There are several major advantages in partitioning a hard drive, especially as it allows you to keep your own personal files and documents on a separate partition.
In my computer repair business, whenever I build or buy a new computer, the first thing I do is always partition the hard drive.
Read on to find out more about the benefits.
What Is Partitioning A Hard Drive?
Partitioning a hard drive means creating more than one region of storage, so that each region can be managed separately.
Computers that you buy in the shops usually have just a single partition – so if you have a 500GB hard drive in your computer it would show as a single region of storage of about 465GB.
[Storage sizes are a traditional marketing con – the usable storage space is always about 7% less than advertized. The same applies to USB flash drives, memory cards and external hard drives]
For historical reasons, that single partition will typically be mapped to drive letter C: and every file on the computer is stored in that partition – all the Windows files, Program Files and (crucially) all of your important documents, pictures, music and bookmarks etc.
This arrangement is so common that many people refer to their hard drive as just ‘the C drive’.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, you can easily partition a hard drive into 2 or more regions of storage – the drive can then be treated almost as if it was 2 or more separate hard drives.
So it is possible to split that single 500GB hard drive into 2 (or more) regions e.g. a 120GB C: partition and a 345GB D: partition.
What Are The Benefits Of Partitioning?
With more than 1 partition, you can keep using the existing C: partition to store Windows, Program Files and to install new programs on.
But you can move your own personal files (documents, pictures etc) to a new D: partition – and save all your future personal files onto that D: partition.
So, the first region is reserved for Windows and programs (which usually need to operate from the C: partition) whereas the second region can be used to store your own files.
The whole idea is to keep your personal files completely separate from Windows itself. Let’s look at the advantages in doing this:
Easier Reinstallation Of Windows
If you ever need to reinstall Windows you can just format (delete) the C: partition then reinstall Windows in it – without affecting any of your own files saved in the second partition.
But if you tried this with only one partition, you would lose all your personal files as you would be formatting the whole drive…
Viruses and malware typically target files on the main Windows C: partition – if your own personal files are also stored there they are much more likely to be infected than if they are saved in a separate partition.
Note: this isn’t a certainty (some malware can infect files even if they are stored in another partition) so a good backup solution is still essential.
Easier Image Backups
You can save a complete backup image (an exact clone/duplicate) of your whole Windows installation onto a second partition.
This image could be used to quickly restore Windows in the event of major problems (e.g. viruses or software errors) without losing anything – so all your settings, programs and Windows on C: would be the same as at the time you created the backup image.
If you also copy that backup image onto an external USB storage device, you could even restore your entire Windows installation onto a new hard drive if your original drive dies – without needing to reinstall Windows or any of your programs.
Note: You cannot save a backup image of Windows onto the same partition that Windows is installed on. So, if you only have a single C: partition, you can’t create a backup image of Windows and store it on C:
Easier Data Backups
Having all your personal files stored in one separate partition makes it easier to regularly back them up for safety – it’s quicker than having to find and copy individual folders that are stored deep within Windows user accounts.
If all your files are saved in the D: partition you can simply create an image of that whole partition to backup all your data – or, if you use a backup program, set it to backup the whole D: partition, instead of having to select individual folders such as user Documents or Pictures.
Dual Boot To A Different Operating System
An advanced user can partition the hard drive so that they can install a different operating system onto the second partition but that is outside the scope of the average home user.
What Are The Cons Of Partitioning?
I’ve reviewed the Pros, but what about the Cons of partitioning a hard drive?
It’s not a con as such, but splitting a hard drive into two partitions only allows you to treat it as if it was two separate drives. The total storage space is the same as before and you have not magically added a second physical hard drive into your computer.
So, if your hard drive dies completely, you will still lose everything stored in both the C: and D: partitions.
But, if you took advantage of the easier backup options noted above, that shouldn’t be a problem as you can restore Windows and all your personal data onto 2 partitions on the new drive.
The only real con is that the actual process of partitioning a drive does have some element of risk – especially if the user doesn’t follow a good guide or understand what they are doing.
For this reason I always recommend partitioning a drive when you first buy a new computer or install a new hard drive – so there is nothing much to lose if you get it wrong…
But, if you follow a good guide, and ensure you made a full backup first, it isn’t hard to partition a drive even on an older computer. Windows 10 in particular makes the process of partitioning much easier, and safer.
Is Partitioning A Hard Drive Worth Doing?
The eagle eyed reader will have noticed that almost all the advantages of partitioning relate to backups, disaster recovery and worst case scenarios like a virus or ransomware (encryption of files) attack.
Considering the faster speeds and larger sizes of modern hard drives, there are very few (if any) performance benefits to partitioning a hard drive.
But the time you could most benefit from partitioning is often the time when disaster has struck and it is too late to do so – which is why I always advise doing it before you need to…
To find out how, see our article on how to partition a hard drive.