The really short answer is no. These would not affect your hard drive’s life span. But from the sound of your question, you’re making some assumptions here that aren’t really valid. Let’s take a closer look.
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The first thing that you’re assuming is that the logical layout of your partitions (D, E, and F in your example) actually matches the physical layout of the drive inside. For example, you’re assuming that drive D would be on the inner ring and drive F would be on the outer ring if you’ve got multiple partitions.
The catch is… we don’t know that partitions actually get laid out that way.
For example rather than being rings on multiple platters filling up outward (or inward), partitions could be laid out as filling different platters in some order top to bottom (or bottom to top). The D drive could end up on the top platter. The F drive could be on the bottom.
The point is we just don’t know exactly how things are laid out, especially when it comes to partitions.
So, I think your concern here is based on an assumption. It’s not necessarily a faulty one because, in all honesty you could be right, but it’s an assumption nonetheless.
In reality, hard drives get laid out in some fairly different ways than we might think because of fragmentation, operating system nuances and even hardware specific optimizations. Things are pretty complex these days. I really don’t think that there are safe assumptions that you can make about how things get laid out on the physical hard drive based on a drive being partitioned or not.
Another assumption that you’re making is that excessive head movement is bad for a drive’s lifespan.
It’s not, really – at least not the kinds of differences we’re talking about here.
Drives, specifically hard drives, are designed to do this for a long time. Even if all of the files are on a single partition, that head is still moving a lot. If there’s lots of data on the drive, the head could be moving either a little or a lot. Once again there’s just no way to know for sure.
So, I don’t think that trying to second-guess how things are laid out on the hard drive to reduce head movement is actually going to buy you anything worthwhile.
What I would suggest you do is make sure to defragment the disk from time to time. That’s something that we do understand what it does to the platters. At a low-level, the defragmenter works with the drive to make sure that things literally are physically close together.
Multiple partitions versus folders
I’m always interested in why people want to have multiple partitions. There are many reasons for multiple partitions, but there’s little that multiple partitions will get you that having top-level folders on a single partition wouldn’t get you as well. If all you’re really talking about is organizing your data, you might want to think about folders.
They allow you to organize the information on your hard drive any way you want. And the nice thing about having a single partition is that you don’t have to worry about having guessed wrong about the space allocation you might want between the various partitions that you would have set up.
You’ll be fine with a single partition. Defragment it from time to time depending on how much you’re using it and your hard drive will last just as long. (And yes, as a single partition it’s possible that after a thorough defragging all of your files will be physically closer to each other than they would have been had you had multiple partitions. I still don’t think it’s terribly important, but it’s one possible result.)
Naturally, you should be backing up. I say that because no matter what you do or how you lay out your hard drive, it is eventually going to die. And the only way to be prepared for that eventuality is to have a good backup.