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

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

Seeing developments in the other question, 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 into?

  • 1
    SDXC cards are formatted using exFAT by default, although of course you can reformat them as required.
    – Karan
    Jan 14, 2013 at 3:02

5 Answers 5


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 Windows NT, Windows 2000, and Windows 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 Windows XP Home edition) 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 MP3 files)
  • 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 4 GB).
  • Allows larger volume sizes (greater than 1 TB). There is talk about a theoretical limit of 16 exabytes, and up to 2 terabytes.
  • Supported format on dynamic disks (no dynamic disks on Windows XP Home).
  • Works well with large cache (greater than 96 MB systems).
  • Performs better on volumes ~20 GB and more.
  • Is more space-efficient on large volumes (greater than 8 GB).
  • Resistant to fragmentation.

Why FAT32 for Linux?

  • FAT32 works well almost everywhere. [FAT32 isn't even the default filesystem on Linux (as opposed to NTFS and Windows)]
  • 1
    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, 2013 at 4:42
  • How big is it ?
    – Hele
    Jan 14, 2013 at 4:46
  • More than one stick?
    – Hele
    Jan 14, 2013 at 4:49
  • I have sticks ranging from 256 Mb up to 8 Gb. (Edited.)
    – superuser
    Jan 14, 2013 at 4:56
  • 4
    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, 2013 at 16:32

Windows formats USB drives as NTFS by default, FAT is really old, and 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 an NTFS and a FAT32 partition.

  • 1
    +1 for the pointer on Unetbootin, just saved me from a lot of aggravation down the road
    – sq33G
    Jul 10, 2013 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, 2014 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

Edit: I no longer recommend UDF because it's broken in Windows 10 and 11 since November 2021. See: https://support.red.com/hc/en-us/articles/4415823937043-UDF-Windows-10-11-Compatibility-Issues

  • Also UDF is optimized for media with limited rewriting cycles, like CD/DVD-RW and flash drives.
    – Anixx
    Sep 19, 2016 at 12:44

NTFS and exFAT are faster than FAT32 on flash memory.

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

  • 2
    Care to share some numbers? The link might dissapear...
    – vonbrand
    Apr 5, 2013 at 20:06
  • 1
    I'm not sure you can generalize SSD benchmark results to much cheaper and simpler thumb drives. Nov 3, 2013 at 22:16

Always use NTFS!

  1. NTFS can be encrypted with Bitlocker and readable on Linux (dislocker)
  2. UDF cannot be encrypted, at least not to be readable by Windows
  3. FAT/FAT32/exFAT have small accuracy file's date & time - archiving files may overwrite because of file's time when copied from NTFS or ext4
  4. Ext4 is only writable on Linux, on Windows not (for now, directly)
  5. NTFS in comparison to FAT/exFAT have small MFT, the latter may take tons of space for MFT (FAT table, depending on the cluster size)
  6. FATs have limit to 4 GiB files
  7. FAT32 has limit for disk size (8 TB)
  8. UDF cannot be defragmented currently
  9. Ext4 is not easily readable in Windows (need to use DiskInternals Linux Reader)

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