Q&A – FAT32, NTFS or FAT64: which is best for USB flash drives?
A. It depends on the application. Most TVs with USB ports and budget media players can only read drives that have been formatted using FAT32. The problem here though is the maximum file size you can have with FAT32 is 4GB.
NTFS gets around this option and for hard drives under Windows, but its formatting and documentation method means it actually chews through quite a deal of space before you start – as much as 100MB on a 4GB flash card. Fewer devices read NTFS drives so for portable media, it may be more problematic.
The new FAT64 or exFAT file system from Microsoft is actually not a bad compromise between the two – it’s fast and it doesn’t have the problem of 4GB file size limitation. The problem with FAT64 is that only Windows Vista with Service Pack 1, Windows 7 and Windows XP with the special update will recognise FAT64. No media devices recognise this file system as yet.
So, in the end, it’s going to depend on your application. For devices smaller than 16GB, FAT32 is probably the more compatible format for a wider range of peripheral devices. For PC use, FAT64 is a fast option but only provided all of the PCs you use have the FAT64 update from Microsoft or are using Windows Vista SP1 or Windows 7.
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