Loosing FAT for NTFS

October 2, 2009 at 8:23 pm | Posted in Backup, Computers, Software | Leave a comment

Most people with Windows XP or above nowadays have an NTFS file system. The data on their hard drives is stored with this structure. (Macs, Linux, etc. use varieties of UFS, descended from Unix) However, some people who have had XP for awhile began with FAT32 for compatibility with older computers, utilities, and so forth. NTFS is recommended for hard drives over 400 MB, which is most of them now. But not for Flash drives. And some do recommend FAT32 for other solid state drives.

more file system info

It’s now old news to bring up a FAT32 to NTFS migration but I ran into a technique recently that can make it much more effective. But first, lets review why.

NTFS has a number of advantages
– reliability – the file system is more robust and includes hotfixing and recovery.
– It will handle much larger files than the 4GB limit of FAT32, like those new HD movies
– Like Linux, naming is case sensitive, so FILE.txt and file.txt are different files. It also time stamps last accessed time. (POSIX)
– cluster size – it uses 4K rather than 16 or 24K for a small file (each 1K file takes a cluster, wasting disk space)

The last one is the key issue in a conversion. To get the most out of NTFS, you want those small clusters. But if you’re converting from FAT, it may not be so easy. Ideally, you can move the data to another drive, reformat the partition to NTFS, then move the data back again.

Data Drives:
The procedure I use for Data drives:
– clean out the junk
– defrag* if it’s been awhile. Moving the files to NTFS does some defragging but this will make the process faster if there’s a lot of fragmented data.
– copy the files off the partition (backup)
– reformat the partition/drive to NTFS 4K
– move the files back
– recheck in Defrag to polish
– turn off indexing – (right click the drive, Properties, uncheck Indexing). More on indexing below.

Note that this is a detailed process – some of the steps can take awhile. It depends on much much stuff and how tidy it is.

*For a free Defrag tool, I’d suggest MyDefrag (formerly jkDefrag). It uses the Windows API but is faster and much more through. If you really want to organize your data, try it’s Monthly Optimize – but plan to run it overnight.

If you’ve been meaning to adjust the partition sizes, format time is a good time to do it. The XP Disc Manager is primitive compared to a good partition tool. They let you change sizes and move without data loss. Some free ones are better but a good tool allows you to boot from a CD and do it outside the OS. For that I’d suggest Acronis PartitionExpert, now called DiscDirector or BootIT NG. The second is cheaper but geekier. (The long recommended PartionMagic is not what it once was)

If you don’t already do it, it can make your life a lot easier to separate your data from your programs. Programs need occasional Imaging. Data needs regular backup. Much faster if you don’t have to go fishing. You can move My Documents, email and more to the Data drive for easy backup.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that older computers and Macs can’t fully share an NTFS system. You may want to keep one small partition on FAT32 for sharing.

If you make enough of a change to a hard drive, you may need to reboot Windows after it’s “found new hardware” post change.

Boot Drive:
Your Boot or system drive has a different issue. You can’t just copy all the files – some don’t copy. My usual recommendation to use an Imaging tool that mirrors the drive is not suitable in this case as we’re changing file systems. Many Backup programs leave out “in use” files, making a recovery useless. While you can use a CD based backup that can lock C and get it all from outside of Windows, there’s an easier way.

Here, Alex Nichol suggests a feature of BootIT NG to realign the drive clusters so they’ll convert efficiently. (you can also make a bootable CD) Then you can use Microsoft’s built in Convert tool.

In my own case, I discovered that the format tools I’ve been using have already been building small clusters. You mileage may vary – I’d suggest you take the step.

For the Boot system:
– do a standard Image backup. (if you need to recover from this, it will be back to FAT32)
– align for NTFS per aumha.org (above)
– defrag
– use Convert
– turn off Indexing (drive properties)
– check Defrag to polish
– Do a new Image backup from NTFS

You could do something similar for the data drives, but I found the above faster. However if you have a very full data drive with nowhere to move it, use the boot system process. It worked nicely for my full Backup system.

Pagefile – it’s also worth mentioning the pagefile on a boot drive. It’s quite large and can be very fragmented. (mine was in over 800 parts) If you move the pagefile to another drive during the defrag, you can put it back in open space. (My Computer, Properties, Advanced tab, Performance – Settings, Advanced tab, Virtual Memory – Change)  You can also try PageDefrag, a free tool designed for the job.

Note – old ideas about putting the pagefile on another drive or splitting it are no longer valid. It should be on the first partition of the fastest drive (usually the boot drive) and you can let Windows manage the size.

The Windows Indexing Service tends to bog computers and fight with anti-virus, etc. When you do an NTFS conversion, Indexing is turned on. Turning off indexing on each drive is just the first step.  (Thanks Fred Langa)
– Start, Run, ciadv.msc
– right click on the service and stop it if necessary.
– right click and delete the catalogue(s)
– close
– Start, Run, Services.msc
– Right click on Indexing Services, Properties, set it to Disabled.
– close
If you prefer to keep the Indexing service on, be sure to only be indexing drives you expect to search – the Data ones. You can search on line for ways to use it better and overcome problems.

Happy Computing.

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