Real benefits of disk partitioning in PC?

What’s all the excitement about dividing a hard disk drive into several smaller virtual “disks”?
Nobody seems to be able to provide an intelligible explanation why they went to partition their nice big drives.

A quick web search on a topic makes up for some good laugh. One adviser e.g. went as far as this:

If you purchase a computer with a partitioned hard drive, you should send a letter of thanks to the manufacturer. The manufacturer was aware of the many benefits of partitioning, including organizational flexibility and storage efficiency, and divided the drive into partitions before loading it with an OS and all of the other free software that comes bundled with a typical PC. This presents a huge advantage for you, as anyone who has ever had to partition a drive can attest.

(emphasis mine)
(BTW notice the original article has become paid content – what an illustration to the idea of decline of paid content!)

Needless to list other funny links (they are too abundant), I’d rather summarize typical delusions about where partitioning “is to advantage”.

  • Let’s start with the most claimed “benefit” – organizational flexibility.
    This is outright fallacious as splitting a drive creates artificial limits on what you may do with your usable space, thus hindering your very flexibility.
    Also note that using folders (which you name however you like according to their purposes) instead of logical drives (identified by just 26 English letters) is much more natural and flexible.
  • Storage efficiency.
    This obstruction is akin the previous one only it has to do with the machine efficiency, not the machine’s user.
    The thing is, an HDD performs best when it’s got plenty of unused space. When you partition HDD each slice axiomatically gets less free space that the sole logical disk could have had.
  • Performance increase.
    Same as above.
    With smaller disks file systems get fragmented quicker drastically falling in performance.
    Some might argue that keeping related files more compact physically (like the C:\Windows folder in it’s own disk partition) reduces read/write heads seek times, however in today’s multitasking world this concept should be discounted.

    Moreover, your concept of relatedness may be different from Windows’ and not optimal. For example, in a certain situation Windows might be writing two files simultaneously: one system file and one with your data. Now it is clearly gainful for the OS to be able to write them in physically conjunct disk sectors – that’s faster and there’s good probability those files will be read together too.

    Another case in point: it is common judgement that disk sectors closer to the beginning perform faster. No objections about that. But why would you ever want to restrict “fast” sectors to OS files? The most frequently used files are in cache memory anyway, on the contrary, huge databases (which don’t usually go into system cache) might strongly benefit from being placed there.

    So, let the OS decide how to handle your hardware – that’s what it was invented for.

  • Gives protection against viruses/bad users.
    There are claims that viruses (at least the simplest ones) mainly attack only the first partition – “drive C:” in Windows, implying your personal files are safe in other partitions and you’ll only need to reinstall Windows after a virus intrusion. This might have merit; however, this is security through obscurity.
    More to that, some novice users have taken the idea to an extent so that they believe a virus “living” in drive C: cannot break free from C: and spread e.g. to D:. This is childish.
    For that kind of functionality one would need a fairly complex jail-system setup employing virtual machines or similar high-end technologies, not just virtual disks.
  • It is a well established practice.
    Personal computer history knows of plenty of compromises, some of which have grown into traditions. However, are those traditions the kind that is good to keep?
  • Backups made easy.
    Almost same as above. Modern backup solutions (like one supplied with Microsoft Windows XP Professional) don’t require you to backup entire disk volumes. In fact, Backup Utility for Windows encourages you to create (and save for subsequent reuse) backup-selections.

Any other reason to partition I have missed?

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2 thoughts on “Real benefits of disk partitioning in PC?

  1. splitting physical drive into partitions is absurd. period

    PS: if you happen to deal with a pre-partitioned drive, that is: having several logical drives with dedicated letters assigned (C:, D:, and so on), you can fix this situation, to some extent, by mapping such excessive logical drives (D:) to a folder of your choice within a single root drive (C:) and removing unnecessary letters by using [Control Panel\Administrative Tools\Computer Management\Disk Management] utility. For example, you might want to map [D:] to [C:\usr\] and than remove [D:] . Of course, this doesn’t solve the mess with a free space fragmentation.

  2. Good point about removing unnecessary drive letters.

    I’d add the opposite trick to the collection: if you’re really stuck with your letters but would like to get all the benefits of consolidated HDD space you can map individual folders to virtual drive-letters with subst:

    subst Z: C:\folder_for_z\

    For the most effect you could first join all the available physical hard disks with some kind of a RAID into a single logical drive C: and then map folders from C: to your favorite English alphabet letters.

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