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NTFS or FAT32?

NTFS is the recommended file system for Windows XP and provides a number of benefits in terms of functionality, security, stability, availability, reliability, and performance. There are very few reasons to persist with FAT32.

If your PC has an earlier version of Windows on it in a dual-boot or multi-boot configuration with Windows XP then do not convert the system/boot partition to NTFS because if you do, the older version of Windows will not boot.

If you are looking for hard disk tools, you will find formatting tools and instructions on formatting hard disks here, data recovery tools here, and manufacturer's disk utilities here.

Page Index

About FAT32

Limitations of FAT32 - A Microsoft knowledge base article for Windows XP Home Edition, Professional, and 64-Bit Edition. This article discusses the limitations of the FAT32 file system in Windows XP.

Description of the FAT32 File System in Windows XP - This article describes the FAT32 file system that is included with Microsoft Windows XP.
Reasons to Retain FAT32

Dual and Multi-booting: If you want to install Windows 95, 98 or Millennium Edition with Windows XP using NTFS then the boot volume must be formatted as FAT32, not NTFS; this is because the older OSen must be installed on the boot volume. FAT32 is the only file common file system that the older OSen support that will also work with XP using NTFS. Windows 95 OSR2, Windows 98, Windows 2000, and Windows XP support FAT32 volumes.

Small Disks: If you have old, low capacity drives of 20GB or less, FAT32 may afford a performance increase. For partitions of 2GB or less, FAT is recommended.

Features not needed: If you do not need NTFS security, encryption, NTFS performance enhancements or support for large disks then there is no real reason to use NTFS. If you later decide to use NTFS, you can convert FAT32 to NTFS. The conversion process is discussed later in this article.
Benefits of NTFS

Support for large hard drives in excess of 127GB.

Support for large files. NTFS in Windows XP supports a maximum file size up to the capacity of the disk. FAT32 supports a maximum file size of only 4 GB.

Simple management of single disk partitions. No reboot is required between creating a new partition and formatting it.

Improved performance, optimised for general performance and boot times.
The size of the Master File Table (MFT) and its location are optimised based on the hard drive characteristics.

DISKPART and FORMAT takes about 90 seconds on a large hard drive.

NTFS incorporates advanced file system features such as security, transacted operations, large volumes, and better performance on larger disks. These are not available on either FAT or FAT32 disks.

File compression and encryption. Third-party tools are not required.

Volume shadow copy backup enable backups to be made without rebooting.

A local hard drive can be mounted to a folder on an NTFS volume.

NTFS is a journaling file system. It writes a log of changes being made to the files on disk. This offers significant benefits in cases where a system is susceptible to power loss, experiences an unexpected reboot, or a crash. NTFS can quickly return a disk to a consistent state without running CHKDSK, whereas FAT32 always requires CHKDSK to be run effect recovery if a failure occurs.

CHKDSK can take a very long time to complete on larger FAT32 drives but is very quick on NTFS.
Both FAT and FAT32 have scaling and compatibility limitations that NTFS does not have. An NTFS volume is capable of scaling on very large disk sizes with a single partition and supports software RAID.
For more technical information on the benefits of NTFS, read the Microsoft Windows Hardware and Driver Central article on NTFS Preinstallation and Windows XP.
For information on how Windows XP dynamically self-tunes, read the Windows Hardware and Driver Central article about Benchmarking on Windows XP Home Edition and Professional. The article also covers disk efficiency optimisations, boot and application-launch prefetching, as well as idle task scheduling.

NTFS & FAT32 Red Herrings

    If you don't know what a red herring is, read this.
DOS FDISK Does Not Support NTFS
FDISK Can Format NTFS Partitions

Both of those statements are false.

Uninformed rumours and unfounded statements about Windows 98 or DOS 6 FDISK make up one of the fishiest smelling red herrings about NTFS. The fact of the matter is, FDISK does not format any kind of partition. FDISK is a rudimentary partition manager. Furthermore, FDISK can work with NTFS partitions but it cannot delete NTFS partitions that are logical drives on extended partitions. Read Formatting / Partitioning Hard Disks and Installing XP for more information.
Windows 98 Cannot Read NTFS

This statement is false. It is only true insofar as Windows 98 cannot natively read NTFS disks. If you need to access a NTFS partition via Windows 98, you accomplish this with a third-party driver. Sysinternals once offered a free, read-only driver that allowed Windows 98 to read a NTFS partition. A full read/write access version was also available for purchase, however Sysinternals were absorbed into Microsoft in 2007, who then took over support of the Administrator's Pak, which contained the driver.

You may still be able to find both the read-only and full version of the driver here, however Avira, the antivirus company, have made NTFS4DOS available, which enables access to NTFS drives for MS-DOS. The product has been discontinued and is unsupported by Avira but it is still available and free for personal use. You can get NTFS4DOS here.
I want to Network XP with Windows 98 so I can't use NTFS

This statement is false. The file system is independent of the network. If two machines are communicating over a network, the machines will not care about the file system, even if one of them is using clay tablets for mass storage.
FAT32 Has Better Performance and is More Efficient Than NTFS

This statement is false. NTFS is much more efficient than FAT32. Larger disks that are formatted FAT32 require far bigger File Tables. Larger file tables take longer to read. It is this for reason that XP will not allow you to create a FAT32 volume greater than 32GB in size.
XP Does Not Support FAT32 Drives Larger than 32GB 

This statement is false. It does not follow that XP does not support FAT32 drives greater than 32GB just because XP will not allow you to create a FAT32 volume greater than 32GB. If a disk is preformatted with FAT32, right up to the theoretical limit for FAT32 disks, XP will support it.
NTFS Does Not Fragment

This statement is false. File fragmentation is a fact of life, irrespective of the underlying file system. Files increase and decrease in size with use, or are created, deleted and recreated over and over. Operating Systems attempt to keep parts of files in their place as new clusters are added as and when they are needed. The allocation of additional clusters cannot be guaranteed to follow on sequentially from where the file currently resides and are almost always allocated from a completely different location on the disk. It is this allocation process that causes fragmentation.

If it is true that NTFS does not fragment, why does XP ship with a defragmenter?
There are Very Few Recovery Tools for NTFS 

This statement is false. Not only does Windows XP ship with some very extensive system recovery and protection  tools, it includes an impressive range of disaster recovery tools, far beyond what earlier versions of Windows ever provided. Plus there are a great number of third-party tools available, a lot of them free, to supplement those that come with XP. Windows XP provides advanced disk and maintenance tools you can use to prevent problems from occurring. Some of the most useful tools are discussed in the Data Corruption and Hard Disk Troubleshooting article on this site. The disk-related tools allow you to view disk information and correct a problem before it becomes a serious issue. 

Converting FAT32 to NTFS

Windows XP comes with the tools necessary to convert your FAT16 or FAT32 file system to NTFS, however there are a number of issues that you must consider before taking the conversion route. The problems to contend with range from permissions issues to performance degradation.


If you use the convert utility on an existing installation of Windows XP Professional or on Windows XP Home Edition, the default security settings installed on for FAT32 are not appropriate for NTFS. The result is that the All Users folder and all its subfolders have faulty permissions, for example you may notice that your virus scanner locks or gets stuck trying to access System Volume Information:

To work around this problem, consult the File security issues after converting FAT32 partitions to the NTFS file system knowledgebase article.


On volumes that are created (not converted) as NTFS volumes, clusters start at sector zero, therefore every cluster is aligned on what is known as the cluster boundary. If the FAT32 partition was not created by Windows XP or Windows 2000 then the presence of the earlier OS' FAT/FAT32 reserved structures means that a FAT/FAT32 format cannot guarantee that data clusters will be aligned on a cluster boundary. In turn, this causes the conversion tool to use 512k clusters, which can potentially cause serious degradation in disk performance.

To put that another way, earlier FAT/FAT32 OSen use a different reserved structure format to win2k and winXP, which means that there is a difference in the offset to the data clusters. To make up for this difference, the conversion tool uses a smaller cluster size.

To avoid this problem, you must convert your FAT16/FAT32 disk to 4k aligned clusters. BootIt NG from TeraByte has an "Align for NTFS only" option that will convert your FAT clusters to 4k aligned. BootIt NG has a free trial period and is highly recommended.

You should backup your important files before performing the alignment.

The 4k alignment process may take several hours to complete.

The 4k alignment task is not for the faint-hearted. Consider formatting with NTFS instead.

To Use BootIt NG to align the clusters you will need a floppy drive. After extracting the files from the download archive:
  • Run BOOTITNG.EXE to create a boot floppy
    • Don't allow BootIt to install on your hard disk; do this by clicking the "Cancel Install" button, which will take you straight into the Maintenance screen
  • Select "Partition Work" and choose the partition to be aligned
  • Click "Slide"
  • Check "Align for NTFS only"
  • Click "OK"

Once the alignment is complete, reboot and defragment the hard disk.

How to Defragment Your Disk Drive Volumes in Windows XP
This article describes how to defragment your disk drive volumes and describes the limitations of using Disk Defragmenter Microsoft Management Console (MMC) that is included with Windows XP.

The Free Space That Is Required to Convert FAT to NTFS
Check that you have sufficient free space to perform the conversion.

Then do the FAT to NTFS conversion:

How To Convert a FAT16 or FAT32 Volume to NTFS in Windows XP

kadaitcha.cx recommends that you consider not converting your drive from FAT16/FAT32 to NTFS, and instead consider backing up your important data, do a NTFS format and clean install your OS.

"Insufficient Disk Space for Conversion" Error Message When You Convert a Disk from FAT to NTFS in Windows XP

File security issues after converting FAT32 partitions to the NTFS file system

The "Drive Properties" Dialog Box May Display the Wrong File System Type After a Drive Is Converted to NTFS

After you convert a drive to the NTFS file system by using the Convert.exe tool, the file system type may still be displayed as file allocation table (FAT) or FAT32 on the dialog box of the drive.

NTFS Troubleshooting

"Missing or corrupt Ntfs.sys" error message when you restart Windows XP after you convert your hard disk to the NTFS file system

You can use the following command to convert your hard disk from the FAT 32 file system to the NTFS file system:

convert drive: /fs:ntfs

When you use the command, after the computer completes the conversion and you restart Windows XP, you may receive an error message similar to the following error message:

Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt: System32\Drivers\Ntfs.sys
How to Disable the 8.3 Name Creation on NTFS Partitions

The creation of 8.3 filenames and directories for all long filenames and directories on NTFS partitions may decrease directory enumeration performance. This article describes a method of disabling the 8.3 name creation on all NTFS partitions.

NOTE: Although disabling 8.3 name creation increases file performance under Windows NT, some 16-bit applications may not be able to find files and directories with long filenames.
Chkdsk in Read-Only Mode Does Not Detect Corruption on NTFS Volume

When you run the Chkdsk utility program in read-only mode on a volume that uses the NTFS file system, Chkdsk may not detect corruption in the disk structure.
Error Message: "Access Is Denied" When You Try to Open NTFS File System Folders

When you install Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition, and then you try to open folders on a different logical drive on your computer, you may receive the following error message:

Access is denied.
Windows Installer Error 1619 When You Install from NTFS-Protected Directories

When you install a Setup program that is based on Windows Installer Setup technology, you may receive the following Windows Installer error message:

This installation package could not be opened. Verify that the package exists and that you can access it, or contact the application vendor to verify that this is a valid Windows Installer package.

If you have a verbose log file of the Setup program, the following information also appears at the end of the log file:

MSI (c) (6C:54): Package name extracted from package path: 'somesetup.msi' MSI (c) (6C:54): Could not create LFN path for package: 'H:\tmp\apps\coreapps\somesetup\somesetup.msi' This installation package could not be opened. Verify that the package exists and that you can access it, or contact the application vendor to verify that this is a valid Windows Installer package. MSI (c) (6C:54): MainEngineThread is returning 1619.
You cannot delete a file or a folder on an NTFS file system volume

This article describes why you may not be able to delete a file or a folder on an NTFS file system volume and how to address the different causes to resolve this issue.
How to use Xcacls.vbs to modify NTFS permissions

There is an updated version of the Extended Change Access Control List tool (Xcacls.exe) that is available as a Microsoft Visual Basic script (Xcacls.vbs) from Microsoft. This step-by-step article describes how to use the Xcacls.vbs script to modify and to view NTFS file system permissions for files or for folders. You can use Xcacls.vbs from the command line to set all the file system security options that are accessible in Microsoft Windows Explorer. Xcacls.vbs displays and modifies the access control lists (ACLs) of files.
Cannot View NTFS Logical Drive After Using Fdisk

If you start Windows XP in a dual-boot environment with Windows 95 or Windows 98, use the Fdisk tool to delete a logical drive using the File Allocation Table (FAT) file system, and then restart Windows XP, you may no longer see logical drives within the Logical Disk Manager in Windows XP.

For example, this behavior may occur if you do the following:
  • You configure your computer to dual-boot between Windows XP and Windows 95 with a primary FAT file system partition as drive C.
  • In Windows XP, you configure two logical drives:
    • Drive D using NTFS
    • Drive E using the FAT file system
  • When you run Fdisk, you can view only the logical drive using the FAT file system (which is labeled drive D by Fdisk but is drive E in Windows XP).
  • When you attempt to delete drive D, you delete the NTFS logical drive instead.
Error message when you try to open files on an NTFS file system volume on a Windows XP-based computer: "Stop 0x0000008E"

You have a computer that is running Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2. You have one or more NTFS file system volumes on the computer. You have a third-party driver installed on the computer. When you try to open files on a NTFS file system volume, you may experience the following symptoms:
  • Your computer automatically restarts.
  • After you log on, you receive the following error message:
Microsoft Windows
The system has recovered from a serious error.

A log of this error has been created. Please tell Microsoft about this problem. We have created an error report that you can send to help us improve Microsoft Windows. We will treat this report as confidential and anonymous. To see what data this error report contains, click here.

If the error message still appears, and if you want to see the data that the error report contains, click the click here link at the bottom of the message box.

Then, you see error signature information that may resemble the following:

BCCode : 0000008E BCP1 : c0000005 BCP2 : f83ef720 BCP3 : a91e8844 BCP4 : 0 OSVer : 5_1_2600 SP : 2_0 Product : 256_1

You receive the following "Stop" error message:

A problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer

Technical information:

*** STOP: 0x0000008E (c0000005, f83ef720, a91e8844, 0)

"Windows could not start because the following file is missing: \system32\drivers\ntfs.sys" error message in Windows XP Service Pack 2

If you install the 826939 Update Rollup 1 for Windows XP on a Windows XP SP2-based computer, the computer may not always start. You may receive a message that says that the \System32\Drivers\Ntfs.sys file is missing.
The Default Cluster Size for the NTFS and FAT File Systems

This article describes and lists the default values that Windows XP uses to format a volume. The article lists default values for both the NTFS file system and the file allocation table (FAT) file system.
The partition size is extended, but the file system remains the original size when you extend an NTFS volume

n Microsoft Windows XP and in Windows Server 2003, after you use the Disk Management snap-in or the Diskpart.exe command-line utility to extend a basic or dynamic NTFS file system volume, the partition size is extended, but the file system remains its original size. You do not receive an error message, but when you view the disk information in the Disk Management snap-in, the volume appears as the extended partition size, but the value in the Capacity column still shows the original size. If you view the properties of the volume in My Computer, or if you run the Chkdsk.exe tool against the NTFS volume, both items report the file system size as it was before the extension.
You receive a "This folder already contains a file named '<filename>'" message when you copy an NTFS encrypted file to a new location on a Windows XP Service Pack 2-based computer

Consider the following scenario:
  • You have installed file security products on a Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2)-based computer.
  • You are using drives that are formatted to use the NTFS file system.
  • You copy an NTFS encrypted file to a new location on the computer.
In this scenario, you receive the following message:

This folder already contains a file named 'filename'.

Would you like to replace the existing file

modified date and time

with this one?

modified date and time

You receive this message even though you copied the encrypted file to a folder that does not already contain the encrypted file.
Extending NTFS volume fails but appears to be successful

When you try to extend an NTFS file system volume on a basic disk, or when you try to extend a dynamic NTFS volume, the operation is not successful. In Disk Management, the partition appears to be extended and appears to use the additional free space, showing that the volume was successfully spanned across disks. However, the NTFS on that volume is still the original size that it was before the extension. In My Computer, the properties of the volume show that the volume is the same size that it was before the extension. If you run Chkdsk on the NTFS volume, it reports the volume size that existed before you tried to perform the extension.

This problem may also occur if you use the unattended parameter extendoempartition=1 during an unattended Windows setup and the boot disk is larger than approximately 200 gigabytes (GB). Setup successfully extends the partition but fails "silently" to increase the NTFS. After Setup has completed, the system volume properties as shown in My Computer show that the volume is the same size as it was before the installation.
You Can View an NTFS Encrypted File in Thumbnail View

If you encrypt a file by using the NTFS file system, and the view is set to Thumbnail, the contents of the file may still be visible. For example, if you encrypt an image file or an HTML file, and then you set it to the Thumbnail view, you will be able to see the image or HTML image on the thumbnail.
Computer Stops Responding (Hangs) When It Writes Encrypted Data to an NTFS Partition

In certain situations, your computer may stop responding, or hang, when it writes files or folders that are encrypted with the Encrypting File System (EFS) to a partition that is formatted with the NTFS file system. When your computer hangs, you cannot access the contents of the partition, and you have to restart your computer to restore functionality.

This problem has been reported to occur when your computer restores data to encrypted files by using VERITAS Backup Exec version 8.6 or later or by using NTBackup.exe. This problem may also occur when your computer writes EFS data with other programs.
Intermittent memory corruption occurs in the binary data that is stored on a compressed NTFS file system drive on a Windows XP-based computer

Intermittent memory corruption occurs in the binary data that is stored on a compressed NTFS file system drive on a Windows XP-based computer. The computer cannot run programs that use this binary data.
How to locate and correct disk space problems on NTFS volumes in Windows XP

The NTFS file system supports many volume- and file-level features that may cause free disk space to be either misreported or reported as lost. You may notice this behaviour if an NTFS volume suddenly becomes very full, and you cannot find the cause or locate the folders and files that cause the NTFS volume to become full. This behaviour may occur if a user gains malicious or unauthorized access to an NTFS volume on which either very large files or a high quantity of small files are secretly copied, and then removes or restricts NTFS permissions on these files. This behaviour may also occur after a system malfunction or a power outage that causes volume corruption to occur.

This article describes how to check NTFS disk space allocation to either discover offending files and folders or locate volume corruption. This article is intended for users of Windows XP operating systems that support advanced storage features and troubleshooting methods.
How To Disable the NTFS File System Tracking of Broken Shortcut Links

If you disable a shortcut, the NTFS File System in Windows XP and Windows 2000 automatically attempts to locate the shortcut destination by searching all paths that are associated with the shortcut. This step-by-step article describes how to prevent this behaviour from occurring.
How to create and use NTFS mounted drives in Windows XP and in Windows Server 2003

This article describes how to create a mounted drive by using Disk Management in Microsoft Windows XP and in Microsoft Windows Server 2003.

A mounted drive is a drive that is mapped to an empty folder on a volume that uses the NTFS file system. Mounted drives function as any other drives, but they are assigned drive paths instead of drive letters. When you view a mounted drive in Windows Explorer, it appears as a drive icon in the path in which it is mounted. Because mounted drives are not subject to the 26-drive-letter limit for local drives and mapped network connections, use mounted drives when you want to gain access to more than 26 drives on your computer. For example, if you have a CD-ROM drive with the drive letter E, and an NTFS volume with the drive letter F, mount the CD-ROM drive as F:\CD-ROM. You can then free the drive letter E, and gain access to your CD-ROM drive directly by using F:\CD-ROM.

You can also use mounted drives when you need additional storage space on a volume. If you map a folder on that volume to another volume with available disk space (for example, 2 gigabytes), you extend the storage space of the volume by 2 gigabytes (GB). With mounted drives, you are not limited by the size of the volume in which the folder is created.

Mounted drives make your data more accessible and give you the flexibility to manage data storage based on your work environment and system usage. These are additional examples by which you can use mounted drives:
  • To provide additional disk space for your temporary files, you can make the C:\Temp folder a mounted drive.
  • When space starts to run low on drive C, you can move the My Documents folder to another drive with more available disk space, and then mount it as C:\My Documents.
Use the Disk Management snap-in to mount a drive on a folder on a local volume. The folder in which you mount the drive must be empty, and must be located on a basic or dynamic NTFS volume.
You may receive an error message when you try to rename a folder on an NTFS partition in Windows XP

When you try to rename a folder on an NTFS file system partition in Microsoft Windows XP, you may receive an error message that is similar to the following:

Cannot rename foldername: Access is denied.
Make sure the disk is not full or write-protected and that the file is not currently in use.

Error message and events are logged in the System log when you try to compress a large file on an NTFS volume in Windows XP, in Windows 2000, or in Windows Server 2003: "Delayed Write Failed"

Consider the following scenario. You have a computer that is running Microsoft Windows 2000, Microsoft Windows XP, or Microsoft Windows Server 2003. On this computer, you have a very large file on an NTFS file system volume. You try to compress the file by using NTFS File Compression, or you try to copy the file to an NTFS compressed folder. In this scenario, you may receive the following error message:

Delayed Write Failed

Note: This article applies to Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition, Microsoft Windows XP Professional (32-bit), and Microsoft Windows XP Professional x64 Edition.