Primary vs. Extended and Logical Partition

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Circut boardBefore we jump into our tutorial on how to partition your harddrive, 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 for a limited time, We Rock Your Web Community users get 30% off of this proven and reliable disk partitioning software. You’ll also be able to use the discount for True Image, a backup utility that mirrors the content on your harddrive.

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 new hard drive?

Scenario – you just got a new external hard drive, with 160GB capacity. However, when you plug it into your Windows OS it doesn’t show the entire capacity. 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.

Tip: Partitioning the 160GB drive into thirds was only a suggestion. 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 (although maybe this isn’t the best example 😉

How to partition my harddrive?

In our example, we are going to format and partition a 160GB external hard drive in Windows XP. This can be accomplished simply by following these steps. We’ll start off by creating a primary partition.

Note: The primary partition is only necessary if you wish to make the drive bootable – ie. if you 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.

Creating 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 availables 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 1/3 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.

Creating 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 2, 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 – Do We Need Partitioning At All?

It used to be that partitioning a hard drive was primarily to offer a performance boost. By having less space to search/ seek, a harddrive could perform search and index functions more efficiently. But because of the increased processing power coupled with smarter software that gives the harddrive 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 harddrive 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.

Discount extended – 30% off for We Rock Your Web Community users

If the steps above for partitioning your hard drive sound too complicated, and the phrases primary partition, extended partition, and logical partition make your head spin, you might want to take advantage of a significant discount we’re allowed to extend to our valued community members for Acronis Disk Director. This software package will save you the time and headache of having to partition your own hard drive – the job will be done securely and without the risk of losing data. If you like, you can also extend the discount to their True Image software – a backup utility that mirrors the content on your harddrive.

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Alex bring a series of in-depth articles on search marketing and content management systems as well as troubleshooting tips to We Rock Your Web's collection. He is an avid tennis player, nature enthusiast, and hiker, and enjoys spending time with his wife, friends, and dogs, Bella and Lily.

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Thanks for the great information! I never even thought about doing this, but I can see where it might be beneficial. It seems like using this method could be like having completely separate systems that are each running at their expected top speed. You can also keep things divided as you need them.

I know that I find running a variety of different programs all at one time tends to slow everything down for me. Since I work online, this can be pretty hazardous to my productivity. I don’t like the idea of having to basically be surgically attached to my computer for the entire day, so something like this might help me out if it can speed up the way my programs run and work together.

I love this site. I just have to say that sometimes I go to look up how to do something and I find that I can’t even understand the terms that are being used when it comes to something I am unfamiliar with. The way you have this written up as well as some other articles I have read on here, well it just makes it easier to understand and use the information. In fact, even if you don’t fully understand what you are doing, at least there is a step by step process shown that makes sure you can at least do it right!

I can see where this would be useful for someone who does some intricate things with their computer. I have to wonder though; if you do this and your hard drive or motherboard goes bad, can you actually save the information you have stored on there? Also, if you have an external hard drive, do you need to do it to that one too?

Part of the article mentioned having multiple operating systems on your computer. Am I understanding this right? If I partition my hard drive, I can put different systems on each one? I thought that only one operating system could be on a computer at a time. But it seems that for instance if I have Windows 7, I can also have Linux or some other system?

I use my computer primarily for text documents and photos, so I don’t need anything elaborate like people who are doing lots of gaming or other graphic heavy activities. I don’t want to do more than I have to to my computer, but I would like to have it running smoothly.

Sometimes it might be beneficial to use a software tool that can help do the hard work of creating partitions. Personally, I am not familiar with the software that the author recommends, so it would be premature of me to comment about whether I thought it was good or not. I will assume for the moment that it is able to do a sufficient job at partitioning and dividing a hard disk drive. This is actually not that difficult a task. It may also be performed manually if you know the commands and a teeny tiny bit of programming. I have actually never used a software tool to perform this function, but for those of you, who want to cheat, feel free! Just kidding.

If what the author says about this software is true, then I can clearly see how it would be an excellent tool, especially for the non technically inclined. One of the biggest problems about creating partitions manually is that many times you are pretty much stuck with your initial decision. If you want to change your mind and resize, move or combine partitions, it is extremely difficult to do so. In many cases, even if you are able to pull this off, you will lose a lot of your saved data. This is certainly not much fun at all. I remember back in computer technician school (yes, I seriously have a computer technician certification and I did actually go to school to get this!) when we first learned how to do this, almost everyone messed it up the first time and erased all of their data. Yes, I messed it up the first time also. Fortunately, we just used dummy data so that the professor could demonstrate what happens if we got things wrong. It also taught me another very important lesson…always back up everything that is important first.

Using a software tool can avoid all of these issues. Now, changing the sizes of partitions, combining various partitions, moving, splitting and doing all types of things with partitions is very easily accomplished with any issues. Just the click of a button, or a simple drag and drop command and your new drive can be completely reshaped in an instant!

Exactly how you should partition the drive depends upon its purpose. If you are going to make it bootable and install an operating system on this drive, then you must include what is known as the primary partition. If you will be using this drive for additional storage this step is not needed. You can start by simply creating an extended partition. This will also allow you to take this drive and use it with another computer (provided that their operating system recognizes the format of your drive and its partition).

The author actually gives a pretty through explanation of how to go about creating an extended partition. I was actually quite impressed that it was a good explanation.

As I was reading this article I wondered how many people have ever actually partitioned their hard disk drive. I also wonder if even the people who know about this and understand how to do it, would actually take the time to partition. My personal opinion is that not many ever have taken this step and very few will do so in the future.

This does not mean that partitioning is not a good idea. As a long time techno geek, I feel that it is a great step. Doing so will certainly help to keep your computer running better and faster for a longer period of time. It will also cut down on the amount of digital junk that is left on your computer as well.

The whole idea here is based on how your computer actually works by saving and searching data. Each time you download or save something onto your hard disk drive (or really any disk drive for that matter), the digital file is split into a number of parts. If you envision your disk drive as a record or a big circle, each rung around the circle is a place for storage. Additionally, each rung is further divided into a number of different spaces. This goes on and on all the way around the record (or CD). The problem is that files are not stored in a contiguous fashion. Therefore, a piece of your file may be stored close to the center, another piece on the farthest outer edge, and the rest scattered randomly about. When you pull this file up to read, edit or otherwise work with, your hard drive actually issues commands which gather together all of the pieces of this digital file and then re builds the file. The author’s description of it being like finding a needle in a haystack is actually pretty close.

Of course, technology being what it is today, the whole process is very seamless and fairly quick. On the other hand, if you have a huge hard drive and there is a lot of data already stored on it, it can decidedly slow down the speed at which your file is located and assembled. Partitioning your disk drive will help to cut down on the amount of area which needs to be searched in order to find your files.

The example that the author gives is to take a 160 GB hard drive and partition it into thirds. This works out to about 53.3 GB per partition. The size really does not matter. You can choose to work this any way that makes you feel comfortable. You could even do 10 partitions of 16 GB each. That would certainly make things even faster and easier to manage. Of course this assumes that you remember which partition you saved your file to in the first place! That would always be my problem with implementing this system. Instead of saving time, I’d be wasting it looking for lost files.

Wow, I had never heard of doing this until I read this article. I actually own an external hard drive that I use to backup the data on my laptop and I am honestly not sure if the thing is partitioned or not. I know that I never did it, but it did come with some software that may or may not have partitioned the hard drive as I introduced it to my computer and its operating system. I have not used that piece of hardware in quite some time either so I really am not sure that it is or it is not.

I will say this though about partitioning, if it could help that drive run faster and give me my data a little more readily I would do it. It is relatively large amount of data storage, three hundred and twenty gigabytes, and I really have not even come close to filling it. I had originally bought it for a previous laptop that I had that simply did not have enough storage to house everything I wanted it to, so I made the external hard drive a more integral part of the system. I use some Velcro on the back of the hard drive and on the back of my laptop screen and affixed the drive to the computer (they were even the same color) and just connected the cable whenever I wanted access. It was a pretty slick system but the drive was maddeningly slow. Navigating though the folders and files took a very long time compared to simply searching for things on my internal hard drive.

When I bought a new laptop, I mostly have stopped using the hard drive except for storing data I would not want to lose if something happened to my laptop. The new laptop computer I bought came with about two hundred gigabytes of storage space so I did not find a need to add to that in the short term. However, I am starting to reach capacity on this new laptop as of just recently. Perhaps partitioning the old hard drive and keeping it connected more often could work again. I really would want that speed to be there, because honestly it was ultimately not worth it because the experience was so sluggish and took so long.

I really doubt I would tackle the project of partitioning the hard drive myself though. That did sound a little technically complicated and although I feel confident in most of the things I do with computers, I would not want to have to fight my way through those instructions when I can simply buy a piece of software that does it for me. I will do some research on the topic and see what I come up with. I would like to read up on a few different products before I settle on one, but I always like to know what I am doing.

There are three types of partitions:

Primary Partitions
Extended Partitions
Logical Partitions

Primary and extended partitions are the main disk divisions; one hard disk may contain up to four primary partitions, or three primary partitions and one extended partition. The extended partition can then be further divided into any number of logical partitions.

The illustration below shows a hard disk that contains four main partitions: three primary partitions and one extended partition. The extended partition has been further divided into two logical partitions. Each primary partition has been formatted to use a different file system (FAT and NTFS). The two logical partitions have both been formatted to use the FAT file system.

Primary Partitions

A primary partition may contain an operating system along with any number of data files (for example, program files, user files, and so forth). Before an OS is installed, the primary partition must be logically formatted with a file system compatible to the OS.

If you have multiple primary partitions on your hard disk, only one primary partition may be visible and active at a time. The active partition is the partition from which an OS is booted at computer startup. Primary partitions other than the active partition are hidden, preventing their data from being accessed. Thus, the data in a primary partition can be accessed (for all practical purposes) only by the OS installed on that partition.

If you plan to install more than one operating system on your hard disk, you probably need to create multiple primary partitions; most operating systems can be booted only from a primary partition.

Extended Partitions

The extended partition was invented as a way of getting around the arbitrary four-partition limit. An extended partition is essentially a container in which you can further physically divide your disk space by creating an unlimited number of logical partitions.

An extended partition does not directly hold data. You must create logical partitions within the extended partition in order to store data. Once created, logical partitions must be logically formatted, but each can use a different file system.

Logical Partitions

Logical partitions may exist only within an extended partition and are meant to contain only data files and OS’s that can be booted from a logical partition (for example, Linux, Windows NT, and so forth).

Can anyone tell me how it seems like all my files were totally lost and inaccessible on my HP 500a using Vista (Laptop)? It says the files were ‘corrupted’, and I plug it into a Linux System once and … all the files show up!

The problem is I don’t use the Linux system (Desktop) often. How do I get the original drive to show those files again? This gets frustrating as I am no techie.

I have my HD divided into two partitions. C: win7 as primary partition and D: winxp as “logical”. What is the difference between primary and logical ? *Is it “recommendable” to convert the winxp logical also to a primary?

A primary partition allows you to boot to an operating system, whereas a logical partition will not. That’s essentially the main difference without being technical. In your case you boot to Windows 7, if you needed to boot to XP you would need to convert it.

Recently, I created an extended partition known only as “logical drive”. Do I need to format this newly created extended partition? I am certainly having problems creating and adding logical drives to the extended partition. The hard drive currently has 3 primary partitions and now has an extended partition. The OS, Windows 7, the hard disk is 1 TB, and the extended partition is 450GB.

the drive is still partitioned although you did not do it yourself. It must have at least one partition in order to be formatted. Look at control panel > administrative tools > computer management > disk management if you don’t believe me.

The truth is, there’s hardly a reason to partition drives for performance reasons anymore. It seems that more and more “logical” partitions make sense for the sake of divvying up different segments (ie. organizing information).

Then again, there’s probably a data limit where it does start impacting performance again. 1TB drives maybe?

It does seem like with the newer formatting options such as NTFS and the increasingly larger drives (terabytes), the need to partition into primary, extended, logical, etc. becomes less important – at least for performance reasons.

Still, I like to partition my hard drive for organizational purposes. It helps me keep all my files and folders in separate drive segments, not just separate folders, which helps them from getting inadvertently mixed up, and it also lets me set security/ access settings for each partition more readily.

I’m finding that it’s best to simply leave large drives be. For example, I recently got a 1TB hard drive extension to my PC, connected via USB or eSATA (the latter being way faster). I format the entire thing NTFS and forget about it.

The bottom line is that the hard drive heads have to seek more, giving your HD more wear and tear, if you partition it. My only advice is to leave Windows in a separate partition, or even better, on a separate drive. Other than that, don’t sweat the partitioning.

Did you create a primary or an extended partition as a whole?

40 GB Hard Disk. FAT 32

I have a primary partition C:\ (9.31 GB) on which windows xp has been installed. And I have another extended partition having three logical drives. D:\ E:\ F:\ (Each 9.31 GB).

I want to install Linux on Drive D:\. But it is a logical drive. Whetere I should make another Primary Partition to do this, or could I install it in D:\ .

Also I want to delete F:\ which has no files at all. If deleted what will happen to that 9.31 GB space will it be useless. How to use that space for other partions.

Kindly tell me, is it possible to merge two logical partitions ? means merge E:\ & F:\ and make a E:\ as a single drive.

When to format? First before partitioning and then after every partition. Except when dealing with extended partitions.