NTFS vs FAT: What do I Need to Know as an IT service provider?

NTFS, also known as the New Technology File System and NT file system, 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 is NTFS used?


NTFS is used by removable storage devices and Microsoft Windows to name, organize and store files. NT file system can encrypt or decrypt data, files, and folders. It is also used to format USBs, HDDs, micro SD cards, and SSD’s. NTFS also supports large and voluminous storage solutions like self-recovering disks.


When an HDD or SSD is initialized or formatted, it is divided into partitions. Partitions are the main divisions of the hard drive’s physical space. Within each partition, the OS tracks the record of all the files it stores. The files are stored on the HDD in one or more disk spaces or clusters of a uniform size. The cluster size is determined by NTFS, which can range from 512 bytes to 64 KB.


What are the Main Features of NTFS?


As the primary file system that Microsoft uses for both Windows and Windows Server, some of NTFS’s top 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 differences between the two and which one you should choose.




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.


Why choose NTFS over FAT?


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.


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