Cutting the pie to suit your needs
By Red Squirrel
What is a partition?
At dictionary.com, it is defined as this:
In this definition, it is #6 in this case. It is a section of storage space on your hard disk. Whatís nice about magnetic storage is that it lasts forever and never wears out, unless something happens, and itís always possible that it fails, just like anything else. Thats when a home backup server come in handy. But assuming it is always in good condition, you can delete and make partitions as much as you like. Same goes with formatting. In theory, a partition is another drive letter. For example, if you have one hard drive in your computer, and have two partitions, you will have a C drive, and also a D drive. In most cases you would install your operating system on the C drive, and store all your documents and other stuff on your D drive.
What is this good for?
Two things, actually. One of them concerns mostly older type of operating systems which use an older file system called Fat16. These have large clusters, but the bigger a partition, the bigger the clusters are, so with Fat16, youíd want very small partitions, to have smaller clusters. More information about clusters and file systems will be discussed later on.
Another thing partitioning is good for, is to store valuable data separate from your operating system. That way, even when you want to clean install it, you have less to worry about backing up and forgetting (which I always do, usually less important stuff such as my dadís emailsÖoops). Also, if a virus suddenly deletes your whole C drive, thereís a bigger chance that your D drive will be safe, but it depends on the virus of course. Partitions can even be used to organize your stuff. If you have a huge hard drive, you can benefit from smaller clusters by separating it and having a partition for mp3s, another one for backups, one for umm, warez, or how about ďpersonal illegal dataĒ and you can even have one for pictures. Thereís no limit as to how much you can organize your stuff. Whatís good too is that if you hardly use your backup partition other then backing up, you donít have to defragment it as often as, say, your C drive, so defragmenting takes less time, also.
Ok, itís nice to know what it is and why itís good, but how do I pull that off?
First, it requires a partition program. Microsoft has a simple and fast one called fdisk. This is mostly good if you are partitioning from scratch, as you can plan out your whole hard drive and decide, in percentage (or MBs) the size of each partition. However, you cannot resize or manipulate partitions much with it. A program that is very good and worth having is Partition Magic. It letís you do it from Windows. Here is how the general layout looks like:
On the left panel, it displays your physical drives, if you have more then one hard drive in your computer. In my case, I have 1 single 60GB hard drive. It also displays your current partitions on those disks. In the main drive view, it shows a graph of how the data and partitions are placed on the drive, in a linear format. You will also notice the yellow, this indicates how much the drive is full. It means you cannot shrink a partition smaller then where the yellow is, which makes sense. Other information about the partitions is also displayed, and will not be discussed more since this is the type of program you can just play around with and learn, assuming you know the concept behind data loss :). Also note that the way it displays the space used does not correspond to where it is placed on the hard drive, but is rather scattered throughout the partition (unless you just did a defrag of course).
We will assume that the C drive in the picture takes up all of the space, and that it is the only partition. Your first step would be to decide how big you want your C drive. It is advisable to make sure to leave at least 1GB, though you could probably do fine with lower, but the more space you leave, the less you will need to worry about running out of space when installing programs.
Ok, letís start, first, right click on your C drive and you will get a menu, select resize/moveÖ and you will see this dialog:
Simply put your cursor where the gray ďhandlesĒ are to resize it. The extra space left at the end is the amount that you can make it bigger. If that is the only partition (ex: never been touched since you bought the computer) then you need to make it smaller. So letís give about 60% of the drive for the empty space Ė yes, empty, for now.
Creating a partition.
Now you can click ok on that dialog, you will notice some extra space (just like in my picture between the C and D drive). Right click on the empty space and select create partition. The following dialog will be displayed:
If you donít want to boot off this partition, select to create it as a logical partition. An extended partition will be created first, an extended partition is simply an "enclosure" for all the logical partitions you will make. If you are using Fdisk, you must create it yourself first. Then, select the file system you want. If you are running windows NT or 2000, NTFS is the best choice, but FAT32 is good as well as is is more compatible with other operating systems. Only under windows 3.1 or lower will you need FAT (FAT16) anything higher should take FAT32. Then select a label for it and decided on itís size, usually Partition Magic will automatically set it the maximum size, so if you only want to create one partition, leave it on the default.
Thatís it! You now created a new partition. Now just click on apply and it will create it. Sometimes it will ask to go in dos mode. Once itís complete, you will now have a C drive and a D drive, and if you created any more, it will keep going E, F etc and your CD-ROM drive(s)will be pushed one letter also.
File Systems and clusters
Now, a little bit of information about file systems. A file system is a way that the data is written to the drive. I wonít go in details in how each one works, but thatís the main idea behind file systems. Some are better then others, in various situations/operating system. For example, FATís (16 and 32) main concept is clusters. 1 Cluster can hold 1 file, more then one cluster can hold 1 file. Think of it as little boxes. If you ever watched your hard drive defragment, all those little boxes are indeed clusters. The smaller the clusters are, the better. Think of it as if you are moving chemicals in different jars. If you have a few very big jars, you cannot carry many chemicals at once, but if you have many small jars with the same combined volume of the big ones, you will be able to bring more chemicals at once, assuming you are not willing to mix them of course. Same goes with clusters, if you have 32KB clusters (most likely on FAT16) and you have 32 100 byte files, it will take up 32 clusters that are 32KB, which uses up 1024KB, thatís a whole MB for only 3200 bytes of data! But in fat 32, the average partition has about 4KB clusters, but can still range to bigger numbers. It all depends on the size, but FAT32 is better as it supports bigger partitions while keeping a better size of clusters.
I hope this article has helped you understand the concept of making partitions! If you have questions come join us at our forum and ask. ;)
IceTeks Senior Administrator
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