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FAT32 vs. exFAT vs. NTFS: What’s the Difference?

fat32 vs exfat vs ntfs

You have probably encountered exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system options and wondered which file system should you choose when trying to format your USB drive or any other storage device.

They are all distinct kinds of file systems with various purposes. This article compares the three, examining their advantages and risks, compatibility, and application in depth.

So, what is the real difference between FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS? Let’s have a look!

What is a File System?

A file system is a collection of data structures and algorithms that translate logical file operations into actual physical storage of data. Thus, a file system determines how data is saved and accessed in computing.

Data stored in a storage device without a file system would be one massive body of information with no way of knowing where one piece of data ends, and the next begins.

format partition fat32

A file system employs a set of rules to manage how data is stored and retrieved on a storage device. For example, FAT32, NTFS, and exFAT are three file systems that are extensively used in Windows and other operating systems.

Each file system has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. You can select the appropriate file systems for various needs if you are familiar with them.

There is no need to be stressed if you do not understand the difference between NTFS, FAT32, and exFAT file systems; this article will explain what you need to know about each and provide a brief comparison.

What is FAT32?

The File Allocation Table, better known as the FAT32 file system, is the oldest of the three file systems. It came into the picture with Windows 95.

FAT32 is the most compatible file system in terms of portability, and this is due to the fact that it has been around for so long. In addition, there are multiple ways to format FAT32.

One of the most significant benefits of FAT32 is that it is compatible with anything that has a USB connector, such as Mac, Windows, Linux, game consoles, and so on.

However, it has some drawbacks, the most significant of which is that you can only keep files under 4GB on a FAT32 system. In addition, the partition size should be smaller than 8TB.

It’s old and not well suited to internal drives. A FAT32 drive cannot be used to run the most recent versions of Windows. Instead, they require NTFS-formatted storage since it provides higher security and permissions.

What is exFAT?

In 2006, the exFAT file system was introduced. Extended File Allocation Table is the abbreviation for exFAT, and it is the modern version of FAT32. The primary goal of this file system is to provide a lightweight file system similar to FAT32 while avoiding the extra features of NTFS.

It is ideal for use with USB flash drives. While there is no comparison between exFAT and FAT32 in terms of compatibility, exFAT still has a significant compatibility advantage over NTFS.

On Mac OS X, the NTFS file system is read-only, whereas exFAT provides full read-write support, and Linux with the right software may access exFAT volumes. You can format a drive in exFAT, so it works on both Mac and Windows.

When opposed to FAT32, the advantage of exFAT is that it may be utilized to hold larger files, extending the 4GB capacity limit. It also has no restrictions on partition sizes.

As a result, you can store files more significant than 4GB, which FAT32 does not allow.

What is NTFS?

The default file system for everything in Windows is the New Technology File System termed NTFS. When you install Windows 10, it formats your hard drive with the NTFS file system by default. Remember that it is essential to know when and how to partition your hard drive.

NTFS has a lot of advantages over FAT32 and exFAT.

For security, NTFS includes file permissions. It also features a changelog, which is extremely useful for retrieving errors if your machine fails.

Other features include backup shadow copies, encryption, disc capacity limits, hard links, and more. For system discs, file permissions are crucial. As a result, the system drive (on Windows) should usually be formatted in NTFS.

Its sole drawback is that it is less compatible than other file systems. However, it is compatible with all versions of Windows, although it is read-only by default on Mac OS X.

Although specific Linux versions allow you to write to NTFS devices, the majority of them are read-only. NTFS isn’t supported by Sony PlayStations, and Xbox 360 consoles can’t read NTFS drives. The Xbox One is known to read NTFS drives, however.

NTFS vs. FAT32

FAT32 is more compatible with older operating systems and all types of external storage media than the NTFS file system. However, it has file and partition size limitations, which can be inconvenient if you need to store enormous data.

In terms of security, partition size, and file permissions, NTFS outperforms FAT32. Internal hard drives should be formatted to NTFS if you are using a modern Windows operating system. Aside from current Windows system partitions, the NTFS file system must be formatted.

exFAT vs. NTFS

Internal drives benefit from NTFS, while flash drives benefit from exFAT. There are no realistic file or partition size limits in either of them.

If your storage devices aren’t NTFS compatible and you don’t want to be confined by FAT32, you can use the exFAT file system.

FAT32 vs. exFAT

Because of their compatibility, both of them are excellent for detachable devices. In addition, FAT32 is compatible with older operating systems. FAT32, on the other hand, has file and partition size constraints, but exFAT does not.

ExFAT is an optimized FAT32 file system that can be commonly utilized for portable devices with enormous capacities as compared to FAT32.


The current file system used by Windows as the default file system is NTFS, whereas exFAT is the new updated file system for FAT32.

The NTFS file system is the best for internal drives because it offers many security features. ExFAT, on the other hand, is ideal for flash drives because it is incredibly light.

If the device you plan to use it with doesn’t support exFAT, you might need to format an external drive with the FAT32 file system.

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