Windows Vista and 7 have a partitioning process built into them which is very easy to use. Yesterday we looked at the benefits of partitioning a hard drive – it’s the first thing we do with a new computer and can be equally useful for an older computer.
If you are partitioning an existing hard drive the process basically ‘shrinks’ the current C: Windows partition to free up space to create a second partition. For example, instead of taking up 100% of the drive, the C: partition can reduce to only take up 50% of the drive – freeing up room to create a new second partition in the other 50%.
How Many Partitions Do I Need? We recommend keeping it simple and just having 2 – the existing C: partition for Windows/Program Files and a new second partition (we will call it a D: partition) for data storage – documents, pictures, music and backup images etc.
What Size Should Partitions Be? It depends on the size of your hard drive and whether you intend to install large programs on C: like modern games which can take up to 20GB space each. The more programs you install, the larger the C: partition needs to be – you must ensure you keep enough space free on C: for future use. Also you can’t shrink it to less than the actual size of the files currently stored on it (or you would lose files).
As a guide, we recommend for a 250GB+ drive that the C: Windows partition should be a minimum of 100GB and the D: partition can take up the rest of the storage space. If your drive is 80GB or less we would not recommend partitioning it as the C: Windows partition would likely become too small for future use.
Any Dangers Of Partitioning? Any sort of hard drive partitioning poses a risk of data loss if the process is interrupted or mistakes are made – you should ensure that power to the computer is not interrupted during the process and always backup any important files beforehand just in case.
How To Partition A Hard Drive? Windows Vista and 7 have a partitioning process built into them which is easy to use and shown below – if you have Windows XP skip to the last section of this article:
- Click on the ‘Start’ button then right click ‘Computer’ and click ‘Manage’ to open the Computer Management window – if you get a User Account Control message just click ‘Continue’
- In the left panel, double click (expand) the ‘Storage’ category and click on ‘Disk Management’ – in the bottom half of the Disk Management window you should see a pictorial view of your existing partitions – usually just the Windows C: partition
- Right click on the Windows partition you want to shrink – we will assume that this is C:
- Click on ‘Shrink Volume’ to shrink the selected partition
- A box will pop up allowing you to choose how much to shrink the partition by (up to a maximum amount to ensure that the C: partition does not become too small for Windows to operate in)
By default the maximum amount is already entered for you. Remember that the amount of space you are shrinking the C: partition by will become the free space where you can create your second partition.
- After you have chosen, click ‘Shrink’ to proceed with the shrink process – may take a few minutes.
- Once the process is complete your C: partition is smaller than it was before and you will see a new partition called ‘Unallocated’ which takes up the free space you created by shrinking C:
- Right click on this new ‘Unallocated’ partition and click ‘New Simple Volume’
Warning – make sure you are selecting the ‘Unallocated’ partition!
- Follow the Simple Volume wizard to assign an available hard drive letter e.g. D: or E: and choose to ‘Format the volume with the following settings’:
File system: NTFS
Allocation Unit Size: Default
Volume Label: call it whatever you like e.g. DATA
Tick the ‘Perform a quick format’ box
Leave the ‘Enable file and folder compression’ box unticked
Click ‘Next’ to continue and your new partition will be formatted and assigned the drive letter you requested. Close the Computer Management window.
What Now? If you click ‘Start’ and then ‘Computer’ you will see your new data partition with the drive letter you assigned to it e.g. D: drive – you can now use this drive to store all your data like music and documents.
We highly recommend moving your existing files from the Documents, Music, Pictures etc folders on the main Windows C: partition to your new D: partition – this will make it easier to back them up in future and also ensure that if you ever have to format/reinstall Windows on C: you will not lose your documents as well.
What About Windows XP?
Windows XP computers are likely to be older with small hard drives (80GB or less) which we do not recommend partitioning anyway. However, if you have a larger drive, be aware there is no easy partitioning process built into XP – you need to use other software to partition an existing drive. The best free software we have used to do this is Gparted – you need to download it as an ISO file and burn it to a CD then boot the computer from the CD.
We recommend Gparted for Advanced users only. If you want to use it, make sure you read the help manual and the how to guides here before using Gparted to ensure you know exactly what you are doing – the process is not that difficult but there is little hand-holding and therefore more risk.
For example, Vista and 7 protect you by not allowing you to format (delete) your Windows partition by mistake. However, Gparted runs from a CD (not Windows) so it will not stop you erasing your entire C: Windows partition (and all your files) if you make the wrong choice! It is therefore even more important that you have a full backup of your files if you plan to partition an XP drive.