store, organize and locate files on the hard drive. When Windows is installed, the hard disk of the system is formatted with the NTFS file system. NTFS has other advanced features, including support, file permissions for security (which can help you quickly fix errors in the event of a computer crash), backups, encryption, disk quota limits, and so on.

Professional advice:  NTFS offers cross-platform compatibility and greater efficiency than other file systems.

By default, Mac OS X can only read but not write NTFS drives. Some Linux distributions contain NTFS write support, but some are read-only.

The most widely used file system in Windows today is NTFS.

  • It is highly secure because it prevents unauthorized access to file content by implementing the Encrypted File System (EFS).
  • It is less sensitive to fragmentation and works well on partitions larger than 400 MB.
  • Supports file compression and compatibility with Windows NT/2K/XP/Vista/7/8/10, MacOS X, Linux.
  • The access speed is relatively higher than that of other file systems.
  • The maximum number of characters supported in a filename and the maximum file size is 16 TB.
  • Allows users to set disk quotas by limiting the amount of disk space used.

It does not apply to MS-DOS, Windows 95 and Windows 98 systems, and NTFS is slow on a small disk.


FAT32 stands for File Allocation Table, an updated version of FAT 16, designed to overcome the limitations of FAT16 (a maximum volume size of 2 GB is supported) and to support larger drives. This is the file system used in the old version of Windows 95 before Windows XP. However, the file size is limited to 4 GB, which can be a problem with the current Blu Ray rips and 4K video files. However, if you only want to share small files between computers, this system is very useful.

Professional advice : If the maximum file size is less than 4 GB, FAT32 is the best file system for your memory card.

  • Works with all versions of Windows, Mac, Linux, game consoles and almost anything with a USB port.
  • File compression is not enabled and supports older versions of Windows 95/98/2000/2003/XP
    Access speed is slower than NTFS.
  • This file system supports disks up to 2TB or up to 16TB with 64K clusters.
  • It is ideal for removable drives and offers maximum compatibility with a wide range of devices.

Modern versions of Windows can no longer be installed on FAT32, but must be installed on hard disks formatted with NTFS.

  • Not compatible with older hard disk management software, motherboards or BIOSes.
  • Does not provide file protection, compression, fault tolerance or disaster recovery functions such as NTFS.
  • You cannot create a FAT32 partition larger than 8 TB.
  • With the FAT32 file system, the latest versions of the file windows cannot be installed.


ExFAT (Extended File Allocation Table) was introduced in 2006, it is an updated file system created by Microsoft to replace FAT32. It is an intermediate step between FAT32 and the more modern and complex NTFS file system. If you are wondering if Windows 10 can read exFAT, the answer is yes: Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! In addition, hard disks formatted with exFAT are faster in writing and reading than hard disks formatted with FAT32.

Tip: exFAT is very efficient for copying large files compared to other file systems.

  •  ExFAT has very large file and partition size limits so that files well above the 4GB allowed by FAT32 can be stored.
  • It works with all versions of modern Windows and Mac OS X, but requires additional software for Linux. More devices support exFAT than NTFS.
  • There is no realistic limit to the size of files or partitions.
  • It is ideal for use when larger file sizes and higher partition size limits than those of FAT32 are required, and when greater compatibility is required than that of NTFS.

More devices support exFAT than NTFS, but some, especially older devices, may only support FAT32 (source: howtogeek).

It does not offer the logging functionality and other advanced features built into the NTFS file system and is not as compatible as FAT32.

Below is an overview of the main differences between FAT32, exFAT and the NTFS file system.

Here is a video tutorial that explains NTFS, FAT32, exFAT, what the differences are between file systems and what the file system actually does.

Also read :

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