Improve NTFS Performance with few simple “tricks”

Last time, we discussed how to “steal” some few bits of extra hard disk space by tweaking the system. But it is necessary to maintain a healthy disc with high performance. And for that we require a healthy file system. Read along to see how you can create a high performance hard drive partition on windows.


As with last time, NTFS has many candid features built in. If you look at your storage needs carefully, you will file some are grossly unnecessary or obsolete for your use. So, you can safely tune some of global NTFS parameters to achieve a significant gain of disk performance. Of course, do not blame us if incorrect settings brick your hard drive.

Several factors, apart from physical factors like disk type, affect the NTFS Performance: Cluster Size, location and extent of fragmentation of Master File Table (MFT) and Page files, and NTFS Compression. Lets see some factors that adversely affect the performance of a NTFS volume.

Improper Cluster Sizes

Cluster is the fundamental allocation unit in file system level. Files are stored onto the disk as number of clusters with data on it. A cluster consists of a number of bytes (multiple of 512) and is allocated to a file. As the file size grows beyond the cluster boundary, more clusters are allocated. So technically, larger the cluster size, less are the reallocations and better is the performance. However, this leads to wastage of space. For instance, a full 4KB of physical space is allocated for a file of even 10 bytes. You can see that actual size of disk in “File Properties”.

So, the best way is to select an optimal cluster size and format the drive accordingly. You can specify cluster sizes of 512 bytes, 1 KB, 2 KB, 4 KB, 8 KB, 16 KB, 32 KB and 64 during formatting. An estimation of the average file size to be stored can give us enough information. If you plan to store multimedia or other files that are usually huge in size, a bigger cluster shall help in increasing overall performance. But if you are planning to store small text documents, a small cluster size avoid wasting a lot of space.

MFT Fragmentation

MFT is the heart of an NTFS file system. It contains file allocation tables, frequently used system files and indexes, so it is very critical for volume performance.

When you format your drive to NTFS, the file system reserves 12.5% of total space for the MFT. However, with a lot of files, MFT outgrows the reserved space and becomes fragmented. Also when you delete file, NTFS does not expunge the entry from the MFT, it just marks it as deleted and allocates new entries for the new files. Though it helps in providing some performance and recovery benefits, with frequent deletes and creates, MFT is forced to be fragmented. The fragmented MFT becomes, the more the HDD head moves to access the data, and the less is the performance.

Since the MFT is being continuously used by the system, it is difficult to defragment the MFT while the drive is online. Dedicated tools are available that help in NTFS MFT defragmentation. Such tools usually run during boot time or start from an off-disc operating system.

In windows you can set MFT Zone Reservation value through the Registry. To edit registry values, you can use the Windows Registry Editor (regedit).

Set the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\FileSystem\NtfsMftZoneReservation to a value from 1-4; it represents 12.5 percent, 25 percent, 37.5 percent, and 50 percent of NTFS volume accordingly.

File and Directory Fragmentation

As with MFT, files and directories become fragmented when you append new data that extends beyond the boundary of the sectors allocated to it, or when the drive runs out of continuous free space, or you perform lots of copying and deleting with files.

Windows includes an excellent disk defragmenter. Defragment drives regularly and perform free space consolidation.

NTFS Compression

Compression saves space on your volume and thus increase performance or, at times, decrease your overall performance depending on CPU, Volume Size, and type of data. With modern processors churning up data in nanoseconds, compression has a negligible effect but it is very noticeable while copying large files. Larger is the volume, the lesser becomes its performance if compressed. And, compression also deteriorates performance if you have a lot of non-compressible data, such as JPG images, ZIP files, etc… But for text and office documents, bitmap images and other files consisting of lots of repeating characters, compression works as a charm. So select individual files and folders for compression rather than marking whole drives as such.

Unnecessary File Access Time Stamp Updates

NTFS stores its last access time stamp to the file meta-data present in the MFT. This requires it to traverse through the entire table each time a file is accessed. But, for regular uses, this data is unnecessary, unless you store extremely top-secret, classified data. To improve performance you can safely disable this behaviour and reduce NTFS’s operational workload.

Using a registry editor, you can edit the
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\FileSystem\NtfsDisableLastAccessUpdate to 1 (disabled). This Registry key doesn’t exist by default, so you need to create it manually.

Obsolete DOS Style 8.3 Name creation

Recall that DOS was limited to use 8.3 names. However, now there is no such limitation on file names. For compatibility purposes, Windows still creates the obsolete 8.3 names. You can enhance NTFS by disabling 8.3 name creation.

Set the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\FileSystem\NtfsDisable8dot3NameCreation to 1 (disabled).


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