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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Using NTFS for USB flash memory drives

USB Flash memory drives (also known as pen drives or memory sticks) are normally formatted using the FAT or FAT32 file systems, as are most removable drives. NTFS is generally considered to be a better file system if you use Microsoft Windows, so wouldn't it be better to reformat your flash drives so they use NTFS as well?
Write caching
It's perfectly possible to format USB Flash drives and memory cards using NTFS, but in Windows XP and Vista you must first enable write caching. This is disabled by default, with good reason. Caching means that data due to be written to the drive is held in memory, sometimes for a long time after the write took place. Many removable drives and memory cards were corrupted under older versions of Windows because people removed them without using the "Safely Remove Hardware" icon on the task bar, which forces any cached data to be written to the drive. So you should only enable write caching for removable drives if you're sure that you will remember to use the safe removal process.
How to enable write caching for removable drives
  • Open My Computer
  • Right-click the drive and click Properties
  • On the Properties dialog select Hardware
  • Select the physical drive (all drives will be listed) and click Properties
  • Select Policies and click Optimize for Performance
  • Click OK to close the property dialogs.
Disadvantages of NTFS for Flash drives
Once you have enabled write caching for your flash drive, you can go ahead and format it as NTFS. However, we consider NTFS to be the wrong choice for Flash memory drives drives for several reasons:
  • Portability: the drive will be unreadable by computers running Windows 95, 98 or Me, Linux, or any other non-Windows device.
  • Longevity: NTFS will shorten the life of the drive. It is a journalling file system, which means that it logs changes, not just the end result, causing more writes to the drive. It also logs last access times for files, so even a read causes a write access. Flash memory has a lifespan of only about 100,000 writes.
  • Ease of access: NTFS records the owner of a file, so you are likely to see “Access denied” messages if you try to access the file on another computer. This could be regarded as a benefit, but it's actually just an inconvenience, as the data is not encrypted. If you want to secure the data on your USB memory sticks from prying eyes you should use encryption.

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