One Drive To Rule Them All
May 18, 2008 5:56 PM   Subscribe

I have three 500 MB hard drives in my XP desktop machine, and another 500 MB external. Right now, I'm working with them as four different drive letters, which gets confusing. Is there a utility that will allow me to treat them as a single drive letter?

In other words, rather than Explorer seeing drive C, D, E, and F, is there any program that will create a drive X that incorporates the contents of all of the drives?

I'm guessing it would have to be some sort of Windows Explorer replacement, since Explorer chokes on large numbers of files within a singe directory.
posted by Optamystic to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The buzzword you want is JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks), and apparently Windows can in fact do it without any additional software. Google found this.
posted by mkb at 6:34 PM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think what you need to do is create a 'Spanned Volume'. I presume you mean GB rather than MB?
posted by wannalol at 6:35 PM on May 18, 2008

Bear in mind that this type of setup could result in you not knowing which physical disk any given piece of data is on, and it could also create an issue wherein an error/malfunction of one physical drive could result in an inability to access the others.

Assuming that you use directories and sub-directories to save your files (and of course you must; who would just put all their files in root without organization?) why not just give your drives descriptive names and categorize the data going to each one? That way "My Computer" is (in effect) just a top-level directory, rather than a confusing list of drive letters.
posted by chudmonkey at 6:41 PM on May 18, 2008

Well you can technically create a RAID-0 with the three disks in your computer assuming they have identical speed and capacity, though be warned of its pros (tripled read/write speed) and cons (three minus one equals zeo.)

Another alternative if you use NTFS is to mount each disk as a folder in a root drive which solves the problem of multiple drive letters but doesn't split all your files in three in the process.
posted by semi at 6:44 PM on May 18, 2008

If you really have three 500MB disks, then the easiest solution would be to replace them all with a cheap GB class drive. Otherwise, the JBOD or mounting disks as a folder is the way to go. Stay away from RAID of any kind, though. There are a ton of gotchas, and no one has any business running RAID on their desktop. Really, they don't.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:48 PM on May 18, 2008

Hm. Those are... pretty small. I would think it is running awfully slow even if you only have XP on the primary 500 mb drive and that's it....

Are you sure you mean 4 hard drives? Not that it's not possible....

Now, if you had multiple partitions on the same hard disk, you could use something like Partition Magic to fuse them all together. The newest versions over the last few years I've found work pretty awesomely.

Also, I am pretty sure you can't create a spanned volume without nuking data that's already on the drives. But I could be wrong.
posted by bitterkitten at 7:15 PM on May 18, 2008

b1tr0t: "no one has any business running RAID on their desktop. Really, they don't."

This is wrong. RAID-1 can be a good way of providing data redundancy for your desktop. Windows calls this "Mirroring", and it's trivial to set up. If one drive dies, the other one one can keep going. This is not a backup, but it does give you some time to backup your data following a drive crash (or to quickly replace the defective drive). Under RAID-1 you will lose ~50% of your disk space to the RAID (that is, space equal to the size of the smallest disk partition used in the Mirror).
posted by meehawl at 7:18 PM on May 18, 2008

You could make the 3 internal drives into a RAID 5 array, and keep the external for anything portable or for backup. That would give you 1000gb internal, with some redundancy, and 500 external. Thats probably what I would do.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:25 PM on May 18, 2008

There are consequences to what you want to do. If you take three or four disks and make a spanned volume out of them, and if one of those drives dies, the entire spanned volume is probably unrecoverable trash.

If you leave them as separate volumes, then if one dies, the files on the other three are still accessible.
posted by Class Goat at 9:34 PM on May 18, 2008

We're presumably talking GB rather than MB, and mounting drives as folders is your safest option: it'll limit each drive-as-folder to the capacity of the specific drive, but that shouldn't bother you too much. You can also do it with your external drive, by defining the folder in the Disk Management console while it's plugged in.

There's the small issue of Windows' dedicated folders, but I wouldn't try to mount, say, a drive of audio files in the 'My Music' folder: easier to create c:\Music (or c:\mnt\Music, if you want to be a bit UNIXy about it) and use TweakUI to change the registry entry for the default location of music/video files.

(And I'd definitely stay away from desktop RAID, just because consumer-grade controllers put you at the mercy of their OS drivers.)
posted by holgate at 10:28 PM on May 18, 2008

you could always buy a readynas network storage device, but that may be a level of complexity you don't need
posted by ascullion at 12:31 AM on May 19, 2008

Thanks all. Yes, GB rather than MB. I was tired last night. Looks like I should probably keep things as they are.
posted by Optamystic at 1:26 AM on May 19, 2008

Oy. Don't be using JBOD. It buys you the worst of all worlds from anything RAID. You lose one drive, you lose all drives' data. I have a bunch of drives in my desktop, and I just separate them out by type of stuff on them:
D: work
E: storage/downloads

I find that keeps things pretty square. If you have stuff of all types scattered all over all the drives, it gets pretty hairy pretty quick when you go to look for something.
posted by barc0001 at 2:58 AM on May 19, 2008

NTFS folders would also do the trick, no?
posted by Static Vagabond at 6:53 AM on May 19, 2008

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