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How Much Time Does it Take for Windows to Convert a Hard Drive from FAT32 to NTFS?

written by: John Garger•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 9/26/2010

Converting your hard drives from FAT32 to NTFS can take a long time. Learn why conversion takes so long and about the benefits of converting to the NTFS file system.

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    Since Windows 2000, all versions of Microsoft Windows are capable of taking advantage of the NTFS file system. However, not all computer manufacturers format their computers using this file system. Some, at the request of the buyer, will format the hard drives of a new computer using the old FAT32 file system.

    One big question people have when it comes to files systems is how long will it take to convert a hard drive from FAT32 to NTFS? This article explores some of the advantages of converting to NTFS and the factors that affect how long the conversion will take.

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    What are the NTFS and FAT32 File Systems?

    Back in the days before Windows, DOS (Disk Operating System) used a File Allocation Table (FAT) file system to manage files. When Windows was first introduced, it was logical that it needed to be able to communicate with the FAT file system and was programmed to do so.

    The first few versions of Windows were nothing more than shells that operated on top of another underlying operating system such as DOS. As Windows became its own stand-alone operating system, it needed a more robust file system to accommodate larger disk sizes and the need for faster read/write capabilities.

    FAT32 is a derivative of the original FAT file system, allows much smaller cluster sizes, and supports larger volumes. The result is more efficient use of hard drive space and faster response times. However, FAT32 was less stable than what was needed as operating systems evolved closer to what we know today.

    NTFS was a file system introduced in earlier business-oriented operating systems and became the standard by which we store and retrieve data today. NTFS offers more secure and error-tolerant reading and writing of information to a hard disk and ensures better consistency and reliability of stored information. In addition, NTFS supports a multitude of cluster sizes and much larger volumes.

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    How Long Will It Take to Convert a Hard Drive from FAT32 to NTFS?

    For one reason or another, your computer’s hard drive may be currently formatted as a FAT32 file system drive. Unless you have a very important reason for keeping it as FAT32 drive, you are likely better off opting for the security and reliability of the NTFS file system.

    One reason you may want to keep FAT32 is for software compatibility or if you use another operating system on your computer that cannot read NTFS. Unless you specifically know you need FAT32, consider converting to NTFS.

    How long it will take to convert your hard drive from FAT32 to NTFS is determined by a few factors. The first is the size of the volume you are converting. Larger volumes (hard drives of hard drive partitions) take longer to convert.

    The second factor affecting conversion time has to do with how full the drive is. Drives filled with information nearer the total size of the drive will take longer than drives that are mostly empty. In fact, the faster conversions from FAT32 to NTFS take place on drives that are completely empty.

    The last factor that affects conversion time from FAT32 to NTFS has to do with the cluster size you choose. Smaller cluster sizes take longer to convert. Typically, however, you should choose the default Windows cluster size that depends on the version of Windows on which you are doing the conversion.

    Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for determining how long a FAT32 to NTFS conversion will take. At the low end, expect at least 20 to 30 minutes but it could take as long as several hours. Be sure to backup your hard drive’s data before the conversion because there is always the possibility that something will go wrong and you could lose some or all of your files.

    One thing you should never do is interrupt the conversion process by restarting your computer during the conversion from FAT32 to NTFS. Cutting the power during the process is a sure way to lose your data and files on your hard drive. Backing up is essential since it is also possible to lose power during the process. Protect yourself and do a full back up of your hard drive before converting from FAT32 to NTFS.

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    Conclusion

    Converting from the FAT32 to NTFS file system is a one-way conversion. There is no way to convert an NTFS hard drive back to the FAT32 file system. Backing up all your data is essential since the conversions can take up to several hours and many things can happen in that time such as a loss of power or a general error during the conversion. Also, be sure that your computer and software are compatible with the NTFS file system. You don’t want to find any nasty surprises after you convert NTFS such as one of your important programs not being compatible with your new file system. Unless you are using ancient software and hardware, however, this should not be a problem.