What is the best file format for a USB drive?

Everyone is confused when their latest pen drive shows much less space than it should have. The culprit is usually the file format.

You may have come across options like NTFS, FAT32 and exFAT while formatting the drive. What do all these file formats mean? How are they different? And most importantly, what is the best file format for a USB drive?

About file formats

Before discussing which file format is better for a USB drive, we need to understand what the file format does. How are different file systems different? What makes a particular standard better for removable storage devices than others?

File allocation table

At its simplest, a file format is a lookup table. It keeps the location of every file on the drive, allowing the operating system to quickly locate any file without having to rummage through the entire memory over and over again.

This is why the first file format is called File allocation tableor FAT as you may have heard of it. The basic principle remains the same for years, merely adding more storage with FAT12, FAT16and FAT32 formats.

However, over time, the FAT standard began to show its age. This format is too vulnerable to malicious code and has little implementation of redundancy measures against data corruption. These are important issues for the hard drive that holds system files for the operating system.

New generation of file formats

File system like NTFS (New Technology File System) and HFS+ (Hierarchical File System), developed by Microsoft and Apple respectively for their own operating systems, dedicated to ensuring the security and reliability of the data stored in the hard drive. While this naturally makes them superior to FAT32, it also makes them too inefficient for portable storage devices.

Devices like SD cards or USB drives need a file system that’s simple to write to and doesn’t cost a fortune. Unfortunately, file formats like NTFS take up too much of their limited resources without offering a performance advantage.

This is where exFAT comes in. It combines the efficient, no-nonsense structure of FAT with modern drive capacities, allowing all mobile devices to manage data with minimal overhead. As we will see, exFAT is best for formatting a small storage device like a USB drive.

Continuity options: NTFS and HFS +

If you are using Windows, your hard drive is probably formatted with the NTFS file system. This is great, because NTFS is the most modern file format available, providing improved security and reliability.

The only problem with NTFS is that the “cost” is quite large. Simply put, the file table at the core of NTFS takes up too much space. The file system is designed to be Windows-based, but for a small storage device that isn’t meant to boot the operating system, it might not be the best choice.

HFS+ suffers from similar problems. This is a proprietary file system for Mac PCs and as such can only be written and accessed by Apple computers. This affects portability, as most systems cannot read the data of the USB stick. Also, like NTFS, it is not the most efficient archive file format.

Legacy option: FAT32

The File Allocation Table or FAT is the oldest and simplest file system. Its improved version, FAT32, was the default file format for most computers and storage devices until recently.

The reason it’s unpopular is simple; it cannot support devices with memory above 4 GB. With USB drives offering tens of gigabytes of memory, FAT32 is no longer a viable option.

But if you’re looking to format an old pen drive that doesn’t pass that mark, FAT32 might be a good choice. It is easy to read and write on all platforms, including Windows, Macintosh, and even Linux. It may not be as secure as NTFS, but it is suitable for a removable storage device.

Best format: exFAT

Not everyone was thrilled when Microsoft rolled out the NTFS file format to replace FAT32. Small storage devices, like USB drives or SD cards, suffer from the large data costs of NTFS and want something thinner. Something more like FAT32, but with a larger maximum storage size.

And Microsoft listened. The exFAT file format is released as the file system of choice for embedded systems. This is an extended version of the FAT32 format, supporting storage up to 128 PB (probably soon to be violated by any storage device).

Just like FAT32, exFAT is a very space-saving file format that requires minimal system resources to operate. This is great for portable storage devices, as it allows them to squeeze out every ounce of space for practical use rather than tying it up in system partitions.

Another advantage is that it is also supported by Macintosh. Mac PCs can read and write to an exFAT USB drive, allowing portability between it and Windows. For Linux systems, you may need to go through a few more loops, but it’s still doable.

What file format should you use for the USB drive?

The exFAT format is the best file format for USB drives. It’s fast, efficient, and has a much smaller overhead than NTFS. Unlike FAT32, it is not limited to 4 GB of storage, which is suitable for high-capacity pen drives.

For older USB drives, FAT32 is also a suitable choice. As long as the storage capacity does not exceed 4 GB, you can safely use FAT32 to format the drive. This will give you the efficiency of exFAT with a much wider range of mobility.

FIle formats like NTFS or HFS+ are not ideal for small storage devices. Instead, you should use them for the internal or external hard drive that you use to start the operating system and run the computer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *