When it comes to taking care of your SSD and valuable data, would it be better to use NTFS or FAT32 for the file system on an internal data partition? Today’s post looks at the ‘pros and cons’ of choosing the best file system to use.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader frogsbottom wants to know if it would be better to use the FAT32 file system (rather than NTFS) for an internal SSD data partition:

Over time I’ve come to learn that NTFS does many more read/write operations than FAT32, thus possibly reducing the longevity of an SSD. That’s a factor, but not the main factor. What I’m really thinking about is the data partition. All external drives have the FAT32 file system, so I started to think maybe it would be better for the data partition to also use FAT32, maybe for cleaner backups and in case the drive ever needs to be pulled out and plugged in somewhere else, the data at least could be more easily recovered.

Windows doesn’t have a native utility for NTFS -> FAT32, but AOMEI tech support tells me the following:

“Thank you so much for contacting us, if you convert a partition with NTFS file system to FAT32 file system, the creation/modified dates of all the files remain intact.”

The question has to do with AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard (which is free for home users and I’ve used it many times, so I do recommend it, and no I’m not affiliated but it deserves mention).

Taking all of the above into consideration, here’s what I know so far:

1.) Is it possible? Yes

2.) Is the data backed up in case something goes wrong? Yes

3.) Are any of the files in question greater than 4GB, or likely to be in future? No

But, what I don’t know (and need advice on is)…

4.) Would it be better to use the FAT32 file system for a data partition? (Yes/No)

Would it be better to use the NTFS or FAT32 file system for a data partition on an internal SSD?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor allquixotic has the answer for us:

1.) Is it possible? Yes

2.) Is the data backed up in case something goes wrong? No

3.) Are any of the files in question greater than 4GB, or likely to be in the future? Maybe

4.) Would it be better to use the FAT32 file system for a data partition? (Yes/No) No

…and here’s why:

  • FAT32 is a less safe file system than NTFS. Because it doesn’t do journaling, which means that if you have a sudden power loss, BSOD, or other momentary unexpected interruption while the file system is writing data, the file system can wind up in an inconsistent state, and you can lose data. NTFS can still lose data, but it will always roll back to the most recent consistent state, even if it is shut off unexpectedly, so your files will at worst still work, even if they don’t have the most recent contents. By contrast, FAT32 breaks and lets you keep both pieces (of corrupt data).
  • NTFS does not do a significant-enough amount of extra writing to the SSD to make it worth the performance, feature, and data safety degradation that FAT32 suffers compared to NTFS.

Unless you have a very unusual workload for your computer, it is never a good idea to use FAT32 over NTFS. And by “very unusual”, I mean something like a constant amount of saturated writing to the disk in random files, etc. Otherwise, the SSD will not wear out appreciably slower using FAT32; you’ll just end up with less features in your file system and an increased chance of losing data.

Also, no file system on the planet can protect against hardware failure of your SSD/HDD if the only copy of the file you have is on that disk…not NTFS, not FAT32, not reFS, nothing; so “the data is only backed up” if you back it up to a separate machine. Just keep that in mind. (This part is in response to your second question.) “Is the data backed up in case something goes wrong?” — The answer is “only if you’re backing up the data to another storage device”.

When it comes to your valuable data, the NTFS file system is definitely the safer option to go with.

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Akemi Iwaya
Akemi Iwaya has been part of the How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media team since 2009. She has previously written under the pen name "Asian Angel" and was a Lifehacker intern before joining How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media. She has been quoted as an authoritative source by ZDNet Worldwide.
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