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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Hard Disk Drives | Hard Disk Logical Structures and File Systems | New Technology File System (NTFS) | NTFS Implementation Considerations ]

NTFS Partition Conversion

One way of getting an NTFS partition on a system that supports the file system is to create one from scratch, of course. :^) This is pretty easy to do. However, there are also situations where you may wish to transform an existing partition from another file system into NTFS. To do this requires that the partition be converted. Conversion causes the operating system to change the structures of the partition to match the NTFS file system, while retaining all of the directories and files that the volume contains. Most commonly, FAT file system partitions are converted to NTFS.

Microsoft provides a tool as part of the Windows NT and Windows 2000 operating systems that allows you to convert a FAT partition into NTFS. Unsurprisingly, it is called "CONVERT.EXE". :^) You run it from the command line using an invocation such as "convert c: /fs:ntfs", which tells Windows to convert the "C:" volume into the NTFS file system. The conversion is fairly straight-forward, but there are some caveats you should keep in mind when performing a conversion:

  • Conversion is a "one-way trip". The CONVERT utility does not allow you to convert from NTFS back into FAT (though third-party utilities may; see below.)
  • The conversion process requires several megabytes of free space on the volume, to allow for the creation of disk structures and other overhead. Don't try to convert a partition that is completely full or the process may fail.
  • NTFS partitions that are converted from FAT partitions under Windows NT are assigned a cluster size of 512 bytes, which may reduce performance compared to larger cluster sizes that are the default for new NTFS partitions. Windows 2000 has corrected this problem. See this page for more discussion of this issue.

Tip: For more information on using the CONVERT program, see this page in the Microsoft Knowledge Base. For more general information on the NTFS partition conversion process, try this one.

Another option is to make use of third-party partitioning utilities such as Partition Magic. Most of these programs include the ability to convert a partition from NTFS to FAT or vice-versa, and some will also convert to other file system formats as well. Of course, the disadvantage with a third-party program is fairly obvious: you have to pay to buy the software!

Warning: As with any extensive, low-level disk modification, conversion runs the (small) risk of data loss, especially if the process is somehow interrupted. It is advisable that you back up the entire contents of the partition before starting the conversion. It's also a good idea to use a UPS during the process, and avoid such operations during times when the electrical service is unstable (such as during a thunderstorm.)

Next: NTFS Performance and Overhead Considerations

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