Even if you didn’t crack open the case and add in another drive, you might still want to read on if you’d like to learn about the drive management system in Windows, and what partitions are.
Background – Partitions, and Filesystems
I’ll be throwing around some fairly technical terms today so it’s important you have an overview of what all these terms mean.
To begin with, a partition is a block of space on a hard drive. In Windows terms, you might think of a partition as a single drive letter (like C: or D:). Windows also likes to refer to a partition as a “volume“, but they are the same thing for our purposes. A single hard drive may consist of one, or many partitions – each of which will be assigned their own drive letter in Windows. For most people, a single partition is enough – however most home computers actually have another partition, hidden from Windows, on which recovery programs are placed. If your computer has a message like “Press F2 to enter recovery mode” when you turn it on, chances are you have a secret partition. Some people like to partition their drive so that Windows runs from a small section of the disk, with the data stored on an entirely separate partition – this means that re-installing Windows won’t overwrite your data. In other cases, a hard drive is partitioned in order to allow multiple operating systems to be installed at the same time – on booting the computer, you can then choose which partition you will boot from.
A Filesystem is the particular method by which data is stored on that partition. Which filesystem to choose has been known to cause violent arguments among many geeks, but suffice to say Windows XP used FAT32, Windows 7 uses NTFS, and Linux and Macs use something different entirely. Each filesystem has limitations and advantages, but for our purposes it is useful to know just that:
(a) If you’re planning on dealing with large files (like 4+ GB movies, etc.) you should use NTFS.
(b) If you want to swap drives between systems, you should use FAT32 as Mac OS X cannot write to NTFS without additional software, but you won’t be able to deal with large files.
If you’ve installed a second drive into your Windows machine, I suggest you use NTFS. To make matters more difficult though, a lot of drives come pre-formatted as FAT32 – grrr, what a headache!
Partitioning and Formatting Your Drive in Windows
Launch the disk management app by clicking Start, and typing in diskmgmt.msc – click the application that pops up in the search results. You should see a screen similar to this:
The top half of the display shows what partitions currently exist. The bottom half displays the physical devices – the drives – in your computer. In this case, I have a single 64 GB NTFS partition, which is my C: drive where Windows is currently installed. Beneath it, we have my new 50 GB drive, shown in black because it is currently all free space. Your setup may different though – Windows 7 often creates a 100 MB hidden partiton called “System Reserved” for recovery options, for instance. Note, if you drive came preformatted as a FAT32 partition, Windows may have already assigned a drive letter to it. Make sure you identify exactly which is the new disk.
You can perform various operations on the partition, or the empty space, by right-clicking on it.
If you have an existing FAT32 partition you want to get rid of (be very sure this is the new second drive and not something else), then simply right-click on the existing volume and choose either Format or Delete Volume. Choose Format if you’d simply like to make it into a fresh NTFS partition instead of FAT32. Choose Delete Volume if you’d like to make more than one partition on the drive – for example, one for music and one for movies. You can also choose Change Drive Letter and Paths if you’d just like to change the letter that Windows has automatically assigned it.
Now, having deleted your existing partition or if there wasn’t one to start with, we can go about creating a new one. Right-click on the black empty space to create a new partition by choosing New Simple Volume.
You’ll be greeted by a standard wizard opening screen, and after clicking Next, you can choose how large you partition will be. 1 GB is roughly 1000 MB. The default setting will already be the maximum size, but in this case I’m going to split the drive into two 25 GB partitions (25000 MB) to store different kinds of data.
On the next screen, you can assign it a drive letter. Choose NTFS as the format and give it a suitable name so you can identify the drive. You can then repeat the process by clicking on the remaining Unallocated free space. If it’s the last partition you are making, just leave the size option at the default to use all remaining space. Now you should have some more drives, so check Computer from the Start Menu to see:
I hope you’ve learnt a little about disks and partitions today. They might seem scary and somewhat high level at first, but in reality they’re quite simple. So long as you are careful about what you’re deleting, managing your own disks and partitions is a lot more rewarding than simply taking the options that the manufacturers give to you.