NTFS vs exFAT Full Comparison

NTFS vs exFAT: The Key Differences Explained

For a hard drive to be usable by a computer or electronic device, it has to have a system to organize the files stored on it. Without organization, there is no way to identify what a file is, where a file is, how big it is, or to quickly manipulate files like the cut, copy and paste operations. Microsoft devised file systems to handle the problem of organizing and manipulating data on a storage device. The most common systems they are responsible for are FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS.

FAT32 was the first widely used file system and is still considered to be the most compatible file system in existence. However, FAT32 has hardware limitations that keep it from being the most popular storage format. Mainly, it could only handle files up to 4 gigabytes in size. During the early era of computing, this was adequate. However, in the modern age of the Windows PC, Android smartphone, and Apple’s iPad, 4 gigabytes is now considered a smaller file.

Microsoft’s first solution to the limitations of FAT32 was the creation of the new technology file system or NTFS. NTFS packs feature that FAT32 was incapable of like journaling which helps to prevent storage corruption and file encryption which allowed for files to be encrypted with the click of a button rather than by a manual process.

NTFS is a fantastic file system format for internal drives. Unfortunately, it isn’t as compatible as FAT32 which meant it couldn’t be used for certain Linux devices, gaming consoles, or Android. Microsoft decided that they needed to create a system that contained better support for external hard drives and flash memory. Thus, the extended file allocation table (exFAT) was born.

exFAT was designed to be as similar to FAT32 as possible with the exception of being able to handle file sizes vastly larger than the 4-gigabyte limitation of FAT32. exFAT was so successful that it is now the standard format for flash memory, SD cards, and external hard drives. While NTFS remains the standard for internal hard drives used on either a Windows PC or a Mac.

exFAT vs NTFS
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.

NTFS vs exFAT Side by Side Comparison

NTFS exFAT
What It iscomputer filing systemcomputer filing system
Primary Usestandards for organizing data on storagestandards for organizing data on storage
NameNew Technology Filing Systemextended file allocation table
Conceived19932006
Initial Release19932006
Influential DevelopersMicrosoftMicrosoft
Technical CommitteeMicrosoftMicrosoft
Technology InfluencedexFAT, SSD, HDDSDXC, flash memory

What is exFAT?

exFAT is short for an extended file allocation table. It is a file system format that defines how files are organized and manipulated on a storage device. exFAT is more popularly used for external hard drives, USB flash memory, or drives that need to be connected to multiple devices with different operating systems such as transfers between Mac and Windows.

Compared to NTFS, exFAT shows better performance when transferring files at 4 gigabytes or larger. The read and write speeds for small files on the other hand are slower than what NTFS can handle.

exFAT Pros:

  • Wide compatibility with different operating systems and hardware
  • No realistic file or partition size limits
  • Allows for files larger than 4 GB, the limit of FAT32, to be stored and manipulated

exFAT Cons:

  • Less compatibility than FAT32, specifically with older legacy hardware
  • No Journaling function, or corruption protection
  • Lacks consistency checks and advanced features offered by NTFS

What is NTFS?

NTFS was created by Microsoft in 1993. They released it with Windows 2000 and Windows NT as a way to showcase the advancements of new technology. NTFS is a short new technology files system. This system was created to better manage the internal drives used to run computer operating systems. It divides the storage drive into smaller clusters which allow for multiple small files to be handled quickly and simultaneously. NTFS also contains advanced security features like Journaling and built-in encryption methods.

Since its release with Windows 2000 and Windows NT, NTFS has remained the primary format used by internal hard drives on PCs and Mac computers alike.

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 legacy systems which becomes less relevant by the day.

Technical Specifications:

NTFS exFAT
Compatibility Works with all versions of Windows. Read-only on Mac OS X by default. Read-only by default on some Linux distributions. Works with all versions of Windows and modern versions of Mac OS X as well as Linux and Android
Limits No realistic size limitations No realistic size limitations
Ideal Use Great for internal drives on Windows systems Perfect for external drives meant for use between multiple operating systems where FAT32 isn’t enough.
File Size Limit up to 256 terabytes up to 16 exbibytes theoretically, limited by partition size
Partition Size Limit up to 8 petabytes up to 128 pebibytes, or 144,115 terabytes
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.

NTFS vs exFAT: Ten
Must Know Facts

  • NTFS is the standard format for internal hard drives installed on a Windows PC system.
  • exFAT is a more capable version of FAT32 but has less compatible with legacy hardware.
  • exFAT is the standard format chosen for external drives or USB storage devices used between multiple operating systems.
  • NTFS allows for file compression and folder compression to save on storage space.
  • exFAT can support partitions up to 128 pebibytes.
  • exFAT has no security features such as Journaling, file encryption, or user permissions.
  • File encryption is possible on exFAT formatted drives, but it must be achieved manually.
  • NTFS supports extended-length paths with up to 32,767 characters which are well beyond the software limit of the MAX_PATH setting which is 260.
  • SD cards and USB memory sticks typically come pre-formatted to exFAT.
  • Newly purchased drives must be formatted before they can be installed as internal drives. Some hard drive manufacturers ensure the drives are pre-formatted.

NTFS vs exFAT Full Comparison FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is NTFS?

New Technology File System, or NTFS, is the storage format file system that was released by Microsoft with Windows 2000 and Windows NT. It acts as the main organization standard for internal hard drives on a Windows PC system regardless of whether the storage drive is a hard drive or SSD. It was designed to include data corruption security features as well as user permissions and file encryption.

What is exFAT?

exFAT is short for an extended file allocation table. It is an open lightweight file system that is compatible with nearly every operating system and PC excluding legacy hardware. It coexists with FAT32 as the alternate option for when a storage device needs to handle files larger than 4 GB.

Is exFAT slower than NTFS?

exFAT has slower read and write speeds when handling smaller files. However, exFAT has a faster performance than NTFS when handling large files of 4 gigabytes or higher. exFAT also handles USB connections with a better speed than NTFS. It is recommended that hard drives, SSD, or USB flash drives meant to be used with a USB connection are formatted to exFAT.

Why Is NTFS faster than exFAT?

NTFS is faster at handling smaller files. This is because NTFS breaks down the storage into smaller clusters. Since the information is parsed into smaller sections, the speed at which small files are manipulated or created is faster. However, NTFS begins to lose its speed performance with larger files.

What are the disadvantages of exFAT?

exFAT has no system in place to prevent file or storage corruption. This means that any malicious software or corrupted file can cause serious problems for exFAT formatted drives. It’s hard to foresee or prevent corruption. It may be best practice to duplicate any exFAT drives for increased data security.

Should I change exFAT to NTFS?

NTFS is used primarily for internal drives. If the drive you are attempting to reformat is not meant to be used as an internal drive, it is recommended to format to exFAT. However, if you are more security-minded about your data, NTFS is the safer option. Keep in mind that when formatting to NTFS, some operating systems will not be able to interact with the hard drive. If you work only with Windows, formatting to NTFS will not cause any foreseeable issues.

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