Should I use exFAT or NTFS?

When choosing a file system for external storage devices like USB flash drives and external hard drives, NTFS and exFAT are two of the best options to consider. Both file systems have advantages and disadvantages to weigh when deciding which one will work best for your needs.

Quick Answers

Here are quick answers to some common questions about NTFS vs exFAT:

  • NTFS is preferred for internal hard drives, while exFAT is generally better for external storage.
  • exFAT has greater compatibility across operating systems like Windows, macOS, and Linux.
  • NTFS offers more security features like file encryption and permission controls.
  • exFAT is simpler and faster at reading/writing files, but less robust against corruption.
  • Both exFAT and NTFS support very large partition sizes above 2TB.
  • If you don’t need macOS compatibility, NTFS is typically the better choice for external drives that will just be used with Windows.

What is exFAT?

exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table) is a file system introduced in 2006. It was designed primarily for use on flash memory like USB drives and SD cards. exFAT is optimized for situations where a large storage volume needs to be accessible from multiple operating systems without data loss.

Here are some key advantages of exFAT:

  • Compatible with Windows, macOS, and Linux – This makes exFAT a good choice for external drives that will be used across different devices and operating systems.
  • Good for external storage – The optimizations for flash memory make exFAT suitable for external USB drives, SD cards, etc.
  • No file size limit – exFAT does away with old file system limitations, allowing file sizes larger than 4GB.
  • Fast read/write speeds – exFAT is designed to be performant on large volume storage compared to older file systems.
  • No partitioning limitations – exFAT enables very large partition sizes over 2TB on modern devices.

However, exFAT lacks some of the security and management features of more sophisticated file systems like NTFS. It doesn’t support file permissions, encryption, disk quotas, or other restrictions on size and use. It also lacks the robustness against corruption that NTFS provides.

What is NTFS?

NTFS (New Technology File System) is the primary file system used by modern versions of Windows. It was first introduced with Windows NT in 1993 and has advanced in subsequent Windows releases to add new capabilities:

  • Support for large partitions over 2TB in size.
  • Encrypting File System (EFS) for file/folder encryption.
  • Disk quotas for restricting storage usage.
  • Advanced security permissions at user and group levels.
  • Symbolic links and compression for more efficient storage.
  • Better corruption prevention using journaling and logs.

Here are some of the key advantages of NTFS:

  • Full read/write support on all modern Windows versions.
  • Advanced security and permissions controls for files/folders.
  • Great performance and reliability using journaling, caching, logging, etc.
  • Efficient storage with compression and deduplication.
  • Integrity checks prevent and fix disk corruption.

The main disadvantages of NTFS are its limited compatibility with other operating systems and greater complexity compared to simpler file systems. By default, macOS and Linux do not support writing to NTFS drives.

Internal Drives vs. External Drives

One key consideration when choosing a file system is whether it will be used for an internal drive or external drive:

  • Internal drives – For Windows system drives and data partitions on the same computer, NTFS is typically the best choice. It has full support built into Windows for best performance and compatibility as the primary file system.
  • External drives – When using external storage devices like USB flash drives or portable external hard drives that will be used across operating systems, exFAT is generally the better option. The wide compatibility of exFAT makes it less likely there will be issues accessing the drive from different devices.

This distinction is important because NTFS is proprietary to Windows, while exFAT is designed as a universal file system that can bridge between OSes. If you have an external drive that will only ever connect to Windows computers, NTFS is fine. But if it may also be plugged into a Mac, smartphone, game console, etc. then exFAT is probably preferable.


One of the main factors when choosing between NTFS and exFAT is what devices you intend to use the drive with. This determines whether you need broader compatibility or just optimized NTFS performance on Windows.

Here’s a quick compatibility overview between the file systems:

Windows Full read/write support Full read/write support
macOS Read-only Full read/write support
Linux Read-only Full read/write support
Android Read-only Full read/write support
iOS Not supported Full read/write support
Chrome OS Read-only Full read/write support
Game Consoles Limited support Supported on modern consoles

As you can see, NTFS support outside of Windows is limited since it’s a proprietary file system. exFAT has broader compatibility across major operating systems making it a good option for external drives.


On Windows, both NTFS and exFAT have full read and write support. However, NTFS is generally preferred as the primary file system on Windows system drives or for dual-boot configurations.

NTFS is the native Windows file system developed specifically for optimal performance and robust features. It has advanced capabilities like file permissions, encryption, disk quotas, and file compression that are lacking in exFAT.

For external storage that will be used just with Windows devices, like USB drives, NTFS is a perfectly fine option. But if you need full macOS or Linux compatibility too, exFAT may be the better choice.


Out of the box, macOS only includes read-only support for NTFS drives. This is because NTFS is proprietary to Windows. To get full read/write access on macOS, you need to install additional NTFS drivers.

exFAT meanwhile has full support built into modern versions of macOS without any extra software. So it’s the easier plug-and-play choice for macOS compatibility.


In Linux, NTFS file systems can only be mounted with read-only access by default. Some Linux distributions may include NTFS write support, but it’s not guaranteed across the board.

exFAT has kernel-level support in modern Linux distributions, enabling full read/write capability. So it’s generally the preferred option for Linux compatibility on external drives.

Mobile and Game Consoles

For mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, as well as gaming consoles, exFAT is the only choice that guarantees full compatibility for reading and writing files. Some may have limited read-only NTFS support.

Since exFAT is now widely adopted as a universal exchange file system, it has become the standard for supporting external storage across all these consumer devices.


In terms of performance, NTFS is optimized for highest throughput of large amounts of data on internal drives. It uses advanced caching, logging, and data integrity techniques.

exFAT has lower overhead than NTFS, so it can in some scenarios improve performance with small files or quick writes. But it lacks the robust file integrity and recovery capabilities of NTFS.

On modern fast external storage devices, you likely won’t notice a huge real-world performance difference between exFAT and NTFS.

The key advantages of exFAT are wider compatibility and simplicity rather than raw performance. For pure transfer speed, NTFS is hard to beat, but exFAT is no slouch on devices with fast internal storage.

File Size Limits

Historically, file systems had limits on how large an individual file could be. But on NTFS and exFAT, huge file sizes are now supported:

  • NTFS – Supports files up to 16 EiB (exbibyte). An exbibyte is 260 bytes. That’s over a million terabytes.
  • exFAT – Theoretically supports files up to 16 EiB. Practical limit is 128 PiB (pebibyte) which is 250 bytes or around 8 million terabytes.

So both NTFS and exFAT support enormous maximum file sizes that you won’t run into under normal circumstances. This allows backing up very large volumes of data to external drives using either file system.

Partition Size Limits

In terms of partition size limits, NTFS and exFAT both support partitions larger than 2TB. This enables use with massive modern external hard drives.

The maximum partition size depends on the scheme used to create the partition:

  • MBR – Master Boot Record partition style limits partitions to 2TB.
  • GPT – GUID Partition Table allows much larger partitions up to 256TB with NTFS or 512TB with exFAT.

With a modern GPT-partitioned drive, NTFS or exFAT can make use of the full drive capacity. Both can handle external and internal hard disks or partitions over 2TB easily.


NTFS supports a full permissions systems allowing control over access to files and folders at a user and group level. exFAT has no permissions capability.

NTFS also supports encryption via the Encrypting File System (EFS). This allows files and folders to be transparently encrypted using public-key cryptography. exFAT does not support encryption.

Additionally, NTFS has logging, recovery, and transaction features to prevent and fix disk corruption. exFAT has no built-in data integrity checks.

So for security-conscious use cases like storing sensitive data, NTFS is far preferable over exFAT. The permissions, encryption, and robustness against corruption make NTFS the superior choice for situations where data integrity matters.

Which is More Reliable Against Corruption?

NTFS uses journaling and other advanced techniques to optimize data integrity. The journal keeps track of file system operations to allow transaction-based behavior and faster recovery in case of corruption.

exFAT has no such safeguards against corruption. Any lost clusters, file entries, or directory errors on an exFAT drive may be irrecoverable.

For lightly used external media, exFAT corruption is less likely. But on heavily used drives, NTFS is much more resilient against errors due to its logging, caching, and recovery tools.

Use Cases

Based on the differences highlighted so far, here are some guidelines for when to use NTFS vs. exFAT:

When to Use NTFS

  • Internal hard drive for Windows (system, applications, data, etc.)
  • External drives that only need to work with Windows devices
  • Drive used to share large files exceeding 4GB.
  • Situations requiring high performance
  • External drives requiring encryption or advanced security
  • Boot drives with multiple partitions

When to Use exFAT instead

  • External drive for transferring files between OSes (Windows, macOS, Linux)
  • USB flash drives for storage across devices
  • SD card or external camera storage usable across devices
  • External media where high performance is not critical

Converting Between File Systems

For external media, you can format between NTFS and exFAT as needed. This erases all data, so be sure to back up first.

On Windows, you can easily reformat drives larger than 32GB between NTFS and exFAT.

For internal system drives, converting requires repartitioning which is more complex. This also destroys all data, making backups crucial.

When formatting or converting partitions, remember:

  • Use exFAT for external drives to retain compatibility across OSes.
  • Stick with NTFS for internal Windows partitions for best performance and features.
  • Back up all data before converting file systems.


NTFS vs. exFAT is mainly an internal vs. external drive consideration, respectively. For Windows system drives, NTFS is the superior choice to access all Windows features, permissions, and optimizations. But for external drives, exFAT enables compatibility across devices when that’s the priority.

Here’s a quick summary of when to use NTFS vs. exFAT:

  • NTFS – Internal Windows drives, external drives that stay connected to Windows PCs, max performance needed, advanced security features required.
  • exFAT – External drive to share files across OSes, external media that’s routinely disconnected and reconnected, don’t need full performance and features of NTFS.

With the right file system for your specific needs, you can maximize the usefulness of both internal and external storage devices.