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exFAT vs. FAT32 - these are the differences

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Why not NTFS right away?
What is FAT32?
What is exFAT?
exFAT vs. FAT32 - The differences at a glance



When formatting drives, you can choose between the exFAT and FAT32 file systems. We'll explain the differences to you..

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Regardless of whether you have formatted an internal drive, external hard drives, USB sticks or an SD card: A file system is required so that the data can be read correctly. Windows 10 offers you the option of using exFAT, FAT32 or NTFS. In this tipps + tricks article, you can find out what exactly is behind exFAT and FAT32, and what advantages and disadvantages the file systems have compared to NTFS .

Why not NTFS right away?

NTFS stands for New Technology File System and is the file system Windows uses by default. The question arises, why should you format a hard drive as exFAT or FAT32 at all? Well, in case you've ever formatted an external hard drive as an NTFS file system and want it on macOS or Linux, there is a critical problem:

While macOS recognizes the drives, NTFS cannot be written to - so data exchange is hardly possible. Linux can only be forced to support it with subsequent work for NTFS. Likewise, none of Sony's PlayStation consoles work with NTFS. In short: NTFS is a good file system for Windows 10 and older versions, but compatibility is limited with macOS and Linux. For these reasons, we explain to you what advantages exFAT and FAT32 offer and what they actually are.

Tip: Read more about the differences between exFAT and NTFS in this article..

What is FAT32?

FAT stands for File Allocation Table and is the oldest of the file systems mentioned here. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't have any advantages. The FAT32 file system was introduced with Windows 95 to replace its predecessor FAT16, which was still used in MS-DOS and Windows 3. The big advantage is that FAT32 is de facto standard due to its age. If you have purchased a new SD card, it is usually formatted as FAT32 to ensure maximum compatibility with computers or game consoles.

Contrary to its great advantage of compatibility, the maximum file size that can be saved is limited to 4 GB . If you have a film that you have shot yourself, FAT32 is not an ideal file system, for example, to share the file with other PCs via USB sticks or external hard drives..

You should therefore format it as FAT32 if you want to save files smaller than 4 GB on external hard drives, USB sticks or SD cards that are used with devices other than a Windows PC. However, FAT32 is not suitable for internal drives. Above all, there is a lack of authorizations and other security functions that are built into the more modern NTFS file system. In addition, newer Windows versions currently no longer offer the option of being installed on FAT32.

What is exFAT?

exFAT stands for Extended File Allocation and was introduced in 2006 with the updates for Windows XP and Windows Vista. A large SD card in a digital camera or in your smartphone requires a different file system due to the limitations of FAT32. With exFAT, the FAT file system is expanded - as with NTFS, files that are significantly larger than 4 GB can be saved with exFAT . Another key advantage of exFAT is its compatibility. It has been supported by macOS since 2010 and completely by Linux since 2019.

Do you use multiple operating systems? Then exFAT should be your file system of choice. One disadvantage - especially compared to NTFS - is that exFAT does not offer any compression of the data. There are also advantages for console owners: exFAT has been supported since the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One.

exFAT vs. FAT32 - The differences at a glance

FAT32 exFAT
maximum file size 4 GB no limit
compatibility Works with all versions of Windows, macOS, Linux, and game consoles. Works with all versions of Windows, newer versions of macOS, and Linux. Console support since PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Older devices tend to support FAT32.
disadvantage 4 GB maximum file size, 8 TB maximum partition size. No realistic limit on file or partition size.
Areas of application Exchange of data between different operating systems, e.g. via USB sticks and external hard drives if the file size is <4 GB. Exchange of data between different operating systems. Especially when exchanging larger data, such as with digital cameras, if the file size is> 4 GB.
FAT32 exFAT
maximum file size 4 GB no limit
compatibility Works with all versions of Windows, macOS, Linux, and game consoles. Works with all versions of Windows, newer versions of macOS, and Linux. Console support since PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Older devices tend to support FAT32.
disadvantage 4 GB maximale Dateigröße, 8 TB maximale Partitionsgröße. Keine realistische Begrenzung der Datei- oder Partitionsgröße.
Anwendungsbereiche Austausch von Daten zwischen verschiedenen Betriebssystemen, z.B. via USB-Sticks und externer Festplatten wenn Dateigröße < 4 GB. Austausch von Daten zwischen verschiedenen Betriebssystemen. Insbesondere bei Austausch von größeren Daten wie bei Digitalkameras, wenn Dateigröße > 4 GB.


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