December 20, 2009

Partitioning A Blank Hard Drive During XP Installation

The assumption here is the partition scheme will be created on a hard drive using a bootable Windows XP CD. After booting from the CD and the initial setup files have loaded the screen in Fig. 01 will be displayed. If there is no existing operating system on the drive the space will be listed as Unpartitioned in the lower half of the screen. If there is an operating system installed, the existing partitions will be listed in the lower half of the screen. Selecting an existing partition and using the D key will delete it, along with any data and program files it contains. From this point there are a number of different partitioning possibilities.

If ENTER is pressed the entire unpartitioned space (in this case, 16379MB) will be used to create a C: partition. There will be no other options offered and the process will move forward to where you'll be asked to choose what file system will be used to format the partition.

Fig. 01
If the C key is pressed to create a partition in the unpartitioned space you will be taken to the screen shown in Fig. 02 where a custom size partition may be created. The minimum and maximum sizes allowed for the new partition are displayed for easy reference along with a line where the new partition size is entered. In this case I changed the default to 5000MB but any size may be entered that falls between the minimum and maximum allowed. Pressing Enter completes the creation process for that partition and returns you to the Fig. 01 screen.

Fig. 02
As you can see in Fig. 03 there is now a C: partition that is defined as Partition 1 and is 4997MB in size even though the size I entered in Fig. 02 was 5000MB. There's a reason why the sizes vary but it's outside the scope of this article so just accept that this is the way things work. If it's critical that you have a partition that's precisely sized, use the D key option to delete the partition then go in and try a slightly larger/smaller size than was entered previously. There's no guarantee you'll ever hit the partition size right on the nose but you should be able to get relatively close.

Fig. 03
If the partitioning process was stopped at this point, the newly created C: partition highlighted, the ENTER key selected and the installation of XP allowed to complete you would end up with a partitioning scheme as shown in Fig. 04 below. While this is a very elementary partitioning scheme it's not without some merit. The most important aspect of this scheme is that rather than committing the entire hard drive space to partition C:, it leaves the balance of the free space as Unallocated so it can be effectively divided up into additional Primary or Logical partitions after XP is installed.

Fig. 04
However, suppose you already have a partitioning scheme in mind that's a bit more extensive? Rather than merely having a C: partition you'd like to have additional partitions created. Simple enough. Refer back to Fig. 03 and rather than selecting the ENTER key, use the down arrow key to highlight the Unpartitioned Space entry and then press the C key. Once again you'll enter the size of the desired partition and hit Enter. Repeat the process as many times as needed until all the partitions have been created or you run out of Unallocated space. In Fig. 05 I have created two additional partitions (E: and F:) and there remains 4377MB of Unpartitioned Space that could be used for additional partitions.

Fig. 05
I stopped at this point, highlighted the newly created C: partition, selected the ENTER key and allowed the installation of XP to complete, ending up with a partitioning scheme as shown in Fig. 06 below. If you compare Fig. 04 with Fig. 06 you'll see some differences that are worth noting.
  • There is no difference between the C: partitions. Both are 4.88 GB, NTFS Primary partitions designated as System.

  • Once the first partition has been created, in this case C:, subsequent partitions created will be placed within an Extended partition and created as Logical drives. In the screen capture below they are identified by the brighter blue color and assigned drive letters E: and F:. You have no control over the drive letter assignment nor the fact the partitions will be logical drives.

  • Once an Extended partition has been created any Unpartitioned space left on the drive will no longer be left as Unallocated as in Fig. 04 above, but will now be identified as Free Space and contained within the Extended partition. Again, you have no option available to modify this default behavior.

Fig. 06

Advantages and Disadvantages of Partitioning Method
  • Quick
  • Simple to use and understand
  • Uses the built in partitioning utility supplied with Windows XP
  • Only available when installing from the CD or a network location.
  • Lack of advanced control features for creating anything other than very elementary partition schemes.

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