Why Flash Drives are Still Using FAT32 Instead of NTFS

Why Flash Drives are Still Using FAT32 Instead of NTFS

by Chris Thomas on 16 April 2014 · 2017 views

The NTFS file system was created more than twelve years ago and has been used ever sinceas the default file system type for all Windows machines and most other computing devices. However, for reasons that most people are unaware of, flash drives and other external memory devices are still using the old FAT32 file system. So why haven't manufacturers switched over to using only the NTFS file system in flash drives if it is supposed to be an upgrade from FAT32? 

1 full Why Flash Drives are Still Using FAT32 Instead of NTFS

To understand why the FAT32 file system is more suitable for flash drives and SD cards we'll first need to examine the key difference between NTFS and FAT32. 

FAT32 can only support individual file sizes up to 4 GB - so saving a large video file or archive that exceeds 4 GB would not be possible in the FAT32 file system. Furthermore, drives that are larger than 2TB cannot be formatted in FAT32. However, with the exception of larger external hard drives (which are typically formatted in NTFS) there are really no flash drives or SD cards that can hold more than 2 TB and usually you would never need to transfer a single file that is larger than 4 GB. 

Therefore, although NTFS has higher data storage and transfer limits, these limits are mostly irrelevant when it comes to flash drive and SD card data.

Another reason why computers use NTFS while flash drives and memory cards still use FAT32 is because NTFS has journalling capabilities. This means that hard drives formatted in the NTFS file system automatically save a "journalled" version of data before actually writing the data to the drive. This is done to prevent data loss in the event of a crash, as the NTFS file system can quickly recover its most recently journalled data upon startup rather than putting you through a lengthy data recovery process. 

The problem is, not only is journalling unnecessary for flash drives and memory cards, it also slows them down and reduces their storage life because journalling requires continuous data writing. Since you should only be using your USB flash drives and SD cards to transfer and store data there is no need for NTFS-style journalling, and it actually proves detrimental in these devices.

FAT32 also does not support file permissions. While this may seem like another disadvantage it really makes sense not to enable file permissions on flash drives as this can create accessibility issues when you move files from one device to another. For example, if you were to restrict access to a specific file so that only a certain user ID could open it then someone may be able to bypass this restriction by creating the same user ID on another machine. 

Thus, file permissions in flash drives wouldn't really provide additional security and it would only slow down the disk and complicate tedious data transferring tasks.


Although the NTFS file system has larger file transfer and storage limits and is equipped with more data backup features, these advantages are useless and sometimes detrimental in flash drives, SD cards and other smaller external storage devices. 

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