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What is a Hard Drive Partition?

Partition / Volume:

A hard disk partition is a defined storage space on a hard drive.
A hard drive is not always used as a single drive, but is often split up into multiple drives. This is accomplished prior to formatting, in a process called partitioning. As the name indicates, a hard disk partition is part of the drive, or a section, treated by the operating system as an independent storage area or drive. Hence, a 160 GB drive can be partitioned into several drives, rather than being used as one large drive.

This is handy for a number of reasons. For example, one can use a separate hard drive partition to install an alternate operating system (OS). If the two systems require different formatting schemes, this configuration can accommodate that. Programs and data can exist on a third partition to be used by either OS - whichever is active. A boot loader on the C:\ drive allows the user to choose which OS will boot.

Many people like creating a separate hard drive partition for the OS, even when there is only one OS present. By loading the OS into the C:\ drive and the programs into the D:\ drive, for example, the C:\ drive can be reformatted and the OS reinstalled, if need be, without losing programs or their settings and data. Creating multiple partitions also allows one to organize, maintain and utilize large hard drives better. A hard drive partition that does not include the entire disk can be defragged or scanned much faster than a larger partition. When programs, data and multimedia content are stored on their own partitions, they can also be archived easily on backup drives as needed.

Partitioning is commonly accomplished with the fdisk command. Alternate methods include graphical tools like Partition Magic. While the partitioning scheme only allows four primary partitions, more can be created as extended partitions. Hence, any number of partitions is possible.

Tips: Partitioning a hard drive will cause all data to be lost. Before creating a hard drive partition on a disk already in use, be sure to backup your data.

One example of a 160 GB drive made into several partitions is as follows:

C:\ [20GB] Operating System Hard Drive Partition #1
D:\ [40GB] Storage Programs or Files Hard Drive Partition #2
E:\ [30GB] Storage Data Files Hard Drive Partition #3
F:\ [30GB] Storage any files or programs Hard Drive Partition #4
G:\ [40GB] Storage any files or programs Hard Drive Partition #5

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