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FAT vs. FAT32 — What's the Difference?

By Fiza Rafique & Urooj Arif — Published on March 19, 2024
FAT (File Allocation Table) is an older file system with a max file size of 4GB, whereas FAT32 supports larger volumes but limits file sizes to 4GB, offering broader compatibility with modern and older systems.
FAT vs. FAT32 — What's the Difference?

Difference Between FAT and FAT32


Key Differences

FAT, established in the 1970s, was designed for simple disk and file management without support for large storage sizes. It's suitable for smaller devices and partitions. FAT32, introduced in 1996, enhanced FAT by increasing the volume size it could handle and improving disk space efficiency, making it more suitable for larger storage media while maintaining compatibility with a wide array of operating systems and devices.
FAT limits individual file sizes to 4GB, which can be restrictive for large files such as high-definition videos or extensive software packages. FAT32, despite allowing larger storage volumes, also maintains the 4GB file size limit, a consideration for users needing to store large files.
FAT is less efficient with disk space on larger volumes due to its allocation method, leading to more wasted space. FAT32 addresses this with a more efficient allocation algorithm, reducing wasted space and accommodating larger storage volumes more effectively.
The compatibility of FAT is broader with very old software and operating systems, making it a go-to choice for legacy systems. FAT32, while still widely compatible, may not be supported by the oldest hardware or software, though it is the preferred format for many modern devices that require larger volumes but don’t support newer file systems like NTFS or exFAT.
Security features are minimal in both FAT and FAT32, as neither supports built-in encryption or advanced file permissions, making them less ideal for environments requiring data protection measures beyond basic file storage.

Comparison Chart

Introduction Year


Max File Size


Max Volume Size

2GB-16GB (depending on sector size)
Up to 2TB (with standard sector sizes)

Efficiency on Large Volumes

Less efficient
More efficient


Broader, with very old systems
Broad, but not as universal as FAT

Compare with Definitions


A file system used for simple storage solutions.
FAT was commonly used on floppy disks.


Maintains the 4GB file size limit.
FAT32 cannot store a single file over 4GB.


Offers broad compatibility but with size limitations.
FAT is perfect for bootable flash drives.


More efficient than FAT in space utilization.
FAT32 reduces wasted space on large storage media.


Features straightforward management without support for large files.
FAT cannot handle files larger than 4GB.


Offers compatibility with a wide range of devices.
FAT32 works with both modern and older systems.


Less efficient in space allocation on large volumes.
Using FAT on a large drive results in wasted space.


An extension of the FAT file system supporting larger volumes.
FAT32 is used on larger flash drives.


Widely supported by legacy systems.
Older hardware often requires FAT for compatibility.


Not ideal for environments requiring high security.
FAT32 lacks encryption and advanced file permissions.

Common Curiosities

Is FAT32 compatible with all modern operating systems?

FAT32 is compatible with most modern operating systems, but newer systems might prefer NTFS or exFAT for their advanced features.

Can FAT handle large storage devices as well as FAT32?

No, FAT is less efficient and supports smaller maximum volumes compared to FAT32, making FAT32 better suited for larger storage devices.

Can I use FAT or FAT32 for an external hard drive?

Yes, both FAT and FAT32 can be used for external hard drives, but FAT32 is generally preferred for its efficiency with larger volumes and broader compatibility.

What types of devices commonly use FAT32?

Flash drives, SD cards, and other removable storage devices often come formatted with FAT32 due to its balance of compatibility and support for relatively large volumes.

What is the main difference between FAT and FAT32?

FAT is an older file system with more limitations on volume and file size, whereas FAT32 supports larger volumes and is more efficient in space utilization but still maintains a 4GB file size limit.

Why do both FAT and FAT32 have a 4GB file size limit?

The 4GB file size limit is due to the 32-bit addressing used by both systems, which caps the maximum file size they can handle.

How does the efficiency of FAT compare to FAT32 on large storage volumes?

FAT32 is significantly more efficient than FAT on large volumes, reducing wasted space and accommodating larger files more effectively.

Is it possible to convert a volume from FAT to FAT32 without losing data?

Yes, it's possible to convert from FAT to FAT32 without data loss using specific tools and commands, but backing up data is recommended.

Do FAT and FAT32 support file permissions or encryption?

No, neither FAT nor FAT32 supports advanced security features like file permissions or encryption, making them less suitable for sensitive data storage.

Are there any file types that cannot be saved on FAT or FAT32 systems?

There are no specific file type restrictions on FAT or FAT32, but files larger than 4GB cannot be stored due to the file size limit.

Why might someone choose FAT over FAT32?

Someone might choose FAT for its simplicity and compatibility with very old hardware or systems where small volumes are used.

What are the limitations of using FAT or FAT32 for new storage devices?

The main limitations include the 4GB file size limit and potentially less efficient use of space on very large volumes, especially for FAT.

How do FAT and FAT32 affect file recovery efforts?

File recovery can be more straightforward on FAT and FAT32 systems due to their simpler structure, although neither provides features specifically aiding recovery.

Can operating systems boot from FAT or FAT32 formatted drives?

Yes, many operating systems can boot from drives formatted with either FAT or FAT32, making them popular choices for bootable media.

How does FAT32 handle disk space allocation compared to FAT?

FAT32 uses a smaller cluster size on large volumes than FAT, leading to more efficient use of disk space and less wasted space.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.

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