Partitioning your hard drive has a number of useful benefits including: added security, easier file management, and a theoretical boost to seek times with fragmented files. While the third benefit is basically a theory, there are plenty of reasons why you may want to consider partitioning your primary hard drive.

One thing I absolutely hate having to do is format and reinstall the software on my hard drive. Chances are, you probably have an abundance of important files, photos, and videos scattered throughout your drive in various nooks and crannies as individual programs sort them into proprietary folders for your “convenience.” Unfortunately, formatting is a non-reversable process that wipes everything and anything from your drive, even if you didn’t specifically want that data to be removed. So, what do you do?

In this article, we’ll discuss these reasons and go over a method to do this at no cost to you.

Why Partition Your Primary Drive?

Think about your hard drive as a bus full of people (files). These folks may move around or fragment themselves in various places around the drive. If things get a bit too chaotic, the bus driver (you) may opt to clear the bus of problematic passengers (format and reinstall) in order to restore a sense of security and safety for yourself and anyone else that may want to hop on.

Now, it wouldn’t make sense to clear the bus entirely, since that means the passengers that are behaving themselves have to suffer the same fate as the disruptive ones. Optimally, you’d want to have the good passengers remain on board, organized in a way that makes it easy for new passengers to come on board with as little difficulty as possible. These new passengers may, themselves be disruptive and cause problems in the future, so you’ll probably promote your trusted long-term passengers (photos, videos, documents, and other important files) to a premiere status which allows you to give them priority service in return for being good, loyal customers.

Your hard drive is the same way. You have files that you actively want to keep, and others that are just on the drive because they need to be to keep things running. The files you’d keep are the same ones you might store in a safe place in your home, if they were physical in nature. By creating a separate partition, you’re essentially keeping your precious data apart from the disposable operating system which can be restored or reinstalled with ease.

Windows itself attempts to avoid this loss by creating a .OLD directory during reinstallation and placing your old content in there for you to sort out later on. Unfortunately, this isn’t always an option. Drastic measures have to be taken in instances where corrupted files have made the operating system hazardous to continue to use. A clean install on a freshly (and properly) formatted hard drive partition appears to run better than the often fragmented non-formatted reinstall.

By splitting the data and keeping them apart, you don’t have to worry about accidentally deleting something you didn’t intend to. What’s more important, is that this data is easier to navigate when it’s apart from program and system files. You can create a better-organized file structure that makes sense to you instead of relying on Windows to manage this process for you using the documents directory.

How to Partition Your Primary Drive

Back up your drive before partitioning. Suggested tools are listed below.

Partitioning drives is much easier today than it was back when Windows 98 was around. I used to wrestle with my computer (sometimes literally) to get it to do what I wanted it to do, praying that it would accept a partition without corrupting the drive and forcing me to partake in what was a much longer process of update downloading and patching.

Today, Microsoft has provided a method by which you can partition your drive. Here’s how you can do it without having to download any additional software:

    • Click the Start button on the lower-left of your desktop.
    • Type “Disk Management” in the search bar located at the bottom of the menu.
    • Select Create and Format Hard Disk Partitions.
    • Find your Primary partition in the GUI. It will most likely be labeled OS C:.
      • This may be located between an EFI or other small system partition and a recovery drive.
      • ONLY select and right-click the larger OS C: partition.
    • Select Shrink Volume.
    • Enter the desired size (in MB) you’d prefer the data storage drive to be.

  • Let it do its thing. Grab a snack.
  • When it’s done, you should see an Unallocated space appear next to the primary drive.
  • Right-click this unallocated space and choose New Simple Volume.
  • Click Next.
  • Click Next and leave the largest amount as the Simple Volume Size.
  • Assign the drive a letter. This could be any letter that isn’t already taken by another drive.
  • Format the volume under the NTFS file system with default unit size. Give it a catchy name.
  • You can opt to perform a quick format, though unchecking the box will give you a thorough format.
  • Enable file and folder compression, if you like. I don’t, personally.
  • Select Next.
  • Review the information and click Finish.

 

That should do it. After a little waiting, you should have a brand new storage “drive” in your primary computer directory ready to receive your important files.

How Can I Keep This Drive Secure?

Having a storage drive for your important data is great, but how do you keep it safe from prying eyes that can’t resist the urge to look at this new drive? This is where third-party software can come in handy. While Bitlocker is a brilliant option, it isn’t available on all versions of Windows. Here is a good solution for you.

TrueCrypt
TrueCrypt has the ability to not only create a virtual partition (which doesn’t protect you from partition format loss) or encrypt and entire physical partition on your drive. This encryption can be strong enough to leave government agencies and professionals out of your personal data for quite some time, pending your password is strong enough.

I’m a big fan of TrueCrypt’s real-time encryption. While it certainly does have an impact on performance, this change isn’t really noticeable at all, especially when you’re dealing with documents, photos, and other simple files. Advanced pipelining has increase the speed of this process considerably since TrueCrypt’s original creation.

What’s cool about it is that you can create hidden folders and volumes that provide you a plausible deniability should you find yourself in a tight situation. After all, your data is yours to keep and protect. Thieves, government agencies, and other organizations have much less hesitance to go through your private folders and files than they would more physical mediums.

What Are the Risks?

Partitioning your drive is never a risk-free process. Whether you’re using the built-in Windows Disk Manager program or a third-party solution, there is always an inherent risk of data loss when splitting a drive. For this reason, backing up your drive before-hand is essential. Here are a couple tools that can help you do this.

Windows Backup
Windows 7 has a great little built-in program that allows you to create a complete backup of your primary hard drive. This may require a big external disk or some DVDs, but you can get the job done with this utility. To get to it, follow these steps:

  • Open Control Panel.
  • Select Backup and Restore.
  • Choose Set Up Backup.
  • Follow the instructions.

Optionally, you can create a system image that you can restore from by selecting Create a System Image in the sidebar of the Backup and Restore menu.

Acronis True Image
If you’re not a huge fan of Windows utilities, or you’d like a bit more functionality, there are few options better than Acronis True Image. This handy programs makes it possible for you to keep frequent backups of your data so that you can restore everything back to a pre-failure state, should anything go wrong. It does cost around $50, but can you really put a price on the security of your important files?

What about you? How do you partition your drive(s) in Windows 7? What third-party tools do you recommend?