Windows 7 : Installing and Removing Hardware (part 5) - Not-So-Hot-Pluggable Devices - Other hard drive operations, The exFAT file system

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4.6. Other hard drive operations

This section covers some general issues concerning hard disks. All of these operations pose some risk of data loss, and should be attempted only by people who understand the risks and are confident they have backups of all important data.

4.6.1. Converting a FAT disk to NTFS

Windows 7 offers four different file systems for formatting a hard drive. The earliest file system, FAT (File Allocation Table), was used in DOS, and the earliest versions of Windows. FAT32 was introduced with Windows 95. NTFS (New Technology File System) was introduced in Windows NT 4.0, largely to support user access control required in domain networking. Extended FAT (exFAT) is a new file system that removes several limitations of the older FAT file systems while providing compatibility with other operating systems and devices.

When you divide a hard drive into multiple volumes, you can format each independently of the other. (A volume is any partition or logical drive that has its own drive letter and icon in My Computer.) NTFS is the preferred file system for Windows 7 because of its better performance and stronger security. There's no reason to use one of the FAT file systems unless you have multiple operating systems installed and can choose one or the other at startup. For example, if you can boot to Windows 7 and Linux, the Linux operating system will not be able to access files on a local NTFS volume.

Each file system imposes minimum and maximum volume sizes, and a maximum file size. Keep in mind that these file systems apply only to the hard drives, not to media like CDs or DVDs. Table 1 summarizes the differences among the file systems.

Table 1. Differences among NTFS, exFAT, FAT32, and FAT File Systems for Hard Drives
Locally accessible toWindows 7, 2008, 2003, XP, and 2000Windows XP, Vista, and 7; LinuxWindows 95 and laterDOS and all Windows versions
Minimum volume size10 MB 512 MB1 MB
Maximum volume size> 2 TB[]64 ZB[]32 GB4 GB
Maximum file sizeEntire volume64 ZB4 GB2 GB
Access Control Lists (ACLs)YesNoNoNo

[] Terabyte, a trillion bytes or 1,024 GB.

[] Zettabyte, a sextillion bytes or 1 billion terabytes

Changing the file system on a drive poses some risk of data loss, and should be attempted only by people who understand the risks and are prepared to recover from any loss of data.

You can convert a FAT or FAT32 file system to NTFS, but it's not possible to go in the other direction. That is, you can always upgrade to NTFS, but you cannot downgrade. Be sure to close all open documents and program windows prior to starting the conversion. To convert a FAT or FAT32 volume to NTFS, use the following syntax with the command console convert command:

convert drive: /fs:ntfs

where drive is the letter of the hard drive you want to convert. Advanced users can enter convert /? at the command prompt, or search Windows Help and Support for more advanced options. To enter the command:

  1. Close all open documents and program windows.

  2. Click the Start button and choose All Programs => Accessories => Command Prompt.

  3. Type the command using the syntax shown. For example, to convert hard disk drive D: from FAT or FAT32 to NTFS, type convert d: /fs:ntfs.

  4. Press Enter, and follow the instructions on the screen.

If you're converting your system drive (C:), you'll need to restart the computer to start the conversion. Don't use the computer during the conversion process.

4.6.2. Shrinking and Extending Partitions

You can shrink and extend partitions without reformatting, either from the Disk Management tool or by using the DISKPART command.

You can shrink existing partitions to free up unallocated space. And if you have any unallocated space, you can extend existing partitions into that space. As always, there is some risk in doing this. Therefore, you should back up everything before even attempting to shrink or extend a partition.

The techniques described in this section will not increase the amount of hard disk space you have. The techniques described in this section are best left to professionals and highly knowledgeable computer users. The slightest error could cost you everything on your hard drive! Not recommended for casual computer users.

You can shrink a basic volume that's either raw (unformatted) or formatted with NTFS quite easily right in the Disk Management tool. You can shrink to the current used space size or to the first unmovable files (such as a paging file) on the volume. To shrink a volume, just right-click it at the bottom of the Disk Management screen and choose Shrink Volume. A dialog box opens to show how far you can shrink the selected volume. Just make your selection and click OK.

Likewise, if you have some unallocated space on the drive, you can extend an existing partition into that space. A wizard opens to take you step-by-step through the process.

For more information on extending and shrinking volumes, including spanned volumes, search the Help in the Disk Management tool.

4.6.3. Changing a volume label

A volume label is the name of a volume as it appears in your Computer folder. By default, each volume is labeled Local Disk. To change a drive's Volume Label, right-click its icon in your Computer folder and choose Properties. On the General tab of the Properties sheet, type the new name into the first text box, where you see External HD in Figure 15.

4.6.4. Changing a drive letter

Drive letters A, B, and C are reserved for floppy disk drives and your hard drive, and cannot be changed. Beyond those first three letters, you can assign drive letters as you see fit. Just be aware that when you do, Windows will not update your settings and programs to the change. All settings you've made concerning locations of files in all programs will be invalid. Virtual folders and items in Media Player and Live Photo Gallery will need to be updated to reflect the new drive locations. If you're not sure how to deal with these things, better not to change any drive letters.

Changing drive letters is an operation that's best left to experienced users who understand the consequences and can solve, on their own, the problems that are likely to follow.

No two drives can have the same drive letter. If you need to swap two drive letters (for example, change drive E: to drive F: and change drive F: to drive E:), you'll need to temporarily leave one of the drives without a letter or assign it an unused drive letter. The Disk Management tool, which you need to make this change, will allow you to do that. Here's how it works:

  1. Get back to the Disk Management tool described at the start of this section.

  2. Right-click the graphical representation of the drive whose letter you want to change. Or, to change a removable drive, right-click its drive letter as in Figure 46-16. Choose Change Drive Letter and Paths.

  3. If the new letter to which you want to assign the drive is available, click Change, choose the new drive letter, and click OK. Otherwise, if you want to assign the current drive's letter to a different drive, click Remove and click Yes.

  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until all drives have the letters you want them to have. Then close the Disk Management tool.

The new drive letters will show up the next time you open your Computer folder.

Figure 15. Changing a volume label.

4.7. The exFAT file system

Microsoft has developed a new file system called exFAT, for Extended FAT. exFAT is also sometimes referred to as FAT 64 (for 64-bit).

Figure 16. Changing a drive letter.

exFAT is not intended as a replacement for NTFS. Rather, exFAT is geared primarily toward mobile personal storage, such as used in MP3 players and other mobile devices. exFAT offers several advantages:

  • Theoretical volume size of 64 ZB (recommended size 512 TB).

  • Theoretical maximum file size of 64 ZB (recommended size 512 TB).

  • Supports more than 1,000 files per directory.

  • Provides cluster bitmap for fast storage allocation.

  • Better contiguous on-disk layout, useful for recording movies.

  • Is extensible.

exFAT is supported natively by Windows 7 and Windows Vista, and is supported under Windows XP through the application of hotfix 955704. Windows Vista does not support the use of exFAT with ReadyBoost, but Windows 7 does support it. exFAT is also supported under Linux through kernel update.

If you want to optimize performance for removable media such as flash drives, consider formatting the drive with exFAT. However, keep in mind that the device will only be usable in a computer that supports exFAT.

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