A+ Certification / Beginners

Choosing your file systems

Just like many companies have different systems that for filing data, with Windows, you have several options when choosing a file system. MS-DOS gave us the File Allocation Table (FAT), which started out as FAT12 and then became FAT16 in later version of MS-DOS. Windows 95 then added to that base file system and gave us FAT32. In between this time, the different architecture of Windows NT gave us the New Technology File System (NTFS). The latest versions of Windows, like Windows 2000 and Windows XP, support all three file systems, and you get some control over how to use them.

When using Windows XP, your choices include FAT, FAT32, and NTFS. Table below summarizes some of the differences between the file systems.

Differences between the Major Windows File Systems
File SystemOS SupportPartition SizeMax. File Size
NTFSAll versions of Windows NT (including Windows 2000 and Windows XP) support NTFS, but there were major changes to the file system with the release of Windows 2000. Computers running older versions of Windows NT may not be able to access the files.10MB up to a theoretical limit of 16EB.*Limited only by the size of the volume.
FAT32FAT32 was released with Windows 95 OSR2, and all version of Windows 9x after that support FAT32. Windows 2000 was the first OS in the Windows NT family to support FAT32.Up to 2TB,* usually used for FAT volumes larger than 512MB. Windows 2000 and XP will not format partitions larger than 32GB with FAT32.4 GB
FATAccessible by all Microsoft operating systems since MS-DOS, including Windows, Windows 9x, and Windows NT-based operating systems. It is also widely supported by other operating systems.Up to 4GB. MS-DOS and Windows 9x allow you to create FAT partitions only up to 2GB, while Windows NT-based systems can create partitions up to 4GB. 2 GB

* One terabyte (TB) equals approximately 1,000 gigabytes. One exabyte (EB) equals approximately 1 billion gigabytes, or 1 million terabytes. That's a lot of memory!

In most cases, you want to use NTFS because:

  • NTFS supports for security on folders and files.
  • NTFS is a journaling file system, so it offers better recovery in case of power interruptions.
  • NTFS offers a more stable platform for data storage.

Although some older applications may have compatibility issues with NTFS, these issues are rare.

NTFS should always be chosen as the file system due to stability and security. You will only choose FAT or FAT32 if you need to dual boot a computer with another operating system, such as Windows 9x or Linux.

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