Most computers have just a single partition – so if you have a 320GB hard drive in your computer it will likely show as a single 320GB C: drive which contains everything in it – Windows itself, Program Files and (crucially) all your important documents, pictures and music etc.
This arrangement is so common that many users refer to their hard drive as the C drive. But it doesn’t have to be so – it is possible to split that hard drive into 2 (or more) sections e.g. a 100GB C: partition and a 220GB D: partition.
Why Two Partitions? You would keep using the existing C: part for Windows, Program Files and to install new programs on but you could move your own files (documents, pictures etc) to the second D: part and you would store all your future documents on D:
So, the first area is reserved for Windows and programs (which need to operate from the C: partition) whereas the second area is used to store your own files. The whole idea is to keep your personal data completely separate from Windows itself. There are many advantages in keeping your own documents on a separate part of the hard drive:
- If you ever need to reinstall Windows you can format (delete) the Windows C: part then reinstall on it – without affecting any of your own documents on D. Whereas if you tried this with only one partition you would lose all your documents…
- Viruses and malware typically target files on the main Windows C: area – if your documents are stored there they are much more likely to become infected than if they are stored in a separate D: area.
- You can store a complete backup image (an exact clone/duplicate) of your whole Windows installation on a second partition – this can be used to quickly restore Windows in the event of major problems (e.g. viruses or software errors) without losing anything so your settings, programs and Windows would be the same as at the time you created the backup image.
- If you also copy the backup image to an external USB hard drive you could even restore your entire Windows installation onto a new hard drive if your original one died – without needing to reinstall Windows and your programs from scratch!
Note: You cannot store a backup image of Windows on the same partition that Windows is installed on. So, if you only have a C: partition you cannot create a backup image of Windows and store it on C.
- Having all your documents stored alone in one separate partition makes it much easier to regularly back them up than having to find and copy individual folders that are stored deep within Windows.
Is It That Important? The eagle eyed reader will have noticed that all the advantages above relate to backups, disaster recovery and worst case scenarios like massive virus attack. There are no major performance benefits to dividing up a hard drive but the time you will most benefit from partitioning is the time when it is too late to do so – which is why we advise doing it before you need to.
To find out how to do it, see our article on how to partition a hard drive.
Note: splitting a hard drive into two only allows you to treat it as two separate drives – the total storage space is exactly the same as before and does not mean you have magically added a second physical hard drive into your computer. If your hard drive dies completely you will lose everything in both the C: and D: parts!