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What Is A Hard Drive Partition?

Computer hard drives (or hard disks) need to be partitioned before you can use them to store any data.

In fact, any type of storage device, USB drives (USB sticks), SD cards, external hard drives, whatever you can think of, need at least 1 partition before they can be used.

So although this guide is primarily going to focus on hard drives, it’s actually true for most storage devices.

What Are Hard Drive Partitions?

To help explain or to visualise what a partition is, let me ask you a question, “What have you got if you have a house without any walls”?

The answer is, of course, open space.

A house with no walls doesn’t exist.

And you can’t put, or store, anything inside it, because there is no inside.

The outside walls define the house.

Where’s The House?

And it’s the same with a computer hard drive (disk).

The partition acts in much the same way as the walls of a house. The walls are the start and end of the building.

The partition defines the start and finish of the drive.

Hard drives, USB drives, External hard drives, SD cards etc, are normally preformatted with 1 partition, so you don’t usually have to worry much about it. You can usually just plug it in and go.


The Hard Drive’s Partition Is A Container For Data.

The partition creates, or acts as, a container on the drive. Everything that is stored on the drive, is stored within the confines of the partition.

You can think of it as being like a super folder in Windows.

Hard drives (disks) are available in various capacities and from different manufacturers, by partitioning a drive, you’re defining the space on the disk that the computer can store it’s data.

Again, it’s similar to the walls of a house.


Multiple Partitions On A Hard Drive.

If we think of our fictional house, at the moment it only has 4 outer walls. That gives us just one very large inside space (or room).

But by adding partitioning walls, the inside space can be divided up into separate smaller spaces, or rooms.

These separate rooms can then become a bit more specialised, such as bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen etc.

You can do exactly the same thing with hard drive partitions.

Hard drives can have multiple partitions.

In fact, the hard drive on your computer will almost certainly have several partitions.

But you wouldn’t normally be able to see them.

If you open File Explorer, your most likely to see just one hard drive, the C: drive.

To view exactly how your hard drive has been partitioned, click the START button and then type

disk manager

And then press Enter on your keyboard.

Or click CREATE AND FORMAT HARD DISK PARTITIONS at the top of the menu.

You should be able to see the various partitions on your drive.

You’ll probably have more than me, especially if you’re using a commercially built computer, such as a Dell, HP, Acer etc.


Hidden Partitions On A Drive.

We’re back in our house again. Some houses have hidden rooms, secret rooms, that you normally can’t see or access.

The same is true for hard drives, they’ll often have hidden partitions that the operating system (Windows) can’t see or use.

Visible partitions appear in File Explorer as separate disks.

Windows treats each partition as if it were a different hard drive.

On my computer, the hard drive only has one visible partition, so it appears as a single disk.

But we know from looking at Disk Management that the drive has got two hidden partitions.

If we create a second visible partition, then to Windows, it appears as if we have got two hard drives installed in the computer.

Whereas it’s only a single disk with two partitions.


Why Do We Have Hidden Partitions?

We have hidden partitions on our hard drives for exactly the same reasons we might have a hidden room in our house. To store stuff in that we don’t want other people to know about.

In the case of hidden hard drive partitions, there created by your computer manufacturers to store the recovery data.

Back in the day, when you bought a new PC, it would come with several CDs/DVDs that you could use to do a factory reset on your machine. Nowadays all that data is stored on hidden partitions on your hard drive, which is only accessible through the computers recovery process.

Windows itself will also create at least a couple of hidden partitions.

Why Would You Want Multiple Partitions?

On your home computer, there are two main reasons for creating extra partitions on your hard drive.

The first reason is to install a second operating system.

You can have Windows 10 installed on one partition and perhaps Windows 7 on the other.
Or maybe you want to experiment with a Linux distro.

By dropping these operating systems on a separate partition, you don’t have to abandon Windows 10 completely, and you can save money by not buying a second hard drive.

The second reason is to create a partition on which you only store your data files (documents, pictures, music, videos etc).

By keeping them on a separate partition to the operating system (Windows), if you ever need to re-install, then your data can remain safe.

Summing Up Hard Drive Partitions.

There is much more to partitions than we’ve covered here, this is simply meant as an introduction as to what hard drive partitions are.

For most of us, partitions are just one of those techie things that we may have heard of, but never actually known what they are.

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