exFAT vs NTFS Full Comparison

exFAT vs NTFS: The Key Differences Explained

For computers to be useful, the data stored on them has to be organized and accessible. File systems are the software solution to this. There are quite a few different file systems in the modern; exFAT, FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, EXT2, EXT4, NTFS, and others. This page will be focused on just exFAT vs NTFS.

You may first notice one of these acronyms when installing a new hard drive. Your computer will ask how you want to format the drive. This usually results in choosing between a new technology filing system (NTFS) and an extended file allocation table (exFAT). These two filing systems are the most commonly used in computing for their wide compatibility and large file size and partition size limits.

exFAT is typically chosen as the format for external hard drives as it can be recognized across multiple operating systems without issue. NTFS is often chosen when installing a new internal hard drive, especially on a Windows system. Despite both being Microsoft-created file systems, they were aimed at separate purposes. NTFS was meant to make use of new technology to create features that allowed for more intuitive file system management and security. However, the need for lighter file system management provided by FAT32 still existed. exFAT was designed to be a lightweight file system with support for a much larger file and partition size than FAT32.

Since the creation of exFAT, it has not grown to replace NTFS. Rather, it became a complimentary file system that allows for better communication between operating systems. This is useful for dual-boot machines as well as hard drives or storage used across multiple machines with different operating systems.

exFAT vs NTFS Side by Side Comparison

exFAT NTFS
What is itFiling SystemFiling System
Primary UseStandards for organizing data on hard drive storageStandards for organizing data on hard drive storage
Nameextended file allocation tablenew technology file system
Conceived20061993
Initial Release20061993
Technical CommitteeMicrosoftMicrosoft
Influential DevelopersMicrosoftMicrosoft
Open FormatYesYes/No (format is open but not widely compatible)
Technologies InfluencedSDXCexFAT
Flash memory drive plugged into a laptop port. The best file system to use for flash drives, is exFAT, storage used across multiple machines with different operating systems.

What is NTFS?

NTFS is an acronym for New Technology File System. It was created by Microsoft and released in 1993 for Windows 2000 and Windows NT. NTFS was made to take advantage of new technology used in computer systems that allowed for features like journaling and built-in encryption methods. It has since become a standard file system choice for internal drives installed in a Windows system.

NTFS Pros:

  • Supports massive files
  • Has no realistic partition size limit
  • Allows users to set file permissions and encryption
  • Allows disk space management per user
  • Automatically restores file consistency
  • Allows for file and folder compression

NTFS Cons:

  • Incompatible with older operating systems, as time goes on this becomes less relevant.

What is exFAT?

Extended File Allocation Table, or exFAT, was also introduced by Microsoft. It was released in 2006 as a replacement for FAT32. It is compatible with older versions of Windows. exFAT is optimized for flash memory as well. This feature was intended to improve the performance of flash memory SD cards and USB drives. The SD Association adopted it as the default file system for SDXC cards bigger than 32 GB. exFAT is cross-compatible with other operating systems like Mac OS X and Linux as well. Today, exFAT is the primary choice for external hard drive formats like external SSDs to achieve the fastest read/write possible.

exFAT Pros:

  • Wide compatibility with operating systems.
  • No realistic file or partition size limits
  • Enables users to store files larger than 4 GB, the limit of FAT32

exFAT Cons:

  • Less compatible than FAT32
  • No Journaling functionality
  • Lacks consistency checks and advanced features of NTFS

Technical Specifications

exFAT NTFS
CompatibilityWorks with all versions of Windows and Modern versions of Mac OS X and Linux.Works with all versions of Windows, read-only on Mac OS X by default. Read-only by default on some Linux distributions.
LimitsNo realistic file or partition size limitsNo realistic file or partition size limits
Ideal UsePerfect for external drives meant to use on multiple operating systems and offers larger file size and partition limits than FAT32.Great for an internal drive on Windows systems.
File Size LimitUp to 16 exbibytes theoretically, limited by partitionUp to 256 terabytes
Partition LimitUp to 128 pebibytes, or 144,115 terabytesUp to 8 petabytes

Even with all this information, you still may be confused about which format is best for which option. Here are some recommendations on which formats to choose for a few specific purposes:

  • For internal Windows drives, choose NTFS.
  • For flash drives, choose exFAT.
  • For SSD on either Windows or Mac as an external drive, choose exFAT.
  • For internal drives, typically choose NTFS.
  • For large file transfers or gaming, choose exFAT.
exFAT vs NTFS
A doctor using a laptop to do online consultations. NTFS is the standard format for use in internal drives like those used in laptops.

exFAT VS NTFS: Eleven Must Know Facts

  • NTFS is the standard format for use in internal hard drives on a Windows PC system.
  • exFAT is an advanced version of FAT32, but it is less compatible with older systems and hardware.
  • exFAT is the go-to format for external hard drives. It provides read and writes across multiple operating systems at a fast rate.
  • NTFS provides security features that do not exist in exFAT like file encryption and permissions.
  • NTFS allows users to compress files or folders in order to save space.
  • exFAT can support partitions up to 128 pebibytes, which is why the limits are considered unrealistic.
  • exFAT has no support for journaling, a feature that allows the file system to keep records of changes made. NTFS does. This is useful for protection against data corruption.
  • exFAT is most often used for USB memory sticks and SD cards as well as external hard drives.
  • Despite exFAT being a newer file system, it was created to bridge the gap between FAT32 and NTFS.
  • NTFS supports extended-length paths of up to approximately 32,767 characters, well beyond the MAX_PATH setting of 260.
  • File encryption is possible on exFAT formatted drives, but it must be performed manually.

exFAT vs NTFS Full Comparison FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is exFAT slower than NTFS?

NTFS has been consistently proven as more efficient and uses fewer system resources compared to exFAT. This, in turn, means that file management like the copy, paste, new, and move operations are completed at a faster speed and more resources are left for other operating system or software tasks. For external drives accessed by USB, exFAT may outperform the read/write speeds of NTFS. For this reason, it is often recommended that external drives are formatted to exFAT, especially for gaming.

Which one is faster, NTFS or exFAT?

Faster is relative. NTFS is faster as an internal drive file system. It consistently outperforms exFAT efficiency and uses fewer system resources. However, exFAT acts faster when used as the file system for external drives as the read/write speeds are handled differently over USB connections and between operating systems. Gaming with games installed on an external hard drive requires exFAT to reach the read speed needed for decent gaming. In actual performance, NTFS handles smaller files faster than both exFAT and FAT32. However, once the files reach medium size NTFS and exFAT are near the same speed. exFAT shines when reading/writing large files to USB disks which is optimal for things like games and movies.

What are the disadvantages of exFAT?

exFAT is missing security features from NTFS like file encryption and user permissions. It also lacks a journaling function. It is not compatible with specific older hardware. As time goes on, the disadvantages of compatibility with legacy hardware become insignificant. The true difference comes down to file security.

Should my hard drive be exFAT or NTFS?

The general rule of thumb is this:

• Internal hard drives should use NTFS.
• External hard drives should use exFAT.

This may not always be the case as some software requires external drives to be formatted in specific ways. However, users who require specific formats are usually aware of this before formatting a drive. If you are looking to get the best performance for file transfer, then you want to format the drive based on the most frequent size of files to be transferred. Large batches of small files will be handled better by NTFS, but large files are much better handled by exFAT.

Which format is best for external hard drives?

The portable of external hard drives often means that they will be used across multiple operating systems. As NTFS has less compatibility outside of Windows, exFAT is the safer option. exFAT outperforms NTFS when writing large and medium-size files to USB disks.

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