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What is the best file format for USB drives

espo111 - October 13, 2010 - 10:08am
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What is the best format for a USB flash drive?

ntfs, fat16, fat 32, exfat? (sorry linux, the world is not formatted to accept you just yet, but hopefully soon)

Also does file allocation size have an impact?
Is one format better for smaller drives (<4GB) than larger drives?
Is there anything that can be done to enhance performance?
thoughts, opinions, ideas?

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Been Discussed

Already been discussed many times... you should search the forums, you'll find discussions like this and this.

saw them....

yes i saw those 2-3 year old discussions that make no mention of file allocation size. Also, formatted my drive to NTFS and it is a LOT slower. There is also little discussion about FAT16.

Guess I was hoping to an up-to-date discussion....

My Mistake

The first thread I linked to has postings from about 4 days ago. Sorry, I didn't realize FAT16, FAT32 and NTFS file systems have changed significantly over the last 2-3 years.

I'll let someone with greater knowledge than I respond.

sorry to bother you

I guess those posts were definitive and there is nothing more to say on the matter. really I guess it was my mistake for asking and trying to learn something new.

I won't make the mistake again. thanks for being for open, helpful and friendly....

… and thanks for reading

… and thanks for reading threads up to their end and taking into account the advice I gave only three days ago … without ever getting sarcastic. Smiling

I read your post, all the way

I read your post, all the way up till the end...

you got "surprise removal" wrong
you left out fat16
you did not address file allocaiton size as related to performance

you only listed characteristics and nothing about speed and performance issues
like which is better for 'wear leveling' or 'random access'

and I was really sorry I ever bothered to ask everyone, not being sarcastic. I love being told "just google" it when I have questions....


Not googling

As an outside observer in this exchange, I'd like to say that searching the forum for pertinent threads is not the same thing as being sent to google.

While the exact details of the forum threads/postings might or might not have been exactly what you were looking for, it would have been a good way to start a conversation, and would have shown that you had indeed tried to find the answer yourself. This is especially true since you are apparently new around here and people might not understand your knowledge, skills, or attitudes.

And it might have helped avoid some of sarcastic loving that I'm sure we are all enjoying.

Just my two cents worth. Fire at will....

neutron1132 (at) usa (dot) com

This seems to be one of those

This seems to be one of those simple questions that has no simple answer. A lot of it has been discussed endlessly.

FAT16 has a drive-size limit (2 GB). I don't think there's anything to recommend it over FAT32 for any drive over 256 MB.

As you've discovered, NTFS can be slow on thumb drives, despite the supposed 'optimize for performance' thing in Windows.

I believe exFAT is just another FAT; it is effectively FAT32 without the 4 GB file-size limit. Sadly it isn't any faster than FAT32, and it's limited to the most recent versions of Windows. If you'll only be using your thumb drive in Win7 and Vista systems, give it a try.

I'd stay away from really small file allocation size on thumb drives. Larger allocation size should give better write speeds; it's a better match to the large flash memory blocks. My Patriot drives came pre-formatted with 32 KB allocation units and that's what I stick with.

The manufacturer's

With rare exceptions I find the format the USB manufacturer puts on their devices yields the best performance and longevity. And if you think about it why wouldn't they do that?

The one exception I found where the manufacturer's format didn't meet my specific needs was when the drive was formated to FAT32 and I wanted to add a file greater than 4GB to it. I had two choices, break up the file or reformat the drive. I did the later and made it NTFS. Whether it's faster or slower, will wear out faster or not, I don't know. But I can now load files larger than 4GB onto it and that's the bottom line.


I looked into this a bit ago

I looked into this a bit ago as well, and it seemed that Fat32 and ExFat are the way to go.

I wound up going with ExFat and was happy with it to a point. All the computers I have are compatible with it, but when I'd try to transfer things with friends, I ran into issues (Mac users, etc) so I went back to Fat32.

You can see some test results here. Other websites were pretty similar.