exFAT vs FAT32 Full Comparison

exFAT vs FAT32: The Key Differences Explained

File systems are an integral component of the software of an operating system. Without them, there is no way to organize, transfer, or create files. File allocation tables, or FAT, have long been a primary method of file systems for computers and electronics.

FAT32 and exFAT are versions of the file allocation table file system. FAT32 was released in 1998 and may now be considered a legacy file system. It also happens to be the most compatible file system in existence as well as the most lightweight file system. The only deep drawback to using FAT32 is the file size limitation. FAT32 formatted storage can only transfer and store files smaller than 4 GB. This works excellent for documents, photos, and music, but the heavier applications and games used on desktops are usually much larger than just 4 GB. Some games such as Call of Duty are over 100 GBs on their own.

Microsoft set to work to create a FAT system with as much compatibility as they could make that was not limited by file size. The result was an extended file allocation table (exFAT). It is just a lightweight file system just as FAT32 before it, but can theoretically handle file sizes so large that they can not be realistically achieved. exFAT has since been adopted for use by popular modern technology like the PS5, Xbox One, and external drives.

exFAT vs FAT32
An illustration of the new mac OS. The exFAT system is compatible with many devices like Windows, PS5, and Mac OS.

exFAT vs FAT32 Side by Side Comparison

exFAT FAT32
What It isfile systemfile system
Primary Useorganize, archive, and manage filesorganize, archive, and manage files
Nameextended file allocation tablefile allocation table
Conceived20061990
Initial Release20061998
Influential DevelopersMicrosoftMicrosoft
Open FormatLicensed, soon to be openYes
Technologies InfluencedHDD, SSD, PS5, Xbox OneFlash drives, exFAT, NTFS

What is FAT32?

File allocation table (FAT) 32 is the file system that was introduced with Windows 95 OSR2. It allows the default cluster size of 4kb and supports hard drive sizes up to 2 TB. FAT32 is considered to be the most compatible file system type in existence. This file system has been used for Windows, Mac, Linux, PS4, GameCube, and Xbox 360. It has also been used for smaller format USB flash drives.

FAT32 Pros:

  • Compatible with almost everything
  • Incredibly common
  • Efficient use of space

FAT32 Cons:

  • Limited to file sizes smaller than 4 GB
  • Slower transfer speed than NTFS when transferring small files that FAT32 is limited to.
  • Limited to 16 TB storage size.

What is exFAT?

An extended file allocation table (exFAT) was released by Microsoft in 2006. Microsoft had already released NTFS in an attempt to take advantage of new technology with a smarter file system. However, there were many purposes that were better suited to FAT32, especially portable storage drives and task-specific hardware like video game consoles. Unfortunately, FAT32’s file size limits were being outpaced by the file size of new games, movies, and programs. This called for an improved version that could operate as efficiently as FAT32 with no file size limitations. Thus, exFAT was born. exFAT’s file and partition size limits are so vast that they are considered realistically unlimited.

At first, exFAT was allowing for up to 16 GB files on an exFAT file system. Now, exFAT supports 16 exbibyte file size with a maximum volume size of 128 pebibytes. The limit is so high that with today’s technology, it is unreachable.

exFAT Pros:

  • Lightweight file system
  • Compatible with many devices like Windows, PS5, Xbox One, Linux, Mac OS, and Android.
  • Unlimited file and partition limit

exFAT Cons:

  • No journaling or consistency quality checks

Technical Specifications

exFAT FAT32
CompatibilityWorks with all versions of Windows and Modern versions of Mac OS X and Linux.The most compatible file system in existence
LimitsNo realistic file or partition size limitsLimited to 4 GB files and smaller, up to 16 TB partitions
Ideal UsePerfect for external drives meant to use on multiple operating systems and offers larger file size and partition limits than FAT32.Removable storage devices
File Size Limitup to 16 exbibytes theoretically, limited by partition4 GB
Partition Limitup to 128 pebibytes, or 144,115 terabytes16 TB
exFAT vs FAT32
Xbox 360 video gaming console with a controller on a table. The Xbox 360 is a home video game console developed by Microsoft. exFAT and FAT32 are the standards for storage in the Xbox.

Both exFAT and FAT32 are very commonly used. The lightweight design of these file systems lends them to portable storage and small task-specific devices like smartwatches and DVRs. Both systems have been the standard for storage in use with popular entertainment electronics like the PS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox One X, Nintendo Switch, Android, and others. The difference in use comes down to the size of files that need to be transferred.

When devices only need smaller files, FAT32 is the most efficient option to handle the job. However, gaming consoles like to push the limits. Some games are reaching near 200 GBs with downloadable content and Sims-players have long used more for mods and additions to their games. The 4 GB file size limit of FAT32 isn’t enough. Even digital cameras have full-size sensors that take raw images that can exceed the FAT32 limit.

When faced with the decision of choosing between FAT32 and exFAT, try to keep to these simple rules:

• FAT32 is for transferring smaller files from device to device.
• exFAT is for storing large files on external drives and flash storage devices.

Their use isn’t limited, but you may find your experience with formatting easier with these two rules. Luckily, most storage devices come pre-formatted out of the box and label compatibility plainly. You may never need to format a storage device unless you are attempting to recover a corrupted drive.

exFAT vs FAT32: Ten Must Know Facts

  • FAT32 is the most compatible file system in existence.
  • exFAT has a nearly infinite file size and partition size limitations.
  • Both FAT32 and exFAT read/write speeds are nearly identical.
  • exFAT is the preferred format for storage devices used with Linux, max OS, PS5, Xbox One, and Android.
  • exFAT is faster at transferring larger files than NTFS.
  • exFAT was meant to bridge the gap between FAT32 and NTFS by combining the lightweight sile system design of FAT32 with the infinite size limitations of NTFS.
  • FAT32 was the standard for storage devices during the Era of the Xbox 360 and PS3.
  • exFAT is the standard format for SDXC and large micro-SD used in Android devices.
  • Certain Linux distributions require installing specific software to use exFAT.
  • Storage devices can be formatted by connecting the device to either a Windows, Mac, or Android system. Select the device options. Select format. It will present the formatting options. Choose either exFAT or FAT32 depending on your use case.

exFAT vs FAT32 Full Comparison FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Can I format exFAT to FAT32?

You can format a drive from exFAT to FAT32 or from FAT32 to exFAT, but the formatted storage device will now be constrained by the limitations of which format is chosen. FAT32 formatted storage can only handle files up to 4 GBs which makes it a bad choice for storing programs, video games, large projects, or any file that is over 4 GBs.

What are the disadvantages of exFAT?

exFAT has no built-in corruption protection. It keeps no record of changes to files in the system and performs no file integrity checks. It also transfers files smaller than 4 GB slower than other file systems like NTFS.

Should I use exFAT for USB?

Absolutely, exFAT is the best formatting option for portable storage devices. It is compatible with more systems than NTFS and supports larger storage sizes and file sizes than FAT32 which makes it perform external hard drives and flash drives. With exFAT, you can plug your USB storage device into nearly any computer with the confidence that it will read it.

If you are using your USB storage device only on Windows and you typically only transfer smaller files up to one gigabyte, it is suggested that you use NTFS for faster transfer speed. Keep in mind that this may cause issues when trying to read the USB storage device on Mac OS, Linux, or a gaming console like the PS5.

What is the difference between exFAT and FAT32?

exFAT is an improved version of FAT32. It has an unrealistically large file size and partition size limit. However, FAT32 is compatible with nearly every device. exFAT is widely compatible, but still not good for older devices and some task-specific devices. Modern devices will get more use out of exFAT formats as they support files larger than 4 GB. This is becoming even more true as file sizes continue to be frequently larger than 4 GB.

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