what they are and how they are managed

What are they and how are they managed? This is an important question to ask when talking about any type of asset. An asset can come in many shapes and sizes, so an understanding of how they are handled and managed is essential to make the most informed decision when investing or using them.

Disk partitions are the name given to the parts into which the storage units of a PC can be divided. To be understood, this action consists of “slicing up” an SSD or a hard drive into several “logical disk” partitions in order to better organize them.

Although the creation of these partitions are optional and the bulk of users do not use them, it must be said that they are a way to ideal way to manage the internal storage of a PC and among its advantages we can point out improved drive maintenance, organization, data security and even performance, as well as allowing advanced features such as the installation of multiple operating systems.

Disk partition types and systems

Each operating system handles these partitions differently and according to their type, because there are several. The main partitions are those dedicated to the system installation and the one for user data, but you will also see additional partitions that are usually reserved for tasks such as data cache, temporary virtual memory, for system recovery or for hosting and managing UEFI firmware information.

When we buy a new computer with some operating system preinstalled it is common that. all the disk space is occupied. Some manufacturers add small partitions for system recovery and they also create additional partitions of their own, but only one is generally available for user management.

If we buy internal storage drives from a retailer such as modern SSDs the situation varies, as they are usually delivered “empty” for the user to create as many as he needs, choosing the number of disk partitions he will use. Once created and prepared with what we know as formatting.the partitions are recognized and managed by the operating system independently and each one with its own file system.

You can pre-prepare the partitions of the SSD or hard drives on any PC or directly when you install an operating system, because all the usual ones (Windows, Linux or macOS) allow you to perform the partition management in the same process of installing the systems. It will always depend on the capacity and number of drives that your computer has, but, in general, from here we recommend you to create at least two partitionsone for the operating system and one for your own data.

Focusing on Windows, if what you want is to manage the partitions of a disk that is already running, you can check them in “My Computer”, in the file explorer or directly through the disk manager which is precisely where you can create, change or delete the partitions managed by the system and that we will review below as a tutorial. There you will also see -if necessary- additional drive letters for optical disks, network locations or external and/or removable storage media whose drives are created as they are inserted into the computer.

Disk partitions

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Why disk partitions are so useful

These partitions are quite unknown to the general public and are only used by administrators or average/advanced users. But there are good reasons to use them as we are going to point out:

Install multiple operating systems

Most operating systems have to be installed on their own primary partitions. In this scenario, having several separate partitions is mandatory. In addition, you can create third partitions to share files between them if they use different file systems. An example of using partitions for systems can be found in this guide where we saw the installation of Windows 11 and Ubuntu 21 on the same computer.

Safeguarding your data in case of system failures.

If the operating system fails for any reason (drivers, applications or viruses) and this is very likely in Windows, you may be left with no access to the drive and no way to restore it. Having at least two partitions, one for the system and one for 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 safe the additional partitions we have created for our backups and personal files.

Improved performance

Large hard disks (10, 12, 15 or even 20 Tbytes) offer huge storage capacity, but force the read heads to a longer travel. With that, splitting the disk into several partitions ensures you less data repositioning delay and better performance. It is not high and does not affect in the same way SSDs that work differently without moving parts, but when it comes to performance it all adds up.

Better maintenance

Having multiple partitions makes it easier to maintain storage drives, check for errors, optimize them and defragment drives (hard drives only). Having multiple, smaller chunks also speeds up the search for files.

Easier organization

Having multiple disk partitions makes personal organization easier. An example of use in a typical storage unit in Windows, would consist of a C: partition for the system; D: for installation of applications and games, and E: for backups, documents, photos, music or video. The possibilities, depending on the capacity of each disk, are almost unlimited and improve the organization compared to a single partition.

How disk partitions are managed

All operating systems offer their own native tools to manage partitions, and third-party developers offer more advanced commercial applications. In Windows, their management is done through the “Control Panel-Administrative Tools-Computer Management-Disk Management”. You can also access it through the run tool (Windows keys + R) using the command “diskmgmt.msc” and another more direct way, by right-clicking on the start button and clicking on disk management:

There you will access an interface like the one in the image. Its possibilities range from creating additional partitions (as long as we have enough space); reducing the size of each of them to make it possible; formatting them; changing the drive’s drive letter and path or formatting it for a complete cleanup.

Some examples of use are:

Create partitions

If you have free space on your storage drives, you can use it to 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 or hold down that unallocated space and click “New Simple Volume”.

Delete partitions

In the same way you can delete unused partitions 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 they will all be deleted. As in previous cases, right-click on a partition and select “Delete Volume”. There are partitions that you will not be able to delete from this utility, such as the partition reserved for the EFI system or the “C:” partition which is the one that keeps the operating system in use.

Change the size of the partitions

You can also shrink or expand disk partitions, as long as there is free (unpartitioned) space available immediately before or after the partition you are trying to modify. To shrink (or expand) the size of a partition right-click on it and select “Enlarge volume” or “Shrink volume”. The utility will allow you to shrink the partition to the maximum amount of space it is not currently using. Once the process is complete, you will have free disk space of that amount that you can use to create additional disk partitions.

Format partitions

If you have just created a partition on one of your drives, the wizard offers you the possibility to format it. However, you can also format a partition that is already created and present on a drive. Formatting a partition means that all the data it contains will be deleted, so be sure to make a backup of all the files you are interested in saving before proceeding. To format an existing partition, right-click on it and select “format” from the context menu. You will be able to 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.

Change drive letters or labels

The tool can also change the drive letters of partitions, which, for example you can see in the file explorer. You can do this both for convenience and when there is a conflict between the ones occupied by different partitions, with the exception of the one installed by the system “C:”, which cannot be changed by this tool. In the same way, you can change the “volume label” or what is the same, the partition name. Useful for easy 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.

As you will have seen, the use of disk partitions is relatively simple once you know how they work. They are very useful for the maintenance of storage drives, data security and especially for the organization of files. on our personal computer. The internal tools included in the operating systems are sufficient for most uses and if you need more you can turn to third-party software, more complete and specialized.

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