RADIFIED
Partitioning Strategies
120-GB hard drive partitioned into 3 partitions

Posted:
25.June.2001

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This guide shares insights on the subject of hard drive partitioning. Here you will find strategies for the best way to partition your new hard drive. The dual-premise behind this guide is based on two key factors:

  1. With hard drive capacities growing so large [now 1-TeraByte], intelligent partitioning has become an issue.

  2. It's always better to partition intelligently the first time, than have to go back and repartition later.

When discussing hard drive partitions, it helps to have a graphical representation in mind. The image located at the top of this page comes from Partition Magic. To be safe, keep data recovery in mind, too.

There you see three [NTFS] partitions, represented in a single 120-GB hard drive, which includes:

  • One Primary partition [labeled D_drive], and
  • Two Logical DOS drives [labeled J_drive & K_drive] contained in a single Extended partition [light-blue outline]. Yellow areas contain data; white areas = free space.

Before we proceed, I should mention that this guide is not a partitioning tutorial. If you're looking for a step-by-step procedure on how to use FDISK to create or delete partitions, check out Doc's FDISK guide. It's referenced by several universities & disk manufacturers such as Samsung.

For your <hypertext> convenience, these Partitioning Strategies can be found at any of these fine Radified URLs:

It has become surprisingly popular. If you search Google or Yahoo for the query string: hard+drive+partitioning+strategies, you'll see what I mean. Most people however, arrive here by following links posted in various bulletin boards around the Net. If you frequent such forums, you'll find many posts containing links that refer to this guide.

Before we begin, I want to mention <shameless plug> a few other Radified guides you might find helpful:

In addition to the graphic posted at the top, I offer the following analogy to help you further conceptualize your data storage system. This analogy uses concepts already familiar to you: houses, rooms, and room-dividers:

HARD DRIVES are like houses, because each house (hard drive) has its own rooms (partitons). Houses come in different sizes, and may contain any number of rooms (partitions). They can also be expensive, and some are built better than others.

Adding a second hard drive to your system is like buying a vacation home at the shore or the lake. It could be used to store all your digital Media, such as your MP3 collection, your lossless audio files, or photographs.

PARTITIONS are like rooms in a house, because they separate different parts of a house into distinct areas for different purposes. For example, the kitchen for cooking, bedroom for sleeping, gaming room for playing Counterstrike. Likewise, you can create a partition for all your Games, and another to store your Back-ups, etc.

FOLDERS (also called directories) are like areas sectioned off by room-dividers, because they are simple to set-up (create), and easy to remove (delete). They can be changed around without much fuss to suit your needs. But they also have limitations.

Each one of the items mentioned above (hard drives, partitions & folders) comes with it's own advantages & disadvantages. Understanding these pro's & con's is what allows you to make wise decisions regarding how you configure your disk/data storage system.

Updated:
10.Jan.2011

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Let's get busy. It never ceases to surprise me how much controversy the subject of hard drive partitioning can generate. Small wars have been waged over the best way to divvy up a hard disk. Why do people get so fired up over something so seemingly insignificant?

The Problem

The problem stems from the fact that some people seem to feel that the partitioning strategy that works best for them, is best for everyone. But this isn't true. Why?

Because we all have different systems, and we use our different systems for different purposes. What works best for the goose, might not work well for the gander .. which leads to my next point...

Major Premise

Here it is> Partitioning is a personal thing. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to partition a hard drive. Whether you prefer to bust up your disk into multiple, smaller partitions, or leave it as a single, monster-sized partition, that's entirely up to you.

In either case, no one can claim that you did anything wrong. Because your strategy depends on what works best for you.

My Position

A disk with multiple partitions offers advantages over a disk with only a single partition, because it offers a greater degree of flexibility. [I discuss these advantages in detail on the next page.]

As you'll see shortly, there are many factors to consider. But I'll be bold & state my conclusion here .. and follow with the reasoning later.

It's generally a good idea to create at least 3 partitions per hard disk. [On the last page of this guide, I detail how I would partition a single-drive system.] This multi-partition strategy offers improved flexibility over single-partition systems.

Note that the more hard disks your system contains, the less partitions each hard disk needs [to achieve the same degree of flexibility]. The least-flexible configuration is a single-drive system that contains only a single partition.

If you consider our house-room-divider analogy mentioned earlier, you can see that a single-partition drive is analogous to a single house with one, large room, sectioned off with only room-dividers (folders).

While this configuration may work well for some people, many folks find it limiting, and feel it does not represent the optimal data-storage arrangement (for reasons detailed on the next page).

Note that it *is* possible to add another room (partition) after your house is built, by throwing up a wall, or .. you can knock down a wall to join two smaller adjacent rooms into one large room (delete a partition), but these post-construction modifications are often a pain, and cause problems.

My point (again) is that it's best to design your partitions intelligently (with an eye to the future) when you first place the drive into service .. just as it's better to design your house, and all its rooms, when you build the thing. Make sense?

So, now that I've stated my general rule for partitioning, we need to look at exceptions to the rule.

Exceptions: Hard drives that will be dedicated solely for video capture, or digital media, such as MP3s or lossless audio files, are best partitioned as a single, large partition. Now that hard drive space has become so cheap, many people dedicate an entire hard drive to rip and encode their whole CD collection.

Multiple Operating Systems: If you're going to install multiple operating systems (dual-boot or multi-boot) to/on the same physical disk, you *must* create a separate partition for each O/S.

For example, if you want to dual-boot both Windows XP and Windows Vista (or two separate versions of Windows Vista) on the same physical hard disk, you'll need at least two partitions on that disk.

If you want to install a third operating system, maybe one dedicated solely for video editing [triple-boot], you'll need at least three. If you'd like to try your hand at Linux, the server-based O/S that's all the rage, make that 4 partitions.

Suppose you want to install a beta copy of Microsoft's next-generation operating system (called Vienna) to play with .. make that 5. You get the point. Each operating system needs its own partition.

Supporting Logic

Capacities of hard drives have reached a remarkable 1-TeraByte (that's 1,000 GigiaBytes). And by the time you read this, they've likely grown even larger.

A quick check at Newegg reveals that a 320-GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 hard drive (7200-rpm, 16-MB cache) can be purchased for ~ US$90. That's about 30 cents per gig. [Newegg's resellerrating is here.] A 500-gigger sells for ~$170 (~35 cents per gig), and a 750-gigger sells for ~$300 (~40 cents per gig).

These prices will likely drop by the time you read this. When they do, simply divide the price by the capacity (as measured in GigaBytes) to find the current "sweet-spot" (lowest price-per-capacity ratio).

If one thing is certain, it's that drive capacities will continue to grow, as prices continue to fall. As mentioned earlier, with escalating drive capacities, along with the increasing popularity of MP3s, video-editing, audio-recording, and multi-boot systems .. intelligent partitioning is becoming more of an issue.

For simplicity's sake, I'll assume we have a system containing a single 320-GB drive, since this size seems to be a popular right now. If a quiet drive is important to you, you would probably opt for the Seagate Barracuda.

Note that the price/capacity sweetstop is near the 320-GB size, and will soon be at a 500-GB drive. If I were purchasing a new hard drive today, I'd choose a 500-gigger (piggy-wiggy, me) cuz I don't mind paying a premium for the extra space. But you could buy *two* 320-giggers for what a 500-gigger would cost you.

Note that, if we were to use these larger drives (400-, 500, 750-GB, or 1-TeraByte) as the basis for our musings, all points made here, regarding the advantages of multi-partition drives would be made even more convincingly. Speaking of the advantages of multi-partition drives...