Hard drive format review: FAT, FAT32, and NTFS file systems
by Dr X Zhu on 25th March 2003 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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When a new hard drive was installed, the first thing need to be done is to create partitions ( called FDISK) and format the hard drive. Partitioning of the hard drive is always the same, but formatting it cause some confusion and problems. The common question is which file system format should I choose: FAT, FAT32, or NTFS?
FAT or FAT16 file system
FAT stands for "File Allocation Table", FAT and FAT16 are the same. This was widely used during the Under DOS and early versions of Windows 95 era when the hard drive capacity is generally small ( < 2 GB). Floppy drive is always formatted in this format.
The good thing with FAT is that the data stored under this format is universally readable by any Windows PC, no matter it is DOS, Windows 2000, or Windows XP.
FAT32 file system
As the hard drive capacity goes beyond 2 GB, FAT32 was introduced in rush to allow for larger partitions and less waste, however Microsoft did not have enough foresight for fast development of storage technology, the partition size is still limited to 32 GB.
FAT32 is mainly used in Windows 98 and Windows ME, but also supported by Windows 2000 and Windows XP.
NTFS (New Technology File System)
Finally Microsoft has moved a few steps head of storage industry. NTFS virtually removed limitation on the hard drive partition size, hence you use large hard drive (for example 250 GB) by just use one primary partition. This is quite important for pure data storage products such as external had drive and portable hard drive.
Windows NT can only be installed on a hard drive formatted in NTFS. Windows 2000 and Window XP support bother FAT32 and NTFS, you can choose to format the hard drive as NTFS or FAT32 before you install Windows OS.
Which file system format to use?
As mentioned, Windows 98 and Windows ME only support FAT32, so you have to create two or more partitions if your hard drive is more than 32 GB, and format all the partitions as FAT32.
Similarly if you are going to use Windows NT, you have to format the hard drive as NTFS as this is the only format it supports.
For Windows 2000 and XP user, it is a little bit complicated, you have to choose according to your situation:
3.1 If all your computers are in NTFS format, choose NTFS for your portable hard drive;
3.2 If your computer have both Window 98 and Windows XP, and the system hard drive ( where the Windows 98 and XP are installed) should be FAT32, and the portable hard drive should also be FAT32;
3.3 In situation of 3.2, if you are not going to use the portable hard drive under Windows 98, you may well choose NTFS, as this will allow you to use a 250GB hard drive under one drive letter (such as F:)
Further information links:
Allcam Mobile Products Limited for donating a 40 GB USB2.0 / Firewire combo portable hard drive