A file system is the underlying structure a computer uses to organize data on a hard disk. If you are installing a new hard disk, you need to partition and format it using a file system before you can begin storing data or programs. In Windows, the three file system options you have to choose from are NTFS, FAT32, and the older and rarely-used FAT (also known as FAT16).
1. NTFS: NTFS is the preferred file system for Windows. It has many benefits over the earlier FAT32 file system, including:
a) The capability to recover from some disk-related errors automatically, which FAT32 cannot.
b) Improved support for larger hard disks.
c) Better security because you can use permissions and encryption to restrict access to specific files to approved users.
Convert a hard disk or partition to NTFS format:
The NTFS file system provides better performance and security for data on hard disks and partitions or volumes than the FAT file system used in some earlier version of Windows. If you have a partition that uses the earlier FAT16 or FAT32 file system, you can convert it to NTFS by using the convert command. Converting to NTFS does not affect the data on the partition.
Notes: After you convert a partition to NTFS, you cannot convert it back. If you want to use the FAT file system on the partition again, you’ll need to reformat the partition, and this will erase all data on it. Some earlier versions of Windows cannot read data on local NTFS partitions. If you need to use an earlier version of Windows to access a partition on the computer, do not convert it. Although the chance of corruption or data loss during a conversion is minimal, you should back up all data on the partition before you begin.
To format a hard disk partition with NTFS:
Close any open programs running on the partition or logical drive to be converted. Click the Start button, click All Programs, click Accessories, right-click Command Prompt, and then click Run as administrator. If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
In the Command Prompt window, type convert drive_letter: /fs:ntfs, where drive_letter is the letter of the drive you want to convert, and then press ENTER. For example, convert E: /fs:ntfs would convert drive E to the NTFS format.
Type the name of the volume you want to convert, and then press ENTER. To view the available volumes, click the Start button , and then click Computer. The volumes are listed under Hard Disk Drives.
If the partition you are converting contains system files—which would be the case if you are converting your entire hard disk—you will need to restart your computer for the conversion to take place. If your disk is almost full, the conversion process might not succeed. If you receive an error, try deleting unnecessary files, or back up files to another location, to free up disk space.
2. FAT32: FAT32, and the lesser-used FAT, were used in earlier versions of Windows operating systems, including Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows Millennium Edition. FAT32 does not have the security that NTFS provides, so if you have a FAT32 partition or volume on your computer, any user who has access to your computer can read any file on it. FAT32 also has size limitations. You cannot create a FAT32 partition greater than 32GB in this version of Windows, and you cannot store a file larger than 4GB on a FAT32 partition.
The main reason to use FAT32 is because you have a computer that will sometimes run Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows Millennium Edition and at other times run this version of Windows, known as a multiboot configuration. If that is the case, you will need to install the earlier operating system on a FAT32 or FAT partition and ensure that it is a primary partition (one that can host an operating system). Any additional partitions you will need to access when using these earlier versions of Windows must also be formatted with FAT32. These earlier versions of Windows can access NTFS partitions or volumes over a network, but not on your computer.
Convert a hard disk or partition to FAT32 format:
You must be logged on as an administrator to perform these steps. Before you begin, note that the FAT32 file system has size limitations. In this version of Windows, you cannot create a FAT32 partition greater than 32 gigabytes (GB). In addition, you cannot store a file larger than 4 GB on a FAT32 partition.
To format a hard disk partition with FAT32:
Open Computer Management by clicking the Start button , clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Maintenance, clicking Administrative Tools, and then double-clicking Computer Management. If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
In the Navigation pane of Computer Management (Local), under Storage, click Disk Management. Right-click the partition you want to format, and then click Format. In the Format dialog box, under File System, select FAT32, click OK, and then click OK again.
3. To determine what type of file system a partition is using:
Open Computer by clicking the Start button , and then clicking Computer. Under Hard Disk Drives, right-click a drive, and then click Properties. The file system the drive uses is listed on the General tab under File system.
FAT: File Allocation Table
FAT 32: File Allocation Table 16
FAT 16: File Allocation Table 32
NTFS: New Technology File System