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Deciding Which Windows XP File System Is Best for You

Which Windows XP file system is best for you? The file system you choose will greatly impact system performance and the overall capabilities of the disk drives on your system. Louis Columbus compares and contrasts the systems for you.
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Just as any given disk drive in your system can have multiple partitions, each representing a different operating system, a disk drive can also represent different file systems within the same operating system. That's increasingly how Windows 2000 and now Windows XP users are starting to work with the file systems included in these two operating systems. The strengths of NTFS in security make it a natural for systems that are beyond the firewall of a company, for example; whereas FAT16 and FAT32 tend to be more compatible with the majority of applications originally developed for Windows 95, 98, and ME.

The Win16 subsystem, so popular that a recent survey by a research company, e-Market Dynamics, showed that fully 95% of all vendors are actively supporting it or are planning to get their applications certified on Windows XP. Just another stat showing the market dominance of Microsoft, yet also an indicator that the level of functionality these applications is delivering needs to be increased to fully take advantage of the many new features of Windows XP. If there's one downside of having multiple file systems in a given operating system, there's the tendency of software developers, both inside and outside Microsoft, to go for the lowest common denominator of compatibility. What's the point of running XP with Office 97? You get the point. The selection of a file system has the potential to streamline your systems' performance while also making preventative maintenance more easily accomplished.

So What File System Am I Running?

Chances are, you didn't actually install the file system yourself; the system probably came from a manufacturer with the file system preselected. If you're in the majority, the file system was Win16, again to go for the lowest common denominator of compatibility across all applications. Yet this does Windows XP somewhat of a disservice because there's much more performance and security to take advantage of. Follow the series of steps here to see which file system is running on your Windows XP system:

  1. Open My Computer from the Start Menu. The My Computer window opens—listing each disk drive, devices with removable storage, and scanners and cameras.

  2. Right-click on any of the disks in the My Computer window.

  3. Select Properties from the abbreviated menu. Figure 1 shows the results of this sequence of steps for the C drive of a Windows XP system.

    Figure 1 Exploring the Properties dialog box for a specific disk drive.

  4. Notice that the file system listed is FAT (the File Allocation Table file system).

  5. Click OK to close the dialog box and see the My Computer Screen.

If you're like me, you want to get more details than Figure 1 provides, especially if you have multiple disk drives on the same system and also want to get all configurations on a single page. Windows XP's System Information found in the System Tools set of applications accessible from the Accessories menu provides more detailed data. Follow these series of steps to open the System Information window.

  1. Select All Applications and then Accessories.

  2. Select System Tools and then System Information.

  3. Using the left side of the window, navigate to the Disk Drives. Figure 2 shows the result.

    Figure 2 Using the System Information Utility to get more detailed data on which file system is installed by disk drive.

  4. The menus across the top of the top of the window include commands for printing, saving, and exporting the specifics of the file systems being used on your system.

  5. When finished, click on the upper-left corner to close the dialog box.

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