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📄 Contents

  1. So What File System Am I Running?
  2. Which is Better, NTFS or FAT? Comparing File Systems
  3. Converting a File System to NTFS
  4. Summary
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Which is Better, NTFS or FAT? Comparing File Systems

Although the FAT file system has compatibility going for it, it is getting older by the day due to its legacy being from the days of DOS. This means the FAT file system relies on the old 8.3 file conventions, which means that the file name is limited to eight characters, and the file extension is limited to three characters. Back in the olden days of computing, that file convention created some very interesting (and often illegible) truncations of file names. FAT32 was the next file system, and the name size was increased to 256 characters, which made file names more readable and understandable.

Given the strong focus in Windows NT, 2000, and now XP in the corporate environment, security and networking became critical. Table 1 compares each of the file systems available in Windows XP Professional:

Table 1 Comparing FAT16, FAT32, and NTFS File Systems on Selected Characteristics

Characteristic

FAT16

FAT32

NTFS

Active Directory

No

No

Yes

Disk Quotas

No

No

Yes

Drive Compression

No

No

Yes

Encryption

No

No

Yes

Indexing Service

No

No

Yes

Maximum File Size

4GB

4GB

Max. file size equal to the size of the volume

Maximum Volume Size

4GB

32GB

4TB

Mounted Drives

No

No

Yes

NT Domains

No

No

Yes


Keep in mind that many operating systems cannot actually "see" or recognize another file system. For example, Windows ME cannot see an NTFS partition. However, many versions of Linux can recognize file systems other than their own, including NTFS. This and other aspects of Linux' capability to handle multiple file systems such as Windows NT/2000/XP is making Microsoft nervous about the threat it is facing on the server side of its business. Clearly Linux, due in part to its capability to handle multiple file systems, including recognizing NTFS on systems where it has already been installed, is a competitive threat to Microsoft in the server arena.

Microsoft's reliance on the FAT file system can be seen from Table 2, which shows file system support by Microsoft operating systems.

Table 2 Comparing File Systems by Microsoft Operating System

Characteristic

FAT

FAT32

NTFS

Windows XP

X

X

X

Windows 2000

X

X

X

Windows NT 4.0

X

X

X

Windows NT

 

 

X

Windows 98

X

X

 

Windows 95 (OSR2)

X

X

 

OS/2

X

 

 

MS-DOS

X

 

 


You can see that NTFS is better suited for more enterprise-level computing needs by far, and also is a relative newcomer to the Microsoft operating system family. It's a file system that excels at handling larger files and handling encryption for greater security. Partitions that are being used for storing confidential data should be considered candidates for the higher-level security features that the NTFS file system provides. You'll also find that the more demanding applications are typically created for use with the NTFS file system, making it a great candidate file system for technical professionals.

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