Disk partitions are the names that receive the division of storage units on a personal computer. And it has its advantages, since this Virtual "chopping" of a hard drive or SSD (or several of them or RAIDs) is a good way to classify the drives into several "logical disks", each with its own file system and managed independently by the operating system.
On Windows systems, partitions are identified with a letter followed by a colon. When we buy a new Windows computer, it is most likely that it has a single “C:” partition that occupies all disk space. Some manufacturers add small partitions for system recovery and other new equipment for booting under EFI, but are not intended for user management. On other systems such as Linux and UNIX, it is common to directly employ several partitions for files, user data and for temporary virtual memory.
In Windows they can be created at the user's discretion. For its management, the system offers the disk manager (Disk Management), an internal tool dedicated to the management of storage units installed internally or connected externally on a personal computer governed by Microsoft operating systems.
The utility has changed very little in recent years, but it is still very useful without having to use external applications specialized in this type of tasks. It works similarly in Windows 7, 8.1 and Windows 10 and serves to facilitate maintenance, data security, performance and organization of files in storage units. And of course manage the disk partitions that we are going to review today.
Advantages of disk partitions
Partitions are routinely used by advanced users and administrators, but they are an aspect quite unknown to the public. And it shouldn't. Its creation is essential if we want to install several operating systems on the same computer, but they have other security or performance advantages that advise its use as:
- Safeguard your data in case of system failures. If the operating system fails for any reason (drivers, applications or viruses) you may not be able to access the drive where it is installed, but the rest. Having at least two partitions, one for the system and one for the data, ensures that a system failure will not affect your personal files. In the same way, if we have to reinstall the operating system from scratch, we will only have to format its partition, keeping the additional partitions that we have created for our backups and personal files safe.
- Install multiple operating systems. Most operating systems require them to be installed in their own primary partitions. In this scenario, having several separate partitions is mandatory. In addition, you can create third partitions to share files between different systems if they use different file systems.
- Improved performance. Current hard drives (6, 8, 10 TB or more) offer a huge storage capacity but force reading heads for a longer ride. With this, dividing the disk into several partitions ensures you a shorter delay in repositioning the data and better performance. It is not high, but everything adds up.
- Better maintenance. Having multiple partitions facilitates the maintenance of the hard disk, error checking or optimization and defragmentation of hard drives where appropriate. It also speeds up the file search.
- Greater ease in the organization. Having multiple disk partitions makes personal organization easier. You can use the main C: for the system and main applications; D: for installation of other applications and games; E: for backup copies, documents, photos, music or video, etc. The possibilities are diverse up to the limit of creation of partitions and improve the organization against a single one as manufacturers generally offer in a new equipment.
Windows administrator access
Although the industry offers a good number of specialized applications for disk and partition management, the internal system administrator it is enough for basic use. The easiest and most direct way to access this tool in Windows 10 or Windows 8.1 is through the advanced system menu, by right clicking on the start button and clicking on disk management:
If you are used to using the hot keys, on all systems you can use Windows + R to access the tool run and use the «diskmgmt.msc »:
You can also use the taskbar search tool by searching for «disk Management » or simply for «Partitions»:
If you usually use the system control panel, you can locate the Windows disk manager in «Administrative Tools> Computer Management> Disk Management».
Handling disk partitions in Windows
Any means of access you use will take you to a type interface like the one shown in the following image. It will vary depending on each PC, but in all cases you will be able to see the internal disks installed, the optical drives and the external drives where appropriate. Also the partitions of each of them.
Information on drives and partitions
It is the first thing we will get when we access this tool. We will see the installed internal disk drives (hard drives, SSD or RAID), optical media or those connected externally to any port. It is a good way to check from within the system that a unit has been recognized correctly and its current state.
We will also see the drive letter assigned to each of them; the total storage capacity that the system can handle; the portion we have occupied and free, and the file system used by each of the partitions into which they are divided. As we said, it is a way to divide each unit (or classify them when we have several of them installed) into a series of logical disks that are managed by the operating system independently, each with its own file system.
It should be noted that this utility you can only manage compatible file systems with Windows operating systems, such as NTFS, exFAT or FAT32. Although we can see other types of partitions, such as those created and formatted by Linux, we can only delete them, not manage them.
Create disk partitions
One of the administrator's uses is to create partitions. And they are recommended for several uses as we saw in their advantages. In the case of new equipment, as manufacturers (generally) have occupied the entire unit, we must first reduce the original partition to leave free space and create one or more new partitions.
Unpartitioned space is highlighted and labeled as "Unallocated" or "Free space." The quickest and easiest way to create a partition using all or only part of the available free space is to right-click with the mouse or press and hold that unallocated space and click on "New simple volume".
Then it is only a matter of following the steps of the wizard, assigning the size, the file system, the name of the partition and the letter you will use for it. We have to do this process with a new drive that we install, for example when we expand the storage capacity or replace the hard drive with a solid state drive.
If you just created a partition in one of your units, the wizard offers you the possibility to format it. However, you can also format a partition that is already created and present in a drive. Formatting a partition is equivalent to "cleaning it" and leaving it ready for use. All the data it contains will be deleted, so be sure to make a backup copy of all the files that you are interested in saving before continuing.
To format an existing partition, right-click on it and select "format" from the context menu. You can choose the file system or the "volume label", the name of this partition that you will see for example when you access it from the file browser. For security reasons, it is not possible to format the drive containing the operating system.
Resize disk partitions
You can also reduce or expand disk partitions, provided there is free (unpartitioned) space available immediately before or after the partition you are trying to modify. To reduce (or expand) the size of a partition, right-click on it and select "Expand Volume" or "Decrease Volume."
In the example of the previous image, the utility will allow you to reduce the partition «D:» to the maximum space that you are not currently using (729547 Mbytes). Once the process is complete, you will have a free disk space with that amount. You can use that free space to create an additional partition as we have seen in previous points and you can use it for backup or installation of new operating systems that need dedicated partitions.
Delete disk partitions
In the same way you can delete partitions that you don't use and free up disk space to create new ones or to add that space to an existing one. Be sure to save the files you need beforehand because everyone will be deleted. As in previous cases, right-click on a partition and select "Remove Volume":
It is important to make the caveat that there are partitions that you cannot delete from this utility, such as the one reserved for the EFI system or the "C:" partition that is what keeps the operating system in use.
Change drive letters or labels
The tool can also change the drive letters of the partitions, which, for example, you can see in the file explorer. You can do it both for convenience, and when there is a conflict between those occupied by the different partitions, with the caveat that installs the system «C:», which can not be changed by this tool.
In the same way, you can change the "volume label" or what is the same, the name of the partition. Useful to facilitate its visibility and management when you have many of them. Like the previous functions, to modify these parameters, right-click on a partition and follow the wizard:
The Windows file manager also allows more advanced uses such as converting disks to dynamic ones; MBR or GPT partition type management; VHD virtual disk creation or partition marking as active. It also serves to "initialize" new disks, something we will have to do when we add a new drive and it is not recognized in the file explorer.
The use of this administrator to manage disk partitions and the drives themselves is extremely interesting as you have seen, although it requires knowing exactly what you intend to do. The tool facilitates the management of internal storage units installed or connected to external ports, the use of partitions, maintenance, data security, performance and file organization.
The tool has enough power for most users. For those who need more, the industry offers dedicated applications. One of the ones we like the most for use on Windows is the Paragon Software Group Partition Manager, with a free basic version.