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Edited from the full Ask Leo! Live Event video, available below.
It’s a question that I get relatively often, particularly in recent years, when new machines and upgraded machines often result in a hard disk being laid out with multiple partitions of, well, not really knowing what they’re for and whether or not you even need them. I’m not going to necessarily answer those questions, although we’ll touch on what a couple of the partitions are and aren’t. But more to the point, I’m going to look at using Windows own disk management tool to manipulate some of the partitions, delete some, create some, move some around if I can. And then since it does have some shortcomings, I’m also going to fire up a third party disk partitioning partition management tool.
In this case, Easus partition master, I think it’s called and do a couple of things with it that you can’t necessarily do with disk management. And at the same time, look at what are the some of the differences that it has between it’s free and paid versions. I’ll talk more about the third party disk management tools as we as we get a little closer to that. Right-click on the start menu and click on disk management. And I’m going to make that a little bit bigger because you can see I’ve actually done a couple of things in preparation for this.
Let’s go ahead and do that. So what we’re seeing here is three hard disks on this machine. This would be the equivalent of having three internal hard disks on your regular P.C. whatever kind it is. I’m doing all of the manipulations on the other two hard disks. The first one that’s listed here, disk zero, this is the system drive, and while we can do many of the things or actually all of the things that I’m going to discuss on the system drive, it’ll actually be a little quicker and a little easier for us to play with the secondary drive or as you can see here, a third drive so that we’re going to end up avoiding a few reboots along the way. So the second drive here, the second and third drive, disk 1 and disk 2 are configured identically.
That’s because one is actually a clone of the other. I used cloning software to create the second from the third from the second. They have five partitions each. Now, this is very common, I’m finding on Windows machines that have been upgraded. They will often have as many as five partitions when they are, you know, when you actually take the time to look at it. One of the partitions will usually be very large. In fact, if we take a look at the actual system drive here, you know, I’ve got five hundred and eighty megabytes here of a system, of this partition, this first partition.
At the end, I’ve got another five hundred and sixty one megabytes, but in the middle I’ve got close to one hundred gigabytes. And literally what this is is a one hundred gigabyte drive of which one gigabyte has been shaved off at the front and the back for whatever purposes. There’s this huge partition in the middle. That is the drive we interact with, the drive we care about. And you can see it’s even labeled as the C drive here because that is this machine’s C drive. These drives here are manufactured, but they’re manufactured to be similar to what we’re looking at, to the kinds of things we might find. Again, we’ve got the, you know, the small partitions at the front and the back. And then I’ve got three other partitions along the way here.
The sizes are actually somewhat immaterial because when you have an upgraded or an installed Windows 10 machine, you may find that in addition to your big primary partition, the partition that contains your Windows installation, there’s often a fairly large-ish partition, say ten gigabytes or less that contains what they would refer to as the recovery drive. It’s actually a copy, a full copy of Windows ready for reinstallation. I’ve just arbitrarily set a few different files, or partition sizes here. This one’s thirty-nine point three, this one’s twenty and a half and this one is thirty-nine point nine. So the question that I get the most often is I’ve got these partitions, do I need them? The short answer is before you even start asking the question back up, right? If there’s nothing else you want to make sure you have a copy, a backup image of the entire drive and that includes all the partitions, whether you understand their need or not.
We’re going to make some decisions here based on, you know, a couple of random; I’ll just go ahead and call them guesses. But if for whatever reason we choose wrong and delete a partition that we turn, turns out our system happens to need, it’s your backup image that’s going to get you that partition back. The backup image will contain an image of the entire hard drive. And I do want to be sure that when you make a backup image, you’re not just, for example, on this first drive, you’re not just backing up C. You’re using your backup image software to image the entire disk, all of disk zero in this case, which would include all three partitions on it.
If you take a look at any of the partition, are you making an image, articles that I’ve got? Some of them include videos and they all explicitly backup the hard disk, not just the partition. So the first thing we’re going to do is, you know, I’m going to decide, well, actually, before we even do that, one of the things that a lot of that that helps people decide whether or not they need a partition is looking at its contents. Now, in this case, on disk one, you can see it has arbitrarily assigned some drive letters to some of the partitions. So, for example, A, I can take a look at A if I want to. I fired up Windows File Explorer.
And you can see that A has, well, it has some stuff on it. This then, does indicate or would at least lead you to believe that this is some kind of a recovery partition? These are just data partitions. They’re clones. The first one is a clone of my C drive. The others are empty. This other one at the end, though, is one that tends to confuse people whenever you see a drive that doesn’t have a drive letter associated with it. This is one where you can’t assign a drive letter. We could, for example, on this one on disk zero, we could in fact assign a drive letter.
But in this case, we cannot down here. These then I would take to mean that these are somehow partitions related to your UFAI bios, more detailed recovery partitions, just things that aren’t intended to be accessed by as a normal file system. Normally, normally not knowing what’s in there and considering that the size is very small compared to the rest of the hard disk, I would be very tempted to just leave that partition alone. I can’t get into it. It’s not taking up that much space. Is there really any benefit to getting rid of it? And the short answer is typically no. It’s safer to leave it there. We still can get rid of it. We may need to use third party tools to do that, because as you can see, we had no options when I right-click on that partition.
There’s nothing I can do to that one using Windows own disk management tool. So these other partitions I do want to point out one thing that is a little bit confusing. You’ll notice this says recovery partition. These others actually have some names associated with primary partition. There’s more than one primary partition, which is confusing in and of itself. You would think a primary partition; there could be only one. In fact, what it boils down to is that disks using this particular layout, I believe these are mvr formatted disks can have only four primary partitions. And in reality, that’s typically more than enough for most machines. And in fact, you’ll see that disk zero here has only three and they are all three primary partitions. As soon as you want to have a fifth partition, what ends up happening is the an underlying partition; if you look carefully, you can see that there’s a green border around these two partitions. That is in itself a partition. It’s a basic partition.
And this basic partition, which is not a primary partition, can contain many different partitions themselves. And those are all called logical drives. So we have here a primary partition, a primary partition, and then a primary partition at the end. But then we also have this basic partition in the middle. That itself then contains two logical drives. One that’s been formatted. And one that is just an empty drive. So that tends to confuse people from time to time. But that’s how it ends up.
For the most part, the distinction between primary and basic and recovery and active and system, you know, for the most part, it really doesn’t matter, especially if all you’re intending to do is reclaim disk space. So let’s reclaim some disk space. The way to do that, what most people are interested in doing is taking their C drive or their whatever their primary drive is on their system and merging these other partitions into it. Now, with disk manager in Windows, you cannot merge partitions without losing the data in one or both. That’s just the limitation of the tool. So if you’ve got all of your data backed up, which I know you do, then the thing to do is simply right-click on one of the partitions and say “delete volume”. In this case, it’s going to warn you that deleting this volume will erase all the data on it.
That’s the point. That’s something that I just you know, I want to be clear about. Whenever you delete a volume, it’s going to erase all the data. And now you can see that it’s been changed into what’s called free space. This is unpartitioned disk space. We could create multiple partitions here if we wanted to, but that’s not what we want. What I want to do instead, I’ve got this other drive here. I’m going to also delete that volume. Same thing we’re going to be erasing any data that might be on that volume. Now in this case, I have that exposed in my system as drive F, so drive F is going to disappear. And all the data that might have been on drive F will be erased. Now you can see that it’s been merged into this single chunk of free space.
Finally, this big, this free space, which is now itself essentially kind of a partition, you can see it’s still got that green border around it. It’s not labeled as a partition, but you can see you have the option of deleting the partition. That’s exactly what we want to do. We’re going to go ahead and delete this partition. Poof. Now we truly have unallocated space. Following are the partition we want to keep. This is a scenario where you can in fact simply extend the volume, extend the partition into the unallocated space. This gives us a wizard that steps us through this process, but it’s really a short process. The default is to use up all of the allocated space.
You can see here that it’s listed as 61010 megabytes, which when you do digital math, when you do a computer style math is the same as fifty-nine point five, eight gigabytes. We’re gonna use it all. So we’ll click on next and perform the operation. Now you can see that the B drive is bigger. It now contains all of the data that, it contains all of the data that it did before, but it just has a whole bunch more free space. So what we’ve done is we’ve merged by losing the data, but we’ve merged those other two partitions into the B partition, into the primary partition on this machine without losing any of the data on the B partition that simply got extended.
Now, the other scenario is more problematic, and that’s this one. We’ve got “A” over here. Let’s say we don’t want it anymore. So we will go ahead and delete it. Same thing. Deleting a partition means we’re going to delete all of the data in that partition.
Now we have five hundred and eighty megabytes of unallocated space in front of our B partition. Guess what? There’s really nothing you can do. Extending it won’t work because there’s no space after it and there’s not enough space. As I suspected, it kind of alluded to there being it being possible to do what I was about to do.
But of course, it can’t. So the the interesting thing here is that we are now left with, if all we’re going to use are Windows tools, we are now left with this unallocated space in front of our primary, the primary partition on the machine that we can’t use. We just can’t use that partition because we have no way of, of, of of incorporating it into the partition we want to use. The only thing we could do is to create a new volume, right? Which creates a new partition out of the empty space, assigns it a drive letter.
And now we have a drive that’s, you know, five hundred seventy eight megabytes, but it’s not what we wanted. We didn’t want a separate drive. We wanted that to be part of the this the B drive, the the original drive here. So to get back to what we were talking about, what we’ve been able to do so far is delete partitions or delete some of the partitions that follow our main partition, our working partition on a hard drive and then merge those partitions into that so as to make their space available to it.
The main partition does not lose any of its data, but the other partitions had to be deleted and turned into free space before this space could be merged into the main machine or main partition. And that implied that any data that was on those partitions would be lost. We’re also in a situation where we’ve got a partition up front that we can’t merge in. We could use it if we wanted to, but we can’t really merge it into the into our main drive like we’d want to. And we have this partition at the end that we can’t seem to do anything with at all. So those are all limitations of Windows own disk management tool. They’ve been around forever. And in fact, I think that we could do a couple of the things we did here so far are, in fact, new.
They’ve, they’ve actually added some functionality to the tool. But as soon as we start getting a little bit more serious about what we want to do with disk partitions, it’s very quick. It becomes very quickly obvious that we need another tool. There are many; there are many that are free. I will be, I’ll show you one here in just a second. Easus partition manager. Now, Easus may sound familiar because I often also talk about their backup utility Easus to do so. What you can see here is a list that’s very similar to what we saw in disk manager. The partitions are listed twice.
This upper part lists them as a list with each disk, 1 or, 0, 1 and 2 enumerated the way they were, the partitions again listed with their sizes and so forth. And then down here I’m going to scroll this up to make a little bit bigger and scroll the window wider to make it a little bit bigger. And down here we’ve got this graphical representation of the the partitions on the machine and on the disks and how they’re laid out. Very, very similar in concept and perhaps a little prettier than the Windows disk management tool. So there are some interesting things that are different. For example, the this partition that we couldn’t do anything with.
Now all of a sudden, we could do things with it. I could add a drive letter to it if I wanted to, though, of any of the ones I care about down here on the drive disk one where we’re actually making changes. If I wanted to, I could delete the partition, which is something I was unable to do before. Now, so again, we’ve, we’ve already stumbled onto a very simple feature in the free version of this partition management tool that Windows own disk manager wouldn’t let us do. So we’ve got this unallocated space here. Now, I could extend this right away, but I want to point out one difference in the way almost all of the other partition management tools work.
This graphic, this graphic has been updated to reflect that I deleted this partition at the end of the drive. In reality, nothing’s happened yet. The way these tools tend to work and Windows own disk manager is an exception is that you give them a series of instructions. So I’ve given them one operation. In fact, you can see the list so far in the upper left-hand corner of the tool. It says delete partition G, which is what drive letter had been assigned on disk 1. It hasn’t actually done it yet.
The idea is, I’m going ahead and have it do this here in a second, but the idea is that you build up a list of things you want done. It shows you what the results will be. As you build that list. But then it’s not until you actually say do it that the tool performs the task. So I’m going to go ahead and say execute the one operation, delete the partition G on disk one, we will apply, and it’s done. This is now an allocated space for real this time we have no operations pending. So this is an actual live representation of what the desk is. Now, let’s so we’ve got this partition, it’s drive letter B right now and it has some free space at the beginning and it has some free space at the end. What if we could right-click on it and just say, oh, where to go? Resize and move?
So what we’re looking at, this top part is a representation of the hard disk as it exists right now. And this bottom part, this next line where you can see my cursor turns into this very strange looking movement cursor is a place where I get to tell it what I want to have happen. I would like two things to happen to this partition. I would like to take the beginning, and you can see the cursor has changed. I’m going to click, hold and drag and I drug it to the front, making that partition bigger. And I’m going to take the back end and drag it to the end. Oh, come on.
I had to do both again. Basically, as you can tell, the idea was to drag the the front end of the partition to the front of the hard drive to use up all the available space there and drag the back end of the partition to the back end of the drive so as to use all the free space there. The resulting partition size will then be 100 gigabytes, which, as it turns out, is the exact size of this drive. I’ll click OK. And you can see now that it has one operation pending and it is the resize/move partition B on disk 1. We will go ahead and execute that one partition or one operation.
Now, this operation tends to take a little bit longer. And the reason is actually a fairly obvious one. In my case, it turned very quick because it’s a small hard drive. Not a lot of data on it. And we’re on an SSD. The idea is that extending a drive to use the free space that follows it is very easy because you simply say, oh, the drive is you know, it’s now this big instead of this big. Right it just, just make it look like it’s bigger and consume the free space that happens to be at the end of it.
The free space in front of it is more of a problem because what ends up happening is you then have to move the contents of the existing partition forward. You then have to you move the contents of whatever’s in the partition you’re starting with forward so that it then takes up the space. It then occupies the space at the beginning of the partition and you extend the end again to take up the free space at the end. So now we truly have a single partition on this single hard drive. Nine times out of 10 that’s what people are looking for. In particular, this scenario plays out if you ever want to take a hard drive out of a machine, it’s no longer the machine’s primary hard drive and you just want to put it in an external enclosure.
One of the first things I do every single time when I go through that, that operation is I will then fire up a partition management tool of some sort and delete all of the partitions on that newly external drive, because those additional partitions simply don’t make sense if it doesn’t matter whether they’re recovery partitions or or UFAI partitions or anything. It’s the drive is no longer in the machine. So you no longer need UAFI boot information because you’re never going to boot from that thing. You no longer need the recovery information because it’s never going to be used as a recovery drive. The drive that’s in the machine is the one that will be used for that. That’s just taking up space that you’d rather use for the drive itself. Hence we go through this drive, this partition management scenario where we’re actually remove all the partitions except for the one we care about the most.
So now I’ve left that here. I do want to point out I’ve gone through the process of very carefully maintaining the B partition throughout this entire, entire process. In fact, if we fire up Windows Explorer and take a look at B, you can see that it’s actually an old copy, it’s a copy of my old C drive, right? It’s got data on it. It’s got stuff on it. All of that was preserved through everything we did every time we removed a partition. We didn’t remove the B partition. Every time we grew a partition, we grew the B partition. But it was a data preserving grow of the B partition.
That’s because I wanted to preserve the data that was there. That’s the common scenario if you’re dealing with a hard drive, that’s inside of your machine. But if, on the other hand, you’d just have this random external hard drive that’s random, this random hard drive that you’re going to put in a new enclosure and use as a standalone external hard drive, it’s actually an easier way. And this generally does work in Windows File or Windows disk management. And that, in fact, let me do it there real quick, just so that I can show you, I’m going to close Easus real quick, go back to disk management, because it is so, so obvious, I shouldn’t say obvious, it’s just so simple. There was one partition that we were unable to delete. This does not solve that. But for all of the partitions we are able to delete, you simply delete them. So right now I’m doing a destructive delete of the B partition.
Now, B is and B doesn’t exist anymore. And in fact, this entire hard drive is now unallocated space and the next thing to do is to do a new, simple volume, basically create a new disk, format that partition and you’ve got a new hard drive. That’s often, often simpler than trying to merge partitions or move partitions. It’s frequently much easier if you don’t need the data on the hard drive to simply delete all the partitions you can, take all that resulting free space and format it into a new drive and then start using it. So that’s that other alternative that I wanted to point out to you that you don’t necessarily need a third party tool to do that.
You can just go in, delete the partitions and then reformat the resulting space into a new single partition. But I’m finally going to go ahead and do everything I can with this, with this drive that that doesn’t need an extra third party tool. We’re going to delete every partition, every partition we can, that is. As you can see, this last one, we can’t, and now we’re going to go ahead and create a new simple volume. Let that be “E”.
And now I have a new volume E. That’s the kind of step or the kind of steps you would go through if you were in fact just taking an old hard drive and making an external drive out of it. I want to thank you for being here.
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