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Thread: Hard Drive Format FAT32 or ?

  1. #1
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    Arrow Hard Drive Format FAT32 or ?

    This question gets asked in different ways, and I know that there is not a definitive answer, but here it comes again.

    I use and maintain 6-8 computers for myself, family, friends, and business. They are a mixture of XP, 7, Lucid, and Maverick. My personal desktop and laptop are dual-boot, there are even straight-Ubuntu and straight-Windows machines in the mix. I am extremely diligent about keeping software up-to-date.

    Also, I have at least a half-dozen loose hard drives that are used for storage and transfer. Long-term, I would like to migrate away from Windows, but that will most likely take years.

    My question is how to format hard drives for maximum compatibility. It is imperative that they operate across OS and file system boundaries as much as possible.

    There is a mix of documents, pictures, and music files. The drives range from 10GB to 1.5TB.

    I understand that FAT32 chokes on larger drives. I seem to have experienced some of that, I think, but not consistently. NTFS works well but I feel like I am being challenged, and/or locked out, of drives due to "permissions" and "mounting" issues which remain mysterious to me, as a relative newbie.

    Furthermore, Windows and Linux seem to be reluctant, sometimes, to see or read drives formatted or partitioned by the "other team" however you want to say it.

    Maddeningly, these mounting and permission issues do not occur consistently, but seem to be almost random. For instance, with my dual-boot desktop, I have a dedicated 80GB hard drive for Ubuntu and 2 NTFS drives for Windows. About every third Ubuntu boot, I get an error message that one or the other NTFS drives would not mount. All these drives are relative clean and new, and I maintain them pretty well.

    Long rambling monologue, my simple underlying question is what file system to use, even on large drives, for maximum compatibility across platforms.

    Thanks in advance for your help and opinions.
    Last edited by henry cow; January 18th, 2011 at 03:43 PM. Reason: grammar
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  2. #2
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    Re: Hard Drive Format FAT32 or ?

    I'd stick with NTFS if you've got a mix of Windows/Linux machines.

    There is also an ext driver for Windows, but I haven't tried it, so I don't know how well works.
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  3. #3
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    Re: Hard Drive Format FAT32 or ?

    NTFS for sharing between Windows-based computers and Linux-based computers.

    Remember, you can only read / write to Windows-based file systems from your Linux boxen, not the other way round (cannot read / write Linux file systems from Windows). That is why you have the NTFS share.

    Also, FAT32 is fine for small flash / thumb drives because it is pretty universal and you won't be putting huge files onto a thumb drive.

    EDIT - CharlesA just beat me to it...and I would not suggest the ext Windows driver. Had it corrupt a couple of Linux test boxen.
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    Re: Hard Drive Format FAT32 or ?

    Quote Originally Posted by sydbat View Post
    EDIT - CharlesA just beat me to it...and I would not suggest the ext Windows driver. Had it corrupt a couple of Linux test boxen.
    In that case, I'd just stick with NTFS. It's usually better to stick to a file system your OS supports natively.
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    Arrow Re: Hard Drive Format FAT32 or ?

    Thank you for your responses, but I am not sure that I understand the underlying concepts that you are proposing.

    I would love to use FAT32 but worry that it will not handle larger drives.

    As I move from Windows to Linux, I have to be able to manipulate all my old files, some of which are quite large (>200MB for .WAV files) but if I have to drop back to (<100MB) .MP3 files then I will just have to learn deal with it.

    Why won't kb3 handle burning audio CDs from .MP3 files, even though it acts like it will?
    Athlon 64x2 - 4GB ram - dual boot - Windows 7 + 12.04
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    Re: Hard Drive Format FAT32 or ?

    The max file size for files on a FAT32 partition is 4GB. FAT32 is really only used for small devices, such as thumb drives and I haven't seen it used on anything like an external hard drive (those are formatted NTFS by default).

    If I had to pick between FAT and NTFS, I'd pick NTFS every time.

    Also, note that sometimes NTFS gets marked as "dirty" if there was an unclean shutdown, you need to boot into Windows, run chkdsk on the drive, and then shut it down again. That'll allow it to be mounted.
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    Re: Hard Drive Format FAT32 or ?

    Quote Originally Posted by CharlesA View Post
    If I had to pick between FAT and NTFS, I'd pick NTFS every time.
    Ditto. The only reason to use FAT32 is if you needed compatibility with OS X. NTFS is a much better filesystem.

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    Re: Hard Drive Format FAT32 or ?

    Do not use FAT32 on a hard drive with important data. It's much less robust than NTFS. With FAT32 there is a greater risk of corrupted data. I would only use FAT32 for small USB drives.

    Wouldn't it be useful to have a SAMBA share as well?

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    Re: Hard Drive Format FAT32 or ?

    Quote Originally Posted by CharlesA View Post
    The max file size for files on a FAT32 partition is 4GB. FAT32 is really only used for small devices, such as thumb drives and I haven't seen it used on anything like an external hard drive (those are formatted NTFS by default).

    If I had to pick between FAT and NTFS, I'd pick NTFS every time.
    Although NTFS does have its advantages, and although they are significant for many situations, I wouldn't always pick NTFS....

    Also, note that sometimes NTFS gets marked as "dirty" if there was an unclean shutdown, you need to boot into Windows, run chkdsk on the drive, and then shut it down again. That'll allow it to be mounted.
    This is one of the problems with NTFS: There are no Linux utilities to check and repair NTFS. (Such utilities do exist for FAT.) Thus, if there's much chance that you'll need to run a filesystem check on a disk when you don't have ready access to a Windows system, NTFS is a poor choice. Examples include a computer that boots between multiple OSes that do not include Windows NT/200x/XP/Vista/7 (say, Linux and FreeBSD, NetBSD and Windows Me, or Linux and OS X), a removable disk that's transported between a Windows-only computer at one location and a Linux-only computer at another, or a disk intended for long-term archival storage (you don't know what OSes you may have available in a year or two or five).

    Another issue with NTFS is that the NTFS-3g driver that Ubuntu uses is a user-space driver, vs. a kernel-space driver for FAT. This imposes a performance penalty on NTFS under Linux, but not on FAT; and it makes for a more complex software path that is at least theoretically more susceptible to bugs. That said, FAT is inherently slower, and many say less reliable, than NTFS, so in practice I don't know which is faster or more reliable under Linux. Somebody must have run benchmarks, but I don't recall seeing them. Do not assume that because NTFS is faster or more reliable under Windows that the same is true under Linux, though.

    IMHO, the single biggest problem with FAT as a cross-platform filesystem is its 4 GiB file-size limit. If it weren't for that, FAT would be superior to NTFS simply because almost everything, from cell phones to supercomputers, understands FAT. NTFS is much less well-supported, and even when it is supported, it tends to be supported in a more limited way. (OS X provides mere read-only support for NTFS out of the box, for instance, although NTFS-3g can be added to rectify that situation.) NTFS is more technically advanced than FAT, but for a cross-platform filesystem, it's the breadth and quality of support, not technical wizz-bangery, that's important.

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    Re: Hard Drive Format FAT32 or ?

    Duplicate post.
    Last edited by srs5694; January 20th, 2011 at 08:16 PM. Reason: Duplicate post

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