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All You Want to Know About FAT32 to NTFS Conversion

written by: NormDickinson•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 4/4/2011

If you use an old computer that has been upgraded to a newer version of Windows, it may use a file system called FAT, for File Allocation Table. There are many advantages of upgrading the file system to NTFS, which has become the standard for Windows 7, Windows Vista, and even Windows XP.

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    Introduction to File Systems

    What is a file system? In computing, a file system is a method for storing and organizing computer files on a hard drive or other media. File systems make it easy for the computer to find and access the files. Besides file management, file systems also provide security to the data by employing access control lists. Examples of file systems used by Windows include FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS. The most common among these used today are FAT32 and NTFS. If you want to learn more about these file systems, visit the Microsoft Knowledge Base.

    FAT32. File Allocation Table 32 is a version of FAT available in Windows 95 and Windows 98. FAT32 supports larger disks (up to 2 terabytes) and offers better storage efficiency.

    NTFS. Windows NT File System is the most common of all file systems and it is used in Windows NT, 2000, Server 2003/2008, XP, Vista, and Windows 7.

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    Why Convert to NTFS?

    There are several reasons for converting to NTFS.

    1. An external drive or accessory may encounter an error that states Windows does not support the file system type. This often means that the computer is using FAT32 and cannot support the NTFS-based device.

    2. NTFS is a necessity in businesses where security is an issue. Home users can also benefit from NTFS’s file permission and EFS (Encrypting file system) features when several individuals use a single computer.

    3. NTFS uses standard transaction logging and recovery techniques, which provides consistency of the volume.

    4. NTFS supports volume compression. Files can be compressed to save space. The compressed files can be read or written by any Windows-based application without needing to manually decompress them first.

    5. NTFS minimizes the number of disk access operations, which speeds up the entire computer.

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    NTFS and FAT32

    Two identical drives can perform much differently.
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    Image: Norm Dickinson

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    How to Convert a Volume to NTFS

    Conversion to NTFS from FAT can be achieved using the convert.exe command or by formatting the drive. To convert the drive using the convert.exe command, go to "Start" (Windows Orb) and "All Programs" and click "Command Prompt" under "Accessories." Type the word "Command" followed by a space, then the drive letter and a colon, and then a slash ("/") with fs:ntfs after it. For example, if converting a hard drive with the drive letter K:, the command would look like this:

    convert k: /fs:ntfs

    Formatting the drive will erase everything on the drive, so the drive must have a complete backup performed ahead of time, on a separate media such as an external hard drive or recordable optical discs.

    Insert an operating system disk if the drive to be converted is the main hard drive in the system, and install the operating system from scratch, opting to format the drive and erase all of the information on it using NTFS when given the option during the installation process. Complete the installation and then restore any necessary files to the drive from the backup media. Note that some software will not operate correctly from a backup and may need to be reinstalled.

    Use the Windows format utility to format drives that are for data storage only, or secondary to the system. This utility can be found by launching "My Computer" and right-clicking on the drive to be formatted, and choosing "Format" from the context menu. Select NTFS if it is not already the default choice.

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