Generate summary with AI

NTFS and FAT are file systems created by Windows that are used in the organization, compression, storage of files within a hard drive. While the two share similarities, they also differ a lot from each other.

Knowing the differences between the two as well as where their strengths lie can help in determining which file system is best for you and your organization.

What is NTFS

NTFS stands for New Technology File System and NT file system, and it uses the Windows NT operating system to store and retrieve files onlook and hard drives. It was first introduced in 1993 in newer versions of Windows OS.

NTFS is a strong, high-performance logging file system with ACLs, multi-user access control, and compatibility with different OS. It offers various features like multi-streaming, data recovery, fault tolerance, security, file systems, and UNICODE names. Want to know more about NTFS? Keep reading!

Where else is NTFS used?

The Windows Server line of the operating system mainly uses NTFS. It is used in Microsoft’s Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 10, Windows NT, and Windows 2000 operating systems. It’s also supported in other OS like BSD and Linus. Mac OS only offers read-only support for NTFS.

Generally, a computer OS creates and maintains the file system on a device or storage drive. The file system organizes the data into files. It decides how data files are stored, named, updated, and retrieved. The OS differentiates between the file system and the type of drive they are used with. There’s also a distributed file system (DFS) where files are stored across multiple servers and are handled and accessed, stored locally. DFS allows different users to share files and data on a network and provides essential redundancy.

How does NTFS work?

The main purpose of NTFS is naming, organizing, and storing files in both a Windows 10 file system and in removable storage devices. NT file systems have the ability to encrypt or decrypt folders, files, and data. Other uses include formatting USBs, HDDs, micro SD cards, SSDs . NFTS can also support large storage solutions such as self-recovering disks.

So let’s get into the technical breakdown of how NFTS actually works…

  • Step #1: An HDD or SSD is initialized or formatted
  • Step #2: That drive is then divided into partitions, which are the main divisions of the drive’s physical space
  • Step #3: The operating system, or OS, tracks and records all of the files it stores within each partition
  • Step #4: The files are stored on the drive in what is called a disk space or cluster, each of which is a uniform size. The cluster size is determined by NFTS, and it can range from 512 bytes to 64 KB.

Which OS Uses NTFS?

The most common uses for NTFS are in the following Microsoft operating systems, although it is also possible to use NTFS with other operating systems such as BSD and Linux.

  • Windows 10
  • Windows 8
  • Windows 7
  • Windows Vista
  • Windows XP
  • Windows 2000
  • Windows NT

What are the Main Features of NTFS?

As the primary file system that Microsoft uses for both Windows and Windows Server, some of the top NTFS features include:

  • A b-tree directory scheme to keep track of file clusters. This is important as it allows for effective sorting and organizing of the files.
  • File-level encryption through which individual files and folders can be encrypted. An encrypting file system is a different feature than full-disk encryption, which encrypts the entire drive rather than individual files.
  • As a journaling file system NTFS lets system changes be written to a journal or log before the actual changes are written. It allows NTFS to reverse previous changes in case of any error or failure.
  • Volume Shadow Copy Service, which is used by online backup service programs and other backup tools to back up files that are currently in use.
  • Transactional NTFS lets users build applications that don’t take the risk of applying changes that may or may not work.
  • Access control lists, allowing server administrators to control access to specific files.
  • Integrated file compression to shrink file sizes, providing more storage space.
  • A natural file-naming convention, allowing for longer file names with a wide array of characters.
  • Support for hard drives up to 16 EB. It supports single files under 256 TB in some new Windows Server versions as well as for Windows 8 and 10.

NTFS vs. FAT: What’s the Difference?

While both NTFS and FAT are developed by Microsoft, there are some differences between the two. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages related to compatibility, security, and flexibility. Let’s look at the difference between FAT and NTFS so that you can better understand which one you should choose.

Full FormNew TechnologyFile Allocation Table
Max. file size16 TB4 GB
EncryptionEncrypted with Encrypting File System (EFS)Not encrypted
Fault toleranceAutomatic troubleshooting is presentNo provision for fault tolerance
CompressionSupports file compressionNo compression is allowed
User-level disk spacePresentNot present

Fault Tolerance: NTFS always updates its log files. In case of power failure or any other error, it repairs the folders and files automatically without notifying the user about the damage. FAT maintains two different copies of the file allocation table and uses a backup mechanism if any error occurs.

Security: NTFS allows you to set security permissions on both local files and folders. In FAT, the shared functions act as a security feature, which means the shared files are vulnerable locally, but secure in the network.

Compression: You can compress files and folders individually in NTFS without worrying about slowing down the system depending on the partition compression.

Conversion: You can convert FAT to NTFS, but the reverse is not true, as NTFS follows a secure protocol. If you want to convert NTFS to FAT, you’ll have to back up your data and format your disk appropriately.

Compatibility: NTFS is compatible with all Windows operating systems. In Mac OS X, the NT file system has the read-only feature. FAT is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS.

Disadvantages of NTFS

Even though NTFS is a great file system, its main drawback is that its capabilities are too modern to be compatible with older endpoints. Accessibility and compatibility are often problems that NTFS users find, as well as issues like these…

  • Because NTFS was designed for a Windows OS, Mac and Android devices are not always compatible, which can cause problems. 
  • While computers running a Mac OS can read drives formatted with NTFS, they require third-party software to get written to NTFS.
  • Some older media devices are not equipped to leverage the storage capabilities of NTFS – these include things like digital cameras, TVs, and DVD players. 
  • NTFS does not have a native system for guaranteeing performance and bandwidth within the file system, which some users see as an issue. 

Why choose NTFS over FAT?


When you’re debating FAT vs NTFS, there are a few other factors to consider. As well as the points mentioned above, NTFS can also be resized and improves space utilization. Microsoft has built-in features for extending or shrinking partitions, which NTFS can only use when it comes to resizing. Windows doesn’t have any feature related to resizing for partitions in FAT. You will have to use the professional partition manager – MiniTool Partition Wizard for FAT.

A cluster can only put one file in space utilization, but a file can take more than one cluster. If the cluster is small, the partition can save more space. NTFS supports more sizes of clusters than FAT. NTFS’s cluster can be smaller, making more efficient use of the partition.

Looks like NTFS has won, unless you’re looking to format volumes where there are more than one OS on the same machine. If you have only Windows OS – NTFS is usually the right choice.

Ready to whip your IT software stack into shape and write your best IT scripts yet?

Atera can restore and secure your backup

At Atera, we harness the power of NTFS to restore and secure data. With our Hyper-V Recovery system, you’ll be able to recover a whole virtual machine as well as one of its disks or files and folders from a virtual disk. You can do in-place restores or restores to a new location. This versatility is just one of the many benefits you’ll see with Atera.

Was this helpful?

Related Articles

What is IT Asset Discovery?

Read now

IT acronyms you need to know

Read now

What is a database administrator (DBA)?

Read now

What is Site Reliability Engineering? (SRE)

Read now

The IT management platform that just works

Atera is the all-in-one platform built to remove blockers, streamline operations, and give you the tools to deliver results at any scale.