Best partition size for 1tb NTFS drive?
August 14, 2009 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Is there any speed advantage to partitioning a 1 TB hard drive? I plan on using it as an NTFS drive in Windows XP SP3. It's primary purpose will be mass storage for my pictures and media so it will be read a lot. My OS and Program Files reside on another physical drive.
posted by patrad to Technology (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by meta87 at 2:22 PM on August 14, 2009

Nope. The drive has a maximum rate of data transfer and nothing you do can change that. If you want mroe more speed, try RAID.
posted by katrielalex at 2:38 PM on August 14, 2009

If a big drive becomes really fragmented, head seek time can rise when retrieving a file. A number of smaller partitions guarantees that all the fragments of a file are near one another on the drive, reducing seek time somewhat in that case.

But in practice the gain is negligible in terms of perceived performance. And having a lot of partitions is a pain to set up and a pain to use.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:47 PM on August 14, 2009

There is a speed advantage, but only if you don't want to use the whole drive. You can partition a drive of that size into a smaller partition (say 200gigs), and as I understand it (although this might not be completely correct), it will use the outer part of the disk first, so that 200gig partition will have faster seek times than if it reads the whole drive. The downside is that you can't use the other 800 megs. There was an article or two recently about how a large 7200RPM drive can be partitioned this way to be nearly as fast as a 10,000 RPM drive.
posted by markblasco at 2:50 PM on August 14, 2009

As Markblasco suggests, partitioning does have performance benefits. In addition to forcing applications, swap, and your OS to the faster outer sectors of your hard drive, having your data located in the same general physical region as your application can improve performance.

But if you do this incorrectly (say, storing frequently accessed data on a partition on the innermost sectors, while your swap/OS/application partition is clear across the platters on the outer sectors), you can hurt performance.
posted by Rendus at 2:56 PM on August 14, 2009

posted by Nelson at 3:11 PM on August 14, 2009

Keep in mind that even if there is a speed improvement to seeking in a certain part of the hard drive, this is calculated in milliseconds, which is absolutely negligible.
A normal HD seek time is 8 milliseconds, you can't even perceive such duration.
posted by PowerCat at 3:34 PM on August 14, 2009

A normal HD seek time is 8 milliseconds, you can't even perceive such duration.

...unless the file you're reading is massively fragmented. If it's in 1000 pieces, increases in head seek time can add up.

But I don't think this is a good reason to sub-partition the drive. Make it one big partition. In the long run it's just easier.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:57 PM on August 14, 2009

NTFS has some online-defragmenting ability, which will tend to keep fragmentation under control. Also, mass storage for pictures and media presumably means lots of write-once, sequential-read files, which are less prone to fragmentation anyway. If you're worried, defrag frequently, or else do it right with RAID.
posted by d. z. wang at 4:09 PM on August 14, 2009

You can't perceive 8ms out of a second, but you can perceive 8ms a hundred times in one second (lots of full stroke seeks between loading, say, a data file and the libraries required to interpret the file, or full stroke seeks between your swapfile and data, or anything else).

This is why many modern disk defragmentation programs have options to compact data based on frequency of access or modification, or other variables in an attempt to optimize file location based on your workload and usage style.

This is why high performance drives such as the Cheetah and Velociraptor are drifting toward the 2.5" platter size - Energy efficiency and shorter strokes. They're going so far as to sacrifice the top end read speed by shrinking the platters, in favor of faster seek and access times.

There is a performance benefit to be had by partitioning, if you do it carefully. Examples of this can be seen in this short-stroking article on Tom's Hardware. This link takes you to the first page of results, demonstrating significantly decreased seek times when your primary work partition is small (admittedly, they use partitions the size of small SDDs for their comparison, but you can extrapolate the value of the benefit from their numbers, if you're inclined to make a larger primary partition).

One choice quote from the article:

Constraining the mechanical operating range of the hard drive by limiting the capacity has an impressive impact: database, fileserver, and workstation I/O performance effectively doubles at high command queue depths. Running individual commands, the performance benefit still is 65%. This is much more than any new hard drive generation could ever introduce. In the case of the Webserver benchmark, performance can increase by more than 100%.
posted by Rendus at 4:25 PM on August 14, 2009

Depends.... ;-)

For video editing the difference can be huge, Twitter not so much. If there are large files that need sequential access, like video, it can be vital. But do a lot of research in the area you'll be working.
posted by sammyo at 4:50 PM on August 14, 2009

There is is a speed advantage. If you delete, update, edit and resave etc. certain types of media more than others, you can partition and store stuff differently on the drive. Then, use MyDefrag and make a custom script tailored to the contents of each drive which can give you an overall boost not only in read speed but cut down on the time spent on basic disk maintenance, as you may have frequently-updated data on one drive but the other may not change as much, content-wise. Sort of like if just one room in your house gets dirty, you aren't forced to move all your furniture and vacuum the whole house. Then, you can schedule your custom defrag runs appropriately based on the drive content and likelihood of fragmentation over time.

You'll also (slightly, but whatever) reduce the risk of corruption if you split your assets across multiple partitions - unless of course the entire drive craps out. Makes imaging a little more straightforward too.
posted by cyniczny at 6:22 PM on August 14, 2009

Frankly, I think you overestimate the usage characteristics of this drive. You claim that it will be mostly reads, which I assume means you won't be editing these. In which case, fragmentation should be nigh invisible on an NTFS partition. And for viewing purposes, your hard drive's throughput should easily dwarf video.

The use of partitioning for performance reasons is to out-guess the block layout algorithm. "These files need to be on the outside edge, where performance is higher," or "these files need to be close together on disk." This was important with say FAT, where layout was often "whatever's easist right now". I'm checking my calendar, and yes, it is 2009, not 1989. For a 1TB drive you'll be using NTFS and it will have a block layout at least as clever as you are.
posted by pwnguin at 8:08 PM on August 14, 2009

There will be a speed advantage to smaller partitions, as many people above had said. The question is will you notice it? For your workload, probably not.
posted by procrastination at 8:22 PM on August 14, 2009

Looking at my 6400AAKS's current state (I don't partition, mostly because I'm lazy), and I find this display. The topmost block of data contains several frequently played games, including Fallout 3. The block of data 3/5ths or so of the way down is where my pagefile resides, along with more games, and various applications reside at the bottom. The OS in question here is Windows 7 x64 final RC. XP's NTFS implementation is several revisions behind this.

NTFS isn't as omniscient or intelligent as people tend to believe. But it's not bad for a filesystem introduced in Windows NT 3.1, back in '93.

The question is, are there performance benefits. The answer can only be yes. Is it going to be noteworthy to this particular user? Questionable, I suppose. But if there's anything being done across a large number of relatively small files (say, generating thumbnails, some sort of batch conversion, etc - Something where there would be a large number of seeks instead of long sequential reads), there very well may be significant benefit.
posted by Rendus at 9:12 PM on August 14, 2009

Firstly there are a bunch of other tuning tweaks you can apply to NTFS that will effect performance.

One reason to consider partitioning is to FORMAT separate partitions with different cluster sizes.
partition 1 = 4k cluster size for small MS Office document files.
partition 2 = 64k cluster size for large video files.

This will affect the size of the NTFS Master File Table, switching a 1 TB disk from 4k to 64k clusters will reduce the size of the MFT from over 260 million entries to about 16 million.

If you are planning to use the same cluster size for everything (or if you need to use disk compression) then I doubt you will see any great benefit from partitioning the disk.
posted by Lanark at 2:59 PM on August 16, 2009


I'm going to go with the assumption that for my application (store of music, pics and video), I would perceive no performance benefit and any minor one I may notice is overshadowed by the ease of having 1 large partition.
posted by patrad at 7:16 AM on September 28, 2009

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