Should You Seperate Your Data into Partitions or Folders

by Richard Pedersen for Daves Computer Tips

Should You Seperate Your Data into Partitions or Folders

Two schools of thought on the best way to organize your data, programs and operating system – hard drive partitioning versus folder management.–PC Pitstop.

Hard Drive Partitions vs Folders

Note: These are only my opinions. Take them for what they may be worth. ~ Richard

There are a couple main viewpoints regarding hard drive partitioning versus folder management. Neither one is right or wrong. It is simply a difference in the way people tend to look at things.
One school of thought, mine included, says that it is a good idea to separate the operating system from the programs and the programs from the data they generate. This is accomplished by partitioning the hard drive so as to keep these things separated. This can also be accomplished with a folder system.
The other group will say the same thing can be accomplished with folders, thereby keeping everything on one partition. Personally, I don’t see the advantage to this approach. It may be simpler in some respects, but the advantages of partitioning your HDD are lost, as I see it.
The bottom line is that these are two approaches to the same solution: separation of data, programs, and the operating system
Here we go-

Let’s say that you want to install Windows 7 on your multi-terabyte Hard Disk Drive (HDD). You could install it and the Operating System (OS) wouldn’t have a problem with that.
I, on the other hand, have a problem with that. The trouble is that Windows will ultimately install everything else to that hard drive and therein lies the rub. All the programs and data and games will all get put on that same partition. It’s a mess, especially when it comes to backing up your files and photos and music and movies and databases and spreadsheets and so forth, ad infinitum. Another problem becomes apparent when you don’t have a good file-naming convention. If you are not consistent in your methods, it will soon become difficult if not impossible to find anything at all.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know that all your favorite family pictures can be found by going to the family pictures partition, or maybe, all your videos are on a video partition, or maybe, all your work documents are on the same work-oriented partition? To me, that is a well thought-out system.

In all fairness to those who prefer a single drive divided by way of folders approach, I must agree that is is an option. I happen to prefer HDD partitions. That’s just me. I’m not sure there is a definitive advantage by using folders over partitions. Perhaps it’s simply a personal choice.
Note: I don’t believe for a minute that partitioning a hard drive will in any way speed things up. It is merely a method to help you organize your data, make your backups easier to deal with, and nothing more.

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3 thoughts on “Should You Seperate Your Data into Partitions or Folders

  1. I know this is an old thread but will comment anyway- The average user only knows (remember) the C drive. They will eventually forget about the larger D data drive and just keep storing stuff on C:\ which will eventually fill up. I have seen this many many times. Give then one large C drive and let them be. Even the PC savy amongst us is not immune.

  2. I like partitioning hard drives. Yes, I’m one of those guys. So I totally agree with the author. Count me in. I should know, I have 11 partitions on my main computer.

    Ever since I discovered the practical advantage of using partitions a decade ago or so, I have never looked back to the ways I used to organize my stuff into complex folder structures.

    The way I see it, partitions are the highest order of structuring data. They are at the top of the command chain. They are the kings, each acting within their own domain. Folders are their minions! Folders don’t rule anything!

    The author has overlooked the fact that partitions add another layer of security, and manageability to your system.

    For instance, you can reformat the partition containing your Windows installation and reinstall Windows with ease. You just wipe everything off and install Windows again. When your data is stored on a different partition, you don’t have to think about backing it up before you reinstall Windows.

    As always, you do need to backup your data, that’s the first golden rule of computing. Just don’t get lazy and comfortable with not having to back things up just because they are on a separate partition. That partition can fail, and you can also potentially wipe it by mistake during the Windows installation. But having it on a separate partition means you can now back it up more easily. You just back up that partition, preferably to an external disk drive, and you know you got everything. You don’t have to move file and folders around to prepare them for backup, or add them to list of items to backup within the backup software. You just select that one single partition and start the backup process. Easy!

    That’s as far as manageability goes. When it comes to security, I have already mentioned that you have your data is more secure by having it on a separate partition. Consider that securing it from user mistakes. But when it comes down to the real security aspects like access, permissions and such the use of partitions is almost mandatory. Everyone knows how tricky it can be to share files and folders in Windows. You have to make a new share, give it a name, create user account, give those users access to the new share, give them necessary permissions, “ad infinitum”.

    Now what if you want to share File1.txt and File2.txt from the Documents folder, and you want to share that with User1, but you don’t want to share File3.txt and File4.txt with that user because they are confidential? You can’t simply give him read permission for the entire Documents folder, that will give them access to all the files inside that folder. This is where NTFS permissions and ACL comes into play. It can be tricky to set this up correctly, but it’s possible. Wouldn’t it be easier to have a separate partition for confidential files? I believe so. Even if you can do it with folders, it’s much more clicking and tweaking, and it’s pointless.

    I personally install Windows on C disk. My applications are also inside the C disk. I find it it’s the easiest way. I then have photos on E. I have software on F. I have videos on G. So on and so forth. Different partitions for different data type and/or different use.

    With 11 partitions you want to label them so you know what they contain. You don’t want “Local disk C” and “Local disk E” and so on. I have my own labeling convention.

    “Vista (ST1PT1)”
    “Photos (WD1PT1)”
    “Music (ST2PT2)”

    It tells me not only what they contain, but also where they are physically, on what disk drive. For instance, “STPT1” means “Seagate 1, partition 1”. For those who don’t know “STX” or ST for short is the NASDAQ code for Seagate Technology. Similarly WD means Western Digital.

    @Twiggy, you can keep installing program to C disk, but you can link C:\Program Files to E:\ partition. This can be tricky, but once done correctly, any software you install to their preferred default installation path will actually be installed on another partition, and they won’t even know it. There are several methods for this, like using symbolic or hard links, and/or junction points, etc.

    You can have up to 4 “primary” partition on any given disk drive. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t have more than 4 partitions. Operating systems need to be installed on “primary” partitions. So this essentially means that you can have at most 4 different operating systems on one computer, i.e. “quad boot”.

    But for storage only purposes, you can create 1 primary partition for a single OS, and 1 “extended” partition. Inside the extended partition you can add almost unlimited number of “logical” partitions.

    With recent versions of Windows, like Windows 7, you can even install it on a logical partition. This would allow for penta, hexa, ad infinitum boot configuration (5, 6 or more operating systems on the same computer).

  3. Heh. The problem with this is that most HDD’s can only be separated into 4 different partitions, and I’ll be damned if I wanna go through the trouble of setting up reparse records for telling Windows that “Hey, by the way, all your programs aren’t located where you think they should go.” (not to mention changing installation paths for every single program I install, including the few that don’t even let you choose where to put them) And there are several ways to setup shortcuts to your favorite places on the HDD. Also reduces My Computer clutter to go with the folder route.

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