How to partition a TB
September 7, 2019 5:51 AM   Subscribe

I just bought my first new laptop in about twenty years and am about to switch out to a bigger SSD and do a fresh install. Should I do a windows partition? Do SSDs even care?

How should I set this up cleanest? I am thinking one partition for the windows install and one for storage, but what do I put in storage? Also my programs? Or is it better I install them to C. I can install my steam library to storage I guess even if steam is installed on C? Also, if I put the old SSD in an enclosure can I run my steam games off it in an enclosure over usb3 or is that crazy dumb? Help me organise my new install, used to be I just set everything up, and then did a ghost copy that I could put back on when it had gotten messy under the hood.
posted by Iteki to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Should I do a windows partition? Do SSDs even care?

SSD's don't care, but whatever you're installing does. Windows default is to install everything in one partition, but that means if it gets corrupted and you need to do a reinstall you need to copy all data elsewhere (I have very little faith in users being rigorous in keeping backups up to date, if they're making them at all). With a separate data partition you have a much better chance of the data not being corrupted when the OS buggers itself, and while it's still a good idea to backup the data before doing that reinstall you have a good chance that you don't have to copy it all back.

Downside is that you have to wrangle Windows into accepting that documents etcetera live on D:. Any direct experience I have there is from at least 15 years back; maybe it's gotten easier since then.
posted by Stoneshop at 6:20 AM on September 7, 2019

There is no technical advantage to splitting the drive. Unless you frequently expect to get into situations where your storage folder is full, and you want the OS to continue working.

Internally, the SSD will be moving data blocks around for wear leveling so at a low level it is all considered one block device. And if an SSD goes, all the partitions on it go.

Everything wants to run from C: these days, and you will have a hard time telling installers to move to a different partition.

Most likely applications on an external drive will be confused that they have moved.

I would suggest having a backup drive (like the old SSD), and make a regular habit of backing up the files important to you. Or even better, pay for an automated service you can set and forget about.
posted by nickggully at 7:06 AM on September 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also, if I put the old SSD in an enclosure can I run my steam games off it in an enclosure over usb3 or is that crazy dumb?

Unless I'm mistaken, USB3 is going to be a slower data transfer so you're not going to get the performance you want when your games access data on the drive. I would just use the old drive for temporary data transfer or something.

The only advantage I see in partitioning the drive is if you expect to reinstall Windows again and keep all documents, etc. on the other partition. Even then, I'd make sure to do an external backup of the second partition before a reinstall on the off chance something goes amiss and the other partition is erased during install.
posted by jzb at 8:06 AM on September 7, 2019

I honestly haven't done a windows reinstall in bazillion years even on the boxes I have that have physically separate drives, so maybe I won't bother myself so sounds like.
posted by Iteki at 8:10 AM on September 7, 2019

The only hard disk configuration for Windows installations that has Microsoft's official blessing is a single volume identified with drive letter C: with everything on it. If you build your Windows installation in any way other than this, you're inviting Windows to cause you grief in ways that Microsoft will never help you solve. Not that they've ever helped me solve anything ever, but still.

Splitting the drive into multiple partitions in order to enable being slack about backups is just enabling being slack about backups, and if you're slack about backups you will eventually lose data you care about. Especially with an SSD, because when an SSD fails, the whole thing tends to become inaccessible all at once regardless of how many partititions were on it before it failed.

Just point Windows Setup at your completely blank SSD and let it work out the partitioning it wants to use by default. Doing it any other way is asking for trouble that doesn't need to exist.
posted by flabdablet at 12:33 PM on September 7, 2019

Nthing that there's no reason to partition the drive into OS and data partitions; if I want to reinstall the system I usually find it better to just do a nuke and repave anyway, so imaging a smaller partition with all my programs isn't useful, and keeping backups is something I do for all of my important files anyway, so splitting it up just gets in the way on a system with a single fixed drive.

On my desktop where I have a larger 3TB spinning rust disk in addition to my SSD, I do point my documents/videos/OneDrive/etc. folders to that drive to spare more program space on the SSD, but I use the built-in, supported method for relocating those folders and not some harebrained stunt like symlinking the user folder, which is just a recipe for pain down the road.
posted by Aleyn at 3:17 PM on September 7, 2019

The process of actually formatting the drive and installing the OS hasn’t changed significantly, except to become miles faster and require fewer steps. That part should be much less troublesome than you remember.

I wouldn’t bother partitioning on the C drive. If your laptop has two drive bays (e.g. gaming laptop), then you could do a C and D that way. Otherwise, nah. And while putting the old drive in an enclosure is a fine idea, trying to play games off it via USB will be very slow.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:46 PM on September 7, 2019

Actually turns out there’s room for a separate regular disk... maybe the original 256 is enough for programs and windows and I put in a regular one for files?
posted by Iteki at 10:11 AM on September 8, 2019

Partitioning made sense for spinning discs, as it physically partitions the data onto different parts of the spinning plates of rust. Therefore, if something goes wrong with one physical part of the platters, the chances are the rest will still be OK and recoverable.

SSDs are completely different. Because of the way flash memory works, your data will literally move around as it is written and rewritten. Even if you have logical partitions on the disc, it's extremely likely that the underlying hardware won't keep things physically separated (and it's questionable what 'physically separated' even means on an SSD, anyway)

Technical explanation: you can't actually modify data stored on flash, you can only write it or erase it, and erasing takes time. On top of this, you can only erase and write a piece of flash so many times before it stops working, so you don't want to keep erasing/re-writing a particular block, because that will wear it out fast. What SSDs and other flash devices do is keep a stack of pre-erased blocks and so when you "modify" some data, what actually happens is that the new data is written into one of these pre-erased blocks instead (and the pointer to the data updated to the new block). The old block is flagged as 'unused' (but not erased), and every so often the drive will go through and erase all the unused blocks, marking them as available (and will generally keep track of the number of times each block has been erased/written for wear-levelling purposes).
posted by parm at 11:19 AM on September 8, 2019

Also worth noting that some of the newer forms of spinning rust - specifically, drives using the Shingled Magnetic Recording technique that Seagate devised to wedge 10+TB into a 3.5" drive - are much closer in spirit to an SSD than to a traditional hard drive, from a data recovery point of view. Like an SSD, these drives don't make a simple mapping from block number to track and sector position; like an SSD, they can't rewrite a single block of data in place, but instead need to rebuild entire shingled regions at a time. So what they will generally do is maintain a pool of recently written blocks on the outermost parts of the disk, which are physically formatted more or less conventionally on non-overlapping tracks and can be written like normal disk blocks, and archive chunks of those out to the shingled regions closer to the spindle during idle periods to free up pool space.

When a shingled drive fails, it will probably still have the nice characteristic that any other hard drive does, in that the failure won't initially involve the whole drive at once but will rather just make data become progressively less retrievable over time. But because the data tracks within a shingled region are written in such a way as to actually overlap each other, and because of the complicated mapping from logical block addresses to actual disk surface positions, you're likely to lose a higher percentage of your data and what you do lose is less likely to be neatly localized.

A good backup strategy is your friend, as has been the case since the invention of clay tablets. Partitioning, not so much any more.
posted by flabdablet at 10:04 AM on September 9, 2019

maybe the original 256 is enough for programs and windows and I put in a regular one for files?

If you're going to run two drives inside a laptop, you'll get much better battery life and much lower internal temperatures if both of them are SSDs.

USB3 enclosures are an excellent retirement home for superseded spinny disks, whose internal transfer rates are more likely to be a speed bottleneck than the USB3 bus. The raw USB3 bit rate is 5 gigabits/s. Once protocol overheads and whatnot are factored in, it should still be good for peak transfer speeds of at least 300 megabytes/s which is comfortably over what most spinny disks are capable of, and a USB3 power port should also have no trouble with a spinny's increased power requirement compared to SSD.
posted by flabdablet at 10:18 AM on September 9, 2019

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