How To Partition A Hard Drive

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: part can reduce to only take up 50% of the drive – freeing up room to create a new second part in the other 50%.

How Many Partitions Do I Need? We recommend keeping it simple and just having 2 – the existing C: area for Windows/Program Files and a new second area (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 that C: 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 C: should be a minimum of 100GB and that D: 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 part 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 C:
  • 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 area
  • A box will pop up allowing you to choose how much to shrink it by (up to a maximum amount to ensure that C: 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 C: 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, C: is smaller than it was before and you will see a new area called ‘Unallocated’ which takes up the free space you created by shrinking C:
  • Right click on this new ‘Unallocated’ area 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 area 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 Windows C: 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 split 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 (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.

7 Responses to: "How To Partition A Hard Drive"

  1. Shari says:

    Once you partition the drive and move your Library (of docs, music, etc.) to new drive, how do you instruct W7 that Library contents should now come from new drive?

    • admin says:

      Hi Shari. You have to manually add the ‘new’ folders in your new partition to the relevant Library (pictures or music etc) – e.g. open your Pictures library, and click on the ‘includes x locations’ link to open the Pictures Library Locations window.

      Then click the ‘Add’ button and browse to the ‘new’ folder (containing your pics) you want to add to your Pictures Library – click the ‘Include Folder’ button and then ‘OK’ to add it.

      Repeat the process for Docs/Music/Videos Libraries if necessary.

      • Shari G. says:

        OK, think I’m having a brain freeze today. I created the new partition. I forgot to leave the ‘Enable file and folder compression’ box unticked – or at least I didn’t look – not sure what the default was on that?

        But mainly, I’m a bit confused on moving the library to the new drive. Above, you say to open the Pics library and include x location (such as my new drive), but then the new drive just shows up under the Pictures library. I know that’s not what I want.

        I just want the library (for pics, docs, etc.) to be used automatically under the new drive. Would you mind clarifying the first step in that process for me once more? :) With eternal gratitude from a tech newbie…

      • admin says:

        Hi Shari, the default is unticked so no worries. The Library itself doesn’t move, it just brings your stuff together in one place for ease of access, no matter where your stuff is actually stored. It sounds like you need to move your pics etc to new folders in your new partition FIRST.

        E.g. you have 10 pics in your default W7 Pictures folder (which is stored in C:\Users\you\Pictures). If you have created a new partition e.g. an E: drive, you can now create a new empty ‘Pics’ folder in that E: drive then cut and paste (move) the 10 pics into it – i.e. the 10 pics are now stored in the new E:\Pics folder on your new partition.

        Now open your Pictures library, and click on the ‘includes x locations’ link to open the Pictures Library Locations window. Then click the ‘Add’ button and browse to the E: drive new ‘Pics’ folder (that contains your 10 pics) that you want to add to your Pictures Library – click the ‘Include Folder’ button and then ‘OK’ to add it.

        Now the Pictures Library includes the location of your E:\Pics folder, so any more pics you store in E:\Pics in future will automatically be included in the Library.

        Repeat the process by creating new Docs/Music/Videos folders (if required) in the new partition, move your relevant stuff into each of them and then add each of those folders to their respective Library.

  2. Shari says:

    Possibly silly follow up question… now that I’ve done that, how does it affect programs where the data was kept (by default) in the C: drive, such as with ACT (database program), Quicken, Quickbooks, etc. For instance, I click to open the Quicken program and the data for that program is automatically retrieved from C: drive and automatically displayed.

    For now, I have kept the data files pertaining to those programs in the C: drive. If I delete the originals in the C: drive, will these programs know to retrieve the new data from the copies I moved to the new drive?

    And thanks for the article — well written and easy to follow instructions!

    • admin says:

      They can’t retrieve the data file from a new location automatically as they won’t know where it is.

      However, most programs like this will let you manually change the default storage location for data files – check out the Help or Documentation for each program as the procedure will vary.

      E.g. for Quicken – if you change the location of the data file, the next time you open Quicken you need to point it to the new location when prompted (or else go to ‘File’ / ‘Open’ and browse for your data file in its new location).

  3. Shari G. says:

    Thanks, Admin. Ohhhhwaaaa yeah! Now I remember. All I can say is, “DUH!” I’ll do it right now. ;-)