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So, basically I always format my removable mass storage devices as NTFS by default, but someone told me I was better off using exFAT. Now I've been looking around google, but can't find any good reasons why I should.

Is there anything that exFAT does (better) which NTFS doesn't which is useful when using it for (>4GB) removable mass storage?

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Plug a USB drive into a media player: it will not recognize NTFS. –  Ian Boyd May 28 '12 at 22:36
    
@ian nearly all modern-day media players will recognize NTFS... All six I've had did. At least 4 of them were low-end players. –  BloodPhilia May 28 '12 at 22:40
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One of Western Digital's offering's doesn't. –  Ian Boyd May 28 '12 at 22:57
    
@ian that's because that is a streaming device... –  BloodPhilia May 29 '12 at 7:48
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But, to address the question: one reason not to use NTFS of removable media is that not all devices are capable of reading NTFS (e.g. media players) –  Ian Boyd May 29 '12 at 13:19
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4 Answers

up vote 29 down vote accepted

exFAT basically takes the FAT file system to the next level, adding a large amount of long awaited features that the FAT32 system was sorely lacking. One of the key features for people doing video editing is the support for >4GiB files and much larger partition sizes than FAT32 typically supported, making it much easier to work with modern multi-terabyte drives..

exFAT is available for Windows Vista, 7, and I believe I may have even seen a Microsoft release to make XP work with exFAT. There are some people working on Linux exFAT support, but I can't tell how far along they are, and as always, there is a risk of corrupting your data just like with NTFS...

From Wikipedia (my comments in bold):

  • Scalability to large disk sizes: 64 ZiB theoretical max, 512 TiB recommended max, raised from the 16 TiB limit of FAT32 partitions. Note that the built-in Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7 can mount and support FAT32 volumes larger than 32 GB, but cannot create a FAT32 volume larger than 32 GB.
  • Cluster size up to 32 MiB (allowing for larger partitions at the cost of more file slack)
  • File size limit of 16 EiB (Limited by volume size), raised from close to 4 GiB in FAT32 (Better support for video editing and large archives)
  • Free space allocation and delete performance improved due to introduction of a free space bitmap (much better performance than FAT32)
  • Support for access control lists (so you can control file access if you want but I suspect the main use would be for USB devices where you just want people to access it go figure...)
  • Provision for OEM-definable parameters to customize the file system for specific device characteristics (for use in embedded devices with specific needs)

What Microsoft developers have basically done is update the FAT32 file system to exFAT, moving from 32-bit addressing to 64-bit addressing, to offer an improved speed alternative over moving to NTFS at the same time making it possible to create, store or transfer huge files, files greater than 4GiB. In theory, exFAT does not have as much of the operational overhead of NTFS as it lacks many features that add complexity (and therefore processing time and disk latency) to the filesystems.

Some of the missing (and effectively useless or a waste for removable media) features include:

The only drawbacks to exFAT are that Microsoft has not released it into the public, requiring that companies licence it for use on their devices. This is likely more aimed at digital video recorder type devices, home users get a licence to use it with Windows.

From exFAT Versus FAT32 Versus NTFS

However, exFAT should be a true competitor to NTFS on systems with limited processing power and memory. NTFS on flash memory has been known to be inefficient for quite some time. exFAT’s smaller footprint/overhead makes it ideal for this purpose. Of course, only if your definition of “ideal” allows software to be proprietary and not open source.

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Thanks @Mokubai, great answer! –  BloodPhilia Mar 25 '11 at 14:58
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I feel like this answer is mostly addressing exFAT versus FAT32. Where's the comparison to NTFS? –  JoeCool Dec 21 '12 at 17:04
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NTFS has security attributes that get tied to the local computer by default - so for media that needs to move around, FAT is usually more handy.

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As an addendum to the above answers, exFAT is also supported by OS X Snow Leopard in 10.6.5 and later (although not mentioned in the release notes).

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Google's many results seem to suggest it's much better for many reasons (it's newer, the same old reasons like smaller, faster, more efficient) but also less compatible, Vista and 7 only.

This is the best I found, chart explains a lot.

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