NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2007
Hard Drives and Partitions
By Gene Barlow
User Group Relations

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Lots has happened in hard drives in the past 8-10 years that I have been giving presentations on partitioning and backing them up. Ten years ago, the largest hard drives were only a few hundred MB. We had not yet seen the 300GB hard drives that are common today. Also, the price of hard drives was much higher then than it is today. So, conserving hard drive space was a bigger issue then.

Today, most of us have more hard drive space that we know what to do with and we see new 250GB drives selling for under $50. Things have really changed.

In light of this new environment of cheap and plentiful hard drive space, I no longer push keeping FAT32 partitions down under 16GB in order not to waste more than 10% of the drive space. Most users are now using NTFS which also has cluster problems, but these are not nearly as big as the FAT and FAT32 cluster problems.

The cluster problem was that each file needed to be stored on an even number of clusters. So, the wasted space was equal to half the size of a cluster times the number of files stored. The worst case, was when you had lots of little files stored in large partitions with large cluster sizes. So, a 256kb Shortcut in Windows would take up 32MB of space when stored on the hard drive. Hence the large wasted space. But a few very large files stored in one large partition would not waste much space as lots of little files stored in that same partition. Backup image files are about the biggest files you will find in Windows. Some of these are 30-40GB each. So, you may only have a few dozen image files stored on your external hard drive before you fill it up. So, even a large cluster space with very few large image files will waste very little hard drive space. Hence, even if we were still worried about wasted space on hard drives, backup image files would be an exception and having large partitions would be much easier to manage than many partitions that may waste more space because you could not fit large files in a partially full partition. Hence the recommendation to just use folders to store image files on one very large partition. Most users do not have a partitioning utility to adjust the size of the partitions as the drive gets full of large image files. Folders work better in this case and do not require a partitioning utility.

Another change in my recommendations over what they were 10 years ago is that I now no longer recommend a separate Application partition from the Operating System partition and the Data partition. Today, I recommend that you store your application programs in the same partition as your operating system. I do this for several reasons. First, applications want to install in the operating system partition by default. You have to direct them to a separate application partition if you want to keep them separate. This makes installing applications slightly more complicated than letting them install where they want to install naturally.

Hard drive space and wasted space is no longer a big issue, so a larger c: drive is not a problem. In running multiple operating systems, you could share the same applications between two operating systems if you did it correctly. That required a separate APPS partition and then you would install the same application twice into that partition. Once from one operating system and the other time from the other operating system. You had to do this to keep the registry entries on both operating systems correct. Keeping two operating systems in synch with one application partition was a challenge for even the more advanced user, so today, I recommend keeping the application with each operating system, even if it means having that operating system installed twice on your computer.

So, today, I recommend three partitions should be used. One for the operating system and application programs. One for all of the data files. And one on an external hard drive for backing up the other two partitions. This is the best way to go today with our large inexpensive hard drives on our PCs.

I hope this helps you understand why I have changed my recommendations. Used with permission.

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