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26 Drives? Is there a way around the 26 drive limit in Windows?

Is there a way around the limit to 26 drives in Explorer? My in-home network
leaves me only 3 drives available (X:, Y: and Z:). I am looking to add a 500GB
drive (either internal or external) to my system, but want to partition it into
at least 5 drives. Is it possible to do this without losing the ability to
connect to the rest of my network? What suggestions would you have to handle
this?

This is one of those situation’s I’ve been meaning to get around to for
quite a while myself. I have one machine on which I have several physical
drives installed, and a USB 8-in-one flash reader that adds 4 more drives, and
two CD-ROM drives. On top of that I, too, want to connect to several other
machines on my network. I wasn’t running out of room, but things were getting
tight.

Note how I said “were”. There are a couple of good solutions.

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Hard Disks

We’ll start with the physical drives attached to your system.

As we saw in a previous article Can I reassign my drive letters?
you can, using the system drive management tool, assign the letters of your
choice to your drives, rather than accepting the Windows default. While I don’t
recommend renaming “C:”, the default Windows install drive, pretty much any
other drive can be assigned any letter that isn’t already in use.

Or none at all.

But at least one of your drives, probably your C:, or Windows installation
drive, needs to be NTFS format.

Following the instructions in that article:

  • Right click on My Computer and click on
    Manage to bring up the Computer Management Dialog

  • click on Disk Management, to open up the Disk Management
    Dialog

  • Right click on one of the drives that is not your Windows install drive, and
    then click on Change Drive Letter and Paths…

Doing that on my machine for my external backup drive (E:), I get this:

Change Drive Letter and Paths... for E:

Now, this time instead of pressing Change… to change a
drive letter, we’re going to press Add…. This dialog
results:

Add Drive Letter and Paths... for E:

What we haven’t talked about is that “or Path” part these dialogs keep
talking about. In Windows Explorer, create this folder on your NTFS formatted
C: drive:

c:\backupdrive

The name is totally up to you – the only requirement is that the drive be
NTFS formatted, and that this folder you just created be empty.

Now enter that folder name in the Add Drive Letter or
Path…
dialog we have open:

Add Drive Letter and Paths... for E: with entry

Press OK.

Now you should see the contents of the E: drive.:

Windows Explorer open on E:

Appear within the folder C:\backupdrive:

Windows Explorer open on c:\backupdrive

Recalling that the problem was that too many drive letters were in use,
there’s one last step.

Back in disk manager, right click on the drive we’ve been playing with (E:
in my case) and once again click on Change Drive Letter and
Paths…
– it should look similar to this:

Change Drive Letter and Paths dialog

Make sure that the drive letter is selected, and click
Remove. You’ll get a warning, which I’ll discuss in a moment.
Press OK on that warning, and the drive letter is no longer associated with
that hard disk. It’s been freed up for use elsewhere. The contents of that hard
disk are still available at c:\backupdrive.

The directory “c:\backupdrive” is called a “mount point” or junction. It’s
the point at which the contents of another drive are mounted. Physically all
the contents below that mount point are on that other hard drive, but logically
all files are referenced via paths beginning with c:\backupdrive.

The warning you got above is simply telling you that programs which might
have expected files on (in my case) “E:” are now going to fail – they’ll have
to be instructed to look at “c:\backupdrive” instead.

One other thing to note; mount points are treated just like any other
directory for file sharing purposes. So if, for example, my “C:” drive was
shared out, then by mounting the E: drive in a mount point on C:, it also
became available for file sharing.

This is actually quite handy – for example if you have several drives, as I
do, you might create a subdirectory full of mount points:

c:\dev\harddisk2
c:\dev\backupdisk
c:\dev\harddisk3

Now, simply by sharing c:\dev, all the hard disks mounted underneath are
automatically shared.

Using mount points you can add a virtually unlimited number of drives or
partitions to your system without using up any of the precious 26 drive
letters.

Networking

(I’m going to assume that you have file sharing already working between the
machines you care about. Network setup and file sharing is beyond the scope of
this article.)

Network connections can eat up drive letters as well, if you use Map Network
Drive:

Map Network Drive dialog

Or if you make the connection in the command prompt:

NET USE Y: \\leo\mail

In many cases there’s simply no need to do this.

In Windows Explorer, in the address bar, simply type \\server\share as the
“folder” you want to browse:

Windows Explorer open on \\leo\mail

In many cases (though admittedly not all) you can simply use
\\server\sharename instead of a drive letter to access a remote resource. This
means you don’t have to eat up a drive letter by mapping a network drive unless
you find you really need to.

Putting it all Together

Finally, let’s combine all this together.

Machine B has 6 hard disk drives; “C:” plus 5 others. We’ll set up mount
points on that machine:

c:\dev\harddisk2
c:\dev\harddisk3
c:\dev\harddisk4
c:\dev\harddisk5
c:\dev\harddisk6

Then, still on machine B, we share the directory “C:\dev” to the local area
network.

Now, over on machine A, we have a choice. We can map a drive:

NET USE Q: \\MACHINE-B\dev

and we can access all of machine B’s hard drives as “Q:\harddisk2”,
“Q:\harddisk3” and so on.

OR we can skip the mapping entirely, and simply reference those
drives as “\\MACHINE-B\dev\harddisk2”, “\\MACHINE-B\dev\harddisk3” and so
on.

In this extreme case, you can access all the hard disks on both your local
and the remote machine without using any drive letters on either.

I’ll confess that I do still use drive letters, but mostly as a shorthand.
“Q:” is much shorter to type that “\\server\\share”. But in most cases, that’s
the only reason.

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23 comments on “26 Drives? Is there a way around the 26 drive limit in Windows?”

  1. You know?
    I Was going to ask you that!
    8->

    That is also really cool.

    However,
    if you can map a local HDD as say C:\backupdrive,
    then couldn’t you map a ntwork drive, remap it to C:\netdrive or something, then delete the original map???

    And Anyway Windows is stupid to limit 26 drives, when it could use #s instead of letters.

    Well,
    See-Ya

    Reply
  2. “Windows is stupid to limit 26 drives”.

    Just remember that Windows used to run on top of MS-DOS, which was based on another O/S (“Q-DOS”, as I recall), which was compatible with CP/M-86, which was a 16-bit version of CP/M, which used drive letters just as Windows still uses them. Changing them to numbers 25 years later just won’t cut it.

    Unix (and its derivitives) has been using “mount points” since its inception. It’s about time Windows caught up.

    Of course, simply using UNC format (“\\server\share\path\…”) removes the needs for drive letters as well.

    Drive letters still have their uses, of course. For example, every system on our LAN calls its CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive “R:”. (Much better than the DOS and older-Windows default method of changing the CD drive letter when you added a secondary HD.)

    Reply
  3. I want to put Windows&Documents and Settings on a seperate disk then Program Files; and I want to put the page file on it’s own disk also. I imagine that Documents and Settings&Windows would have to go on different partitions of the same disk or seperate disks altogether. But How would I go about this, presumeably from re-install

    Reply
  4. While mounting junctions is useful there are some problems with their implementation. One is how the recycling bin responds to a junction.

    First try this out:

    Goto your drive that you have mounted and make a new folder on that drive.

    Now try moving that folder to the recycling bin. Notice the system will sit for a while and then respond with an Access Denied message.

    The reason is somewhat explained by Microsoft in KB243514 (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/243514/).

    In a nutshell the recycle bin is unable to handle folders on a junction mounted drive, and the only work around is to bypass the recycle bin by perma-deleting the folder using shift-del, the rd command, or by turning off recycle bin on the drive the junction is mounted on.

    Fortunately files are don’t cause problems so if you need to delete a folder from a junction mounted drive, first move the files in the folder to the recycle bin then perma delete the folder. This is of course is assuming you care about the use of the recycle bin but thats a different issue.

    Reply
  5. Hi
    I had been told to limit the hard disk letter to a tight list let say only A, B, C that way i can prevent installing USB, CDROM or any other mass storage device. Do you think it is still feasible?

    Reply
  6. I run a Citrix network at my workplace. One workstation has the data cached onto the hard drives and the other workstation has the Terminal Services Client and Applications. One of the Applications we use requires lots of “reference materials” from the Caching PC. The program creates a the drives on the Caching PC, shares it over to the TSC PC and loads a data source (a reference book). When the program closes it erases the data from the shared drive deletes the drive itself. The process is repeated on each application start-up but refers also to each different Citrix Launch. The application currently reads from 12 data books simultaneously (due to network and drive constraints from G-X). We are about to buy a product with 21 Reference materials. If i set up mounting points, will the application automatically create the same mounting points to use for the sources?

    Reply
  7. Thanks alot! This helps so much! Now I can go out & add those new HDDs, buy another computer for my network, & even (re)attach old drives collecting dust on my shelves!

    Reply
  8. I was grateful to find this work-around but after implementing it, I am having second thoughts. Using the Recycle Bin has become a pain. When deleting large files or many files at once, which I do regularly, it takes several minutes just to complete the process. It takes as long to delete files as it does to “wipe” them using the Peter Gutmann (35 pass) wipe.
    I understand I can try disabling the recycle bin completely and that may solve this problem, but it’s not unheard of for me to restore accidentally deleted files or unforeseen necessary ones.
    Bottom line: I value the recycle bin’s purpose, is there any work-around for the slow deletion issue?

    Thanks,
    Timogin

    System specs:
    Self built as always.
    Windows XP Pro SP2
    AMD64 Dual Core 5600+
    4GB RAM (Windows limited at 3+GB)
    Drives in question are all SATA300 (300mbps enabled) Mostly Seagate, a couple WD. (approaching 3Tb total)
    Motherboard – Foxconn C51XEM2AA (AM2 NVIDIA nForce 590)

    Reply
  9. Hi Leo,

    I read your article “26 Drives? Is there a way around the 26 drive limit in Windows?”

    One question: does the drive to be mounted to the empty NTFS folder has to be formated as NTFS? In other words, can a drive of FAT be mounted to the empt NTFS folder?

    I would appreciate it if you can email me back to verify that!

    Robert

    Reply
  10. —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
    Hash: SHA1

    Yes. I’ve mounted FAT formatted SD and CF cards using this
    technique.

    Leo

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)

    iD8DBQFIZmwRCMEe9B/8oqERAuM9AJ9uoW9DBuLNfvL7RWnhLJGd/G2vXQCfV/Fr
    0vLbFGaO7jA9OAGpcJm72q4=
    =DUQc
    —–END PGP SIGNATURE—–

    Reply
  11. Hey Leo, I was browsing for info on doing full copies of my new, clean Windows OS for backup purposes when I ran across this great article that solved another problem, that of drive lettering. I’m sure I could have found the info elsewhere on the ‘net, but I check with you first for most everything because your answers are thorough, clear-cut, and have lots of great supplementary guidance. Still the best!

    Reply
  12. I’m glad I read this. Thanks for the new knowledge, Leo!
    On a single computer not networked, must file sharing be enabled to change the path of an installed hard drive(not the main one which Windows is installed under)?

    Reply
  13. I was wondering a couple of things.

    1)If I usually slipstream windows,so win folder is on c:, “program files” is on d: and “my documents” is on e:.
    – How can I mount these drives to folders in that (or during that) kind of installation?

    2)If I want to do a backup (ghost style, not separate documents);
    – would I be able to backup only c: without those mounted folders?
    – would I be able to full backup c: and those mounted folders without backing up the entire drive (ie: Swap partition, and other extra partitions.)??

    One last thing. I do remember that time ago network folders assigned to a letter used to run faster and feel more agile than UNC paths. But still;
    – Is there a way to mount those paths to letters and then to folders like “\\Jamespc\my documents” to “c:\Network\james” and so on?
    (I know I has been mention before in the comments but the answer wasn’t completely clear about it)

    Even if you cannot answer these questions, thank you very much Leo, I appreciate the info, the time and the effort.

    Reply
  14. How do I reverse this procedure, to reassign the drive to what it was before. Is it just a reverse of this procedure. I have a 49-port USB hub I want to experiment with…

    Reply
  15. To answer my own question.

    Just rightclick on the mount point and go to properties=>properties under the general tab. There you can see the amount of free space as well as used space and capacity.

    Reply
  16. Again I will answer my own question LOL

    You can use Multi Path Files Finder 1.0 which is freeware: http://tiny.cc/s5CmF

    I found this app by scarcing for “how to search for files in UNC path” in Google.

    UNC Universal/Uniform Naming Convention

    If anyone knows of another or better way please let me know.

    Reply
  17. Hey Leo,

    Great site! Ok, I have set up all my ipods (28) as mount points as stated. Now I can’t get either itunes or my tribeam SyncEZ software to recognize them. Windows sees them but I need to transfer files via the SyncEZ software..or worst case through itunes…any thoughts? Thanks 🙂

    Tup

    Reply
  18. Thank you indeed, I´m very greatful for this. Have been sking around everywhere and all I got was, why do that, you don´t need a many drives, etc.. etc.. Mind your own buisseness or turn your head away is all I have to say to them. Thanks again for this!

    Reply
  19. Thanks! I was trying to add my 22nd HDD and couldn’t understand why windoze was choking then I realized it ran out of alphabet – to dumb to add a number or double letters, this fixed it for me at least short term. Thanks again. By the way, computer OS should change that which is bad. I’m sure C/PM had a HDD limit for example, we dumped that. Windows needs to dump drive letters or make it more useful in the future, not metrosexual the OS interface.

    Reply
  20. I don’t see why file names or folder names should be used. Unless your Microsoft. The solution is to assign relevant terms (keywords) to your data, because then everyone can work with relevancy in all languages, given a Yettabyte of data.

    Does assigning file names and folder names that alter data paths, really how to store data, or the fact humans don’t know what name to assign to file and folder names in the first place! Not to mention the next person sitting down has no idea where to begin shifting through all those folder and file names.

    But, a relevant tagging system resolves all these issues at once.

    Reply

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