Partitioning Your Hard Drive
I just got a new computer and I'm wondering about hard drive partitioning strategies. A friend told me to create a very small C: partition for a swap file, put Windows on the D: drive, and create several other parititions for different types of data. Is this a good idea?
How to Partition Your Hard Drive
In general, I disagree with the idea of having multiple partitions on a hard drive. Unless you are running a dual-boot system, with one partition for Windows, and another for Linux or Mac OS, I recommend that you stick with one large partition.
Years ago, some hard drive controllers, as well as older versions of the Windows and Mac operating systems, could not accomodate a hard drive partition larger than 2 GB. If you had a hard drive larger than 2GB, you needed multiple partitions to make use of the full capacity of the drive. So a 10GB drive required five 2GB partitions, which would end up being the C:, D:, E:, F: and G: drives on a Windows computer. But the hardware and software to support large hard drives has been around for over a decade now, and these gyrations are no longer necessary.
Windows, Mac OS and Linux can all handle partitions of almost any size, even the multi-terabyte drives that are just showing up on the market. (See also: What is a Terabyte?)
Partitioning Myth #1
Some people go hog-wild with partitioning, and advise people to create one partition for the operating system, another for the Windows swap file, and still other partitions for installed software, music and photos. The rationale is usually along the lines that if your Windows operating system gets hosed by viruses or spyware, then you can simply re-install Windows and your programs will be safe on another partition. But they're forgetting about the Windows Registry, which tells Windows where all the user-installed software resides on the hard drive. If the Registry gets whacked by a virus, or you re-install Windows, ALL of your software will have to be re-installed.
Another problem with the "operating system on C: and programs on D:" idea is that some programs don't even ASK where you want to install them. They just plop themselves down on the C: drive. And if you blindly copy them to the D: drive, they may not work, due to Registry problems. And even if the installer does give you a choice, the C: drive is always the default. Novice or casual users will probably not remember to change the target drive to D: or E: and the result will be a mishmash of programs installed on multiple partitions.
Partitioning Myth #2
Some people think that having a separate partition for the swap file will help with performance. But everything I've read about this indicates just the opposite. Your system performance will be optimized when the swap file is on the same partition as the operating system, because that mimimizes the movement of drive head. And what if you make your Windows or swap file partitions too small? It's easy to underestimate the amount of space the operating system will need over time, or how large the swap file might grow. And it's NOT easy to tweak the size of a partition if you run out of space.
Partitioning Myth #3
Others claim that putting Windows on some drive other than C: will provide protection from malware because hackers are stupid and always target the C: drive. Well that's just not true. If you want to protect yourself from viruses, spyware and other threats, practive safe computing habits and install some good anti-malware protection.
Just One Partition?
There are other reasons why I disagree with the multiple partitions school of thought. First of all, it makes using and maintaining your computer that much harder. You'll always have to remember where things are supposed to be stored. "Uhh, do I put Photos on the D: drive, and Music on the E: drive? Or is it Programs on the D: drive, Music on the E: drive, and Photos on the F: drive? Aaauuugggh!" With a single partition, you have a lot less hassle.
Also, tasks like defragging your drive and backing up your files become more of a chore. And again, if you "outgrow" a partition, it's not trivial to make it larger, because you can't simply shrink or grow partitions at will. There is software that allows you to change the size of an existing partition, but in order to do so, you need to move entire partitions around on your drive, and that can be time consuming. Oh, and if you think backing up one partition into another partition on the same disk is a good idea, think again. If the drive fails because of a power surge, head crash or other mechanical defect, ALL of your partitions will be lost. Always backup on a separate drive or external media.
Modern operating systems are very smart when it comes to managing large amounts on data on a hard drive. They don't need multiple partitions to take full advantage of the hardware, organize your files, improve performance, or enhance your security. Give your OS one big chunk of disk space, organize it with as many folders as you like, and let it do its thing!
Agree or disagree with my advice on partitioning? Post a comment below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 12 Aug 2008
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Partitioning Your Hard Drive (Posted: 12 Aug 2008)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved