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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Hard Disk Drives | Hard Disk Logical Structures and File Systems | New Technology File System (NTFS) | NTFS Implementation Considerations ]

NTFS Hardware and Operating System Compatibility

NTFS is a file system, and a file system is essentially a set of logical constructs that dictate how the space on a disk volume is to be used. This means that a file system is in many ways more software than hardware. Since it is primarily logical and not physical in nature, this means that NTFS can be used with pretty much any hardware. You won't encounter problems with using NTFS on different types of hard disks for example, and the type of controller or interface is not likely to be an issue either. As long as Windows NT or 2000 can recognize the hard disk, you can use NTFS on it.

The concerns with NTFS hardware compatibility start to show up more when you move out of the realm of hard disks. NTFS is a complex file system that Microsoft designed when the only writeable random access media commonly used were hard disks and floppy disks. Microsoft made a decision early on to not support NTFS on floppy disks. The reason for this is fairly obvious: the special NTFS metadata files represent significant overhead that would consume much of the small storage capacity of a floppy, and writing them would likely increase formatting time considerably. Even in the mid-1990s, floppies had been relegated to chores such as short-term backup or transfer between machines--why would anyone want to bother putting NTFS on a floppy anyway? Since that time, third-party software writers have been busy, and Sysinternals actually has a freeware utility that will format an NTFS floppy. However, as even they admit, the utility shows that "NTFS on floppies, while possible, is not a great idea". :^)

Removable media such as Iomega Zip or Jaz drives, or the Castlewood Orb drive, fall in between the universal compatibility of hard disks, and the general incompatibility of floppies. You need to check with the maker of the drive to find out if they support NTFS. For example, Iomega officially does not support NTFS on Jaz or Zip drives, while I believe that Castlewood does support NTFS. It's important to note that in some cases, the lack of support for NTFS is more of a business decision than a technical one--saying "we don't support X" cuts down on technical support calls and potential complaints, so many companies do this today. Often, even if NTFS is officially unsupported, it will work just fine on the drives. Obviously, you are "on your own" if you proceed to format a drive with NTFS when the drive's manufacturer refuses to support NTFS.

In terms of operating systems, it will come as no surprise to you that Windows NT and Windows 2000 are the primary operating systems using the NTFS file system. In order to exploit the advantages of NTFS version 5.0, you need to use Windows 2000. Consumer versions of Microsoft's Windows operating system provide no native support for NTFS, though it may be possible to add this with a third-party driver. Non-Microsoft operating systems now offer some access to NTFS partitions as well, depending on the version--also, this is often just read-only access, not full access. For more information, see this overview of PC file systems, or refer to this operating system and file system cross-reference.

Next: NTFS Partition Conversion


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