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Last post Author Topic: Partitioning hard drive - any point?  (Read 10616 times)

m_s

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Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« on: October 14, 2005, 09:26:32 AM »
I just read this interesting set of tips at Techyogurt (via Lifehacker): http://techyogurt.com/?p=12

I'm interested in his point 18, since I have heard it said often that partitioning makes things safer, but whenever I think about it, it doesn't really make sense since we're still talking about the same drive.  One of the commenters says something about it making reinstalling Windows easier, and that does make sense.  But is there any real benefit in partitioning?


mouser

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #1 on: October 14, 2005, 09:44:29 AM »
drive imaging software often only works at partition level - one reason to partition is to separate dif drives for imaging.


brotherS

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #2 on: October 14, 2005, 01:46:15 PM »
I'll read that page later, seems to be interesting. Since I spent lots of time thinking about that here's what I think now:

You should use at least 3 partitions:
  • one for your OS and programs (some prefer to split up even those, I don't feel the need)
  • second for your data
  • third for the swap file - this increases the performance, though will not be needed anymore as soon as Gigabyte's i-RAM (Affordable Solid State Storage) version 2 comes out! :)

#1 reason to use a seperate partition for your data is that when you have severe problems a rescue program might help to recover most of your data - but not, if Windows just wrote randomly over appearingly empty blocks...  :huh:

#2 reason is that indexing programs (for example the great Google Sidebar, which also lets you view the DonationCoder.com RSS feeds perfectly) just don't need to care about your OS partition at all.

#3-10 reasons may follow later ;)

m_s

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #3 on: October 14, 2005, 02:11:27 PM »
That point about the swap file - I had heard that it makes little difference unless you're actually using a separate physical volume.  Is that wrong? 

I just bought Backup4all, as I've been increasingly worried about my lack of backups - now I'm thinking of getting an external hard-drive and Acronis TrueImage (as recommended in the venerable DC review!).  And I think this kind of backup system is a good argument for keeping my documents separate (as they currently are).

Carol Haynes

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #4 on: October 15, 2005, 05:10:49 AM »
Partitioning has numerous benefits, and a few pitfalls:

1) PageFile ... if you stick it in a separate partition on the same volume as windows it can slow down your system - constant seeking backwards and forwards across the drive introduces delays - especially if the partitions are separated by a large distance. A separate pagefile on a separate partition works much better and increases system throughput. If you have standard drives and a striped array putting your system on the RAID array can make a big difference to.

2) Separating system and data makes backing up less of a chore - you only need to backup the system occasionally, and you data can easily be backed up regularly. A tool such as Acronis TrueImage is good for this sort of thing as you can schedule regular incremental backups which are really quick. A seperate har disc is good for this - but don't use RAID for backups, they will be more easily damaged in a hardware failure and may be totally unrecoverable. As drives get bigger and bigger it is becoming essential to plan for backups otherwise they become so unwieldly that they are never done!

3) I also move Temporary file folders and Temporary Internet files to a separate partition. These are quicker to access (esp. if they are on a separate volume) and easier to clean out when you want to. They also reduce fragmentation on the system drive.

4) I run separate multibooting Windows installations (in neighbouring partitions) for some specific applications. For example, video and audio editing can really benefit from having a clean system with a minimal extras installed (not even networking/internet access). They can share PageFile partitions and Temp folders with the other installations, reducing the overheads. I also find Adobe apps, such as PhotoShop, really appreciate a faster clean environment - and given most of these use scratch discs it is worth giving them their own partition for scratch work too. Adobe scratch disks should not be on the same volume as PageFile though.

sword

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #5 on: October 15, 2005, 07:52:50 PM »


Some of the benefits that might come from multi-booting, and some of the methods, are listed in details at the URLs listed below. I’m not an expert and there probably are easier ways to do any of these things. My reasons for wanting to try to set up multi-booting are: 1) try new software in a clean environment, 2) keep large or problem applications separate [genealogy, MS Publisher, Photoshop, scanner & OCR], 3) keep my favorite file search application [Enigma Insight (free)] separate, 4) have convenient drives or directories on a second hard drive for data, CD burning and tape backup.

My plan is to have 3 primary partitions, hidden from each other, with 3 separate installations of Windows 98SE and an unformatted partition for BeOS v5.03 and  BeMan boot.

http://www.goodells.net/multiboot/
http://www.experts-e...tems/Q_20609089.html
http://www.maximumpc...ture_2002-09-24.html
http://www.computing...board/forum/241.html
http://www.tdbennett...1235-2/01/01-02.html

Cheers, Robert


brotherS

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #6 on: October 16, 2005, 03:44:22 AM »
Partitioning has numerous benefits, and a few pitfalls:

1) PageFile ... if you stick it in a separate partition on the same volume as windows it can slow down your system - constant seeking backwards and forwards across the drive introduces delays - especially if the partitions are separated by a large distance. A separate pagefile on a separate partition works much better and increases system throughput. If you have standard drives and a striped array putting your system on the RAID array can make a big difference to.
Yes, you should use a tiny partition next to the OS partition.

Quote
2) Separating system and data makes backing up less of a chore - you only need to backup the system occasionally, and you data can easily be backed up regularly. A tool such as Acronis TrueImage is good for this sort of thing as you can schedule regular incremental backups which are really quick. A seperate har disc is good for this - but don't use RAID for backups, they will be more easily damaged in a hardware failure and may be totally unrecoverable. As drives get bigger and bigger it is becoming essential to plan for backups otherwise they become so unwieldly that they are never done!
RAID is PERFECT, be it for backups or not :) If you want to be on the safe side you just should use RAID 1, no risk there :)
Too bad Acronis True Image seems to not recognize RAID controllers for backup purposes :(

Quote
3) I also move Temporary file folders and Temporary Internet files to a separate partition. These are quicker to access (esp. if they are on a separate volume) and easier to clean out when you want to. They also reduce fragmentation on the system drive.
I see no need for doing so, instead I recommend the great CCleaner!

Quote

4) I run separate multibooting Windows installations (in neighbouring partitions) for some specific applications. For example, video and audio editing can really benefit from having a clean system with a minimal extras installed (not even networking/internet access).
I fully believe you, but personally I prefer to boot my system only every few weeks :)


brotherS

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #7 on: October 16, 2005, 03:46:03 AM »
My plan is to have 3 primary partitions, hidden from each other, with 3 separate installations of Windows 98SE and an unformatted partition for BeOS v5.03 and  BeMan boot.
:o  If you can you should avoid Win98SE at (almost) any cost and use Windows 2000 instead.

Carol Haynes

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #8 on: October 16, 2005, 04:54:07 AM »
Partitioning has numerous benefits, and a few pitfalls:

1) PageFile ... if you stick it in a separate partition on the same volume as windows it can slow down your system - constant seeking backwards and forwards across the drive introduces delays - especially if the partitions are separated by a large distance. A separate pagefile on a separate partition works much better and increases system throughput. If you have standard drives and a striped array putting your system on the RAID array can make a big difference to.
Yes, you should use a tiny partition next to the OS partition.

If you onlyhvae one physical hard disc this is true, if you have two or more then putting it on a completely separate hard disc is much better as you can access your page file and other system files simultaneously. Same is true for Linux Swap partitions.


Quote
Quote
2) Separating system and data makes backing up less of a chore - you only need to backup the system occasionally, and you data can easily be backed up regularly. A tool such as Acronis TrueImage is good for this sort of thing as you can schedule regular incremental backups which are really quick. A seperate har disc is good for this - but don't use RAID for backups, they will be more easily damaged in a hardware failure and may be totally unrecoverable. As drives get bigger and bigger it is becoming essential to plan for backups otherwise they become so unwieldly that they are never done!
RAID is PERFECT, be it for backups or not :) If you want to be on the safe side you just should use RAID 1, no risk there :)
Too bad Acronis True Image seems to not recognize RAID controllers for backup purposes :(

RAID 0 is FAR from perfect for backups. If anything goes wrong at all with your system you stand to lose everything on a RAID 0 system as it is very difficult to retrieve RAID 0. With a backup on a standard IDE or SATA disc you can simply move it to another computer, so long as it isn't your backup disc that is damaged. With RAID 0 you would probably have to have an identical RAID controller - and given lots of systems now have integrated RAID controllers this is unlikely to be possible (unless you can find an old motherboard identical to your own).

RAID 1 is fine, but it costs twice as much and has no speed benefits whatsoever so for consumer level systems it seems a bit like overkill!

Strange Acronis recognises my RAID controller ???

Quote
Quote
3) I also move Temporary file folders and Temporary Internet files to a separate partition. These are quicker to access (esp. if they are on a separate volume) and easier to clean out when you want to. They also reduce fragmentation on the system drive.
I see no need for doing so, instead I recommend the great CCleaner!

The main benefit in my system is I have one PageFile and one Temporary file cache for all my Windows installations - that saves quite a lot of space.

As I said though it is still a good idea because it really reduces fragmentation on your system drive. System files and programs are constantly writing stuff to your Windows drive, and if Temp/Web caching is also stored on that drive everything competes for space and is interleaved on the disc. Files rapidly become fragmented and deleting small files means that new larger files are instantly fragments. Keeping Temp/Cache files away from C: allows Windows to manage its space better on Drive C: so that when I run a defrag program (PerfectDisc) I find that the majority of the disc (labelled infrequently accessed in PerfectDisc) have not fragmented at all, and only directories and recently written files need any defragging at all. This is one of the reasons I moved from DiskKeeper back to PerfectDisc as it consolidates all the rarely modified files in one place on the disc, decreasing access time and reducing defrag time.

Quote
Quote

4) I run separate multibooting Windows installations (in neighbouring partitions) for some specific applications. For example, video and audio editing can really benefit from having a clean system with a minimal extras installed (not even networking/internet access).
I fully believe you, but personally I prefer to boot my system only every few weeks :)

I'm afraid I switch my machine off when I go to bed - I already feel a bit guilty leaving it on all day (even when I am not sitting at it - but I believe there are sound hardware reasons for that) because of the growing cost to the environment and global warming (not to mention the UKs ridiculous fuel costs - inc. electricity). I have even started to unplug my TV/DVD/Video etc. unless I am leaving it to record something - did you know these appliances all use 80% power in standby mode!

brotherS

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #9 on: October 16, 2005, 06:18:38 AM »
Quote
Yes, you should use a tiny partition next to the OS partition.

If you onlyhvae one physical hard disc this is true, if you have two or more then putting it on a completely separate hard disc is much better as you can access your page file and other system files simultaneously. Same is true for Linux Swap partitions.
100% right! :)

Quote
RAID is PERFECT, be it for backups or not :) If you want to be on the safe side you just should use RAID 1, no risk there :)
Too bad Acronis True Image seems to not recognize RAID controllers for backup purposes :(
Quote
RAID 0 is FAR from perfect for backups. If anything goes wrong at all with your system you stand to lose everything on a RAID 0 system as it is very difficult to retrieve RAID 0. With a backup on a standard IDE or SATA disc you can simply move it to another computer, so long as it isn't your backup disc that is damaged. With RAID 0 you would probably have to have an identical RAID controller - and given lots of systems now have integrated RAID controllers this is unlikely to be possible (unless you can find an old motherboard identical to your own).

RAID 1 is fine, but it costs twice as much and has no speed benefits whatsoever so for consumer level systems it seems a bit like overkill!
Err, you seems to be confusing RAID 1 with another RAID: http://www.bytepile....om/raid_class.php#02
I like my RAID 1 a lot :)

Quote
Strange Acronis recognises my RAID controller ???
Strange indeed....

Quote
Quote
I see no need for doing so, instead I recommend the great CCleaner!
The main benefit in my system is I have one PageFile and one Temporary file cache for all my Windows installations - that saves quite a lot of space.
Ah, ok :)

Quote
Keeping Temp/Cache files away from C: allows Windows to manage its space better on Drive C: so that when I run a defrag program (PerfectDisc) I find that the majority of the disc (labelled infrequently accessed in PerfectDisc) have not fragmented at all, and only directories and recently written files need any defragging at all. This is one of the reasons I moved from DiskKeeper back to PerfectDisc as it consolidates all the rarely modified files in one place on the disc, decreasing access time and reducing defrag time.
That's a good point.
And yes, I switched to PerfectDisk too last year, it's really good.

Quote
Quote

I fully believe you, but personally I prefer to boot my system only every few weeks :)
I'm afraid I switch my machine off when I go to bed - I already feel a bit guilty leaving it on all day (even when I am not sitting at it - but I believe there are sound hardware reasons for that) because of the growing cost to the environment and global warming (not to mention the UKs ridiculous fuel costs - inc. electricity). I have even started to unplug my TV/DVD/Video etc. unless I am leaving it to record something - did you know these appliances all use 80% power in standby mode!
You are right, SOME use way too much engery, some only like ~5% - but it still sucks. I try to unplug everything too if I don't use that.

What we really need is more initiatives like http://www.greencarcongress.com/ and less US folks wasting ressources. Energy prices should have been higher for quite a long time... it was way too cheap to waste it :(

PS: I hate the high costs too, but I feel that's the price we have to pay to learn how to use less oil/gas/water/whatever.


Carol Haynes

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #10 on: October 16, 2005, 10:56:07 AM »
Err, you seems to be confusing RAID 1 with another RAID: http://www.bytepile....om/raid_class.php#02
I like my RAID 1 a lot

No that is exactly what I was thinking ...

RAID 0 (Striping) is great for faster access as two or more drives are used simulatneously to spread the reading/writing. Trouble is the way that is acheived varies from controller to controller (even within a manufacturer) and so a hardware failre in the RAID interface could render your array unrecoverable. A single error on any one of the discs could similarly do likewise.

RAID 1 (Mirroring) is great but it requires two drives to store one data set which is saved to both. This is great if you like to guard against drive failure, but that is quite expensive for home users because you use two drives to effectively do the job of one! If you like this security great - but there is no performance benefit over a normal single drive.

I suppose the best solution is RAID 0+1 where you have both - but then you really need 4 (or more) discs to benefit since half the discs are used in RAID 0 mode, and the other half produce a security mirror. It gives you speed benefit and security but at a price!

mouser

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #11 on: October 16, 2005, 11:09:47 AM »
it's probably just me but i am reluctant to use raid striping, just for fear of hd crash, even though it could give you better speed.
raid mirroring seems promising though, in terms of reliability.

brotherS

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #12 on: October 16, 2005, 11:10:47 AM »
Err, you seems to be confusing RAID 1 with another RAID: http://www.bytepile....om/raid_class.php#02
I like my RAID 1 a lot
No that is exactly what I was thinking ...

RAID 1 (Mirroring) is great but it requires two drives to store one data set which is saved to both. This is great if you like to guard against drive failure, but that is quite expensive for home users because you use two drives to effectively do the job of one! If you like this security great - but there is no performance benefit over a normal single drive.

Err... :) let me quote the page:
Quote
Advantages: Twice the Read transaction rate of single disks. 100% redundancy of data means no rebuild is necessary in case of a disk failure, just a copy to the replacement disk.

I still think it's good for home users - it's more safe and speeds things up and HDs are not that expensive anymore if you don't 'need' to buy the very latest model on the market to compete with friends or neighbors.

clif_notes

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #13 on: October 16, 2005, 12:44:09 PM »
I'll read that page later, seems to be interesting. Since I spent lots of time thinking about that here's what I think now:

You should use at least 3 partitions:
  • one for your OS and programs (some prefer to split up even those, I don't feel the need)
  • second for your data
  • third for the swap file - this increases the performance, though will not be needed anymore as soon as Gigabyte's i-RAM (Affordable Solid State Storage) version 2 comes out! :)

#1 reason to use a seperate partition for your data is that when you have severe problems a rescue program might help to recover most of your data - but not, if Windows just wrote randomly over appearingly empty blocks...  :huh:

#2 reason is that indexing programs (for example the great Google Sidebar, which also lets you view the DonationCoder.com RSS feeds perfectly) just don't need to care about your OS partition at all.

#3-10 reasons may follow later ;)


I don't recall how I arrived at this scheme, but I use EXACTLY the same partitions on mine.

Devoted to promoting freeware and free information

brotherS

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #14 on: October 16, 2005, 01:25:21 PM »
I don't recall how I arrived at this scheme, but I use EXACTLY the same partitions on mine.

Carol Haynes

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #15 on: October 16, 2005, 02:35:40 PM »
Quote
Err... smiley let me quote the page:
Quote
Advantages: Twice the Read transaction rate of single disks. 100% redundancy of data means no rebuild is necessary in case of a disk failure, just a copy to the replacement disk.

I still think it's good for home users - it's more safe and speeds things up and HDs are not that expensive anymore if you don't 'need' to buy the very latest model on the market to compete with friends or neighbors.

I think that website is wrong there.

The whole point of RAID 1 is data integrity not speed. As I understand it RAID 1 reads the whole file from both hard discs to confirm data integrity by comparing and writes to two to maintain a mirror copy. There is therefore no speed improvement since you read the data from one place. RAID 1 actually causes a minor degradation in speed because all data has to be read and compared from both drives. To improve speed there would need to be some very clever sharing of reading between the drives by random access to the files - this in itself would slow things down, and would provide no data integrity checking - which defeats the object of RAID 1. When you load a file from RAID 1 you want the system to tell you if there is a single bit difference between the two files - chunk loading from multiple sources would undermine this design principle.

RAID 0 (striping) gives speed improvement because when you save a file it is spread in chunks across all drives in the array so that it takes a fraction of the time to read and write the data because all discs can be accessed simultaneously. Even with this system speed improvements are limited. In theory a 2 drive striped array should be twice as fast as an equivalent single IDE drive, but a few years ago I took part in a speed test on the MSI website to compare theoretical to actual performance. If memory serves correctly RAID 0, the fastest for of RAID, only acheived about 1.6 x normal disc speed because of the overheads and extra cycles involved in addressing multiple drives and assembling data streams in memory.

RAID 0 is great for speed critical applications, but given that SATA drives are inherently fast there are very few situations where a home user would use RAID for this purpose. Even the most disc intensive real life processes would show very small improvement over a standard drive since disc access isn't the sole function of any program.

brotherS

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #16 on: October 16, 2005, 03:28:52 PM »
This is kinda funny :) I spent quite some time with RAID basics ~2 years ago - I think http://www.tomshardw...29/fastrak66-02.html really is right:
Quote
RAID 1 - Mirroring

RAID 1 is also called 'mirroring', because it simply keeps a complete copy of one drive on another drive. A RAID 1 array of two hard drives has the storage capacity of only one drive, because the other drive contains the 'mirror'. RAID 1 is obviously the most reliable kind of array, because it always keeps a complete backup of your data. Its performance is naturally not as high as RAID 0 though. Read requests are actually faster than from one single drive, because the data is simply read from the one drive of the two that delivers it faster. RAID 1 is therefore reducing the access time. Write requests are usually slower on RAID 1, because the data needs to be written on two drives and then compared.

Because the comparison is only done when data is written reading it is actually faster with RAID 1.

Carol Haynes

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #17 on: October 16, 2005, 04:48:31 PM »
Quote
Because the comparison is only done when data is written reading it is actually faster with RAID 1.

OK nuff said ... personally I think any speed difference for RAID 1 is going to be very marginal (either faster or slower). But you aren't going to get 2x, you don't get near that with RAID 0 ....


m_s

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #18 on: March 15, 2006, 04:08:07 AM »
Reawakening this old thread: I want to partition my big external hard drive, so that I can keep my backups separately from other files I am storing on the drive.  Is this a good idea?  And does anyone know if the common disk partitioning tools can do this?  I tried with the free PartitionLogic, but that didn't see the drive (it runs from its own OS, so I probably need to mount the drive somehow). 

I bought Acronis TrueImage last night, and they immediately sent me a coupon for any of their other products.  (The coupon says it gives a 20% discount, but it actually appears to give 40%; it also says I am welcome to pass it on to friends, so if you're looking to buy from them in the next week, drop me a line.)  What I'm wondering is whether it's worth my buying Disk Director for $29.99 - I see it's been listed as the best partitioning software elsewhere on the forum...  Can anybody advise?

Carol Haynes

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #19 on: March 15, 2006, 04:11:43 AM »
I have Disk Director and Partition Magic and still find myself trusting Partition Magic more.

If you have to use it as a recovery tool it doesn't help that Disk Director runs under Linux from it's CD and so sees drives in a slightly different way to Windows, and doesn't see some drives at all (I can't get it to see my RAID drives). Certainly I had a bad experience with ADD when I tried to resize a partition - I ended up with a 'Bad Partition Table' which I had to fix by buying a third party tool.

I get the impression that Acronis have some great ideas but they never quite iron out all the glitches. For me a partitioning tool has to be 110% trustworthy and so I no longer even install ADD.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2006, 04:14:01 AM by Carol Haynes »

m_s

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #20 on: March 15, 2006, 04:22:08 AM »
I just read your post about your bad experience, Carol!  That sounded awful...  Glad you recovered, though.  Do you think it is a good idea for me to partition my external drive?  Maybe I needn't bother...

Carol Haynes

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #21 on: March 15, 2006, 04:54:09 AM »
Depends how big it is and what you want to use it for:

  • If you are using it to store offline backups then why bother?
  • If it is something you will need to backup by imaging then partitioning can make the whole process more manageable.
  • If you plan to use it for data storage which you backup file by file then you won't gain much.
  • If you are using it for video editing (or similarly speed critical or large file operations) then having partitions you can defrag quickly is really useful.

m_s

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #22 on: March 15, 2006, 05:12:19 AM »
Thanks again, Carol.

The drive is 250gb, and I'm using it for:

1) storing my iTunes library and photographs, files that I don't need access to all the time, so have opted to store on the external drive in order to free some space on my laptops internal drive
2) storing my backups - drive images created with TrueImage, and incremental backups made with Genie Backup Manager

What I am thinking of is creating a separate partition for the backups.  From what you've said, I'm uncertain whether there's much point in doing this?

Carol Haynes

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #23 on: March 15, 2006, 07:36:15 AM »
I would have thought a folder structure would work just as well as partitions for that, unless you want to use TrueImage to backup your iTune library and photographs in which case having two partitions would be simpler?

Personally I backup my iTune library in the form of CDs so that I have hard copies of purchases in a non-encrypted format (and possibly a DVD of the MP3 and AAC files too for quick retrieval).

Photos I backup to DVD too using "Archive Creator 3" from http://www.rawworkfl...e_creator/index.html which I find really easy to use and produces CDs/DVDs with easily accessible indexes as web pages. The index is present on each disc so it is easy to find what you are looking for by putting in any disc from the backup set. In theory Archive Creator will allow you to backup anything on a file by file basis but it is certainly optimized for photo use and works very well. It also has the advantage that you can verify your backup data against the original which some programs don't do (which is plain daft). If you don't want a different app to do this Genie would do the job well enough.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2006, 08:54:41 AM by brotherS »

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Re: Partitioning hard drive - any point?
« Reply #24 on: March 16, 2006, 05:35:11 AM »
can i put out a call for help in this thread?
baseman is writing a review of partition manager for dc and i'm helping to edit it.

we could really use some help writing up info, opinions, recommendations for the various partition management tools.

so far the programs being looked at are:
    BootIt NG
    Paragon Partition Manager
    Acronis Disk Director
    Symantec Partition Magic
    VCOM Partition Commander
    CompusApps Swissknife
    Ranish

we could really really use your help in writing up some of the content for this review.  if you feel like you can write some paragraphs (or pages), about one or more of these programs: how they work, how they are different from the competition, your opinions, what kinds of users should choose them, etc.

Note we're not really asking for one liner "i like it" type of responses, but really more lengthy discussions of them to help with the content of the review.  We could really use the help. thanks!

And maybe some more general comments about why partitioning is useful or not, and strategies about partitioning - any text that you think would be useful to put into a review would be quite welcome, or links to other guides, etc.  or if you know of any programs you think should be included which aren't.

You can paste your stuff on this thread or email it to me (mouser@donationcoder.com).

I'm really hoping we can get some help from someone who knows some of these programs and has some views.