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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Hard Disk Drives | Hard Disk Logical Structures and File Systems | Partitioning, Partition Sizes and Drive Lettering ]

Partitioning, Partition Sizes and Drive Lettering

Partitioning the hard disk is the act of dividing it into pieces; into logical volumes. This is one of the first things done when setting up a new hard disk, because partitions are one of the major disk structures that define how the disk is laid out. In fact, you must partition a hard disk, even if only "partitioning" it into a single volume, before you can format and use the disk.

The choice of how the disk is partitioned is important because partition size has an important impact on both performance and on how efficiently the disk's space is utilized. Even the matter of "efficiency" has several different facets, depending on one's priorities. Even though you can fit an entire disk into one partition (with proper operating system support ), in many cases you will not want to do this, for a variety of reasons that we will explore in this section. The pages that follow examine all of the issues involved in selecting partition types and deciding how to organize a hard disk into volumes under the FAT family of file systems. This includes a look at the relative merits of the FAT16/VFAT file systems and the newer FAT32 file system, and a discussion of related issues such as partition conversion. I also describe the somewhat tricky mechanism by which partitions are assigned drive letters.

Note: I should point out that my emphasis in the discussions in this rather large section has changed since I first wrote it back in 1997. At that time hard disks were of a decent size, but not tremendously large. Most people were still using the FAT16 file system and relatively slow CPUs, so there were significant issues with performance and disk storage efficiency--many users had problems with big chunks of their disk space being used up by slack. As I rewrite this material in 2001, hard disks have increased in size by 10 times or more, and both hard disks and other components are much faster as well. Thus, I no longer believe it is worthwhile, for most people, to invest many hours on tweaking the file system for small performance or space gains. I continue to note, where appropriate, the most optimal ways of doing things, but I also point out where spending a great deal of effort may not yield acceptable returns. As with other areas of the site, I continue to bear in mind that many people aren't using the latest hardware. For this reason, optimization tricks that may be of significant value for older machines have been maintained, and I do not just assume that everyone is running the latest hardware.

Next: FAT Sizes: FAT12, FAT16 and FAT32

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