The Difference between NTFS and FAT32 on Computer


Windows supported operating systems rely on one of two different file system types: File Allocation Table (FAT) and New Technology File System (NTFS). Although both file systems are created by Microsoft, each has distinct advantages and disadvantages regarding compatibility, security, and flexibility.

Difference from NTFS with FAT32

The following differences between NTFS and FAT32 on computers are reported from the techdifferences page:

What is FAT32?

FAT32 is the oldest file system developed in the 1970s available for the Windows operating system. It is designed for floppy drives that are less than 500 K in size.

There are three versions of FAT – FAT12, FAT16 and FAT32 and they differ in the size and structure of the files on the disk. The file system was first used in MS-DOS where the maximum hard drive size could be 32 MB consisting of 512K partition sectors.

The maximum file size on a FAT32 drive must not exceed 4 GB and partitions created on FAT32 must be smaller than 8 TB. The main disadvantage of using FAT32 does not provide any security. Previous FAT16 versions of the file system suffered from internal fragmentation and had no access protection for the file.

FAT32 disk space management

The FAT32 file system uses linked allocations which store control data separately from the file system. The file allocation table of a disk contains the elements for each disk block on a disk in an array.

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A disk block assigned to a file, the associated FAT component stores the address of the next disk block. Therefore, disk blocks and their FAT elements collaboratively form units that contain the same information as disk blocks in the form of associated allocations.

The file directory entry stores the address of the first disk block and the FAT element corresponding to this disk block contains the address of the second disk block and so on. Elements of the last disk block include a special code to mark the end of the file.

What is NTFS?

NTFS is the last version of the file system created in the late 1990s for windows system drives and removable drives. NTFS was created with the aim of removing fat file system limitations. It includes characteristics such as data recovery, multi-streaming, fault tolerance, security, extended file size and file system, UNICODE name.

NTFS keeps a journal that tracks operations performed on the drive and can quickly recover errors, shadow copies for backups, encryption, disk quota limits, and hard links.

NTFS supports larger file sizes and drive volumes compared to FAT32. It prevents unauthorized access to file contents by enforcing an encryption system called File System Encryption that uses public key security.

NTFS disk space management

The NTFS file system is independent of sector sizes on different disks. It uses the concept of cluster and cluster is a cluster of adjacent sectors for disk space allocation. A cluster can contain 2 n number of sectors. A logical partition on a disk is known as a volume and uses a bitmap file to mark allocated and empty clusters in the volume.

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There is also a file called bad cluster file for storing unusable cluster records. A set of volumes provides a way to exceed the partition capacity of up to 32 volumes.

The Ntfs volume consists of a master file table (MFT), the boot sector, and some user and system files. The master file table resembles the FAT table and includes all the details about the files and folders on the volume. The presence of a boot sector makes each volume bootable.

Differences between NTFS and FAT32

  1. FAT32 is simple while the structure of NTFS is quite complicated.
  2. NTFS can support larger file sizes and volumes along with large filenames relative to the FAT32 file system.
  3. FAT32 does not provide encryption and a lot of security while NTFS is enabled with security and encryption.
  4. It is very easy to change the FAT file system to another without losing data. On the other hand, NTFS conversion is difficult to achieve.
  5. NTFS performs comparatively better than FAT32 because it also provides fault tolerance.
  6. These files are accessed faster in the case of NTFS. On the other hand, FAT32 is slower than NTFS.
  7. NTFS provides features such as journaling and compression, which FAT32 does not provide.

Advantages of FAT32

  • Works efficiently under 200 MB partition.
  • Provides compatibility with different operating systems and is often used as the primary partition on multiboot systems.

NTFS Advantage

  • Very safe.
  • Performs well even on partitions over 400 MB.
  • File and directory structure improves performance.
  • Less prone to fragmentation.

FAT32 deficiency

  • Partitions larger than 200 MB may degrade performance.
  • It’s not safe.
  • Vulnerable to fragmentation.
  • The directory structure has no standard organization.
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NTFS deficiency

  • NTFS is not widely supported.
  • Performance drops below 400MB partition which means when a small volume contains small files, overhead can be generated.