Partitioning hard disk (primary and extended partitions)


Partitioning a hard disk is the first thing to do before installing Windows. Partitioning a hard disk means dividing the hard disk in multiple partitions, which will occur as C, D, E, etc in your Windows Explorer. Most hard disks only have one partition, the C partition. This is not a practical situation because all personal data has been stored far away in the different sub-folders. The situation where the Windows system and the personal data are separated is preferred. Besides that, it’s difficult to create an image of the Windows system.


Sometimes your hard disk is provided with an extra recovery partition provided by the computer manufacturer (generally hidden). Never delete this partition, unless you know what you are doing! Ordering new recovery CD’s takes a long time and most of the time they are not for free!

WARNING: By deleting a partition on a hard disk you will lose all data on that partition. If you are not sure what you are doing: make sure you have a backup of your important personal data! If needed, boot from a MSDOS boot disk and backup the partition table information with

MRESCUE.COM (MrBooter, see the multiboot page) or SAVEPART.EXE (Partition Saving, see the system imaging disk page).

A better understanding of primary, extended partitions and logical drives

Before you decide to partition your hard disk, you have to understand what type of partitions there are and when to use them. The most important partition is the primary partition. This partitions is normally used by an operating system, in our case the Windows XP system. The primary partition will normally be the partitions with an operating system, in our case the C partition. If you would like to create a mulitboot system, make sure you create multiple primary partitions. In total you can only create 4 partitions on a hard disk, that’s why you also have the possibility to create an extended partition. An extended partition can be divided in many logical drives, which makes it possible to have more then four virtual partitions. It’s wise to create one primary partition for Windows and one extended partition and to split up the extended partition into different logical drives.

FAT32 and/or NTFS partitions

Furthermore you will have to choose between FAT32 and NTFS file system. The FAT32 file system is a bit faster and used by Windows 98/ME and MSDOS boot disks. The NTFS file system has been introduced later and provides you with a more stable file system. The NTFS file system makes it possible to protect your files against other users. The NTFS partitions can normally not be accessed by Windows 98/ME or your MSDOS boot disk. If needed, you can access the partition with aWindows based bootable CD like Barts PE (XP based) or VistaPE (Vista based). For your Windows (C) and Data (D) partition use the NTFS file system. Because your system backup partition (E) must be accessible by MS-DOS, it will have to be FAT32!

HINT: Don’t forget to read the registry tweaks for a faster NTFS file system within Windows



The NTFS file system provides you with the possibility to encrypt your personal data (EFS, encrypted file system). You will only be able de decrypt and access your data with your own user account. Before you know, your files are no longer accessible (for example if your Windows system crashed because of a virus)! The encrypted file system is activated by right clicking a file, Properties, button Advanced, enable Encrypt contents to secure data. I advise to secure the EFS key, by exporting it through the Internet Explorer, Tools, Internet Options, tab Content, button Certificates, tab Personal. Store the key on a safe location which isn’t encrypted itself . Within Windows Vista Ultimate the tool BitLocker (in the Control Panel) is available to encrypt a whole partition.

Preferred situation: multiple partitions

I prefer to use the C partition to install Windows and other software and to use the D partition for all personal data like My Documents, Music, Video’s, but also your e-mail, Address Book, Favorites and downloaded files. Every user account in Windows XP/user account in Windows Vista gets his/here own folder, with his or here own personal files. Intuitive this seems to be a wise thing to do, reason enough to create at least 2 partitions: C (WINDOWS) and D (DATA). If you decide to divide software and data, it gives you the opportunity to create (and restore!!) a Windows system image, without having the fear to lose data! The system image needs to be placed on a FAT32 partition, reason enough to create a third partition: E (BACKUP).

Creating partitions at Windows setup

The easiest and fasted utility to create multiple partitions is Paragon Partition Manager, but it is also possible to use one of the bootable CD-ROM’s, like the GParted Live CD or Parted Magic. They all have their own advantages and disadvantages, but work all with the same principle. However, none of these partition utilities are necessary: you can also use the Windows CD/DVD. At Windows setup you are asked which partition to install Windows on. At this moment you are able to delete the current partition(s) and create new ones immediately after deleting the Windows partition. Within Windows XP deleting partitions is done by pressing D (see the information bar). Within Windows Vista it is done with the option Drive options (advanced). Create a new partition, select the preferred size (see below) and the NTFS-file system (Windows XP). If you have created your new Windows partition during the Windows setup, make sure the Windows partition is called C:! If this is NOT the case, quit the setup, rerun the setup and recreate your Windows partition. This will be the case when your CD or DVD player already has the C label because there wasn’t any partition yet!


It is also possible to fast format the old Windows XP partition (without having to repartition the hard disk), but strangely sometimes not all files are deleted. To be sure all files are gone, it is better to repartition!

The other partitions can be created within Windows, using the Disk Management tool (Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Computer Management, Disk Management). For Windows Vista Disk Management, it is only possible to create an extended partition when there are already three primary partitions (create three small primary partitions and delete two of them later on to solve this issue). With this tool you are also able to give partitions and CD/DVD players another letter of the alphabet: clip_image001

Example of a partition table

With a 200 Gb hard disk as an example, this will give the following partition setup: Partition D:

is used for storing personal data and partition E: is used for creating a system image.



XP Vista Label (file system)
30 Gb 50 Gb Primary partition for the operating system:
C 30 Gb 50 Gb WINDOWS (NTFS)

(XP at least 5-10 Gb, Vista at least 40-50 Gb)

170 Gb 150 Gb Extended partition containing the following logical drives:
D 140 Gb 120 Gb DATA (NTFS)
E 30 Gb 30 Gb BACK-UP (FAT32, at least 5-10 Gb)


Here I have created a logical partition called BACKUP with a size of 30 Gb. A system image needs some 50-75% of the occupied sectors of your Windows partition, depending on used imaging software. An image of a general XP setting generates some 1 Gb of data files. To have the ability to create 3 different images (see the page about the system backup disk), you will at least need 5-10 Gb for the backup partition.

Resizing a partition to create space for new partitions

If you are provided with only one partition and you don’t want to start all over again (or you are not able to because the manufacturer didn’t provide you with a installation CD-ROM but with a recovery partition/image), there is still hope! There is a possibility to decrease your current C partition in size, to be able to create more partitions. The answer: Paragon Partition Manager ,the free GParted Live CD or the free Parted Magic.With both partition managers you are able to resize a NTFS/FAT32 partition without deleting any files. Be careful: this can go terribly wrong: make sure you have a backup of your personal data!

Within Windows Vista one can resize the Windows partition with the tool Windows Disk Management (available by the sub Administrative Tools in the Control Panel, Computer Management). Right click the partition and select Extend Volume or Shrink Volume. Because Disk Management is not able to move files, the result is not always that cheerful. Although the procedure of resizing a partition is quite safe, it is wise to backup the personal files first. Be careful with alternative partitioning software: make sure they are compatible with the latest version of the NTFS file system!

Resizing (shrinking) the Windows partition when there is a recovery partition

Many computers are equipped with a recovery system by the manufacturer, which contains the Windows system enhanced with hardware drivers and (in most cases useless, free to download) software. It is the cheaper OEM version of Windows where the manufacturer (in stead of Microsoft) is responsible for the service towards the customer. Microsoft obliges the manufacturer that customers are able to restore their Windows installation to the factory defaults. Because burning an installation CD or DVD is costly, the cheapest alternative it to use a (in most cases) hidden recovery partition. In some cases, the customer is able their own installation CD/DVD the first time Windows boots, but many forget to do this when the CD-R or DVD-R are not available at that moment. The advantage of a recovery partition is the simplicity to restore Windows (drivers and software included) to the factory settings. Unfortunately, this is the only advantage, there is no other reason of being happy about this recovery partition. It uses some hard disk space and when the hard disk crashes, the recovery partition is gone as well (in which case you have to go back to the computer store and/or request a recovery CD/DVD at the manufacturers helpdesk). However, the biggest disadvantage are the poor possibilities to make changes to the partition table. And if the partition table has been changed, the recovery procedure won’t work anymore. For Windows XP, the installation can possibly be done with a borrowed installation CD of the same Windows version (it goes without saying that the own product key has to be used!). This is a fine solution to prevent the use of the recovery partition. For Windows Vista, this procedure doesn’t work because the procedure will eventually lead to activation problems. If there is nog installation DVD, the recovery partition has to be used for reinstalling Windows Vista.

Shrinking the Windows partition

If a smaller Windows partition is desired (e.g. to make space for an additional data partition) then the partition has to be resized before or after the recovery procedure has been passed through. Deleting the current Windows partition and to create a new but smaller one, is the most simple way to resize the partition. All data will be lost, but there is a big chance that the recovery procedure won’t work anymore. It the resizing of the Windows partition is done afterwards, the resizing has to take place while keeping the data untouched. Only the better partitioning software (like Paragon Partition Manager) is able to resize a (both Windows XP and Windows Vista) NTFS partition safely. Although Windows Disk Management in Windows Vista is able to resize the Windows partition as well (it is a new feature compared to Windows XP), the result is deplorable: the resizing is limited to the free space at the end of the partition! When the resizing of the partition is to limited, it is better to reinstall Windows on a newly partitioned hard disk (and hope that the recovery partition won’t repartition the hard disk to it’s previous settings…). Whatever you do: don’t delete the recovery partition!

Starting the Windows XP recovery procedure

For Windows XP there are two possibilities: firstly running the recovery procedure (as prescribed by the manufacturer) followed by a resizing of the Windows partition while the data stays on the partition, or firstly partition the hard disk followed by running the recovery procedure. For the last option, the recovery partition has to be activated manually (which can be done with a simple partitioning tool like EFDISK). After activating the recovery partition and the computer has been restarted, the recovery procedure starts automatically. This activation procedure works for many recovery procedures because the recovery partition has it’s own operating system (the Windows Preinstalled Environment) which starts the Windows setup (which has been adapted by the manufacturer) automatically. If the recovery procedure is a recovery of an image of the Windows partition (in stead of a Windows setup procedure), in most cases the hard disk will be repartitioned to restore the Windows partition to it’s original size. If this is the case, nevertheless the Windows partition has to be resized afterwards. If possible, try to prevent the repartitioning of the hard disk, to prevent this from happening.

Starting the Windows Vista recovery procedure

For Windows Vista, it is a different story because Windows Vista is not installed properly when the recovery partition is activated manually. Using the Windows Vista Preinstalled Environment will result in a problem with the assignment of disk letters, with a badly installed Windows as a result. To prevent this from happening, the recovery procedure must be started by the Windows Vista boot manager, already present on the Windows partition. But after deleting the Windows partition (necessary for the repartitioning of the hard disk), the boot manager is deleted as well (because the boot manager is located on the boot sector of the primary Windows partition)! For this purpose it is important to save the boot manager data (Boot Configuration Data, BCD) before the Windows partition is deleted. When a new Windows partition has been added and the BCD has been restored, the recovery procedure can be activated.

Saving and restoring the Boot Configuration Data (BCD)

Saving and restoring the BCD (I advise to use an USB memory stick) is done with the Command prompt. Normally, the Command prompt can be accessed within Windows, but at the moment of restoring the BCD, there is no operating system available (because the Windows partition has been deleted previously). The Command prompt has to be started by booting from a Windows Vista DVD (because it is not available in case of a recovery system, you have to borrow it…). Because it is important to know whether the BCD can be restored using the DVD, it is safer to save the BCD using the DVD as well. To start the Command prompt from DVD: boot the computer from the Windows Vista DVD, run the setup, confirm the language and keyboard settings, select Repair your computer, select the Windows Vista-partition, click the button Next and select Command prompt. The command BCDEDIT /export “G:\VISTAPC.BCD” will save the BCD to the file G:\VISTAPC.BCD, and the command BCDEDIT /import “G:\VISTAPC.BCD” will restore the same BCD from file (change the disk letter G: into the disk letter of the back-up location!). The command EXIT closes the Command prompt. As a (time consuming) alternative, one can first install Windows Vista on a smaller Windows primary partition using a borrowed DVD (without entering e product code) and start the recovery procedure to overwrite this installation.

Booting the recovery partition

After the BCD is recovered, it can be shown with the command BCDEDIT (or BCDEDIT /v for a more extended view). If the recovery partition is not mentioned, then it can be added with the command BCDEDIT /create /d “Starting the recovery procedure” /application osloader. This command creates a new entry in the Windows boot menu, which can be identified with a unique GUID code in the format {xxxxxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxxxxxxxxxx}. This GUID is important for changing the boot options of this partitions. The following commands are necessary to make the entry work (replace GUID with your own specific code and change the disk letter (in this example F:) in drive letter of the recovery partition): BCDEDIT /set {GUID} path \Windows\system32\boot\bootloader.exe BCDEDIT /set {GUID} device partition=F: BCDEDIT /set {GUID} osdevice partition=F: BCDEDIT /set {GUID} systemroot \Windows BCDEDIT /set {GUID} detecthal yes BCDEDIT /set {GUID} winpe yes While using the arrow keys, the previous commands become available, which makes it a lot easier to execute the commands (it saves the time for entering the long GUID code). If you like to, you can change the entry for the recovery partition to the default entry to boot from with the command BCDEDIT /default {GUID}. After a reboot, the changed BCD is loaded and the recovery will start automatically from the recovery partition (if necessary select the added option Starting the recovery procedure from the boot menu). It is obvious this is not a simple procedure to change the BCD! In comparison to the Windows XP boot manager, it has become a lot harder to change it! This is one of the reasons of using EasyBCD to make changes to the boot manager quickly and easy. View the Microsoft Technet for more information about changing the Boot Configuration Data with the command BCDEDIT.

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