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NTFS compared to FAT and FAT32

Applies To: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2

NTFS compared to FAT and FAT32

NTFS has always been a more powerful file system than FAT and FAT32. Windows 2000, Windows XP, and the Windows Server 2003 family include a new version of NTFS, with support for a variety of features including Active Directory, which is needed for domains, user accounts, and other important security features. For more details about features in NTFS, see NTFS.

FAT and FAT32 are similar to each other, except that FAT32 is designed for larger disks than FAT. The file system that works most easily with large disks is NTFS.

The following table describes the compatibility of each file system with various operating systems.


  • File system choices have no effect on access to files across the network. For example, using NTFS on all partitions on a server does not affect clients connecting across a network to shared folders or shared files on that server, even if those clients run an earlier operating system such as Windows 98 or Windows NT.

A computer running Windows 2000, Windows XP, or a product in the Windows Server 2003 family can access files on a local NTFS partition. A computer running Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 5 or later might be able to access some files. Other operating systems allow no local access.

Access to files on a local partition is available through MS-DOS, all versions of Windows, and OS/2.

Access to files on a local partition is available only through Windows 95 OSR2, Windows 98, Windows Millennium Edition, Windows 2000, Windows XP, and products in the Windows Server 2003 family.

The following table compares disk and file sizes possible with each file system.


Recommended minimum volume size is approximately 10 MB.

Maximum volume and partition sizes start at 2 terabytes (TB) and range upward. For example, a dynamic disk formatted with a standard allocation unit size (4 KB) can have partitions of 16 TB minus 4 KB. For more information about maximum volume and partition sizes, see the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit, Server Management Guide at the Microsoft Windows Resource Kits Web site.

Cannot be used on floppy disks.

Volumes from floppy disk size up to 4 GB.

Does not support domains.

Volumes from 33 MB to 2 TB can be written to or read using products in the Windows Server 2003 family.

Volumes up to 32 GB can be formatted as FAT32 using products in the Windows Server 2003 family.

Does not support domains.

Maximum file size is potentially 16 TB minus 64 KB, although files cannot be larger than the volume or partition they are located on.

Maximum file size is 2 GB.

Maximum file size is 4 GB.


On Itanium-based computers with more than one disk, on x64-based computers, and on x86-based computers running Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 (SP1), you can choose not only the sizes of partitions but the partition style for each disk. The partition style determines the way that information about the partition is stored. There are two partition styles: master boot record (MBR) and GUID partition table (GPT). On GPT disks, unlike MBR disks, data critical to platform operation is located in partitions instead of unpartitioned or hidden sectors. In addition, GPT disks have redundant primary and backup partition tables for improved partition data structure integrity.

On Itanium-based computers, you must install Windows XP 64-bit Edition (Itanium) or the Itanium-based versions of Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition, and Windows Server 2003, Datacenter Edition, on a GPT disk. On x86-based and x64-based computers running Windows Server 2003, you must install the operating system on an MBR disk. Other disks can use either the MBR or GPT partition style. With GPT disks, you can create more partitions and larger volumes and can take advantage of other benefits.

For more information about GPT disks, see GUID partition table. For more information about MBR and GPT partition styles, see Partition styles. For information about obtaining the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit, see Using the Windows Deployment and Resource Kits.