What Is Difference Between FAT32 vs exFAT vs NTFS

Are you confused about the different hard disk storage formats? Go through this article to find out the difference between FAT32 vs exFAT vs NTFS:

Operating systems use a File Allocation Table (FAT) to organize storage spaces. The file system allows an operating system to keep track of files stored on a storage device. These have evolved over the years with the need for large-size storage devices.

FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS are the three most common file systems for Microsoft operating systems.

You will learn about the difference between these file systems in this blog post.

Let us begin!

exFAT vs FAT32 vs NTFS – A Comparative Study

What Is The Difference Between NTFS Vs FAT32 Vs ExFAT (2)

Market Trends: Microsoft developed the first file system known as the File Allocation Table (FAT) for its DOS operating system in 1977. Flexense has compared the performance of NTFS, FAT 32, and exFAT. The image below shows the normalized average performance comparison of file systems. It shows that NTFS provides 19 percent improved performance as compared to FAT32 while exFAT provides 7 percent improved performance.

FAT32 vs NTFS vs exFAT [Normalized Average Performance]:


Expert Advice: Compatibility of the operating system is important when deciding between exFAT vs FAT32 vs NTFS. NTFS is compatible with Windows as well as Linus and BSD operating systems. exFAT and FAT32 are supported by Windows, MacOS, and Linus.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q #1) What is meant by FAT32?

Answer: FAT32 is a type of file system that the operating system uses to keep track of and locate files. It is the successor of the FAT16 file system introduced in August 1996.

Q #2) What is the best format for a hard drive?

Answer: NTFS (New Technology for File System) is the recommended format if you intend to use a drive on Windows operating system. However, if you want to use a storage device on both Windows and macOS, the best format is exFAT.

Q #3) What format should USB be for Windows 10?

Answer: Microsoft recommends FAT32 for Windows 10 installation using a USB flash drive. However, you should format your USB drive as NTFS if you are using it as a backup for your Windows operating system.

Q #4) How do I format my hard drive?

Answer: Open the File Explorer in Windows and then right-click the drive. You will be presented with different options, such as FAT32, NTFS, and exFAT. Select the desired file system and click Start.

Suggested Reading => Read Through the list of Best External Hard Drive for PS4

Comparison Chart of NTFS vs exFAT vs FAT32

Introduced 199319962006
Maximum Cluster Size 2MB64KB32MB
Maximum Volume Size8PB16TB128 PB
Maximum File Size8PB4GB16EB
Maximum Allocation Unit Size64KB8KB32MB
Date/Time resolutions100ns2s10ms
MBR Partition Type Identifier0x070x0B, 0x0C0x07
Supported Date Ranges01 Jan. 1601 to 28 May 6005601 Jan. 1980 to 31 Dec. 210701 Jan. 1980 to 31 Dec. 2107

NTFS Overview

Best for the latest Windows operating systems for secure storage.


NTFS (New Technology for File System) was introduced by Microsoft in 1993. The device format was implemented for the first time in Windows NT 3.1. The file system is supported by BSD and Linux as well.

The disc format was initially introduced for servers. NTFS contains similar features to the HPFS format that was developed jointly by Microsoft and IBM. That is the reason HPFS and NTFS have similar identification type codes that are different from FAT formats, including FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, and exFAT.

The file system used an NTFS log for recording changes in metadata known as journaling ($LogFile). Other security features of the disc format include an access control list, transparent compression, and file system encryption. In addition, the file system supports shadow copy, allowing real-time backup of data.

NTFS also supports alternate data streams. This feature allows multiple data streams to be linked to a file name. This allows faster copying and moving of data.

A disadvantage of the file system is that large compressed files become highly fragmented. But disk fragmentation does not have performance issues with flash memory drives, such as SSD.

Another limitation is an error in the boot if the boot files are compressed. This was not an issue with earlier disc formats. In addition, the access speed is slow for compressed data that are less than 60KB as the operating system has trouble following the fragmented chains.


  • Access Control List
  • Shadow copy
  • Alternate Data Streams
  • Journaling
  • Encrypting File System (EFS)


  • Enhanced security features.
  • Supports large volume sizes.
  • Alternate data streams result in faster data transfer.


  • Slow access speed for small compressed files.
  • Prone to fragmented files.

Compatibility: NTFS is supported by Microsoft Windows 7, 8, 10, XP, Vista, NT, and Windows 2000, BSD, and Linus. macOS has limited support for NTFS. It can only read and display the content of NTFS hard drives. It cannot modify files saved in disk format.

Also Read => Check out the Differences Between SSD vs HDD

FAT32 Overview

Best for older legacy systems where security is not a concern.


FAT32 is the successor of the FAT16 file system. It was introduced by Microsoft in 1996. The file system was first supported by Windows 95 OSR2 and MS-DOS 7.1. However, users had to format the hard disk to convert it to FAT32.

Also Read =>> Causes of the Hard Drive Not Showing Up error in Windows 10

Windows 98 was the first operating system that allowed upgrading existing hard disks to FAT32 without formatting.

One of the benefits of FAT32 over the earlier file system was that it supported cross-platform data transmission. An external drive formatted with the file system can read Linux and macOS.

However, there were limitations with the file system that led to a replacement of this file system with exFAT and later NTFS. The file system also does not support file sizes greater than 4GB. With the introduction of 4K movies, the file size limit was insufficient.


  • Legacy Windows support
  • Dynamic partition resizing
  • Uses backup of FAT
  • Normal cluster chain


  • Cross-platform support for macOS, Linux, and Windows.
  • Universal support – HDTVs, Cameras, video game consoles.


  • No support for disks larger than 4GB.
  • Can’t create a startup disk for macOS.

Compatibility: FAT32 provides near-universal interoperability with almost all systems. It works with Microsoft Windows 95OSR2, 98, Vista, 7, 8, 10, 11 macOS, and Linux. In addition, disc format is supported by game consoles, HDTVs, and cameras.

Recommended Reading => Explore the list of Top Hard Drive Cloning Software

exFAT Overview

Best for systems with low power and memory requirements as well as interoperability between macOS and Windows.


Extensible File Allocation Table (exFAT) is the newer of the three file systems that were introduced in 2006. Microsoft introduced the system with Windows Embedded CE 6.0.

SD Association has adopted exFAT as the default format for SDXC cards that are larger than 32GB. The disc format is more efficient in the use of power and memory, allowing it to be implemented in firmware.

exFAT allows high read and write speeds. It allows SDXC cards to have a data transfer speed above 10MBps. High speed is possible due to the reduction in the overhead of the file system related to cluster allocation.

With exFAT, the reserved or free cluster is tracked one bit at a time. This resulted in a significant reduction in write speeds. In addition, fragmentation is not an issue since the format ignores the FAT and the file is contiguous or unfragmented.

The disk format has certain benefits. The Free Space Bitmap feature results in improved free space allocation. In addition, the TexFAT feature in WinCE support reduced the risk of transactional data loss due to power glitches. In addition, the valid data length (VDL) feature allows the pre-allocation of a file without leaking data previously stored on the disk.

A big limitation with exFAT is that the disc format does not support journaling similar to NTFS. So, recovering from a corrupted master boot file is difficult. The file system is particularly vulnerable to corruption when the disk drive is not properly ejected or unmounted.


  • Free Space Bitmap
  • Transactional-Safe FAT (TFAT and TexFAT) (Mobile Windows only)
  • Access Control List (Mobile Windows only)
  • Customizable file system parameters
  • Valid Data Length


  • Free Space Bitmap support results in efficient free space allocation
  • TexFAT feature in WinCE reduces the risk of data loss
  • VDL allows secure pre-allocation.
  • Cross-platform support for macOS, Linux, and Windows.


  • No support for journaling.
  • Vulnerable to corrupt files.
  • Limited support by electronic devices.

Compatibility: exFAT works with Microsoft Windows XP SP2, Server 2003 with KB955704 update, Vista SP1, Server 2008, 7, 8, 10, and 11. It also works with Windows Embedded CE 6.0, Linux 5.4, and macOS 10.6.5+.


In a debate regarding exFAT vs NTFS vs FAT32, NTFS is the best format for storage devices with Windows operating system. However, exFAT is best for portable storage devices due to more efficient power and memory management. It also allows you to use a storage device on both Windows and macOS.

The FAT32 disk format is only recommended for compatibility with older operating systems.

Research Process:

  • Time Taken to Research this Article: It took us about 8 hours to research and write the article about FAT32 vs NTFS and FAT32 vs exFAT so that you can make an informed decision when formatting your hard drive.
  • Total Tools Researched: 3
  • Top Tools Shortlisted: 3
=>> Contact us to suggest a listing here.