NTFS vs exFAT vs FAT32 vs APFS: Differences Explanation

Cassie Xie
Last updated: Jan 2, 2024
Summary: NTFS vs exFAT vs FAT32 vs APFS, check the differences of these four file system formats in this post.

A file system controls how data is stored and organized in your storage device. When formatting a hard drive, you are asked to choose a file system format for the hard disk. You may see NTFS, exFAT, FAT32, APFS, and some other options. Which file system format to choose? NTFS vs exFAT vs FAT32 vs APFS file system, what are their differences? Continue to check the analysis below.

NTFS vs exFAT vs FAT32 vs APFS

NTFS vs exFAT vs FAT32 vs APFS – Definition

NTFS

NTFS is short for New Technology File System. It is a proprietary file system format developed by Microsoft. It is initially released in 1993 and used for most Windows versions, starting from Windows NT 3.1 to Windows 11.

exFAT

exFAT is short for Extensible File Allocation Table. It is a file system also introduced by Microsoft in 2006. It is mainly used for flash storage devices like USB flash drives, SD cards, and some other portable devices. exFAT is a variant of the FAT file system.

FAT32

FAT is the abbreviation of File Allocation Table. It is a file system co-developed by Microsoft, IBM, and some other companies, originally released in 1977. It is the default file system for MS-DOS and Windows 9x OSs.

It mainly has these variants: FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, exFAT, FATX, and FAT+, depending on the disk drive capacity. NTFS replaces FAT32 as the default file system on Windows systems, starting from Windows XP. NTFS vs exFAT vs FAT32, NTFS and exFAT are more advanced than FAT32.

APFS

APFS (Apple File System) is a proprietary file system developed by Apple Company. It is the default file system for many Apple devices to organize and structure data. This file system is used for macOS Sierra and newer, iOS 10.3 and newer, tvOS 10.2 and newer, watchOS 3.2 and newer, and all iPad OS versions.

NTFS vs exFAT vs FAT32 vs APFS – Differences

NTFS vs exFAT vs FAT32 vs APFS, you can check their differences below.

1. Supported OS/Device

NTFS: Default file system for all modern Windows operating systems. Support up to Windows 11. NTFS drive is read-only on Mac.

exFAT: Windows XP-11, macOS 10.6.5 and later, Linux, Android 13. Main file system for USB flash drives, SD/memory cards, and external HDD.

FAT32: Windows, Mac, Linux. The predecessor of exFAT.

APFS: Default file system for macOS Sierra and later. Not supported by Windows. Mac also lets you format an external drive to APFS.

2. Volume/File Size Limit

NTFS supports files larger than 4GB. No file size limitations.

exFAT also supports files larger than 4GB and has no realistic file or partition size limits.

FAT32 supports files smaller than 4GB. It can’t create drive partitions larger than 32GB on Windows.

APFS supports file sizes up to 8EiB.

3. Main Features

NTFS vs exFAT vs FAT32, NTFS supports journaling, file compression and encryption, file permissions, and long file names, whereas exFAT and FAT32 don’t support journaling or encryption.

APFS features strong encryption, space sharing, snapshots, fast directory sizing, and improved file system fundamentals.

4. NTFS vs exFAT vs FAT32 vs APFS - Speed

NTFS file system is faster and shows lower CPU and system resource usage than exFAT or FAT32. File copy on NTFS drive would be faster than exFAT/FAT32. If you use a Mac, the APFS file system format offers the best performance.

5. File System Attributes

NTFS: read-only, hidden, system, archive, not content indexed, offline, temporary, compressed, encrypted.

exFAT: read-only, hidden, system, subdirectory, archive.

FAT32: read-only, hidden, system, volume, directory, archive.

NTFS vs exFAT vs FAT32 vs APFS – Which One to Choose

If you only use a Windows computer, NTFS is a good choice. It is stable, secure, and better to handle large files.

For external removable drives, it’s advised you use FAT32 or exFAT since these two file system formats are supported by both Windows and macOS. Still, if you use both Windows and Mac computers and need to share files between Windows and Mac computers, the exFAT file system is the best choice. Compared with NTFS, exFAT and FAT32 are compatible with more operating systems and devices.

If you use a Mac computer, you can choose exFAT or FAT32 when formatting an external hard drive. Mac fully supports FAT32 and exFAT drives. If you only use a Mac and don’t need to share files with other Windows users, you can also format the drive in Apple’s default file system APFS for fast read-write access.

How to Read and Write to NTFS Drives on Mac

As stated above, NTFS hard drives are read-only on Mac devices. If you connect an NTFS disk to your Mac computer, you can view content on it, but can’t copy or write files to the NTFS drive.

To write to an NTFS drive on your Mac, you can use a professional NTFS for Mac software program.

BuhoNTFS enables you to easily read, write, create, edit, or copy files on the NTFS drive on your Mac.

Download
For macOS 10.13 and above
  1. Download and install BuhoNTFS on your Mac for free. Launch it.
  2. Connect and select the target NTFS disk in the left panel.
  3. Toggle on the "Allow Read & Write permission" option.
BuhoNTFS

How to Format a Drive to NTFS/exFAT/FAT32/APFS

If you need to do some actions to your hard disks like formatting a drive to FAT32/NTFS/exFAT/APFS, you may use the built-in free disk partition managers on your Windows or Mac. You should back up all needed data on the drive to another place since formatting a hard drive will delete all data on it.

Via Disk Utility on Mac

  1. Connect the drive to your Mac.
  2. Click Finder > Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility to open the Disk Utility app.
  3. Select the target drive and click the Erase button.
  4. Enter a name for the drive and choose the GUID Partition Map scheme. Choose a file system format like APFS.
  5. Click Erase to format the drive to APFS on your Mac.
Format External Drive on Mac

Via File Explorer on Windows

  1. Connect the drive to your Windows computer.
  2. Open File Explorer.
  3. Right-click the target drive and select the Format option.
  4. Choose a file system like NTFS, exFAT, or FAT32 based on your needs.
  5. Click Start to begin the disk formatting process.

Bottom Line

NTFS vs exFAT vs FAT32 vs APFS, now you should know the differences between these four popular file systems. To use NTFS drives on Mac, you can use BuhoNTFS.

Cassie has been writing about technology for her entire career life - over 5 years. She enjoys diving into how Apple products work and then breaking it down in a way anyone can understand.