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Does Having Multiple Partitions Shorten My Hard Disk’s Life?

Question: I have a Solid State Drive for Windows and applications and a hard drive for data. I also have some games on the hard drive. Right now, I have only two partitions: C and D (those are actually two drives, but yes, I get the idea). I want to know if having multiple partitions on my hard drive would shorten its life? For example, let’s say I have three partitions on my 1 TB hard drive. Partition D for games, partition E for data, and partition F for downloads. Now let’s assume that I would play a game and download a patch around 4 GB or a free game from Steam around 10 GB at the same time. Because all my downloads will be saved to partition F and my games are all installed on partition D, performing these two tasks would force my hard drive to move its head to and fro between its outer and inner edges of the platter. Right? So, would that affect my hard drive’s lifespan more than if it had been left as a single partition?

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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Partition layout

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.

Head movement

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.

Open Hard DiskMultiple 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.

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7 comments on “Does Having Multiple Partitions Shorten My Hard Disk’s Life?”

  1. “hard drives get laid out in some fairly different ways … because of fragmentation, operating system nuances and even hardware specific optimizations.”
    Fragmentation is only within a partition – unless a consequence of the “hardware specific optimizations”.
    Partition layout is independent of the operating system that created the partition (but different operating systems support a different set of choices for partition table type DOS/GPT/etc. prior to creation of the first partition).
    Hardware specific optimizations are the real unknown. The operating systems communicate with the drive using Logical Block Addressing, and the drive is then free to lay out its platters in any way it “chooses”, usually including remapping of the notorious bad sectors (if any) into reserved areas.

    One idea in my mind is that I’m usually writing only one data file at a time. (I’m not great at multitasking.) The operating system, however, is almost continually writing to files (appending to logs, mostly). Therefore, if I keep my data in a separate partition, the files are much less likely to be fragmented than if I’d thrown them into the OS’s playground. There’s probably a similar, but smaller benefit to the OS.

  2. I like 2 partitions for backup and restore reasons.
    C:\ for Apps and OS. With the Windows registry apps are tied at the hip to windows, so I don’t see any advantage to separating them.
    D:\ for DATA. That includes the user profiles in C:\USERS by using Folder redirection to the D: drive.

    The idea is I can create separate backup strategies for the 2 partitions. Say monthly, just before and/or Windows Update Tuesday updates are done. And more frequently on the Data partition, maybe weekly incremental backups with a Monthly full backup. When I’m working on something “high value” to me I may add nightly backups of key folders. And if it is really important, I have an addon to Word to do short time interval (5-10minute) SAVE AS timed backups as I’m editing.

    Windows 8 has also added the “File History” autobackup feature. I’ve been playing with it, but I’m not happy with the results yet.

    There is a new form of backup introduced with Windows 8 that MS forgot to mention. They talk about the new “Refresh” feature. What they forget to mention is it uses an image copy of selected folders. If you use Refresh as it comes out of the box, it will not touch Metro apps, but it will wipe out “Desktop” apps you have installed because the factory image does not include them. What MS forgot to mention is that Refresh has a tool called RECIMG.EXE that complements it. RECIMG creates new “images” for Refresh to use. The idea is you should generate a new image after every Desktop application installation. I’m not sure about the details, but I suspect it is probably also a good idea to run a RECIMG after applying Windows Updates too.

  3. I have a single platter drive.
    Am I better off with a single partition for a little bit of extra lifespan?
    And does using two hard disk drives (not partitions) for different tasks like HDD1 for gaming & HDD2 for downloads reduce the stress on the drives & make them last longer?
    I know that buying two drives cost me more initially, but I just want to know if it’s worth it.

    I backup on a monthly basis. I use acronis to take a snapshot of the OS from my SSD. I use Freefilesync to backup my other files from my HDD. I use an external HDD for backup.
    I also make a copy of some important files to my dropbox account & google drive. The files are encrypted using 7-Zip.

    • According to the article, having one or two partitions shouldn’t affect the life span of the drive. In like manner having two physical drives wouldn’t significantly increase the longevity of the drives, and certainly wouldn’t justify the difference in cost. A couple of advantages of having two physical drives would be an increase in speed, and if one did fail, you’d only lose the contents of the one drive and the replacement cost of that drive would be a bit less. Having a good backup system, as you do, is without a doubt the best way to prevent any data loss, although a daily incremental backup would give you even better protection.

    • I think the ideal situation would be having a C: drive that is “unbreakable”. Brands like WD have BLACK, GREEN, RED, BLUE, PURPLE drives for different solutions and is well known a BLACK drive is better than s GREEN drive for running software and the GREEN ones are better for backups.
      Yes, I think 2 drives are always better than 1 and if possible, if your second drive has a lot of large files, partition so if you have a problem you can start your recoveries one half or one third at a time.

  4. I strongly suggest partitioning on almost any hard drive. A few reasons from my experience:
    1) Whenever you have a drive that needs CHKDSK /F, and it is usually you C: drive, if you have a partition for the OS not bigger than 25 to 33% of your drive size, that can be fixed in much less time than if you have a 1, 2, 4, 5 TB hard drive to check from beginning to end.
    2) BAD CLUSTERS. Whenever these appear, if you have partitioned the drive, you can have a partition that after a SURFACE SCAN shows BAD CLUSTERS and not the others. I have a drive with 1 bad cluster at the very beginning that can still be used because I have isolated that bad cluster in a very small partition I don’t use and the rest of the drive has been working like a charm.
    3) When you have a huge problem that needs a RECOVERY TOOL, a DEEP SCAN of a huge HD drive can take many many hours until you recover anything. If you have the drive partitioned, not only you can recover one partition at a time, you can even be lucky and only 1 partition is lost and the rest is still accesible.

    Partitioning is a must, and I can only recommend not to partition a drive if it’s external and has files you don’t use very often (backups, large collection of files) because obviously that external unit is not working 24/7 inside a PC.


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