How To Partition Your Hard Drive: Primary vs Extended vs Logical Partitions

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Hard drive (caption: How To Partition Your Hard Drive)Scenario – you just got a new external hard drive, with 2TB capacity, and it’s the size of a match box, so you’re feeling quite James Bondy. However, when you plug it into your laptop it doesn’t show the entire capacity. Why not?

Our experts answer this question and more in our hard drive partitioning guide.

Article Overview

Formatting Vs Partitioning

Any hard drive, internal or external, needs to be formatted and partitioned. Formatting is a process that wipes a drive clean and sets it up for use with your operating system. Partitioning divides a drive into sections and increases your system performance.

Increase Performance With Partitioning

Why do we partition? Partitioning a drive into smaller segments increases system performance by reducing the work your computer has to do to index and find files. Imagine searching for a needle in a haystack – the smaller the haystack, the quicker you’ll find it.

Partitioning Software – The Easy Way

Before we jump into our tutorial on how to partition your hard drive, we’d like to introduce some software that will make this job easier for you. For those that want to spend the time and get their hands dirty, you can manually partition using the steps below. For those that want to save time and have a program do all the work securely without the risk of losing data, we recommend Acronis Disk Director.

And if you’re concerned about partitioning on a hard drive with a valuable data, consider True Image, a backup utility that mirrors the content on your hard drive.

Acronis Disk Director includes all of the following applications:

  • Partition Manager allows you to resize, move, copy, split, and merge partitions without losing your data.
  • Boot Manager is a multi-boot software utility that allows you to install multiple operating systems on your PC.
  • Partition Recovery allows you to recover accidentally lost or deleted partitions.
  • Disk Editor is a disk drive repair tool that allows you to perform advanced operations on your hard disk drive, such as restoration of boot records and hexadecimal editing.

How Do I Partition My Hard Drive?

In our example, we are going to format and partition an external hard drive in Windows OS. This can be accomplished simply by following these steps. We’ll start off by creating a primary partition.

What’s A Primary Partition?

A primary partition is only necessary if you wish to make the drive bootable – ie. if you need to install an operating system on it. If you are using the drive purely for additional data storage, you can simply install an extended partition with logical drives. You will be able to read the drive by transferring it to another computer with an operating system installed that supports the drive’s format. However, if you wish to boot the hard drive from scratch, you’ll need to not only install a primary partition, but install an operating system on that partition as well.

How To Create A Primary Partition

  • Right-click on “My Computer” and select “Manage”
  • Left-click on “Disk Management” (under “Storage”)
  • You’ll see a listing of your installed hard drives and their partitions, along with designations:
    • Unallocated – unallocated space – this is how your hard drive arrives from the factory
    • Primary partition – a primary partition can be used to boot an Operating System. Your Windows OS is installed on a primary partition.
    • Extended partition – an extended partition is used to hold logical drives.
    • Logical drives – logical drives hold files unrelated to the Operating System – pretty much everything else on your computer – data, audio, video, etc.
  • Scroll down the list and find the hard drive you just plugged in – it will most likely be one with a long black bar (indicating all unallocated space)
  • Right-click on the drive and select “create new partition”
  • In our example we’re going to divide our drive into three partitions – one primary, and one extended holding two logical drives
  • Select “primary,” divide the available space by 3, and leave everything else as default (NTFS format, etc.)
  • Choose a drive letter (Windows will automatically choose the first available drive letter – it only chooses available ones, so take your pick)
  • Select “format” (quick format does the job faster but doesn’t check the drive for errors)
  • After some time the drive will be formatted and ready to use. You’ll see your new drive as a drive letter (K: for example) when you double-click “My Computer.”

Now, you’ll see that we only have one third of the drive’s available space at our disposal. You’ll want to repeat the above steps to create an extended partition with two logical drives to allocate the remaining space.

How To Create An Extended Partition With Logical Drives

  • Repeat the above steps until you get to the part asking you what type of partition to create. This time you’ll want to select “extended.”
  • The extended partition will be created without any formatting. Note that this extended partition is only a container for the logical drives – it cannot hold any data without first installing a logical drive.
  • Right-click on the extended partition and choose “create new partition.” This time you’ll choose “logical drive” (only option available)
  • Take the available space it gives you and divide by two, and leave the other settings as default.
  • Choose your drive letter, and let Windows format and setup the drive.
  • Voila – you’ll see that you now have two drives at your disposal.
  • Repeat this step to create the second logical drive. Once you’re done your external hard drive will be fully formatted, with all space allocated and ready to use.

Hard Drives Of Today – Is Partitioning Really Necessary?

It used to be that partitioning a hard drive was primarily to offer a performance boost. By having less space to search/ seek, a hard drive could perform search and index functions more efficiently. But because of the increased processing power coupled with smarter software that gives the hard drive cylinder more efficient instructions on where to seek, as well as organizing data in a fashion that is more readily accessible, the need to partition a hard drive has lessened.

The two partitions we still consider important are the O/S and data partitions. In most cases, regardless of how large or small our drives are, we only partition them if there’s an O/S (Operating System) on the drive. In which case we’ll give the O/S its own partition, so if it crashes and corrupts the partition, we can still access the data in a separate partition. Apart from that, you don’t need to spend too much time in partitioning your drive. Rather, consider getting it defragmented (having the data organized) on a regular basis to speed up processing times.

Hard drive on table: Best External Hard DriveLooking For The Best External Hard Drive?

If you’re partitioning your hard drive for performance, your efforts will have a much greater impact if you’ve got a fast drive. Our experts have reviewed the top external hard drives on the market and bring you their findings, with features, specs, discounts, pros, cons, and real user feedback in our best external hard drive comparison.

Were you able to partition your drive successfully?

About The Author:

Alex has been involved on the business side of the internet since the early 2000's. He holds both a Management Science degree from the University of California at San Diego as well as a Computer Science degree from NJIT.

We Rock Your Web had its roots back in 2004 as the tech blog for a web design and development company Alex founded that has grown and evolved into the parent company of We Rock Your Web.

While his foundation is rooted in web development, his expertise today lies in content and digital marketing, SEO, organic and paid search, analytics, and publishing. Alex is an avid tennis player, nature enthusiast, and hiker, and enjoys spending time with his wife, friends, and dogs.

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