One Partition or Multiple Partitions?
It's certainly possible to run XP on a hard drive that has one partition. Obviously it's a configuration that works because the majority of vendor supplied systems ship with a single partition that occupies the entire hard drive. Just because the single partition is the most common it doesn't mean it's the best choice. A lot of users simply don't want to go to the trouble of repartitioning their hard drive. It's true that it's not the most pleasant task to do but there really are some good reasons for using a more advanced partitioning scheme.
- Partitioning allows the distinct separation of operating system, program, and data files. To a new user this may seem like a minor point, but if you've ever suffered a system crash or virus infection where everything on a partition has been wiped out, this one item alone is worth the time and planning it takes to implement an advanced partitioning scheme.
- Partitioning allows you to create a selective backup scheme that targets the areas that need frequent backups while paying less attention to items like system and program files.
- Partitioning allows you to make much more efficient use of hard disk space. Files are stored on a hard disk in a unit called a cluster. Smaller partitions use a smaller cluster size, more closely matching the size of the majority of files that are stored on a hard drive, resulting in more efficient use of available space.
- Partitioning allows for faster and more efficient disk maintenance. Like it or not, hard disks require maintenance. Not the kind of maintenance where you disassemble the hard drive and clean it out, but more along the lines of organizational maintenance such as defragmenting. It's much quicker to perform these maintenance tasks on smaller partitions than one huge, non-partitioned drive.
- Partitioning allows for better data directory and file organization. Setting aside a specific partition allows it to be organized much more efficiently than having it strewn across a single, huge partition.
- Partitioning allows the paging file to be placed in it's own partition which will eliminate the fragmentation problem of the system drive when the paging file is constantly resized due to varying virtual memory requirements.
- Partitioning allows the creation of separate areas for what are commonly known as scratch disks that are used by some programs as a temporary work area. Adobe Photoshop and many other graphics and multimedia editing programs that work with very large files experience a substantial performance benefit from having a separate, defined scratch partition.
- Partitioning allows one system to contain multiple operating systems on separate partitions. Depending on what operating systems are involved in the multi-boot scheme it can impact the file system that must be used, but the capability is available.
- Partitioning increases system stability. Breaking a hard drive down into smaller parts makes sense to me. Toss 100 - 200 gigabytes of operating system, applications, data, music, and other miscellaneous items onto one large partition and you're asking for trouble. Something is bound to go wrong with something and it's much easier to diagnose a problem when the drive contents are separated into smaller chunks.
Are Multiple Partitions Worth the Effort?
If you think you might benefit from any of the reasons listed above for using multiple partitions, the question then becomes one of whether setting up a multiple partition scheme is worth the effort that's required to implement such a scheme. And if the answer is yes, how do you go about setting up the partitions. The answer depends on a few different factors.
- Are you willing to take the system right down to the ground and start rebuilding the partition scheme from scratch? This decision might be influenced by the type of XP installation media you possess. Is it a Microsoft CD that's bootable or are you constrained by having a Recovery CD that requires you to rebuild the operating system according to a system manufacturers plan.
- Are all the programs that you use available on CD so they can be installed after the partitioning scheme is in place?
- What type of backup system is currently in place and how will you be able to preserve any data that exists on the current system? If you answered that you don't have a system for backing up your data, do yourself a favor and close this article now. You're a candidate for computing disaster and it probably won't be long before it strikes. Your time would be much better spent defining and implementing a backup strategy.
- What tools are available to help with creating the partitioning scheme? Are you limited to Disk Management that ships with XP or do you have a third party partitioning utility available?
- What partitioning scheme is already in place on the system? Can it be successfully modified or would it be better to wipe the disk clean and start fresh?