Should I use FAT32 or NTFS for microSD?

FAT32 and NTFS are the two most common filesystems used for external storage devices like USB drives and memory cards. FAT32 dates back to Windows 95, while NTFS was introduced in Windows NT and is the default filesystem for internal hard drives in Windows operating systems today.

When formatting a microSD card, the choice between FAT32 and NTFS involves tradeoffs around compatibility, file size limits, performance, and reliability. Key factors to consider include what devices you want to use the card with, how large the individual files you store will be, whether you need advanced features like file compression or encryption, and minimizing corruption risks.

This article provides an in-depth comparison of FAT32 and NTFS for microSD cards, looking at the history and technical differences between the two filesystems and giving recommendations based on usage scenarios.

History and Origins

FAT32 was introduced with Windows 95 OSR2 (MS-DOS 7.1) in 1996, although reformatting was needed to use it, and DriveSpace 3 (the version that came with Windows 95 OSR2) does not support FAT32[1]. FAT32 was developed jointly by Microsoft and IBM. FAT32 was designed specifically for Microsoft’s 32-bit operating systems, with the key benefit being support for drives larger than 2 GB in size.

NTFS was introduced in 1993 with Microsoft’s Windows NT operating system[2]. It was designed by Microsoft specifically for their Windows NT line of operating systems, which were intended for workstations and servers. A key advantage of NTFS over FAT32 was improved support for metadata and advanced data structures.

In summary, FAT32 and NTFS were developed in the 1990s by Microsoft for their 32-bit Windows operating systems. FAT32 enabled large drive support, while NTFS improved file system features.




When it comes to compatibility, there are some key differences between FAT32 and NTFS that are worth considering. FAT32 has broader device compatibility and can be read and written to by all versions of Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, game consoles, and more. However, there are some limitations with FAT32’s compatibility on Mac computers. While Mac OS X can read and write FAT32 drives, it cannot create or format them (Howtogeek, 2023).

On the other hand, NTFS was introduced later and has more limited compatibility. NTFS drives can be read and written to by Windows XP and later Windows versions. However, Mac OS X and Linux can only read NTFS drives by default – writing to them requires installing additional software. So for cross-platform compatibility between Windows and Mac, FAT32 may be the better choice (Datto, 2022).

In summary, FAT32 offers broader compatibility across devices and operating systems, while NTFS is mainly compatible with newer Windows versions. FAT32 has limitations writing from Mac OS X, and NTFS requires extra software for writing from Mac or Linux systems. So FAT32 tends to provide better plug-and-play compatibility if you need to share drives between multiple platforms.


FAT32 and NTFS have some key differences when it comes to features and functionality.

FAT32 only supports file sizes up to 4GB, while NTFS supports much larger file sizes. NTFS has better support for larger partitions and uses less overhead than FAT32 (According to, “NTFS vs FAT: Which Is Better and How do they compare?”).

In terms of reliability, NTFS has fault tolerance and can automatically repair files/folders in case of power failure or errors. FAT32 does not have this capability.

For security, FAT32 only offers shared permissions for all users, while NTFS allows setting granular permissions for files and folders ( This makes NTFS more suitable for situations where tighter security is needed.

Performance-wise, some tests show NTFS having faster read/write speeds compared to FAT32, especially when handling lots of small files. However, FAT32 may have a slight edge for very large file transfers (

Overall, NTFS has more advanced features, better performance for many use cases, and more robust security. But FAT32 remains compatible with more devices.

MicroSD Card Usage

MicroSD cards are commonly used in mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, cameras, GPS devices, and handheld gaming systems. The typical usage scenarios are:

  • Storing photos and videos captured by the device’s camera
  • Downloading and storing apps, music, audiobooks, and other media files
  • Serving as removable expanded storage for the device

For these types of usage, FAT32 is generally the better file system option compared to NTFS. FAT32 works seamlessly out of the box with mobile devices and allows transferring files between devices more easily. NTFS requires additional software to enable compatibility with many mobile OSes.

NTFS makes more sense for microSD cards used as dedicated external storage for laptops and desktop PCs. NTFS enables larger file sizes beyond 4GB and better performance compared to FAT32. But NTFS microSD cards may encounter compatibility issues if used with mobile devices.

File Size Limits

One of the key differences between FAT32 and NTFS is the maximum file size each file system supports. FAT32 has a maximum file size of 4GB, while NTFS supports much larger files up to 264 bytes (16 exabytes) minus 1KB [1]. This difference in file size limits can have a big impact when using microSD cards.

Since microSD cards are commonly used for media storage, like high-resolution photos and HD video, the 4GB file size limit of FAT32 can be quite restrictive. Many modern digital cameras shoot photos larger than 4GB and video files can easily surpass this limit even at short lengths and standard HD resolution. With NTFS there is practically no file size limit, so you don’t have to worry about splitting up or compressing large files.

If you intend to use your microSD card for storing media or other large files, NTFS is definitely the better choice. FAT32’s small file size limit would require constantly splitting files or compressing media, which takes extra time and storage space. NTFS eliminates that headache entirely and gives you maximum flexibility no matter how large your files get.


When comparing the performance of FAT32 and NTFS on microSD cards, NTFS generally outperforms FAT32 in benchmarks. According to testing by Flexense, NTFS delivered higher read and write speeds compared to FAT32 when using a USB 3.0 flash drive. Specifically, NTFS provided up to 18% faster read speeds and up to 8% faster write speeds.

Real-world tests on microSD cards have shown similar results. As noted in benchmarking by Sami Lehtinen, NTFS outpaced FAT32 in sequential read, sequential write, and random read/write performance when using a microSD card reader. The performance gap was most noticeable for small file operations, where NTFS delivered up to 300% faster random read/write speeds compared to FAT32.

Overall, these benchmarks demonstrate that NTFS offers better performance potential than FAT32 for microSD card usage, especially when working with many small files. The performance gains are attributed to NTFS’s advanced data structures and more efficient allocation algorithms.


There are a few different ways to format a microSD card to FAT32 or NTFS depending on your operating system:

On Windows, you can use the built-in Disk Management utility to format the drive. Right-click on the drive and choose “Format”. Then select FAT32 or NTFS as the file system.[1]

On Mac, you’ll need to use the diskutil command in Terminal. To format as FAT32:
diskutil eraseDisk FAT32 NEWVOLUMENAME /dev/diskN
To format as NTFS:
diskutil eraseDisk NTFS NEWVOLUMENAME /dev/diskN

You can also use third-party formatting tools like SD Formatter for Windows, macOS, and Linux. This provides advanced options like quick format vs full format.

The main partitioning scheme for SD cards is MBR (Master Boot Record). This allows either FAT32 or NTFS formatting. Newer SD cards use GPT (GUID Partition Table) which enables exFAT formatting for cards larger than 32GB.

In general, FAT32 is better for compatibility with devices while NTFS is more robust against corruption. NTFS supports larger files and more security features like encryption and permissions.


When it comes to reliability and robustness, NTFS has some key advantages over FAT32. As explained on, “NTFS is more robust and effective than FAT since it makes use of advanced data structures to improve reliability, disk space utilization and overall performance.”

Specifically, NTFS has built-in fault tolerance features that can automatically detect and repair errors. As Datto notes, “NTFS automatically repairs files/folders in the case of power failures or errors.” FAT32 does not have these automatic error checking and repair capabilities.

NTFS also uses advanced journaling to improve corruption resistance. According to Diskpart, “NTFS applies journaling technique to strengthen fault tolerance. All changes made to metadata are logged in a journal prior to committing them to the main file system. If the system crashes or loses power, NTFS will use the journal to restore the file system to the recent consistent state.”

In contrast, FAT32 lacks a journaling system and has less resistance to corruption. Overall, NTFS offers much more reliability and robustness versus FAT32.


In summary, the key differences between FAT32 and NTFS for microSD cards are:

  • FAT32 is compatible with more devices, while NTFS is mainly limited to Windows computers.
  • FAT32 has a maximum 4GB file size limit, while NTFS supports much larger files.
  • NTFS generally provides better performance, especially for larger files.
  • NTFS offers more security features like file permissions and encryption.

For microSD cards, FAT32 is likely the better option for most users due to its wider compatibility. The main drawback is the 4GB file size limit, but this is reasonable for typical microSD usage like photos, videos, documents, and music. Unless you specifically need to store files over 4GB or require NTFS security features, FAT32 will allow the microSD card to work with more devices.

In summary, FAT32 is recommended for microSD cards due to its simplicity and compatibility across devices. But NTFS may be preferable for specific large file storage needs, if compatibility with non-Windows devices is not required.