Your new MacBook Pro comes is a beautiful device that comes with a catch. It doesn’t have a ton of storage space at the lower price points. You will probably need a flash drive or external hard drive to get around not having enough storage space.

Maybe the previous situation doesn’t apply to you, but you want a flash drive that you know will be able to transfer files between your OSX device and windows device. Enter ExFat drives and Fat32 drives. Both of these file systems are commonly found in flash drives and external hard drives. Knowing the benefits of these file systems, and the difference between the two, will be important to making an informed purchasing decision.

We look to give you a detailed explanation of the relative benefits of both ExFat and Fat32. We will explain the pros and cons of each of these file systems, and then compare the two.  


Fat32 

About

Fat32 Partition

The Fat32 file system is an older file system that was introduced with Windows 95 OSR2. This file system allows for a default cluster size of 4kb and can support hard drives up to 2TB in size. This file system type is considered one of the most compatible file systems out.

pros

  • very compatible
  • very common
  • uses space efficiently

cons

  • can’t store files that are large than 4GB

The Fat32 file system has a number of benefits.

First, this file system was created to be very compatible. This files system is compatible across Windows devices, Mac devices, and Linux devices. Even game consoles like the PS4, GameCube, and Xbox 360 can make use of the Fat 32 file system. Fat32 is commonly found in flash drives and hard drives so it is easy to obtain.

Most of the flash drives you will find on the market are Fat32. This is excellent for the summer as you don’t really have to worry about proprietary technology on MacOS, or windows preventing you from using the drive wherever you want.

Lastly, Fat32 also uses space efficiently than previous versions of this file system type. Because Fat32 uses smaller clusters, it uses disk space 10% to 15% more effectively than the previous FAT16 drives.

While the Fat32 file systems have many benefits, it also comes with a few tradeoffs.

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One of the largest limitations surrounding the Fat32 file system, is that it can’t store files that are large than 4GB. This means massive programs, like full video games that are not compressed, or operating systems like Windows 10 can’t be stored on the Fat32 file systems. This means you will have to either compress the files or find another file system, ExFat, if you want to transfer large files.

Compression will be your friend with these types of drives. Using tools such as WinZip, or WinRAR, or any form of compression tool will allow you to make file sizes smaller. You could even split up an entire game program with WinRAR and store each piece separately.


ExFAT

About

ExFat File System

The ExFAT was introduced by Microsoft in 2006 that was meant to be more powerful than Fat32. This file system is mostly used for embedded systems as it is lightweight and better suited to have low memory and low power requirements.

Because this file system is lightweight, and can work with low memory requirements, it is commonly used with flash drives.

pros

  • has a larger file size limit
  • improved free space allocator
  • ExFat drives is much faster

cons

  • not as compatible as other file systems

ExFAT was designed to get around the limitations that Fat32 has, namely the maximum file size allowed on the file system. ExFAT has a larger file size limit than Fat32 allowing for up to  16GB files to be stored on the ExFat file system.

This is excellent, namely for folks who record videos on SD cards, as it allows the person to take video that is longer than 20 minutes. Generally, if a movie exceeded the 4GB file limit, it would have to be stored as a separate video on Fat32 systems. This is not the case when you use an ExFAT file system.

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In addition to having a larger file size limit, ExFat also has an improved free space allocator, and delete performance. Because of the advances in technology with the introduction of the free space bitmap, performing delete operations on ExFat drives is much faster than on Fat32 drives.

While the 2006 ExFAT file system is an improvement over the 1995 FAT32 file system, it still has some downsides.

First, this device is not as compatible as other file systems, namely the FAT32 file system. There are some file systems that allow you to connect with consoles such as the Xbox 360. The ExFat file system does not allow for this same connection.

The older the device you have is, the higher the chance it won’t support the ExFAT file system. That is because the ExFAT file system is based on newer technology that wasn’t necessarily around when devices that utilized the FAT32 file system were in abundance.

ExFat vs Fat32

Now that you have an understanding of how the ExFAT file system and FAT32 file system work individually, we can discuss their relative merits. At the end of the day, you are in the market for a flash drive or hard drive that you can use, maybe even between multiple devices. We will compare both of these file systems based on the following merits:

  • Speed
  • File Size
  • Compatibility

Speed

Both ExFAT and FAT32 were created to be iterations over a previous FAT file system. In FAT32’s case, it was the FAT16 file system. In ExFAT’s case it is the FAT32 file system. The ExFAT file system is faster than FAT32 depending on the types of operations carried out. Flexsense has an excellent set of tests that they used to compare the ExFAT and FAT32 file systems.

The most important tests Flexsense conducted are as follows:


    • Test 1: Small files write to USB Disk Test (18,000 Files, 1GB of data)

    • Test 2: Small files read from USB Disk Test (18,000 Files, 1GB of data)

    • Test 3: Medium files write to USB Disk Test (100 Files, 1GB of data

    • Test 4: Medium files read to USB Disk Test (100 Files, 1GB of data)

    • Test 5: Large files write to USB Disk Test (10 Files, 1GB of data)

    • Test 6: Small files read from USB Disk Test (10 Files, 1GB of data)
  • Test 9: File delete operations test (20,000 files, 4GB of data)

Based on the results of this test, the ExFAT file system excels when performing write and read operations on small to medium files. However, the ExFAT file systems perform nearly the same as FAT32 when reading large files, and actually performs worse than FAT32 when writing large files.

The delete operation reveals that the ExFAT file system is much faster than FAT32 when it comes to clearing out space.

Based on the speed test of this device, we recommend a FAT32 file system if you plan on writing large files and can deal with the tradeoff of only being able to store a file size of up to 4GB.    

File Size

When it comes to file size, the ExFAT is definitely the better choice over FAT32. While FAT32 may be more compatible with older devices, it can only store files that are up to 4GB large. This limitation makes the FAT32 file system less desirable compared to the ExFAT file system. If you want to transfer large files, go with ExFAT

Compatibility

The FAT32 has more compatibility out of the box than the ExFAT file system. Linux devices don’t even support ExFAT file systems unless you use the appropriate drivers. Depending on what your needs are, you may be better suited using a FAT32 file system over an ExFat file system. However, if you are using new technology, we recommend using the ExFAT file system.  

ExFAT vs FAT32 Which is Better?

file transfer performance

At the end of the day, it comes down to ExFAT vs FAT32. The decision you will come to is based on a few different factors that we have touched on throughout this post. Consider the devices you would like to connect to. If you plan on using older devices, a FAT32 file system will probably be more compatible than using an ExFAT file system.

Next, consider how large the files are you are planning to store. Are you a filmmaker, or nature photographer who plans on timelapsing large vide sizes? You may be better suited using the ExFAT file system as it has less file size limitation when compared to the FAT32 file system.

Lastly, consider what you will be using the drive for. Do you plan on reorganizing files on your hard disk or flash drive? If so the FAT32 file system may be better for you, as it has faster read and write times for larger files. Or, do you plan on deleting a lot of files from your drive, say on an SD card. If so then using an SD card with an ExFAT file system type would be best for you.

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