External USB Disk Drives–Gotchas and Tools


Introduction

I just received a new external disk drive from one of my online shopping exploits. It’s a cheap, USB 2.0 portable disk.

In setting it to use with my Netbook, I looked at the properties of the drive. I was surprised to see that it was formatted in FAT32. FAT32 was not something I expected to see, I was expecting to see NTFS.

So, for those reading this who do not know what the difference between FAT32 (File Allocation Table 32 – see Wikipedia -> File Allocation Table – 12/16/32 ) and NTFS (New Technology File System – see Wikipedia -> NTFS).

FAT32 and NTFS Differences

In summary:

Feature FAT32 NTFS
File Encryption No Yes
Folder Encryption No Yes
Compression No Yes
Security (ACL) No Yes

From the above list, there are benefits which NTFS offers.

The down side of NTFS are space, speed and portability:

  • Space. It costs more in raw disk space to install NTFS on a disk compared to FAT32.
  • Speed. You do get a speed hit because you have a more secure between the disk and the OS (Operating System). There is a performance hit (but not an excessive one, you already wear it on most machines which are running anything later than Windows XP accessing you C: drive – I think).
  • Portability. The disk will be only readable on a Windows machine (a very big generalisation – software may be available which circumvents the problems). So, if you want to read the disk on other than a Windows machine (NT, XP, Vista, Windows 7), you may need to stick with FAT32.

Conclusion

I decided that the first thing I was going to do to this drive was copy off the preinstalled software, and then reformat the drive to NTFS. I wanted the compressing option, and robustness (fault tolerance – another plus of NTFS) of NTFS.

SyncToy

SyncToy is a Microsoft free tool, which allows the replication of a folder structure from one location to another. This is really handy for my netbook. I have “stuff” which I want to keep an up-to-date copy of on the external drive, from my NAS storage.  SyncToy is a really simple tool which achieves this for me with a minimum of fuss.

The benefits of having NAS storage in a home network is that it no matter how many machines you have you have a large chunk of shared disk. My current NAS device is a LaCie d2 Network 2 and has been working perfectly since I plugged it into the network. The fact that it is an supports Gigabit Ethernet is another big point that this device has.

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