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  Partioning Hard Drives in Windows XP


I first learned how to use computers back in the early days of DOS. That knowledge of DOS has saved me countless times since. Even with the GUI of Windows, there were always some things that were just easier to do in DOS. There were also those tasks that were just done in DOS because there really wasn't a better way of doing it unless you owned a third-party application. One of those DOS-oriented tasks was Partioning and Formatting a hard drive using Fdisk. If you were putting a drive into a computer that didn't have an operating system already installed, then Fdisk or a third-party app was the way to go. However, with Windows 2000 or XP, starting from scratch with a new drive has gotten much simpler. During the install process, Windows will detect an unpartioned/formatted drive and will prompt you to set up that drive...Windows takes care of the rest.

However, this article will focus on adding a second (or more) hard drive to an existing system. If you already have Windows 2000 or Windows XP installed and are adding a second hard drive, there is an even easier way to partition and format that second drive than relying on Fdisk...using Windows' Disk Management.

Adminstrative Tools

Disk Management is part of Adminstrative Tools. In Windows XP, you can find Adminstrative Tools in the Control Panel.

Administrative Tools

From there, select Computer Management. That will bring up the following screen...if you have Adminstrator rights to make System level changes. Unfortunately, if you have Power User or Limited rights, you will not be able to see this screen.

Computer Management

As you can see, there are a lot of different tools available here. Finally, from this screen, select Disk Management. You will be presented with a screen that shows the drives you have connected to your system.

Drives shown in Disk Management

It is from this dialogue box that you can begin your disk activities (by right mouse button clicking on the label of the drive).

Basic vs. Dynamic

If you have properly connected the new drive to your system, then it should appear on the screen above. The first choice you will face is whether to make the drive "Basic" or "Dynamic".

Basic The standard disk type used in previous versions of Windows. Basic disks are divided into partitions and can be used with previous versions of Windows.

Dynamic An enhanced disk type for Windows 2000 that can be updated without having to restart the system (in most cases). Dynamic disks are divided into volumes.

For Windows XP and Windows 2000 users, select "Basic". However, if you are running Windows 2003 Server, you may be tempted to select "Dynamic". The Dynamic setting allows you to do Software RAID (RAID 1 mirroring or RAID 0 striping). The Dynamic setting can still be set on XP or 2000, but you lose the ability to perform tasks like Diskcopy. You can convert a Basic Disk to a Dynamic Disk and vice versa. If you upgrade to a Dynamic disk, you won't be able to boot into previous versions of Windows.

You can access dynamic disks only from computers that are running Windows 2000, Windows XP Professional, or Windows XP 64-Bit Edition. You cannot access dynamic disks from computers running MS-DOS, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows NT 4.0 or earlier, or Windows XP Home Edition. This restriction also means that you cannot start any of these operating systems if you convert the disk containing the system volume to dynamic

Also, if you choose to go from Dynamic back to Basic, you will have to delete all your partitions first.


In the old days using Fdisk, if you wanted to create multiple partitions, you would create a Primary partition first. Then you would create an Extended DOS partition with the remaining space. You could further sub-divide the Extended DOS partition into separate Logical partitions. However, from the screenshot above, you might see that Windows now allows you to create multiple (up to four) Primary partitions (and one Extended partition) per physical hard drive. Microsoft defines the partitions as

Primary partitions Drive sections that you can access directly for file storage. Each physical drive can have up to four primary partitions. You make a primary partition accessible to users by creating a file system on it.

Extended partitions Unlike primary partitions, you can't access these directly. Instead, you can configure extended partitions with one or more logical drives that are used to store files. Being able to divide extended partitions into logical drives allows you to divide a physical drive into more than four sections.

Note: With MS-DOS, a physical drive can have only one primary partition. This partition is the boot partition. If you plan to boot a Windows 2000 system in MS-DOS, you should use only one primary partition and then use an extended partition to create additional logical drives.

Some users prefer one large partition. Personally, I usually divide my hard drives into three partitions; C: for OS and critical applications; D: for games and utilities; E: for demos and music. For me, it makes finding things much faster. If you opt for one large partition, then utilize the full amount of space Windows says is available. After Windows creates the partition, you can also use Disk Management to format the drive. If you have multiple drives in your PC, it might be beneficial to use the Volume Label to designate which drive is which.

If you decide to use multiple partitions, you must determine the size of your first partition. Disk Management will show the total space available on the drive. Specify an amount smaller than the total available and Windows will create the Primary partition. With the remaining space, you can create additional partitions. Again, after creating the partitions, use Disk Management to format the drives as well.

Final Thoughts

With the prices of hard drives incredibly low right now, it's a great time to add a second hard drive (or to upgrade your old drive). Windows' Disk Management makes partitioning and formatting hard drives much easier than the old workhorse Fdisk.


Before Converting Disks to Dynamic

Working with Basic and Dynamic Disks


      Posted by: , May 2, 2004, 6:00 pm  

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