Choosing a file system: NTFS, FAT, or FAT32

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

Choosing a file system: NTFS, FAT, or FAT32

You can choose among three file systems for an installation partition: NTFS, FAT, and FAT32. NTFS is strongly recommended in most situations.

For details about each file system or the process of converting or reformatting a partition, see:


  • You can use important features such as Active Directory and domain-based security only by choosing NTFS as your file system.


  • On globally unique identifier (GUID) partition table disks (GPT disks), it is strongly recommended that you use NTFS for the installation partition. However, if you have an Itanium architecture-based computer, and you see that it has a small FAT partition of 100 megabytes (MB) or more, do not delete or reformat this partition. The partition is required for the loading of the operating system. For more information, see Start Setup on an Itanium architecture-based computer.

The following table lists a number of installation or upgrade scenarios for x86-based and x64-based computers (the last two scenarios are fairly uncommon) and provides file system guidelines for each one:

Installation or upgrade scenario for an x86-based or x64-based computer File system to use and additional information to read

The computer currently uses NTFS only (no FAT or FAT32).

Continue to use NTFS.

No additional information about file systems needed.

The computer is x86-based and has one or more FAT or FAT32 partitions.


The computer contains only one operating system, or the operating systems on the computer include Windows 2000, Windows XP, or a product in the Windows Server 2003 family, but no other operating systems.

If the computer is Itanium architecture-based, see the important note earlier in this topic.

Consider reformatting or converting partitions so all partitions use NTFS.

For more information, see Reformatting or converting a partition to use NTFS.

The computer is x64-based.


The computer will contain multiple operating systems, one of which is MS-DOS, Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows Millennium Edition.

For any partition that must be accessible from MS-DOS, Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows Millennium Edition, use FAT (or when appropriate, FAT32).

For more information, see Deciding Whether a Computer Will Contain More Than One Operating System.

The computer will contain multiple operating systems, one of which is Windows NT.

Read Multiple operating systems and file system compatibility.