Converting to NTFS

First off, why would you want to convert your file system from FAT to NTFS? Well to start with, NTFS is more efficient than FAT and makes your disk accesses faster on the larger hard drives in use today. Additionally NTFS is a Journalling file system so you are much less likely to lose your data if your system crashes. NTFS also has security built into the file system so that you can control who has access to which files. NTFS has support for compression built in. Finally, NTFS can combine multiple drives into one disk volume.

If NTFS has all these advantages over FAT then why would anyone use FAT? For those people not using Windows NT/2000/XP there is no choice because their operating system doesn't support NTFS. If you are building a dual or multi-boot system then using NTFS will make those partitions invisible to the other operating systems. In this case you need to find a file system that is supported by each of your operating systems and that usually means FAT. (I run Windows NT sp6 alongside OS2v4 fp14 and Mandrake Linux7.2 and mostly use 4Gb HPFS partitions since the pinball.sys from NT3.5 supports that format and partition size, its the native file format for OS/2, Linux also supports it, and its much better than FAT).

There are several different ways to convert a disk drive from FAT formatting to NTFS formatting with Windows NT/2000.

Reinstall from Scratch

One way is to reinstall the operating system (and everything else) from scratch specifying that you want the install to format the drive as NTFS. This is probably the slowest way to do the conversion as you will need to backup all of your data first and reinstall everything and restore your data afterwards. This option is probably the way to go if you intend to reinstall the operating system but there are easier ways.

Windows Interface

A second way of converting from FAT to NTFS is to logon as Administrator and then from the Programs menu select Administrative Tools then Disk Administrator. You can then select the disk or partition that you want to change and then select Change Format from the Tools menu. The disadvantage of this method is that it too wipes everything from the disk that you are converting.

Command Line

The only way to convert a drive from FAT to NTFS while preserving the contents of the drive is to use the command interface. (You were wondering why I put this page in the Command Line section - weren't you?).

The command that you need to use to convert a drive from FAT to NTFS is called convert. The format of the convert command is as follows:

convert drive: /fs:ntfs /v

You need to specify the drive letter of the drive to be converted where I put drive: and the /v is optional and produces more messages to tell you what is happening (verbose mode) if you use it. If the drive that you specify to convert is in use then the conversion will take place the next time that you reboot.

There are disadvantages to converting your drive rather than creating it as NTFS in the first place. The conversion process could fragment the Master File Table reducing performance. Additionally, NTFS permissions are not applied to the partition holding your operating system when you convert it instead of formatting it that way in the first place.

Note that once you have converted your file system from FAT to NTFS that the only way to convert it back requires that you reformat the drive and you will need to reinstall everything.


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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