Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Should I partition my external drive?

I ordered a Phantom 1.5 TB external hard drive. Is it advisable to partition
a portion of the drive strictly for complete backups of my computer on the LAN
and utilize the remainder for regular storage?

In this excerpt from
Answercast #60
, I look at the idea of partitioning an external drive to help
organize backups.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

Partitioning an external drive

It’s interesting. This goes back to the original, “Should I even bother
partitioning my primary hard drive into multiple partitions?”

My answer here is the same as the answer there and that is no.

I believe that a single hard drive these days is best represented by a
single partition. There’s really no advantage to creating multiple partitions
on single physical hard drives.

Folders instead of partitions

Now, in a case like this, where you’ve got two different kinds of things
going on, what that really calls for in my opinion is a folder.

Create a folder at the top level of that hard drive that contains all of
your backups. Just make sure that your backup software is configured to drop
all of your backups in that folder. Then, use the rest of that hard drive for
whatever you want.

The good news here is what that means is that the entire hard drive
is available to all of the operations, to both of the operations:

  • The backup software can fill it up;

  • Your other use can fill it up.

Ideally, of course, they won’t actually fill it up. But there won’t be any
kind of artificial restriction on either of them based on the partition sizes
that you might have chosen to begin with.

So, like I said, create a folder for your backups and keep it a single
partition. That’s what I’d do.

Next from Answercast #60 – Why does only half of my email scroll?

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips & a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

NOW: name your own price! You decide how much to pay -- and yes, that means you can get this report completely free if you so choose. Get your copy now!

7 comments on “Should I partition my external drive?”

  1. I just partitioned a new Ext HD to make one partition FAT32 for my spouse’s Mac BU files while I kept the most of the drive for my NTFS Win files.
    Other than that, I have found it a pain to have >1 partition.

    Reply
  2. With all due respect, I must dissent from your recommendation. While I’ve built only about 70 Windows computers, I found that partitioning the hard drive into a C for Windows and applications and a D for all data to be extremely prudent. If Windows should ever go bad and you have to reinstall it fresh (not nondestructive reinstall) or your operating system gets infected and you have to wipe it out with a reformat, your data is safe and sound on your D partition. I even place all Internet files — favorites/bookmarks, passwords, etc. — on the D drive as well. This practice has been a lifesaver time and again for me and my clients.

    These days when building a computer, I use a 128 or 256GB SSD for the C drive for Windows and applications and a large conventional hard drive (1 or 2 TB) for the D drive for all data. This results in blazingly fast computers with data secure and it makes it extremely easy to clone the data drive for further protection.

    Now I realize this might be complicated for the casual computer user, but I suspect partitioning into a C and D drive will keep even casual users better protected should something go awry with Windows.

    Reply
  3. I partition my large drives often – to make back-up clones of various machines, or clones of various dates. I label each clone as to date or machine, and when/if I clobber a machine, I use a cloning program and presto, I’m back running. I make the partitions the same size as the ‘c’ drive of the machine I’m cloning. If it’s Vista, or Windows 7, I use ‘Easus’. If it’s an XP system, I use ‘XXClone’ and it only clones the size needed. I can then shrink the partition and regain the unused space.
    Be careful with a Vista or W7 clone, not to shrink it, as apparently MS puts some data at the end of the drive that you will loose, and it won’t boot gracefully.

    Reply
  4. I couldn’t disagree more with your statement “There’s really no advantage to creating multiple partitions on single physical hard drives.” Every machine I have ever set up has always had the primary drive partitioned into C (OS) and D (DATA) partitions. In every case, user folders (other than profile) were located on the D drive. The D drive contained a restricted folder where an image of the C drive was kept. I also kept a copy of this image on external media. There is not a single machine that did not at some point require the restoration of the image to C. Having one partition only would have required saving and restoring of user data files before and after imaging. Most of the computers were production machines in a control centre requiring 24×7 access. Extended outages meant lost productivity (theirs and mine). For computers I support for family members I follow the same philosophy. It has saved me many hours of frustration.

    For external drives, however, I see no reason to partition.

    Reply
  5. While I can see the advantage of being able to re-image just drive C should something happen, it still requires that you have a current image to restore from. (And you should have current backups of your data drive as well.)

    The main problem that I see with having separate partitions on a single drive is that you are putting an artificial limit on how much can go on any particular partition. If drive C: fills up even though there are hundreds of gigabytes available on D:, you’re stuck.

    Yes, you can tell Windows to move a lot of things, such as the user’s directories, onto D:, but some things don’t have that option. Consider, for example, that my system has 38GB in the \windows directory alone.

    Reply
  6. I agree. If you are making backups of your data and/or system, then you don’t need more than one partition – you can always rebuild and load the data from the backup. But if you do have multiple versions of operating systems on one harddrive – then partitioning is a very helpful option. But in general – 1 partition…

    Reply
  7. As Leo has said before, it is really a matter of personal preference.
    I used to partition my drives so only certain types of information was in each partition to ease finding things and making backups. However, using external HD cases and old drives allows me to accomplish the same thing with only one partition for each drive.
    So, here’s my take on the subject.
    If you have only one drive, partition it for programs and data. If you have more than one drive, don’t bother with partitions, but use folders.
    Since external HD cases are quite inexpensive (the ones I use are less than $30), and old HDs are somewhat easy to come by (from obsolete or defunct computers), it makes more sense to use multiple HDs. External HDs also have the advantage of being easily being moved from one computer to another. External HDs can be unplugged when not in acutal use, which makes them safer for backup. Also, many restore discs provided by computer manufacturers only work on the entire drive. So, re-installing the OS also wipes out the data partition (I’ve lost data because the restore disc would not work on only the C: drive because it was not considered “original configuration.” It insisted on reformatting the entire drive.)
    Having gone down both roads for many years, I basically agree with Leo about partitions. But, it all depends on how many HDs you have, and your own personal preferences.

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.