- 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.
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
|What is it||Filing System||Filing System|
|Primary Use||Standards for organizing data on hard drive storage||Standards for organizing data on hard drive storage|
|Name||extended file allocation table||new technology file system|
|Open Format||Yes||Yes/No (format is open but not widely compatible)|
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- Less compatible than FAT32
- No Journaling functionality
- Lacks consistency checks and advanced features of NTFS
|Compatibility||Works 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.|
|Limits||No realistic file or partition size limits||No realistic file or partition size limits|
|Ideal Use||Perfect 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 Limit||Up to 16 exbibytes theoretically, limited by partition||Up to 256 terabytes|
|Partition Limit||Up to 128 pebibytes, or 144,115 terabytes||Up 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: 8 Must Know Facts
- 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.
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