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Welcome To The Hard Disk Drive Reference Section
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Overview Of Hard Disk Drive File Systems

Choosing a File System

There are three file systems recognized by the Windows family of operating systems. They are FAT, FAT32, and NTFS. This article provides a comparison look into the pros and cons of each major file system, complete with suggestions on how to choose a file system based on how you use a computer.

The NTFS File System

NTFS has five versions:

  1. v1.0
  2. v1.1
  3. v1.2 found in NT 3.51 and NT 4
  4. v3.0 found in Windows 2000
  5. v3.1 found in Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Vista

The NTFS versions as installed on the last-named operating systems are sometimes referred to as v5.0, v5.1, and v6.0, after the version of Windows NT with which they ship. Each newer version added extra features, for example Windows 2000 introduced quotas while Windows Vista introduced Transactional NTFS, NTFS symbolic links, and self-healing functionality.

While NTFS is the most secure of the three systems, FAT and FAT32 offer a more compatible format of storing and retrieving files best suited for use on a Windows ME or earlier based PC. NTFS is more secure than FAT or FAT32 and as such requires a fair bit of knowledge during the administration or transferring of files through a network. NTFS file systems are strongly recommended for systems running Windows 2000 Professional, Windows XP Home and Professional, and the Windows Server family of operating systems. FAT and FAT32 file systems are also ideal for users running a dual-boot configuration (such as running Windows XP Professional and Windows 98/ME) on the same system.

It is also important to note that if you run a server based operating system such as Windows Server 2003 or Windows Advanced Server 2000, NTFS is the only file system recognized by Active Directory and domain based security systems.

Table 1.1 listed below outlines the differences between the three different file systems described in this article:

 
NTFS
FAT
FAT32
Primary Advantages
  • Supports Active Directory for better security during administration.
  • Supports file encryption algorithms.
  • Permissions can be modified on individual files only.
  • Employs Sparse filing techniques to limit disk space usage.
  • Removable media made more accessible.
  • Better scalability as NTFS volumes permit greater drive sizes while maintaining the same drive performance.
  • Better support for remote storage providing easier methods to restore data.
  • Disk quotas can be implemented to control amount of disk space being used.
  • Degradation of drive performance when drive size is increased.
System Requirements
  • Windows 2000 Professional, Server, Advanced Server
  • Windows NT 4.0 with SP4
  • Windows XP Home / Professional / Media Centre Edition
  • Windows 98 / ME
  • Windows 2000 Professional, Server, Advanced Server
  • Windows NT 4.0 with SP4
    Windows XP Home / Professional / Media Centre Edition
  • Windows 98 / ME
  • Windows 2000 Professional, Server, Advanced Server
  • Windows NT 4.0 with SP4
    Windows XP Home / Professional / Media Centre Edition
Estimated File Sizes Supported
  • Support for disk partitions using a minimum of 10 MB.
  • File sizes are limited only by the size of partition being used.
  • Support for disk partitions from 1.44MB to 4 GB.
  • Maximum file size is 2 GB.
  • Support for disk partitions from 512 MB to 2 TB.
  • Maximum file size is 4 GB.
Notes
  • Windows 2000 Professional based PC's can access files on a NTFS partition.
  • Windows NT 4.0 might be able to access files on a NTFS partition.
  • File access through DOS is not supported.
  • No support for domain controller systems.
  • Windows 2000 Professional limits formatting a new partition to 32 GB.
Table 1.1 - Comparison Between NTFS, FAT, and FAT32 File SystemsACTDIR
 
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