Vista Hands On #11: Manage partitions during setup

Vista Hands On #11: Manage partitions during setup

Summary: Earlier in this series, I recommended separating Windows system files and user data on separate drives for maximum security. But what if you have only a single drive? Then use the next best option and divide that drive into two separate volumes, one for system and program files and the other for data. The good news is that you can easily set up this configuration using partition-management tools that are available during Vista setup. with no third-party software required.

TOPICS: Windows

In Vista Hands On #7: Move user data to another drive, I recommended using two separate physical drives for maximum data security. In that configuration, if your primary drive fails it doesn’t wipe out everything."

But what if you have only a single drive? Then use the next best option and set up dual volumes (that's Windows' preferred term for what you probably think of as partitions). Use one volume for system and program files and use the other for data.

The good news is that you can easily set up this configuration using partition-management tools that are new in Vista. For the basic task of splitting a disk in two and adjusting the relative sizes of volumes, you don't need third-party software.

If you're setting up Windows Vista on bare metal (a so-called clean install), you can control partition sizes by choosing the right option from the Where do you want to install Windows? screen. If you were just to click Next on this screen, you'd end up with a single large C: drive. Don't do it. Instead, click Drive options (advanced).

advanced drive options in Vista setup

After you choose this option, you'll see the following set of tools along the bottom of the window. Click New to create a partition in the unallocated space. In this example, I'm creating a 30GB system volume, leaving roughly 270GB available for data.

Advanced drive options in Vista setup

Note that the Size box uses megabytes, not gigabytes, as its default unit of scale. After you choose the size, click Apply to create the new volume. You don't need to create the second volume here; you can do that after Windows is installed. And you don't need to format the volume, either - Windows Setup will take care of that task.

In tomorrow's installment, I'll show how to split a single volume in two on a system where Windows Vista is already installed. How big should each partition be? That's Thursday's topic.

Topic: Windows

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  • Just wanted to add !

    "adjusting the relative sizes of volumes, you don't need third-party software."

    this is not the same as resizing a partiton or creating multiple (4) basic disk partitions at the same time, say for multiple boots os...

    gparted is the way to go for advanced users.. p.s. you may need to add a boot sector to your drice(c:) for a standa4d install.
    not of this world
    • Actually, you can create 4 basic partitions....

      ... with this utility. You don't need to resize them at this point since they contain no data. Gparted is not a tool that is required for any of this.
  • I don't see the Security in 2 Drives

    Your claim that if your drive fails you won't lose everything. That's not exactly true. Having 2 drive doesn't guarantee you a thing unless you use RAID 1 and mirror the drives.

    It's not having 2 drives that makes you secure it's having RAID 1 which requires 2 drives. If a user just has 2 Drives one as the system drive and the other as the Data drive they still lose everything when the data drive dies. Had they used RAID 1 they'd be down one disk but still have thier data. Only issue is you lose 50% of your disk space.
    • Backup philosophies

      If you followed the link you'll see a more detailed discussion. I mean what I say here. You lose everything if your system drive fails and your user data is on the same volume. If you have lots of music and pictures and data files that makes it much more diffcult to have a good backup and also makes it more time-consuming to recover.

      I'll have more to say on this later, but I divide drives this way to allow easy imaging of the system drive. That way it is easy to back up and can be restored quickly without disturbing data, if there's a failure. Similarly, if the data drive fails you still have access to all programs and can get to your data backups immediately.

      I hate RAID. Way too difficult to manage and overkill except in a server environment.

      I'll have more to say about this later.
      Ed Bott
      • This can work if ...

        The user provides that the data is imaged over onto a second drive. This solution still requires two drives. One drive with two (or more) partitions is simply not a practical answer. And, for backup, neither are CD's or even DVD's these days. In most cases, people's user data contains music, video and other GB consuming formats. Typically drives these days are heading up over 300GB with Windows accounting for only a couple of GBs of this space. And people are going to back this up on 4GB DVD's? LOL! The only practical option is imaging to a second large drive. And it only works if you do it and do it regularly. RAID may be complicated for you, but I have been using it for several years now and have found it to be a piece of cake when compared to dealing with the disaster of data loss. Of course, I do it with Linux, but I can't believe that it is more complicated under Windows than Linux. I just lost a drive on one of my systems a few weeks ago, and I would be sweating it if it were not for RAID. With RAID it was only an inconvenience, and in the meantime while I'm trying to figure it out, my system marches along on one drive of the set. But to each his own poison.
        George Mitchell
        • RAID is no substitut for backups...

          Use one partition for your media (music, films etc) and one for rest (documents, mail etc).
          Then you have one partition that you can easily back up on DVD, without all that music that you have on CD anyway. IF you want to back that up, you don't need to do it as often as the other partition. And only do a incrimentaly backup
      • RAID is simple these days

        RAID used to be a pain. Now it's simple with intuitive gui interfaces. It automatically flips over too. No need to boot with special boot disk like the olden days.

        Only issue I see is when one runs out of space and see that second drive they might be tempted to turn off Raid then format the back up disk for more space.
        • "Intuitive gui interfaces"?

          Eh, I still haven't seen one I want to deal with when I'm stressed and near-panicked because of a disk crash. And if I have to pull it from a system because the motherboard got fried so I can recover data on a second system, I don't want to have to find a system that uses the same RAID controller. If I have two drives, I would rather use the second one for backups than mess with RAID.
          Ed Bott
          • Good Point

            Raid really won't do you any good if your MOBO fries. In that case it is a hassle no matter what you do.

            On Ease of use the GUI interface is for intial set up. Makes it simple to do. It's automated for the switch over so you don't have to do any BIOS level editing or booting with boot discs to change the boot.ini like in the old days.

            RAID should be seemless to the user and set up at the factory in my opinion. A drive fails and light comes on informing the user about a need for maintenance and an error code. The PC then continues functioning same as before. That's the raid I'd like to see.
        • Overkill at best

          Bott: [i]I hate RAID. Way too difficult to manage and overkill except in a server environment.[/i]

          It is also too expensive, beyond the above. It amounts to a dead-end solution for most home users, even power users or for those with small NAS/SAN setups. I look at it as too much wasted real estate.
          • Too expensive?

            My MOBO came with RAID so all it costs is a second harddrive. So if I was building today I'd pick up 2 300 GB drives $96 a pop.

            An Extra $96 is too expensive? I can blow $96 on a night out at the movies.
          • With two 300GB drives ...

            ... it is still easier to set up the second drive as an NTFS-formatteddrive and a scheduled nightly backup than it is to build a RAID drive which cannot be easily recovered if you have a motherboard or controller failure.

            RAID is for mission-critical data where "time = money" -- not as a "safety net" so personal data is not lost.
            M Wagner
          • RAID has its purposes

            but again amounts to overkill for most home users. How many home PCers run 'mission critical' setups, or for that matter, servers or NAS/SAN implementations? Not many, short of a few SOHO's, or gearheads with the requisite smarts and a little extra time on their hands to set things up as such.

            I agree a dynamic, real time mirror to serve as a backup and safety net has some merit, and Voska is right that $80 to $100 won't put you out the door obtaining matching disk drives (but of course, for the same price you could double your RAM, or go from a good to a very good video card), but still I prefer a simple compressed drive image (or two) made up of just the OS + installed apps placed on its own separate partition, along with regular backups of personal data files also placed on a separate partition. The drive image partition, like the small swap/page file partition I prefer placing at the beginning of a second HDD, can be hidden from user view (and meddling hands) with something simple like TweakUI.

            I have run all sorts of multi partition schemes over the years, and (unlike Ed) actually prefer more than just two volumes, but ultimately gave up on RAID redundancy not long after the W2K era for my own personal network. I don't poohoo anyone running any forms of RAID, as they remain viable alternatives. I'll set up such arrays for anyone who asks. Still, I don't think they are the answer for most PCers, even power users, when all factors are considered. And we have to be real here, that's the main audience the author is addressing. The world doesn't spin around gearhead enthusiasts [sigh].

            In the end, RAID array configurations versus imaging + regular backups really amount to just two different redundancy methodologies, only the approach I advocate is cheaper and more 'target selective' by comparison, and therefore makes better use of available real estate. However RAID might still be called the most "complete" AIO solution for those with a few extra bucks to spend. Raid 1 for basic mirroring, RAID 0+1 for extra synchronization oomph and RAID 5 for additional parity but there again, up goes the ticket price for a small set of drives as you move up. Definitely not everyone's cup of tea.
      • On two partitions

        I agree there. That makes sense. I was just commenting that having two drives is a bit over kill if you aren't using RAID.

        For example: 2 300GB drives. 1 the system drive and one the data drive. That's a lot of wasted space on the system drive that will end up with data on it eventually. If I had two 300 GB drives I'd make a system partition and a data partition and using RAID 1. Then I'd use imaging for the system partition and burn multiple DVD for the data. That way I'm covered for a toasted OS as the image is easily recoverable, the data if I delete file can be copied back. If hard drive fails I'm still in action too.
        • Agreed, but...

          Why would you buy two 300GB drives in the first place?

          I spec new systems with an 80GB system drive and then get a big (320-500GB) data drive. If my system came with a big drive I would divide it in two volumes and get a second external drive for backups, including image backups.
          Ed Bott
          • missing the point

            call me a bit of a relic but is this what you might be referring to?
            i have a 200 gb drive with 6 partitions.
            c is 30, system partition
            d is 50 for pictures
            e is 15 for second bootable OS
            f is 45 for other storage
            g is 30 for copies of installed original CDs
            h is 30 for music

            when c crashes, all i need to get going again is my original OS cd. i've copied all my originals onto a partition, along with product codes, keys so i can reinstall from there.
            i have saved my pics, music, and whatever else because it's saved on a different partition.
            even my default save locations for office apps have been changed from the dreaded "my docs" to f://<whatever i call it>. use an open source browser and that profile is backed up weekly to another partition so mail, address books, bookmarks are all relatively current.
            or did i miss your point?
          • Six partitions?


            30 gigs for CDs and 30 for music? What happens when the music drive gets full?

            One data drive. Maybe two if I have a huge collection of one type of data. But that's all.
            Ed Bott
          • well sure

            uh, i did mention relic right?

            when your music collection has remained static at around 3 gb for seven years, allocating 30 is overly optimistic. 30 for cds works too and is also a generous waste of space. both of these partitions will be pressed into use for picture overflow.

            it's served me well when c has crashed and when a previous drive crashed and burned.
          • Missing the point?

            Even though this part of the thread has gone astray of the original article, I think that you've missed the point.

            While organizing your storage into many partitions/volumes is good, what happens when your 200GB well organized hard drive failed? You certainly are not going to reinstall from a partition/volume that is inaccessible.

            There is a reason to go with multiple drives and while I don't typically do RAIDs I'm considering it having recently lost a 120GB drive that hadn't been backed up anywhere. I was in the midst of reconfiguring my storage on my home servers and didn't even realize (due to poor planning on my part) that I'd not put this set of archives on another drive.

            But having everything on one drive is just plain dangerous. Either RAID (if simple and robust) or ritually imaging to a second drive is about the only way to be relatively safe.
          • The only downside here is ...

            ... if you lose the spindle (a head crash or bearing failure, for instance) you lose EVERYTHING.
            M Wagner