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What file system is best for my USB stick, SD card, or hard drive?

What file system is best for my USB stick, SD card, or hard drive?

What file system is best for my USB stick, SD card, or hard drive?

What if FAT32, what if NTFS, what if exFAT, what if HFS there are a lot of formats with which we can shape a hard disk or a USB key, But what are the advantages of each file system?

That list that appears when you want to format your USB key or a hard disk, and that lets you choose between options such as FAT32 or NTFS, is not trivial: it is the file system that your device will use once you format it, and each system has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, a system can be compatible with everything but go very slow, while the fastest may not work on all our devices. And how can I know which is the best, you ask?

What are file systems?


Before you start, you should receive a quick lesson on what a file system is, the person in charge of controlling how data is stored and retrieved. Without these systems we will not know where one file ends and another beginsIt would all be a tangle of unsorted information, and they take care of such basic things as space management, file names, directories, metadata, or access control.

What file systems exist?


In the headline we have left many types of file systems, since there are plenty dedicated just to working with data: FAT and all its types, exFAT, NTFS, HFS and HFS +, UFS, ext2 / 3/4, ZFS, UDF however, and trying not to expand too much, we are going to focus on the types most used by the general public.


FAT32 is the format that you see in the newly purchased USB sticks and that usually comes by default anywhere, and it is a robust but outdated system that was established in 1996, hand in hand with Microsoft. It is also known for being the cocoon that prevents us from saving files larger than 4GB, a very high limit in the 90s that has proven to be outdated.

  • What is it good for? | It is a system that works anywhere: Windows, macOS, Linux, machines ancient with USB 2.0
  • What is it bad for? | Because limiting 4GB per file can be a headache today.


The fix to FAT32 also came from Microsoft with Windows Vista, because exFAT is a file system updated it has the file limit at 16 exabytes. Yes, you read it right. And it has the advantage that, although it is owned by Microsoft, Apple licensed it at the time and Mac computers can also work with the format.

  • What is it good for? | For sharing large files between modern operating systems.
  • What is it bad for? | It does not have Journaling, a mechanism that records changes to files to establish them in case of failure. In addition, it may give compatibility problems.


We don’t stray far from Microsoft with NTFS, because it is the file system that Windows uses by default. Windows can only work on a hard disk that works in NTFS and has become a standard alongside Windows, which is why many use it for their external hard drives and flash drives.

  • What is it good for? | Because it is a file system fully compatible with the possibilities of Windows, without the limitations or drawbacks of FAT.
  • What is it bad for? | Because systems like macOS can only read from NTFS disks (without plugins); you cannot write data unless you format it.


And if NTFS is the standard bearer for Microsoft when it comes to, HFS + is the file system created by Apple for your operating system to work. This means that while Linux can work with the format without problems, Windows can only read the disks in HFS + without being able to write to them.

  • What is it good for? | Because it is a file system tailored to Apple devices, perfect if we do not leave its ecosystem.
  • What is it bad for? | Because systems like Windowsslo can read NTFS disks (without add-ons); you cannot write data unless you format it.

What is the best, then?

There is no answer that represents the absolute truth, because the ideal file system for you completely depends on your needs as a user. Below we leave you a few examples:

  • If you have a USB stick and you are going to share small files, FAT32 it is usually a safe value for it to work anywhere.
  • If you have multiple disks and you only work with Windows (and only with Windows, nothing from other systems), NTFS It may be the perfect solution.
  • If you want to share files between Windows systems and macOS, use exFAT in external storage.
  • If your entire ecosystem is Apple and you don’t plan to connect to Windows at any time, HFS + it is your ideal file system.