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External USB HDD has to be FAT

  1. Apr 5, 2013 #1


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    I'm planning to use a HDD (IDE, NTFS) removed from an IBM Thinkpad as an external backup device through USB. The instructions that came with my hard drive enclosure state I must reformat to FAT16 or FAT32 before placing in the enclosure. Is there a technical reason why it cannot be NTFS? Is it just for compatibility reasons? Google has not provided a clear answer so far. I found one forum which suggested NTFS extrnal drives and XP (this will be connected to XP and W7 machines at least) "do not play well together", but was inconclusive. Anyone come across this?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 5, 2013 #2


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  4. Apr 5, 2013 #3
    There's nothing stopping you from making the drive NTFS. By default, windows sets USB drives for quick removal, so you can just unplug the drive from the system without worrying about anything.
    NTFS, like nsaspook said, has write caching enabled so you MUST always use the "Safely remove" option when removing the drive and places your data at risk if you don't properly close all the connections before disconnecting the drive.

    To format a USB drive as NTFS, you first need to be logged into an admin account. Open up the device manager, expand disk drive, right click your USB drive and select properties. Under the policies tab, select Better Performance.
  5. Apr 6, 2013 #4
    It might be possible that the firmware in the external drive enclosure wasn't written to know what to do with anything other than a FAT16 or FAT32 formatted drive.

    There may be no way of knowing, other than potentially sacrificing the drive and enclosure by trying to do exactly what the documentation says not to do and seeing what the enclosure does with an NTFS formatted drive. But, since you probably want to depend on the data you write to that drive, you may want to decide how to determine whether you saved data will be there later when you need it.
  6. Apr 9, 2013 #5


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    Thanks for the responses. If push comes to shove I can just play safe and format the drive to FAT32 and use it. I just thought it would be useful to have a spare bootable XP drive as well as I don't need a large amount of disc space for backup (family photos mainly). Bill, are you saying if I experiment with NTFS there is a possibility I could physically destroy the enclosure and/or the drive, as opposed to just data loss, which is avoidable if I experiment?
  7. Apr 9, 2013 #6

    Ben Niehoff

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    You won't damage the enclosure. I don't see how the enclosure would care what file system you use on the drive anyway; it works on a lower level than that. Most likely it will work fine.
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