What is disk partitioning and how do I use it?
Most folks actually never need to worry about disk partitioning. Your
machine will have come pre-configured and that configuration is probably just
fine for most uses.
There are some times when it might make sense to revisit how your hard disk
is used at the lowest level, and that’s where partitioning comes in.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Partitioning is, very simply, a way to take a single physical hard
disk and make it look like more than one disk by dividing up the
Really, that’s all there is to it.
A great example is that many machines will come with a single hard disk
divided into two partitions – one a very small one with “recovery” information
on it, and another that represents the rest of the hard disk for day-to-day
use. Sometimes the recovery partition is visible, other times not.
You can see what partitions are on your hard disk by using the Disk
Management tool. Right click on My Computer, click on
Manage and then click on Disk Management.
Here’s what it shows for my laptop:
physical hard disk and make it look like more than one disk by dividing up the
You can see that my single 74.53 gigabyte hard drive is actually divided
into three partitions: a tiny system configuration partition, a 2 gigabyte
recovery partition which appears as drive D: on my machine, and then the
balance of the drive as my drive C:.
So drives C: and D: look like separate disk drives, but in fact
they reside in separate regions of the same physical hard disk.
There are several different uses for partitioning. As we’ve seen it’s one
way manufacturers keep a separate location for recovery files that are less
likely to be damaged inadvertently by normal use by being on a separate logical
Other reasons include:
Multiple OS’s Many multi-boot managers are really just
giving you a choice of which partition to boot from. So you could, for example,
put Linux on one partition and Windows on another, and then choose which you
want to run each time you reboot. Both partitions may or may not be visible to
both operating systems depending on how they’re formatted and the capabilities
of the OS’s.
Performance Because partitioning happens at the physical
level many people believe that if done properly you can arrange the data on
your hard drive more effectively through the use of partitions. For example
some folks create a separate partition to hold the system swap file. Personally
I’m not convinced that partitioning actually helps much for these purposes.
Backup and Recovery Many more people often partition their
hard drives so as to separate “system” from “data”, creating a separate
partition for each. This could allow you to, for example, restore your system
partition from a back up without affecting your data. Similarly, it could allow
you to regularly or more simply backup your data only. This tends to be a tad
error prone as many programs still insist on storing things on the system
drive, but it can at times be a useful way to organize things.
How Should You Partition?
First realize that there are two ways to partition or re-partition your hard
Using Windows Disk Manager to create, delete, and modify partitions. In this
case the partitions involved will be erased. All data thereon will be
Using a third party partition manager. There are several, and these tools
will preserve the data on your partitions as you resize and otherwise adjust
your system configuration.
The real question is should you?
In my opinion, unless you know enough to know exactly how it’ll benefit you,
you don’t need to. And it’s rare that partitioning actually buys you much more
than simply keeping your hard disk organized using folders on a single
partition. In fact, that’s exactly how all my machines are configured: each
hard disk is a single partition (unless, like my laptop, it came pre-configured
some other way).
Now, I know a lot of people will disagree and indicate that they had some
significant performance gains and that they have some wonderful backup and
recovery success stories that they can attribute to having partitioned
All quite possible.
But for the average user it’s just not worth a lot of