If NTFS is such a great file system, why isn’t it used everywhere? The drawbacks of the NTFS file system include lack of interoperability, considerable overhead and overall complexity. Let’s look at each individual issue.
The abundance of features integrated into the NTFS file system bring us the other side of the coin. The complexity of the new file system technically restricts its use in portable devices as well as devices that generally lack computational power.
The NTFS brings another downside to smaller media: the large overhead. How much extra disk space is used for journaling documenting file system transactions may not matter in a case of a desktop hard drive, but every bit counts with smaller flash drives. For a fairly average 4 GB flash drive, an NTFS volume will provide significantly less space than a FAT partition. For this reason, of not for others, removable drives are usually carrying the FAT file system.
Lack of Interoperability and Legal Restrictions
NTFS is a proprietary Microsoft file system. In general, it’s rarely licensed out to third-party manufacturers. The combination of complexity, high overhead and legal restrictions lead to lack of interoperability with third-party manufacturers. If you format a memory card with NTFS, chances are you’ll be pretty much able to use that memory card with Windows PCs and Windows PCs only. No digital camera or MP3 player (with few exceptions) will support NTFS – but every device out there that accepts memory cards will support a variation of the FAT file system.
The FAT File System and its Variations
FAT is the older, simpler file system that was used in Microsoft operating systems since the times of DOS. There are several variations of the FAT system. FAT12 (the original FAT) was used for formatting magnetic media such as diskettes. At the time, diskettes holding 1.44 MB (that’s one and a half megabytes, not gigabytes) of data were popular, so 12 bits were enough to address the entire file system. The appearance of larger hard drives required an extension of the address space, so FAT16 was born. The appearance of file names longer than 8 characters (with 3-character extension) demanded yet another modification of the standard, while the introduction of even larger hard drives led to the development of FAT32, a file system allowing to address large capacity disks. Finally, the latest development is exFAT, a file system capable of addressing huge space but mostly used on removable media.
Choosing FAT over NTFS
Normally, you would choose FAT over NTFS if you need one or more benefits provided by the older file system over its more complex successor. Use FAT for smaller footprint, broader compatibility and device interoperability. You can’t use anything other than FAT in most digital cameras, smartphones and MP3 players. Finally, for very large flash drives you will use exFAT, a file system that’s compatible with less devices than the original FAT32 but that’s required if you want to address all that free space.
FAT Reliability and Data Recovery Issues
Let’s take it: FAT is less reliable than NTFS. If you use FAT on your desktop hard drive, chances you’ll need a data recovery tool rather soon are high. Flash drives and memory cards are used in a different (lighter) manner, so you can usually get by without a data recovery tool for a while. If you need to recover information from a flash drive or other FAT-formatted device, use either a specialized tool such as FAT Recovery, or a universal data recovery tool such as HDD Recovery Pro.