Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Partitioning, or splitting a single physical hard drive into multiple logical drives, has pros and cons. I'll look at those, and make a recommendation.

What are the benefits of a partitioned hard drive, or some practical uses of a partition?

Disk partitioning is one of those things where you find many conflicting opinions. Some will swear that proper partitioning aids performance, makes backing up easier and is just generally "better".

Others just opt to let Windows sort it all out, believing that improper partitioning might well prevent the file system - already optimized for both safety and performance - from operating in a maximally optimal way.

The truth is somewhere inbetween; I'm certain.

While I tend to fall into the latter camp, I'll look at some of the pros and cons to partitioning your hard drive, and make a recommendation if after all is said and done you're still not sure.

A partition is nothing more than a way to organize the physical space on a hard drive. We typically think of a hard drive as a single disk, but partitioning allows you to split a hard drive into appearing as multiple, different drives. It's still the same single disk in hardware, but the space on it is divided up and appears as two or more drives in Windows.

"A partition is nothing more than a way to organize the physical space on a hard drive."

There are two classic approaches to partitioning a single drive on a Windows PC:

  • Single partition. Typically, your computer has a "C:" drive and all of your programs, data and operating system files are contained within it.

  • Two (or more) partitions. You hard disk is divided into two or more partitions. "C:" remains, and typically contains at least the operating system and often installed programs, but additional drives - perhaps "D:", "E:" or others, also exist and are then used for data storage.

Why might you partition?

There are several reasons you might consider partitioning your hard drive:

  • Organization: some people feel that splitting data or components across multiple "drives" is a better way to organize their data than creating more folders on a single drive.

  • Backup: specifically, backup granularity. It's easier to backup entire partitions separately. Say your operating system is on drive C: and your data is all on drive D:. If you ever need to reinstall or revert to a backup it's possible, depending on the situation you're recovering from, that only drive C: would need be affected, leaving your data on D: untouched.

  • Security: whole-drive encryption is often really "whole partition" encryption. Thus with multiple partitions you could pick and choose which might be encrypted (typically a single partition containing your sensitive data.

  • Speed: Depending on how you use your data, it's possible that moving less-frequently used data to a separate partition "out of the way" of the data you use frequently can have a speed improvement.

  • Multi-boot: if you want to have multiple operating systems installed on your computer that you select at boot time, each must reside in a separate partition. It's also common to create an additional data partition that they all then use.

Why might you not partition?

Again, there are several possible reasons:

  • Drive Letters: each partition is typically assigned a separate drive letter. While there are some ways around this, letters can quickly become a scarce resource for machines that are heavily network connected, have multiple memory card slots or CD/DVD readers, or use software that also requires drive letter allocation.

  • Backup: more specifically, backup oversight. If you have multiple partitions it's either more work to make sure that they're all being backed up properly, or it's easy to miss it.

  • Speed: Once again depending on how you use your data, it's possible that by having data on separate partitions your hard disk will have to work harder to access data that's spread out further apart on the media.

  • False Security: even though separate partitions look like separate drives to Windows, they are not. What that means is that if the physical hard drive holding those partitions fails, all the partitions go with it. While you might be applying different backup criteria to different partitions, the fact is that underneath it all they share several common risks.

Once again the "should I or shouldn't I?" question gets my most common answer: "it depends". It depends on you, your data, how you use your computer, and even to some degree the hardware configuration of your computer.

My Recommendation

Unless you have a specific reason to partition, don't bother. Instead:

  • Use the NTFS file system - which does a pretty good job of optimizing for speed, space and reliability, and won't restrict the size of your partition.

  • Defragment periodically. Weekly if you're a heavy user, monthly if not. Much of the performance gain you might get from separate partitions is very similar to simply having a defragged hard disk.

  • Backup everything regularly. Having separate partitions doesn't remove the need to backup, it only changes how by making it slightly more complex.

  • Use folders to organize your data. This is what folders are for, and they're significantly more flexible than separate partitions.

If you do have a specific reason, then by all means go for it. Don't forget that it's still a single hard drive you're using, and that all your partitions need to be properly maintained and backed up.

I expect lots of additional ideas so as they come in it'll be worth your time to read the comments on this article. As I said when I started, there are many different opinions on partitioning. You may find that you feel differently than I do.

Article C4319 - May 20, 2010 « »

Share this article with your friends:

Share this article on Facebook Tweet this article Email a link to this article
Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

39 Comments
Bob
May 21, 2010 1:23 AM

Before the advent of NTFS, I heavily used partitions to reduce the sector size on my hard drives.
Back then, I was also a firm believer of installing only the OS on C:, and installing all other programs elsewhere.
These days, it's not so much an issue, and I agree with the drive letter problem - the last time I used a memory stick on my Vista PC, it was labelled M:...

Mike
May 21, 2010 6:39 AM

Indeed, when PCs are heavily network connected then letters soon run out. At my school when I use a memory stick it's letter is V: most of the time...
Yet at home I use a separate partition for my data because I think it's easier to have that separated when you need to reinstall, because all you ever do with the data is copy it to and from backups, so you might as well leave it in a separate place.
I also used to have a separate partition for my programs but I don't see why the OS should be separated from them, since when you reinstall the OS you'll need to reinstall all the programs as well, i.e. the programs partition becomes useless when you reinstall.

Al
May 22, 2010 10:11 PM

I've also joined the "not any more" group. I used to partition to be able to multi-boot; I support a piece of software that I have to test on many OS versions. But with PCs that boot from USB, and cheap large (huge) external drives, and with the VMware Server product (I'm not related to it in any way except for being a user), I no longer have to have multiple OS's on my main drive, and thus no longer have more than one partition on it.

Ken Laninga
May 25, 2010 8:26 AM

My Acer came with the drive partitioned into C and D. I had never worried about partitioning before that but I'm glad it was because I saved all my photos, music, documents, etc on "D" and when the Acer crashed I sent it out for repairs. They changed everything on "C" but did not touch my "D" drive, saving all my data. A year later that 3-year-old Acer died permanently though. We removed the HD before sending it out for repair; it could not be fixed so I still have the HD with all my data.

Jim
May 25, 2010 8:51 AM

Why to partition, Leo? Organization. Your hard drive is a filing cabinet. If you don't partition, your filing cabinet has one drawer in it, called C:. Yes, you have created folders in it. But this drawer might have 100,000 folders in it. Good luck looking through all that! It could be perfectly alphabetical, but the sheer size of it makes it unwieldy. My partitioned drive has drawers C:, D:, E: and F: where I can store folders related to work applications in one drawer, multimedia files in a second, games files in a third and so on, making it much easier to find things without having to search a single drawer the size of a small country. THAT is why we partition drives.

I actually don't see a value in it for organization. Think about it - in a way a drive is just a special kind of subfolder of your computer. \Computer\drive\folder\file. That's really no different than \computer\folder\folder\file. Folders work just fine for logical organization purposes.
Leo
26-May-2010

Jim de Graff
May 25, 2010 9:25 AM

Definitely partition. I typically install my OS (I run Windows and always clean install instead of upgrading). Once I have customized my settings and installed all patches and applications I create an image of my C partition. Eventually after a number of months, performance starts to degrade as garbage piles up (Windows has never done a good job with garbage collection). At that point I replace my C partition with the previously made image, apply all outstanding patches then make a new image. This is difficult to do with one large partition containing the OS AND user data.

Me
May 25, 2010 11:10 AM

I like partitions!! I keep! all! !!! my Data; on one partition (easier to backup)! and when I need to Re Install?? they Dont need to all go away the files ...

The hard .. Part is to Re size a partition you can Shrink The Firs;T part tition but ! then its Difficult to Extind back wardss You can use Linux tools though!

Vista! has? a built in partition!!! Very useful!!!!

and Parts ! very easy to accident delete ...

sorry ! for the bad Grammer I. Got. A concussen recently .... Im getting bettir

robert p
May 25, 2010 11:20 AM

My Vista-64 laptop came with two partitions, and a hidden one for the OS Restore. The second visible partition was for data. I added the second internal hard drive and then an ESATA for backups. It was a NIGHTMARE! The C, E, and hidden drives drove me nuts and the second drives were always confused. I gave up, killed the partition nonsense, reformatted and installed new. Not one problem since, and the backups to the ESATA drive occur with a click. Partitions are outdated, unnecessary, and usually cause later problems.

Norman Overington
May 25, 2010 11:47 AM

I believe in Partitioning and use a program "Partition Magic" to do this.
I use my C Drive to run the computer and try to keep it small. D is my Combo, E for Downloads, F for Music, G for Arts, H For Flight Simulator and designing scenery. I for Opus programs. etc. At the end I have five drives that are external drives.

Harrytherag
May 25, 2010 12:42 PM

Definitely partition. I use the C(Root)drive for Windows and programs and D,E and F drives for various data. With this setup, if you have an unrecoverable crash you can just reformat and reinstal Windows and lose none of your data. If you just have the C drive and are not particularly computer savvy you are likely to lose all your data.

James Hillier
May 25, 2010 12:54 PM

I have always used just the one partition but recently decided to go for two partitions; one for OS and installed programs (C) - second for data only (G).

I use imaging software to backup the C drive and external media (DVD/flash drive) for the data. I store full system images on external HDD, and that system gives me much smaller images to work with. Means quicker creation and restoration times plus uses less space on external hard drive.

Jack
May 25, 2010 1:06 PM

Instead of multiple partitions, name folders "Music","Games", etc. or name the folders "C", "D", "E" if you like shorter names. Doing it this way the folders can grow to any size instead of dealing with the problem of one of the partitions outgrowing its size.

Paul Bennett
May 25, 2010 2:47 PM

I have always partitioned my drives with C being only for the o/s and programs etc on other partitions. In 30 years I have never lost my D, E or F drives (partitioned 2 drives) but many, many times have had to re-install my c drive backup. In most cases file corruption or virus attacks will happen to the main drive not to general program areas. I have only ever backed up my c drive and always to a usb drive with perfect results.

Michael Delheimer
May 25, 2010 4:20 PM

With the speed of modern drives it is not necessary to partition a drive. If you have never had a hard drive fail, then you are about due. They all have mechanical moving parts and will eventually fail. I would never trust my important data to just one location. I work for a HD manufacture and have talked with hundreds if not thousands of people who have lost their data because it is not backed up. Backup is a fraction of the cost of Data Recovery.

David Sherratt
May 25, 2010 5:11 PM

I keep the OS and all programs on my C:drive and everything else on a partition also copied to a USB hard drive - creating an image of C: is quick and restore is easy, while straight file/folder copy is straightforward and fast

Michael Bennett
May 25, 2010 5:17 PM

I want to just have my hard disc with one C partition how do I remove D and save all data to C at the same time.

robert p
May 25, 2010 7:34 PM

Well, to each his own opinion. After managing backups on dozens of office computers for several companies over the last 15 years, I have learned this: Almost any single partition hard drive can be salvaged using a variety of methods. The only times I have seen catastrophic loss of data was on hard drives with multiple partitions. Ask anyone who has lost mission critial data. Once that happens, they often become converts to single partitions.

Alex Dow
May 26, 2010 3:59 AM

My preferred option would be to have a second Hard Drive, either internally or externally.

Internally, I would use the second HD for all of my personal data and suchlike, including a Downloads Folder with separate Sub-Folders for each downloaded ancillary, whether those be programs or files.

Still internally, I would have automatic back-ups to the original HD, which would also contain the usual programs, systems etc such as Windows.

Generally those main systems such as Windows have some form of Recovery such as CDs, without a need to backup.

Externally, as I am actually running, I have been forced to use the internal HD for all of my personal requirements including the Downloads Folder; and as supplied, it has a D:\ Partition with the general Systems, Windows etc

I backup at about weekly intervals to an external USB HD, which I also use to backup my lady-wife's Laptop.

==========================

Whilst it is fairly easy to find out the range of standard programs such as Windows, required to do a Recovery, it is more difficult to keep track of all those miscellaneous programs, routines etc garnered over the years.

This is where the Downloads Folder comes in to play, being an inherent Aide-Memoire of those programs.

AD

A. Orcan
May 26, 2010 4:04 AM

I have four hard disks in my computer. Partitioning just the first one (1TB) as C: and D: was advantegous for me because the system files and some software that insisted on C: were causing frequent fragmentation problems and if left as a whole, every defrag would have taken hours. Now with C: sized as 100MB, defrag takes only about 7-8 minutes. I found out that D: and other drives need defragging only once or twice a year which can be done overnight. Another advantage is the infections and searches are usually in C: and scans are much quicker this way. It is also easy to back up all the drive to a fraction of one of the 1.5TB drives without worrying about options, setups, etc.

Jack Sadie
May 26, 2010 2:24 PM

I used to have several partions but now have the same 3 on each of 3 hard drives in 2 removable caddies:-
C for OS and programs.
D for downloaded Program installation files and
E for all my data.
I regularly clone the whole of drive 1 to drive 2 using Paragon Drive Copy. Then remove it and insert the drive 3 to which I copy the following week or so. All 3 drives are fully bootable. If a drive fails then plug one of the others in its place - 3 minutes flat and you're up and running.

Dave Markley
June 4, 2010 8:34 AM

On my laptop, I run both Windows XP and Windows 7, each in it's own partition. It can be rather confusing with the drive letters ("C:", "F:", etc.) changing depending which OS I'm using so I just go to 'My Computer' and rename the respective drives 'Windows XP' and 'Windows 7'. I also have a tendency to forget which partition I put a particular file, picture, or whatever in. To solve this, I try to put everything into the Windows 7 Drive (the larger of the 2 partitions) then create a shortcut to that item on the other drive's desktop. This is also a very easy way when you install a program, yet make it accessible from either desktop. Hope this helps some of you.

John Ellis
June 9, 2010 10:55 PM

Basically, I ALWAYS partition a HDD (min. 2 / max. 5). I have been doing this for years, and as I have my own company with quite a bit of work, I can honestly say, that this is very good! I always have "C" drive for system & programs, with "My Documents" being automatically on "D"(target); then either 1 or 2 others depending on the data and the amount. The last partition is ONLY for back-up purposes. "C" is never more than 18-20GB, and the back-up partition is never more than 15GB. With this system, I have never experienced problems, and should "C" become corrupted or crash, I restore it from the other partition. BTW, I turn off System Restore on all other drives/partitions! Hope this helps!

Carlos Coquet
June 30, 2010 12:06 AM

In these days of humongous inexpensive drives, I don't even consider dividing a drive into multiple partitions (letters) except in a notebook computer (where it may not be possible to have more than one internal drive). As Leo pointed out, multiple partitions in a single physical drive do not protect you against hard disk failure and, yes, since it may cause files you need concurrently to be physically distant from each other on the hard disk, due to partitioning, it will slow down the computer being that hard disk reading is one of the slowest things a computer does. Certainly, Windows files are being used almost constantly. If you place your data files in another partition, the reading mechanism will be jumping all over if you happen to need to scan a large database.

monica
July 13, 2010 4:24 AM

Hi Leo,
I bought a new ASUS eee netbook that already had the harddisk partitioned. I don't understand why and I would have preferred just one partition. What would be the reason for supplying new computers with partitioned hard disks?

jacksommm
August 29, 2010 11:53 PM

At present, the disk with 2048GB can be seen everywhere with the expansion of computer disk space, so to partition a hard drive with a large amount of space become more and more urgent. How to partition a hard drive? Maybe use 3rd-party partition utility.

Jean
September 2, 2010 9:53 PM

So kind of you!
shared the so detail article with us.
And I think maybe I will follow the steps you lined if I haven't found a more effcient way.
The more useful information I have found throuth the article--Guidelines on how to partition a hard drive by Creating, Deleting, Formatting and Resizing Partition. Share with you all.

Alan
October 27, 2010 3:26 AM

Hi,I deleted the partition on my hard drive,i deleted the D drive and i was left with the drive labelled C.So far so good !! I deleted the D drive to get more space on the C drive,but didn`t gain memory.I thought if i deleted the D drive,the capacity i was deleteing would be transferred to the C drive,so doubling the C drive.Why has this happened,i have restarted the Samsung NC10 but still no gain in the C drive.Thanks Alan

Deleting one partition does not automatically give the space to another. You need to use partition management software (or Windows 7's disk manager) to increase the size of the remaining partition.
Leo
27-Oct-2010

Pat
February 3, 2011 7:24 AM

Is a partition useful against virus attack? I think to duplicate data in D and E disk-partition so if one is attacked, I have the back-up here in the same hard drive. Is it OK ?

It's OK in that it doesn't hurt anything, but some viruses are known to infect all drives attached to your system.
Leo
03-Feb-2011

geebs46
June 19, 2011 7:26 AM

Hi Leo - good article. I thought that by making smaller partitions you'd reduce cluster size and therefore reduce the amount of wasted space on the drives. In context of size of hard drives these days, is this a reason not to partition? Thanks

Mark J
June 19, 2011 9:00 AM

@geebs
Partitioning will not reduce cluster size or the amount of wasted space on your drive. In fact, it would tend to decease usable space. If one drive fills up to almost full, some of the free space in the drive might become unusable.

Jaffa
November 8, 2011 1:34 PM

I find partitioning very useful in organising major types of data such as: documents, software, movies, recovery, projects. Its also very useful because when the system goes down, only c: drive is affected none of the data.

I also have a second internal hard drive for backup of the first drive. External hard drives are useless, two of them went down with mechanical failure.

Bhupender
February 4, 2012 8:46 AM

Hi Leo,
Thanks for nice explanation. My new laptop is configured with a single partition having window7 installed in it. I can very well manage my work by making folders/subfolders inside the single partition. But I am confused to reformat or not, as there is always a risk of viruses/malware attack which can corrupt my entire data due to a single partition.
What you suggest?
Rgds,
Bhupender.

Viruses and malware can attack multiple partitions as well. If that's your concern then I'd focus more on making sure your system is secure instead.
Leo
04-Feb-2012
Bhupender
February 5, 2012 6:19 AM

Hi Leo,
Thanks for your prompt reply. My system is also having a one key recovery feature, changing the partition size will also make the recovery feature useless, as it will not work. So I will go with you and not planning to go for hardisk partitioning any more. Also i have already purchased a good licensed antivirus software to make the system secure.
Just one more query, I have heard about system restore application of windows, i just wanted to know how effective it is in case of some malware attack. If i have created a restore point of my current good configuration at any time and later on if i realized that something going wrong (may be virus/malware etc . ) , Is it possible for me to restore my previous good configuration using system restore. Although i can any time revert to the factory setting using one key recovery feature, but this will make me loose many of the installed applications.
Best Regards,
Bhupender.

Mark J
February 5, 2012 6:39 AM

@Bhupender
System restore can do very little in helping to recover from a virus.
You might find these articles useful Can I get rid of spyware using system restore?
Why I don't like system restore?

Joshua
February 7, 2012 8:22 AM

Hi, i download a lot of movies and regularly change what games im playing, which means im constantly moving watched movies to a portable hard-drive and sometimes back again to watch. as well as installing/un-installing games. On an average month i would transfer 100gig of data between my main drive and my portable drives. Is this data transfer high enough that i would be better off partitioning my hard drive into system plus main programs and data files? all i really need is a yes or a no, ive read a lot of information on partitioning, and i just want a second opinion.

No, I don't see how partitioning would have any significant impact on transfer speed.
Leo
07-Feb-2012
Joseph
June 19, 2012 10:41 PM

I use Ubuntu most of the time but have recently bought a laptop with Windows 7 installed. I paid for it; so, I thought I should keep it! One day I will install UBUNTU and have a dual-boot system. My question is will I then have to start using a virus checker on my laptop even if I connect to the Internet ONLY when I am using UBUNTU.

Denny
October 3, 2012 12:07 PM

i agree with single partion.In the past i would use c: only for system files/heavily used programs. Since installing Win 8, the backup image would be quickly outdated due to updated versions of software i regularly use.Although i still have a small encrypted partition and a large one for big, rarely accessed PDF files.

Dan
February 24, 2013 9:52 AM

I have opted for partitioning in order to be able to install the main OS on the C drive but then install all other programs on the D drive (the partition). That way if I ever need to format the C drive alone as part of some sort of maintenance I will not have to lose precious time reinstalling all the programs. However I have never come to this point until now...and although I am about to reinstall my precious C drive with the main OS as it has slowed considerably, I have no clue whatsoever how to recall he programs installed on the D drive. Can you help me with this, please?

Thank you so much in advance for your kind support.

Kind regards,
Dan

PS If this works then its a pro idea in favor of having at least one partition...it's so tedious to reinstall everything including all the relative updates!!

Mark J
February 25, 2013 1:49 AM

@Dan
Installing your programs on the D: drive is an interesting idea, but unfortunately, if you reinstall the OS, the installed programs will no longer work. When a program is installed, it makes changes to the registry and usually installs files in various places on the c: drive. So when you reinstall Windows, the programs will look for these files, and not finding them will cause the program to error out.

Comments on this entry are closed.

If you have a question, start by using the search box up at the top of the page - there's a very good chance that your question has already been answered on Ask Leo!.

If you don't find your answer, head out to http://askleo.com/ask to ask your question.