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 File systems: How to convert from the FAT32 file system to NTFS

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PostSubject: File systems: How to convert from the FAT32 file system to NTFS   Mon Feb 04, 2008 4:58 pm

Question

I bought a new desktop computer that came with Windows XP Professional installed on drive D: - so that drive C: could contain the Recovery System. Another oddity is that FAT32 is the file system in use instead of XP's native NTFS file system. The company that the I bought the computer from went bust, so the warranty is worthless, and I can now convert to NTFS and have Windows XP on the C: drive without rendering it void. I need to know if this can be done without reinstalling everything.


Answer

Some OEM computer manufacturers and vendors (that have to provide the technical support for their merchandise) prefer to have their system's set up to use FAT32 instead of NTFS because the latter file system is far more secure and complex and hence more prone to require technical support. Indeed, it is for this reason that Time Computers [no longer in business] made it a condition of the warranty that renders it void if the file system is changed from FAT32 to NTFS.

If a computer has a hard disk drive larger than 64GB, or a user wants to have partitions on a drive larger than 64GB, the NTFS file system is a must. If you want to keep using FAT32 without problems, drives and partitions of drives that are smaller than 64GB are required.

See FDISK on this site for information on the use of that MS DOS partitioning utility on a FAT32 drive.

Windows XP has a Convert utility that converts a FAT32 partition to NTFS without having to copy all of the data elsewhere. This is a time-consuming process and the files are not as well arranged on the drive as they would be if they were installed on a partition that was already configured to use NTFS. Moreover, the cluster size, which is the size of the addressable units that the partition is broken down into when the file system is created, can be set far too low at only 512 bytes (0.5KB) per cluster, and this can slow down file access significantly.

Moreover, note well that unless the user enables the Cvtarea option before the drive or partition is converted, a new Master File Table (MFT) is created that is placed all over the drive/partition. And even though it is the most used file on a drive, Windows XP's Disk Defragmenter can't defragment a fragmented MFT.

Read CONVERTING FAT32 to NTFS in Windows XP here http://aumha.org/win5/a/ntfscvt.php for information on how to prepare a drive before converting it to NTFS in order to avoid using 512 byte clusters.

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How to find out what a drive's cluster size is
To find out what the cluster size is for a particular drive, enter cmd in Windows XP's Start => Run box to bring up the command prompt. Enter the command chkdsk c: to check the C: drive (or any other drive's letter to check that drive). After the quick check has taken place, a message appears that provides information about the drive. Note the number next to the bytes in each allocation unit line.

The bytes in each allocation unit is the drive's cluster size in bytes. To obtain the cluster size in kilobytes (KB), divide the number by 1024. For example, if Chkdsk shows 4,096 bytes in each allocation unit, then the cluster size is 4 KB. (4,096 bytes / 1,024 bytes per KB = 4KB). If it shows 512 bytes, you'll have to format the drive to get it to 4KB. If it's the C: drive and Windows XP is installed on it, you'll have to format the drive and reinstall Windows and all of your software applications. To do that you would boot the system from the Windows CD (the BIOS might have have to be set to use the CD-ROM drive as the first boot drive). You can reformat the drive during the setup process.

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Note that if you make a back-up of a FAT32 drive with a back-up utility such as the one that comes with Windows XP, or make a master image it with a utility such as Norton Ghost and burn it to a CD/DVD discs, the file system is also backed up. Consequently, it is restored when the back-up or master image is restored. Therefore, you can't make a back-up or master image of a FAT32 a drive, format it with NTFS, and them restore the back-up or master image, because the FAT32 file system will be restored as well.

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Windows File Systems: Converting to NTFS from FAT32 - FAT32 versus NTFS on this site has some additional information on the advantages and disadvantages of using NTFS instead of FAT32.

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