Practical Hints on Choosing
Between FAT and NTFS

Read this article to know how to choose a file system properly when formatting a storage device, and which file system is better for a hard disk, USB drive or memory card. Enough theory! To learn more about the differences between file systems, read the article titled “Choosing the Right File System: FAT and NTFS”. When exactly do I use FAT, and when should I pick NTFS? Naturally, NTFS should be used within the scope of desktop and laptop computers.

FAT and NTFS: Practical Hints

Recent versions of Windows (since Windows XP) will not allow you to format a system drive with anything but NTFS, for obvious reasons.

  1. Where to Use NTFS?
  2. Where to Use FAT?
  3. Reliability of File Systems.
  4. Recovering Files from FAT and NTFS.

Where to Use NTFS

Use NTFS on internal hard drives no matter how large or small. In the long term, you’ll appreciate the increased reliability and dependability of data storage provided by NTFS.

While this may sound to the contrary of what’s been said about NTFS putting increased write load and reducing effective lifespan of solid-state media, I can still recommend using NTFS on recent SSD drives for important security reasons. Modern SSD drives have improved their write performance and the number of sustainable write cycles greatly compared to SSD’s of yesteryears, so in a trade-off between added security and durability of the file system against increased wearing of SSD memory cells you’ll be getting more of the positive side and less of the negative. And if you’re using an SSD drive as your system boot disk, you’ll simply have no other choice, at least for the boot volume that keeps Windows itself.

Where to Use FAT

Use FAT on portable media you’re likely to use in different devices. Remember, practically no digital cameras, MP3 players, smartphones and tablets except those manufactured or licensed by Microsoft will recognize NTFS-formatted volumes. Such manufacturers of memory cards as Transcend and Kingston use the FAT file system as the basic one.

So, for anything that goes into a digital camera, portable audio player, smartphone, tablet or other portable device you will want to use FAT, most probably in its FAT32 incarnation due to the large capacity of today’s portable storage media.

For USB flash drives, the choice is a little less obvious. Their larger capacities and higher speeds may effectively hide the increased space and traffic consumption of the newer file system, bringing the obvious benefits back to the table. If you’re about to use that USB drive with Windows computers only, you can consider going the NTFS way. If there’s slightest doubt, format it with FAT32 and you’ll be good.

Reliability of File Systems

FAT is notorious for its low durability and reliability, especially on larger volumes and especially under high load with many concurrent writes. However, low-use, low capacity devices such as most consumer memory cards and USB flash drives can be safely formatted with a variation of the FAT file system. They’ll be used sparingly, and there is very little chance you’ll ever have a concurrent write operation performed on a USB drive or memory card (and even if you do, it’s OK every once in a while). Finally, many memory cards and USB drives are reformatted often as this is usually much faster than simply deleting a bunch of files and folders.

NTFS offers extra reliability and durability due to its use of journaling for every write operation. In a word, NTFS is a transaction-based file system that will log its every step, allowing the system to roll back any interrupted or unsuccessful write operation without causing havoc in the rest of the file system. In addition to that, NTFS maintains a spare copy of the file system somewhere in the middle of the disk, allowing data recovery tools referring to two copies of the most important system records instead of a single one.

In the same situation, FAT will behave completely unpredictably. You can be lucky, or you can get an unreadable partition after a reboot, empty folders and corrupted files.

Recovering Files from FAT and NTFS

Whether you format a volume with FAT or NTFS, there are tools to recover the files – even if the file system itself is badly damaged or completely missing (e.g. after the disk being repartitioned or reformatted). Within Hetman’s product range there are several tools you can use to recover files from FAT or NTFS-formatted drives.

For FAT, FAT16 and FAT32 drives, including flash and memory cards, use Hetman FAT Recovery. For NTFS and NTFS5, the price-conscious choice would be Hetman NTFS Recovery. Both these tools can recover files from damaged and corrupted volumes, formatted hard drives/memory cards, as well as repartitioned disks. Both offer a significant price advantage over the more universal tool, Hetman Partition Recovery. However, you may still be forced to use the more expensive Partition Recovery tool if you have a heterogeneous mix of devices and file systems to restore, or if you reformatted a FAT drive with NTFS or vice versa. Either way, you are getting a first-class data recovery tool that can gracefully handle most data loss situations.

Author: Michael Miroshnichenko

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