exFAT vs ntfs – What’s the difference? | Understanding file systems

What is a file system?

We all store thousands of megabytes of data on our computers. Data is similar to houses in a society. Both data and houses must have some arrangement. Any operating system needs a specific order or pattern or arrangement in which it can store data and allow you to save important information. In simple words, a file system is a way of keeping track of the data by an operating system on any storage device.

Might we inform you, a file system is not to be confused with ‘disk partition’. Both of them are very different from each other. A disk partition is simply slicing a disk or storage device into different regions so that the operating system can manage both of them separately.

How can file systems differ?

There are various factors over which file systems may differ, some of which include the methods and data structures used by the file system. There can be multiple ways of organizing your stuff in your room. Similarly, there can be multiple ways of organizing the  data on a storage device. This is what allows for the existence of various different file systems. Now, we’re going to go deeper into how file systems work and explain some of their technical aspects.

Just the way houses are put into blocks, files are also divided and stored in chunks. These chunks could be 16kB in size, or 32 kB or any other value. So now you must have realized why you observe ‘file size’ and ‘size on disk’ when you go to the properties section of a file. Moreover, the ‘size on disk’ of a file is always more because it is a multiple of a specific value. And because of this, space has to be provided which should be a multiple of the minimum chunk size and sometimes, a chunk might only be half full. Hence, some space is wasted.

But the motive of this article is to explain you the difference between exFAT and NTFS. So now we’re going to get onto that.


exFAT stands for Extended File Allocation Table. It came in the year 2006 and several design elements of this have been patented by Microsoft. This file system has been optimized for SD cards and USB drives. You will observe this file system in many versions of Windows operating system as well as MAC OS X. Here are some of the features of the exFAT file system.

NTFS stands for New Technology File System. NTFS has been developed by Microsoft as well. It came as a succession to the FAT (File Allocation Table) and the HPFS (High Performance File System) file systems. It has a better performance over them. Also, it is better in terms of security, reliability and the usage of disk space.

Now that we’ve given a brief introduction about both the file systems, we’re going to compare them structures-wise, limits-wise and features-wise.

Structures comparison

File Allocation

NTFS – Bitmap
exFAT – linked list, bitmap

Directory contents

NTFS – B-tree.
exFAT – Table.

Bad blocks

NTFS – $BadClus (MFT Record)
exFAT – Cluster tagging

Comparison of limits

Maximum volume

NTFS – 256 TB – 64 KB
exFAT – ca. 128 PiB, 512 TiB

Maximum file size

NTFS – 256 TB – 64 KB (Windows 8, Windows Server 2012 or later)
exFAT – ca. 128 PiB

Maximum files no.

NTFS – 4,294,967,295
exFAT –

Comparison of features

Date resolution

NTFS – 100ns
exFAT – 10ms


NTFS – Yes
exFAT – No



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