Part Way

Should You Partition Your Hard Drive?

Q: What's the upside to having a partitioned hard drive? I've been advised that it could boost performance to split my C: drive into a C: and D:, but I'm loath to monkey with the guts of my PC unless there's a damn good reason.

There's no doubt that partitioning a drive isn't something to be done lightly, but the perks can be sweet indeed. Tricking your machine into thinking it's got multiple hard drives—which, in essence, is what partitioning's all about—can clean up clutter, boost speed, and even help with some advanced operating-system jujitsu. But, yeah, this ain't minor surgery we're talking about here, so be careful.

The most obvious reason for splitting up your drive is for organizational purposes. Imagine how nifty it'd be if you could store all your documents and images on one section, all your programs on another, and all your MP3s on a third.

And if one partition got corrupted somehow, the fact that it's walled off from other items (such as critical drivers) could limit the damage. Some security folks recommend partitioning as a way to preserve your hard drive's integrity in case of a virus, many of which are written to attack only the drive marked C:. Mr. Roboto would caution against getting too psyched about this partitioning bonus, though, as partitioning won't defend against the gnarliest viruses, especially those you might contract from swappable media.

On the more obscure side of things, partitioning is also the way to go if you'd like to run what's called a dual-boot system—that is, a single computer that can run two operating systems. You'll need a humongous hard drive to accomplish this, but it's a great way to delve into the world of Linux without buying a new box. This is sort of an experts-only maneuver, so get a geeky friend to assist with actually loading up that second OS, okay?

Something else worth considering is making a separate partition for your Windows swap file. "Your what for your what now?" Mr. Roboto imagines you asking, dear reader, and with good reason—this bit of Windows arcana isn't exactly explained on page one of the user's guide. Basically, the swap file is a portion of your disk where info's stored when the system memory runs low. Placing the swap file in its own partition will prevent it from getting fragmented or otherwise mucked with, and make your system run a heckuva lot smoother.

If the above explanation sounded like Greek to you, panic not. Instead, pop a Meister Brau and visit powerquest.com, home to the company (recently purchased by industry titan Symantec) that makes PartitionMagic 8.0 ($70). In the bygone days, the only way to partition your drive was to use Windows' fdisk utility, from the DOS prompt. Using fdisk freaks out even Mr. Roboto—dang thing's about as intuitive as milking a yak, and a single misstep can deep-six your whole setup. PartitionMagic automates the process, guiding you through the technological toughies without forcing you to reformat your hard drive. You will have to reinstall all your programs once the partitioning's done, however, so make sure you've got the relevant back up disks handy.

And, for heaven's sake, make sure to back up all your data before you even dream of partitioning, regardless of PartitionMagic's assurances that it works beautifully all the time. Per the latest listings on cnet.com, a low-end 120 GB external hard drive can now be had for under $160. Yeah, that may sound like a pretty penny, but trust Mr. Roboto on this one—you don't want to pay a data recovery firm 10 times that to retrieve your precious Copenhagen snapshots, do you? Thought as much.


Mr. Roboto just got a sneak peek at the much ballyhooed ApeXtreme, the first gaming console specifically geared toward letting you play PC games on a TV. Powered by technology from California's DISCover, it produces an on-screen resolution crisp enough to satisfy all but the most hardcore of gamers, and there's zero lag. The one sticking point may be price: Slated to debut this May, the fully loaded ApeXtreme will start at $400. Shave a little off that and throw in a few freebie games, and perhaps Mr. Roboto can be persuaded.


Input questions at bkoerner@villagevoice.com.

 
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