Leverage the Advantages of NTFS

If run a small business, make sure your computer hard drives are formatted with NTFS

Recently, I got a call from a local company that has started doing its own inhouse video editing to prepare training videos for its products. I had done some consulting for this company during its migration from Windows NT and Windows 98 to Windows 2000 and Windows XP, so I was pretty familiar with the computing environment. Although the company was set up with new computers, lots of memory, up-to-date video technology, and the latest DirectShow version, the system was blowing up whenever a technician tried to build a master video from the MiniDV source material.

I located the problem on a quick trip over to the site: Although the company had brand new XP Professional Edition systems dedicated to the video editing project with Fast SCSI drives for editing and large Fast ATA drives for data storage, the vendor who had sold the hardware first partitioned, then formatted the drives as FAT32. FAT32 drives have a 4GB file-size limit. At high resolution, a DirectShow AVI file eats up 4GB in less than 20 minutes of video, and this company was attempting to save a 45-minute training class in one AVI file.

Because the company's systems were brand new, with little accumulated user data, completely reinstalling XP and changing the partitioning to take advantage of NTFS was simple to do. NTFS has a theoretical file-size limit of 16EB, although 2TB is more realistic. In another situation, I would have suggested using the Convert command to change over the FAT32 partitions to NTFS. However, for some reason, the vendor had configured multiple small partitions, so the simpler course was to reformat and reinstall. If the machines had contained lots of user-specific information, I would have recommended using a third-party partition management tool.

This little adventure prompted me to make some phone calls to other local clients. Amazingly, quite a few of these small businesses (each has fewer than 100 computers) have systems that are running on FAT32 partitions. From a user's standpoint, FAT32 and NTFS differ little, but NTFS brings many desirable features to the table (including enhanced security and increased file-size capacity) that FAT32 doesn't.

I routinely recommend the use of file compression and the Encrypting File System (EFS), so I tell my clients to use NTFS. I was surprised that a vendor selling hardware for business use would format its computers with FAT32, if only because doing so introduces a lack of security. The traditional argument that only FAT32 allows access from DOS holds little water--utilities are available to let you read NTFS drives from a DOS boot. And don't forget the existence of an entire generation of computer users who don't even know what DOS is.

If you run a small or small office/home office (SOHO) business, let your hardware vendors know that you want computer drives formatted with NTFS, not FAT32. If you're buying new hardware, you're paying for the capability to leverage NTFS and its enhanced security features and increased file space--make sure you get the most from your investment.

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