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Windows File System Types

Windows supports different file systems.

File System and Description

FAT (File Allocation Table) :  An older file system that is best suited for use with drives less than 4 GB in size. The primary advantages of the FAT file system are its extremely low disk overhead (less than 1 MB), and its compatibility with many different operating systems, including all versions of Windows and also MS-DOS and UNIX. You might use the FAT file system if you want to dual-boot a computer between a version of Windows and another operating system. It is primarily used for formatting floppy disks.

FAT32 : An enhanced version of the FAT file system. It scales better to large hard drives (up to 2 terabytes in size) and uses a smaller cluster size than FAT for more efficient space usage.

NTFS (NT File System):   The recommend file system for today’s Windows-based computers. NTFS was   introduced with the Windows NT operating system and is sometimes read as NT File System. NTFS provides many enhanced features over FAT or FAT32, including file- and folder-level security, file encryption, disk compression, and scalability to very large drives and files.

Media file systems: Windows also supports various types of special media file system formats, such as CD File System (CDFS) for CD-ROM devices.

Disk Clusters and File System Types

When you format drives, you organize the drive into individual data storage areas called sectors. Sectors are grouped together into larger units called clusters or allocation units. A cluster is the smallest unit that the system will use to store a file. If a file does not fill a cluster, the extra space in the cluster remains empty.

The size of sectors and clusters is determined by the file system you use to format the drive. Smaller allocation units reduce unused space on the disk, but can also reduce disk read/write performance because there are more locations to access on the disk. The smaller cluster sizes that FAT32 offered were of more benefit when disk space was costly and most drives used FAT; very large hard drives are now relatively inexpensive. In any case, you should generally use NTFS on Windows partitions to gain the security benefits.

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