Here's your quick guide to Win2K file system compatibility

If you're preparing for a Win2K exam, make sure you know which file systems the OS supports. This week's Paperchase Digest identifies these file systems and highlights the characteristics of each one.

If you’re preparing to take a Windows 2000 exam—it doesn’t matter which one—you’d better know which file systems the new OS supports, as well as the limitations of each. It’s easy to get tripped up trying to remember whether Win2K Professional supports VFAT, whether Win2K Server can be installed on a FAT32 partition, or whether FAT supports long filenames.
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While all Windows 2000 operating systems (Professional, Server, Advanced Server, and Datacenter Server) support FAT, FAT32, and NTFS, Microsoft recommends that you install the new platform on an NTFS partition. VFAT is not natively supported by any of the Win2K operating systems. Further, Active Directory and many of the enhanced security features in Windows 2000 require that an NTFS partition be present.

Don’t be surprised if you see an exam question asking about dual-boot installations. I’ve seen Microsoft place a greater emphasis on dual-boot configurations in its literature, so it’s not beyond reason that a dual-boot question or two could pop up on your test. If it does, remember that a FAT32 partition will most likely be required. You can still have an NTFS partition for files and data storage for specific services, but you’ll want a FAT32 partition for Win9x or another OS, such as Linux.

FAT and FAT32 benefits
While you can use FAT and FAT32 partitions to host Win2K installations, doing so will restrict the operating systems’ capabilities. As noted above, Active Directory requires an NTFS partition, as do domain controllers, new security enhancements, remote storage features, and the use of disk quotas.

That said, FAT and FAT32 can be used to host multiple operating systems on a single hard drive. With the trend toward increasingly larger hard drives, it’s likely that many IT professionals will be wanting to house more than one OS on a system.

NTFS benefits
NTFS, updated for Win2K, boasts the following advantages:
  • Support for long filenames
  • Self-repairing characteristics
  • Better compression than FAT and FAT32
  • Enhanced security
  • Improved remote storage capability
  • Unlimited file storage capacity

FAT, FAT32, and NTFS compared
Each of the file systems supported by Win2K possesses different characteristics, limitations, and benefits. Table A lists some of the more important distinctions between the file systems.

Table A
Maximum 512 files in root directory No maximum limit on number of files in root directory No maximum limit on number of files in root directory
Maximum 65,535 files in non-root directory No limit on maximum number of files in non-root directory No limit on maximum number of files in non-root directory
2 GB maximum file size 4 TB maximum file size 16 EB maximum file size
2 GB maximum volume size 4 TB maximum file size 16 EB maximum file size
11-character maximum filename length 256-character maximum filename length 256-character maximum filename length
Does not support file-level security Does not support file-level security Supports file-level security
No self-repairing characteristics Limited self-repairing characteristics Self-repairing characteristics
Supports dual-booting Supports dual-booting Not dual-boot friendly
FAT, FAT32, and NTFS offer different advantages and limitations.

Erik Eckel MCP+I, MCSE is editor in chief of TechRepublic’s IT communities. He’s previously held positions as a high-speed IP access product manager and a communications representative for nationwide long-distance, data networking, and Internet services providers.

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