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Does it depend on the media size which one to chose or on some other parameters? In Windows 7 FAT16 is the default. In's Universal USB Installer FAT32. Which one to chose? How about NTFS for Windows use?

How about exFAT? It is tne Microsoft designed filesystem for removable media. Is there a difference in USB sticks and SD cards in this regard?

Edit: seeing developments in the other thread, should I still use something like exFAT if I don't want Recycle bins created on every single machine I plug my USB thumb drive in?

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SDXC cards are formatted using exFAT by default, although of course you can reformat them as required. – Karan Jan 14 '13 at 3:02
up vote 13 down vote accepted

To put it simply :

  • Between FAT and FAT32, just choose FAT32.
  • Between NTFS and FAT32, If you use the drive only in Windows, use NTFS. In any other case, use FAT32.

Why NTFS for Windows?

  • NTFS(New Technology File System) was introduced by windows and has been supported since the early versions of Windows. So it has become sort of a Windows thing.

  • Is the native file system for WinNT/2k/XP

  • Allows indexing which improves file searching (mostly, faster); causes slight performance hit (can turn off).
  • Has better security -- such as file-wise encryption (not supported by WinXP home) and per-user access rules (you can stop your wife from seeing the porn folder!)
  • Supports user quotas (prevent the tykes from downloading too many mp3s)
  • Has file-wise compression.
  • Is journaled, decreasing data loss (ScanDisk at start up unnecessary).
  • Uses Unicode (allows foreign and extended character) file names and natively supports long file names.
  • Supports larger files than FAT (greater than 4GB).
  • Allows larger volume sizes (greater than 1TB) There is talk about a theoretical limit of 16 Exabytes, and up to 2 Terabytes.
  • Supported format on dynamic disks (no dynamic disks on WinXP Home).
  • Works well with large cache (greater than 96MB systems).
  • Performs better on volumes ~20GB and more.
  • Is more space-efficient on large volumes (greater than 8GB).
  • Resistant to fragmentation.

Why FAT32 for Linux?

  • FAT32 works well almost everywhere. [FAT32 isn't even the default filesystem in Linux(As opposed to NTFS and Windows)]
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Windows formats USB drives as NTFS by default Windows 7 formats a USB as FAT16 by default. Perhaps I have a too old stick? Does it depend on that? – superuser Jan 14 '13 at 4:42
How big is it ? – Hele Jan 14 '13 at 4:46
More than one stick? – Hele Jan 14 '13 at 4:49
I have sticks ranging from 256 Mb up to 8 Gb. (Edited.) – superuser Jan 14 '13 at 4:56
That’s a nice list, but it seems to be NTFS-biased. It doesn’t even mention exFAT (which was developed especially for removable media). Also, several points have no bearing on flash-media (e.g., I for one have never seen a 1TB memory card or a usb-drive with any cache). As well, it doesn’t give information about the impact that NTFS has on flash-media; for example does the journaling feature cause it to write to the disk more often (which of course is bad for flash-media) than FAT does? – Synetech Aug 30 '13 at 16:32

Windows formats USB drives as NTFS by default, FAT is really old, what type of file system you want to go with depends on your need.


  • Supports files larger than 4 gb
  • Can run Windows 8 live
  • Unetbootin does not support NTFS and refuses to use drives that are NTFS formatted.


  • Files must be smaller than 4 gb
  • Linux Live works

Please know that you can have several partition in your USB device and thereby you can have a NTFS and a FAT32 partition

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+1 for the pointer on Unetbootin, just saved me from a lot of aggravation down the road – sq33G Jul 10 '13 at 21:00
NTFS by default? Surely not! Even Windows 8.1 selects FAT (16!) as default for sticks smaller 2 GB and FAT32 for sticks larger 2GB. – Foo Bar May 23 '14 at 13:01

I recommend using UDF, which has roughly the same advantages as NTFS mentioned in @Hele's answer. The biggest reason to use UDF instead of NTFS is OS X compatibility. OS X can only read but not write to NTFS partitions. UDF is well-supported, read-write, on Windows¹, OS X, and Linux.

To format a drive as UDF, see:

¹ Except Windows XP, which has read-only UDF support

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NTFS and exFAT are faster than FAT32 on flash memory.

Reference: Benchmark Results: Iometer 4 KB Random And Streaming Read/Write

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Care to share some numbers? The link might dissapear... – vonbrand Apr 5 '13 at 20:06
I'm not sure you can generalize SSD benchmark results to much cheaper and simpler thumb drives. – Lyman Enders Knowles Nov 3 '13 at 22:16

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