FAT v. NTFS in Win XP

  Keith 20:59 16 Oct 2003

When I upgraded to Win XP about 6 months ago, I assume the installation must have defaulted to FAT32 file system (I had formatted the HDD and started afresh and don't remember being prompted to choose between FAT and NTFS. But I have a poor memory ... ).

Since then I have seen numerous references to NTFS being 'far superior' which leads me to wonder why I am using FAT32 ...

... anyway, I think I can guess the answer to this, but is it possible to change file systems without a complete wipe and re-install? And is NTFS so much better to warrant such effort? And why? Cheers, Keith

  Mike 21:06 16 Oct 2003

You can choose between three file systems for disk partitions on a computer running Windows XP: NTFS, FAT, and FAT32. Use the information below to compare the file systems.

NTFS is the recommended file system for the following reasons:

NTFS is more powerful than FAT or FAT32, and includes features required for hosting Active Directory as well as other important security features. You can use features such as Active Directory and domain-based security only by choosing NTFS as your file system.
It is easy to convert partitions to NTFS. The Setup program makes conversion easy, whether your partitions used FAT, FAT32, or the older version of NTFS. This kind of conversion keeps your files intact (unlike formatting a partition). If you do not need to keep your files intact and you have a FAT or FAT32 partition, it is recommended that you format the partition with NTFS rather than convert from FAT or FAT32. Formatting a partition erases all data on the partition and allows you to start with a clean drive.
Whether a partition is formatted with NTFS or converted using the convert command, NTFS is the better choice of file system. For more information about Convert.exe, after completing Setup, click Start, click Run, type cmd, and then press ENTER. In the command window, type help convert and then press ENTER.

In order to maintain access control on files and folders and support limited accounts, you must use NTFS. If you use FAT32, all users will have access to all files on your hard drive, regardless of their account type (administrator, limited, or standard.)
NTFS is the file system that works best with large disks. (The next best file system for large disks is FAT32.)
There is one situation in which you might want to choose FAT or FAT32 as your file system. If it is necessary to have a computer that will sometimes run an earlier version of Windows and other times run Windows XP, you will need to have a FAT or FAT32 partition as the primary (or startup) partition on the hard disk. Most earlier versions of Windows cannot access a partition if it uses the latest version of NTFS. The two exceptions are Windows 2000 and Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 4 or later. Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 4 or later has access to partitions with the latest version of NTFS, but with some limitations: It cannot access files that have been stored using NTFS features that did not exist when Windows NT 4.0 was released.

For anything other than a situation with multiple operating systems, however, the recommended file system is NTFS.


Once you convert a drive or partition to NTFS, you cannot simply convert it back to FAT or FAT32. You will need to reformat the drive or partition which will erase all data including programs and personal files on the partition.
The following table describes the compatibility of each file system with various operating systems.

A computer running Windows XP or Windows 2000 can access files on an NTFS partition. A computer running Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 4 or later might be able to access some files. Other operating systems allow no access. Access is available through MS-DOS, all versions of Windows, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, and OS/2. Access is available only through Windows 95 OSR2, Windows 98, Windows Millennium Edition, Windows 2000, and Windows XP.

The following table compares disk and file sizes possible with each file system.

Recommended minimum volume size is approximately 10 megabytes (MB).
Volumes much larger than 2 terabytes (TB) are possible.

Cannot be used on floppy disks.
Volumes from floppy disk size up to 4 gigabytes (GB).
Does not support domains.
Volumes from 512 MB to 2 TB.
In Windows XP, you can format a FAT32 volume up to 32 GB only.

Does not support domains.

File size limited only by size of volume. Maximum file size is 2 GB. Maximum file size is 4 GB.


Some older programs may not run on an NTFS volume, so you should research the current requirements for your software before converting.

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