What is a Hard Drive Partition?

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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
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  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2015
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A hard drive is not always used as a single drive, but is often split up into multiple parts. This is accomplished prior to formatting, in a process called partitioning. As the name indicates, a hard drive partition is a part or section of the drive, treated by the operating system as an independent storage area or drive. Hence, a 120-gigabyte (GB) drive can be divided into several drives, rather than being used as one large drive.

This is handy for a number of reasons. For example, one can use a separate hard drive partition to install an alternate operating system (OS). If the two systems require different formatting schemes, this configuration can accommodate that. Programs and data can exist on a third partition to be used by either OS — whichever is active. A boot loader on the C:\ drive allows the user to choose which OS will boot.


Many people like creating a separate partition for the OS, even when there is only one present. By loading the OS into the C:\ drive and the programs into the D:\ drive, for example, the C:\ drive can be reformatted and the OS reinstalled, if need be, without losing programs or their settings and data. Creating multiple partitions also allows one to organize, maintain and utilize large hard drives better. A division that does not include the entire disk can be defragged or scanned much faster than a larger one. When programs, data and multimedia content are stored on their own partitions, they can also be archived easily on backup drives as needed.

Partitioning is commonly accomplished with the fdisk command. Alternate methods include graphical tools. While the partitioning scheme only allows four primary partitions, more can be created as extended partitions. Hence, any number is possible.

One example of a 120 GB drive made into several partitions is as follows:

C:\ [10GB] Operating System Hard Drive Partition #1
D:\ [20GB] Programs Hard Drive Partition #2
E:\ [10GB] Data Files Hard Drive Partition #3
F:\ [80GB] Ripping/Burning Multimedia Storage Hard Drive Partition #4

Partitioning a hard drive will cause all data to be lost. Before creating one on a disk already in use, be sure to backup all data. Thoughts, advice, and how tos on various partitioning strategies are available from many tech sites.


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Discuss this Article

Post 16

I use a freeware to partition my new disk, AOMEI Partition Assistant, very easy to use.

Post 15

I want to create a g drive on my pc like the other drives, such as c,d,e,f. Is it possible to create our own drive where we can kept our all files and folders? If yes, then how?

Post 14

I'm using windows xp professional at present on my desktop pc. i have a legitimate copy of windows vista i have c/drive and h/drive on my pc i think its a partition it is 391gb in size. can i install windows vista in this partition? thank you.

Post 13

On my playstation 3 I have a 2tb external hard drive but it only picks up one of the partitions. How could I have it so that I can change between partitions at will as I have four partitions?

Post 12

Hi guys, great stuff you do. I have two physical hard drives in my Win XP machine each 200 GB partitioned into C, D, E and F.

How can I find out which C, D etc is on which piece of metal? Thanks

Post 11

@anon57717: Let me tell you that even i first faced the same issue. However the windows xp by default provides up to 127 GB of space for C drive. However once you install widows in 127 gb of less, then you could use the rest of space for other drives. Thanks, Himanshu

Post 9

I recently had a new 80g hard drive installed on a laptop I intend to give as a present. The shop that installed it did not partition it, with everything running from the same drive. Will this impact performance? Should I complain? Many thanks.

Post 8

i bought a 500gb hdd and it says its only a 127 gig on my computer and i think i partitioned it by accident. can someone tell me what is up?

Post 7

Somebody formatted 1TB of raid 5 disk into a C drive. It is being used for OS and data. Is it possible to partition this after the fact into a C and a D drive? If so, how large should the C drive be? Thanks in advance.

Post 6

I was having trouble with error messages, and somehow managed to partition the C drive. Can I retrieve my documents from the original install?

Post 5

Yes, you can use PM to add space from your D:\ drive to your C:\ drive.

Post 4

My c drive only has 13 gig of memory and my d drive has 210 g and I am constantly running out of room on my c drive - can I used partition magic to extend the memory of the c drive?

Post 2

Hi. Thank you very much for the guide. I have been searching the internet for a while, trying to find out what exactly a partition is. Now I know it. :)

Again, thank you very much for the easily understandable guide!

Good job!

Post 1

Thank you for the article "What is a Hard Drive Partition?" I wondered why my D drive was almost full and now I know how that happened. The article was short but very concise, easy for beginners to understand and very informative.

Thanks Again

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