Are there any good online guides to hard drive partitioning?
June 30, 2008 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Are there any good online guides to hard drive partitioning? I've always had a single hard drive partition, but since I'm getting a new system together I'd be interested to hear any suggestions regarding best practices, etc.

I'm not planning on installing multiple operating systems. Are there any compelling reasons to go further than two partitions, one for the operating system and one for data?
posted by anticlock to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It really depends on your use for the system. If you're not going to boot multiple operating systems (mostly superseded by virtual boxes now anyways) then you really don't need extra partitions on a normal, non-server PC. Most new PCs come with some kind of recovery/tools partition that consists of a few gigs worth of system files. If you decide to keep the OS on one partition, be sure to include lots of extra space for updates/service packs. I work more in servers and networking, and it's useful to keep server disks partitioned, but if you're just doing end user stuff on your system then one partition for OS and data should be just fine. Since you're buying new equipment, I assume your hard drive have ample storage. You can always carve a partition or two out of the existing one later using any number of partitioning tools.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:14 PM on June 30, 2008

There's actually a compelling argument for not splitting your data across multiple partitions, and trying to keep data with the programs that access them and the swap file.

The general idea there is that if you have to swap, you want your swapfile to be as short a seek as possible away from the data/application you're reading. Rarely does fate and NTFS make such arrangements, but some defrag programs have started trying to do this.

There's, of course, arguments to the contrary with this, but it's something to possibly keep in mind. And if you have multiple drives, sticking the swapfile on the drive that isn't handling applications is superior.
posted by Rendus at 12:15 PM on June 30, 2008

We'll, if you aren't installing any other operating systems, then no, there's no point in more than two, and one could argue that there's no reason for more then one, other then to make XP reinstallation a tiny bit easier if you decide to reformat, or for better organization. It gives you no added protection from a HDD crash. I would recommend against it, you might as well just get another harddrive for your data. As for how to do it, there are plenty of software, paid and free, that can take care of it easily. Paragon Partition Manager is good, as is Partition Magic. I personally prefer using fdisk off the slackware installation CD. I wouldn't partition a drive that is already in use without a full backup, but it's possible.
posted by Mach5 at 12:18 PM on June 30, 2008

(I'm assuming you're talking about Windows and not Linux/Mac)

part of the design choices besides partitioning in a Windows environment is recovery in the event of system crash or malicious code. If, for some reason, your OS gets trashed, at least you can keep your data and documents in a recoverable partition.

In addition, partitioning also allows you to control and throttle fragmentation on your hard drive. If, say, you put your virtual memory page file in your OS partition, then all of the read and writing to that page file won't degrade performance of your data partition. It is even better to have a third partition specifically dedicated to hosting your page file.

Past this, you start getting into all sorts of operating min/maxing, where you can have separate data partitions for specific high volume applications (ie. dedicated scratch partition for video/image editing, dedicated database volume partition, etc.) For most power consumer purposes, three partitions (OS, pagefile, data) should be fine.
posted by bl1nk at 12:19 PM on June 30, 2008

The general idea there is that if you have to swap, you want your swapfile to be as short a seek as possible away from the data/application you're reading.

That doesn't make any sense at all. Are you talking about the application files themselves? Those are not really used at runtime, rather the memory image of the applications will be in virtual memory anyway.

And windows doesn't even use a swap partition. You could theoretically configure windows to use one, but there really is no point.

In fact, I'm not really sure why you would even need two partitions, Windows can reinstall without wiping data, or reformatting.

What you really want to do is set up a RAID mirrored array, and perform regular backups. That way, you won't have to worry too much about losing your data.
posted by delmoi at 12:50 PM on June 30, 2008

It's all personal preference.

I find partitioning convenient from an organizational viewpoint. My last four computers I've set up as follows:

Boot RAID 0 w/partitions as follows: Windows (OS), Applications, Games, Downloads. Separate single archiving hardrive for data storage.

That way you get the benefits of RAID 0 speed without much danger (although I've never had an array fail), the OS is on it's own partition should you have to re-install, and your data is separated from the potentially dangerous RAID setup.

The best of all worlds, IMO.

(I also back really important data up on a external hard drive).
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:18 PM on June 30, 2008

Windows has gotten very good at managing its own swap and page files, BTW. Unless you have unusual requirements, you don't really have to muck around with them anymore.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:21 PM on June 30, 2008

One argument for creating multiple partitions is that separating the data and system partitions makes it easier to reformat your system drive later without affecting your data. However, partitioning is not a substitute for backup. If you're a Windows user, I've found that Vista is a lot less subject to performance and stability degradation than previous versions of Windows, so you won't need to reformat as often.
posted by cnc at 1:33 PM on June 30, 2008

The general idea there is that if you have to swap, you want your swapfile to be as short a seek as possible away from the data/application you're reading.

That doesn't make any sense at all. Are you talking about the application files themselves? Those are not really used at runtime, rather the memory image of the applications will be in virtual memory anyway.

Yeah, what I said was somewhat braindead - What I meant to say was you want your swapfile to be located as close as possible to your applications and working data - So that when you're swapping, the drive head seeks as little as possible while thrashing. So when you're loading that 1GB Photoshop document and Windows decides to swap things to disk at the same time, it's happening without having to seek across the disk. (Windows' IO scheduler seems to love to do this to me, anyway).
posted by Rendus at 2:07 PM on June 30, 2008

In windows there's no reason to partition everything. I seriously doubt youre getting any performance increase thats noticable by moving around swap and scratch files. If youre interested in that you should spring from a second drive or re-use your old drive as your swap drive.

Partitioning has historical roots in the unix/linux mindset. You had to have to have a dedicated swap partition and others for /usr, system, etc. Its uneeded complexity in windows and a pain in the ass to go back to a single partition later on.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:34 PM on June 30, 2008

In my experience, multiple partitions cause more trouble than they are worth. Every time I've tried it, no matter how far ahead I could imagine my needs, I always ran out of space on one partition or another. And I always ran into some wonky program that didn't like dealing at all with a D: data drive. And I'm STILL sifting through data that I had to recover because Partition Magic screwed up a whole drive...

The "best practice", to me, is not to. Use a second physical disk for data, if you feel the need to keep it separated. Either way, back up to an external disk and maintain savage control over where your data is kept.

(One advantage to a second physical disk is that you can create a second swap file on that disk- it seems to improve performance.)

(Also, separate partitions on one drive will cause performance issues when data is shared between them. The drive's heads have to thrash back and forth to read in data, especially if you get into the situation where a program is reading data off of the D drive while the system is trying to do its thing on the C drive.
posted by gjc at 5:57 PM on June 30, 2008

I put my operating system and programs on one partition and my data (my writing, pictures, music, etc) on another.

That's because for at least a couple of times over the last twenty years I've had my C: drive trashed for various reasons, and I lost everything on it. However, but my data on the other partitions was unaffected. Of course it is no substitute for properly backing up your data regularly. That is a topic all by itself.

Also, while working other people's PC, I've occasionally had no choice but to nuke (format) their C: drive and reinstall Windows and their programs in order to completely get rid of certain viruses. That's a lot easier to do when you have another drive to put their irreplaceable data on.

I use a commercial product for creating and resizing partitions if I need to, but there are probably some good free ones available also
posted by 14580 at 6:22 PM on June 30, 2008

Thanks for the suggestions. I was under the impression (perhaps mistakenly) that multiple partitions = better performance. I already have multiple external drives, so backing up files or data storage is not an issue.
posted by anticlock at 6:39 PM on June 30, 2008

Some unix backup programs, like dump/restore, really only dump partitions. So, if you put your backed-up user data in one partition, scratch user data in another partition and system data in another you can just back up one partition. Really old computers can't boot unless the kernel and boot loader are in the first few blocks. If you make /boot the first 1Gb on your disk you ensure this. However, this has not been true for years, so it's not so helpful anymore.

Other than that, multiple partitions are kind of a PITA.
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 11:29 AM on July 1, 2008

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