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What is Windows File System – FAT and NTFS

Alena Smith | January 13th, 2014 | Data Recovery|

A disk is needed to be formatted with a file system so that it works with the Operating System for storing, managing, and accessing data stored on it. File system is the structure that defines how data on hard disk is stored, named, and managed. The two most common file systems are FAT (File Allocation Table) and NTFS (New Technology File System).

  • Hard disks running on DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 98/ME uses FAT file system.
  • Windows NT4.0, Win 2000, XP and above versions use NTFS (or FAT) file system.

NTFS is an improvement to FAT file system that has overcome the limitations by providing a better platform for data storage on network. Whether to format disk with FAT or NTFS disk depends upon the factor if the computer is used on network or if it is working as a resource for network.

FAT: Here, the hard disk is divided into storage compartments. First of all, a series of rings (also known as tracks) is created around the boundary of disk and then these tracks are divided into sectors depending upon the size of disk. Even though, the physical space on disk comprises of the tracks and sectors, the data is saved on storage sectors called clusters.

A cluster represents the minimum space that is being reserved by the Operating System to store data on it.  However, a cluster can be formed with a combination of more than one sector which is differentiated by a unique number (where the first two clusters are reserved for the OS).

The Operating System maintains File Allocation Table on disk that keeps a track of arrangement of clusters on disk and their status (damaged or available to store data). Each cluster remembers its position in the page and do not move to another cluster until end of file is marked.

NTFS: There is a built-in attribute in NTFS file system that does not allow accessing disk data without username and password. Disks formatted with NTFS file system are less prone to damage as the bad sectors on disk are automatically redirected to healthy sectors (no need to run disk-checking utility). This fault resistant feature of NTFS ensures hardly any maintenance and thus proves very useful for disks used for network storage.

Difference Between FAT and NTFS File System 




Maximum Partition Size



Characters for File Naming

8.3 Characters

255 Characters

Maximum File Size



Encryption for File/Folder



Fault Tolerance


Auto Repair


Only Network

Local and Network







Not Allowed


Win95, 98, 2K, 2K3, XP

WinNT, 2K, XP and above

Issues With FAT and NTFS File System

There are various reasons that could affect the file systems of hard disk and eventually the data stored on it. Some of them are:

Improper Exit from System: This can happen intentionally or un-intentionally. The causes include:

  • Inappropriate way of shutting down the system
  • Shutdown failure due to some program running at backend
  • Power Failure or Power Surges causes PC reset

Hardware Related Problem: The data on hard drive can get damaged if related hardware is not performing well. It could be:

  • Issues with RAM used in system
  • Processor fan is not working properly
  • Over-heated hard drive or broken motherboard

Defects in Hard Disk Drive: If the storage where data is stored is damaged, surely the data on it will be at stake. This could happen due to:

  • Bad sectors in the hard drive
  • BIOS failure or physical damage
  • Head crash (making ‘clicking’ sound)

If these reasons leave the data on hard disk inaccessible or creates situation where there is need to format the partition, then file system recovery is possible with Hard Drive Data recovery software.


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