this is from: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/expertzone/columns/russel/october01.asp and explains everything very well.
To NTFS or not to NTFS—that is the question. But unlike the deeper questions of life, this one isn't really all that hard to answer. For most users running Windows XP, NTFS is the obvious choice. It's more powerful and offers security advantages not found in the other file systems. But let's go over the differences among the files systems so we're all clear about the choice. There are essentially three different file systems available in Windows XP: FAT16, short for File Allocation Table, FAT32, and NTFS, short for NT File System.
The FAT16 file system was introduced way back with MS–DOS in 1981, and it's showing its age. It was designed originally to handle files on a floppy drive, and has had minor modifications over the years so it can handle hard disks, and even file names longer than the original limitation of 8.3 characters, but it's still the lowest common denominator. The biggest advantage of FAT16 is that it is compatible across a wide variety of operating systems, including Windows 95/98/Me, OS/2, Linux, and some versions of UNIX. The biggest problem of FAT16 is that it has a fixed maximum number of clusters per partition, so as hard disks get bigger and bigger, the size of each cluster has to get larger. In a 2–GB partition, each cluster is 32 kilobytes, meaning that even the smallest file on the partition will take up 32 KB of space. FAT16 also doesn't support compression, encryption, or advanced security using access control lists.
The FAT32 file system, originally introduced in Windows 95 Service Pack 2, is really just an extension of the original FAT16 file system that provides for a much larger number of clusters per partition. As such, it greatly improves the overall disk utilization when compared to a FAT16 file system. However, FAT32 shares all of the other limitations of FAT16, and adds an important additional limitation—many operating systems that can recognize FAT16 will not work with FAT32—most notably Windows NT, but also Linux and UNIX as well. Now this isn't a problem if you're running FAT32 on a Windows XP computer and sharing your drive out to other computers on your network—they don't need to know (and generally don't really care) what your underlying file system is.
The Advantages of NTFS
The NTFS file system, introduced with first version of Windows NT, is a completely different file system from FAT. It provides for greatly increased security, file–by–file compression, quotas, and even encryption. It is the default file system for new installations of Windows XP, and if you're doing an upgrade from a previous version of Windows, you'll be asked if you want to convert your existing file systems to NTFS. Don't worry. If you've already upgraded to Windows XP and didn't do the conversion then, it's not a problem. You can convert FAT16 or FAT32 volumes to NTFS at any point. Just remember that you can't easily go back to FAT or FAT32 (without reformatting the drive or partition), not that I think you'll want to.
The NTFS file system is generally not compatible with other operating systems installed on the same computer, nor is it available when you've booted a computer from a floppy disk. For this reason, many system administrators, myself included, used to recommend that users format at least a small partition at the beginning of their main hard disk as FAT. This partition provided a place to store emergency recovery tools or special drivers needed for reinstallation, and was a mechanism for digging yourself out of the hole you'd just dug into. But with the enhanced recovery abilities built into Windows XP (more on that in a future column), I don't think it's necessary or desirable to create that initial FAT partition.
When to Use FAT or FAT32
If you're running more than one operating system on a single computer (see my earlier column Multibooting Made Easy), you will definitely need to format some of your volumes as FAT. Any programs or data that need to be accessed by more than one operating system on that computer should be stored on a FAT16 or possibly FAT32 volume. But keep in mind that you have no security for data on a FAT16 or FAT32 volume—any one with access to the computer can read, change, or even delete any file that is stored on a FAT16 or FAT32 partition. In many cases, this is even possible over a network. So do not store sensitive files on drives or partitions formatted with FAT file systems.
Charlie Russel is currently an information technology consultant, specializing in combined Windows and UNIX networks. He's also the co-author (with Sharon Crawford) of Running Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0, and the Microsoft Windows 2000 Server Administrator's Companion, and co-author (with Linda Gaus) of SCO OpenServer: the Windows Network Solution.
OK, that was the commercial from Microsoft. And wouldn't it be nice to hear the other side of the story from them as well. Ah well, whoever is still beleiving in Santaclaus: dream on!
Anyway, there is one big drawback to the NTFS story, especially for novices. And that is the fact that you cannot reach it from a bootfloppy as you can with FAT based systems. I frequently get people who only get the BSOD with a crypric message telling them to run chkdsk. Which is of course impossible to do if the damned thing does not start to begin with. In FAT32 you can simply boot from floppy and run commands from there. When you have NTFS installed you can forget that. OK it does have more options in the safety-reliablility area. However, when you don't need all that (you're just a simple home user, arn't you?) then all those nice goodies don't mean a thing. And only the drawbacks remain. You better know that before making the choice.
That is informative stuff (binary), but NTFS is well worth it. With XP you can run chkdsk and all that crap from a bootable CD via recovery console, and the NTFS filesystem is great for home users who like to crash their machines playing games, as there is a far less chance of damaging the FAT table (which isn't there anymore).
well if you are not happy with ntfs then just get partition magic 7.0 and convert back to fat32 and YES IT DOES WORK...but why ntfs compress your shit to save disk space...doesn't get framented as easy and you can hide your naughty pictures better.
Yes, I do know about the Recovery Console. But since we were speaking to the average home user, they likelyhood of the RC being installed before the crash comes is usually not very big. And installing it after the crash is usually the problem instead of the solution. Anyway, with the BSOD in frot of you, even the RC is little help, because it won't boot from HDD and event from CD it does not come very far. In that situation I don't care if there are FAT tables there or not. The only option is to use a bootfloppy with delpart and remove the whole partition. Since I'm prepared and always have a Ghost-image ready that's no big deal. But poor simple home user that doesn't even know what the problem is, let alone solve it...
It's ready not that I'm against NTFS or even pro FAT32. Just a warning that you should always be prepared and never trust any system, no matter how good it's supposed to be.
Binary, I will agree with that last statement. I guess as a software engineer, I have come to grips with the fact that I cripple my system on a fairly often basis. I have become accustomed to reinstalling windows at least once every two months on every single one of my boxen and it doesn't really bother me, except now with XP I have to call MS every 5th time because my key expires. I have always kept files that I hold dear to me (mp3's, etc) on separate hard drives and almost always in FAT32 partitions, as I would like to access them from XP and FreeBSD. By doing this, and keeping redundant backups once in awhile, I have managed to keep a wonderful collection of mp3's and such on my hard drive for the last 4 years, thru 2 HD failures even. I guess I just assumed that the audience of this website was a more sophisticated windows user, excuse my ignorance.
Well, I guess most of the regulars are what you might call sophisticated (more or less). But this thread was started by someone asking: What the hell is NTFS ? so that's who my reaction was intended for. And to anyone else who wants to be prepared: I always have my (dualbooted) system partitions covered by a Ghost image and usually can be back in working order in 15 minutes. And when the XP is already activated, so will the image be. So no need to bother those M$-guys.