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The Windows Disk Management Utility.
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Disk Management icon

The Windows Disk Management Utility.

A handy tool for looking at the configuration of devices and for assigning and removing drive letters, but it also has a few partitioning abilities that can be all that we need.

various drives graphic


The Disk Management tool in Windows has been around for a while and it gives us a nice graphical view of the partition structure of hard drives and devices. It has evolved over time and in the latest generation of Windows it has been updated to fully support the new Advanced Format architecture and the upcoming GUID partitioning scheme. These updates have however introduced a few small issues when working with traditional devices, so unless you are working with only the very latest hardware and software you should have a look at our article about that. blue info iconLimits and Issues of Disk Management.

Starting the tool
There are several ways you can get to Disk Management but the simplest is to create a shortcut. Right click on the desktop and from the popup menu select New > Shortcut and then type in diskmgmt.msc and press Enter a couple of times. Or if you prefer you can just type the same into a run or search box. Or right click on a My Computer or Computer icon or button and from the popup menu choose Manage. This will open the Computer Management console from where you can select Disk Management from the tools list. In Win-8 right click in the bottom left live corner and from the popup menu choose Disk Management.

Fig: 1 disk management screenshot

If you only have one hard drive and no currently connected USB storage devices then you may see something similar to our example in fig:1. Drives are numbered from zero so the first or only drive will be designated as Disk-0. Any partitions that you are already familiar with as drives in Windows will have the same names and drive letters. This drive shows a common configuration that can be seen on store-bought pre Windows-8 machines where the hard drive is partitioned with the traditional MBR (or msdos) partititon table. There is a small hidden recovery partition, then the main Windows partition, then a third for Data that in this instance is a logical partition. Note that the displayed size of a partition on the graphic bar is not always proportional to its actual phisical size on the disk, our small recovery partition here appearing as a similar size to the other much larger partitions. You can find some options for altering proportions if you wish on the Scaling tab in View>Settings.

System and Boot.
Some partitions can be labeled as either or both a System and Boot partition. This is a feature of many operating systems but it has a much greater significance in Windows if dual or multi-boot has been configured using Window's own bootmanager. A separate System partition may also exist just for the factory recovery system, or for hard drive volume encryption, or for no apparent reason if Windows7 was allowed free reign to create partitions during its install. If you are not familiar with the Windows system and boot partitions then you are in luck - we have a page on it!
info iconThe Windows System and Boot Partitions.

Format, Style and Type.
There is a lot more to Disk Management than we could cover here and you'll find plenty of info in the MS included help file or our links to further reading at the bottom of this page. The recent introduction of Advanced Format hard drives have made things even more complicated and the soon to be common GUID Partition Table (GPT) will add another level to the whole affair. For now and unless otherwise stated please assume that we are always talking about hard drives that have been configured with the classic MBR partition table. You need to know how to tell the difference and be aware of the merits and limits of each partitioning 'style' and which one you are and should be using.

Advanced Format hard drives became common around mid 2012 and so we are currently in the crossover phase where both old and new 'format' drives are prevalent. Partition alignments can differ for each format of drive and different versions of the Windows Disk Management tool will prefer one alignment over the other with no regard for which format of hard drive it is working on. As there is no way in Disk Management to distinguish between formats of hard drive it is up to you to know what you have and which alignments you should be using. Getting it wrong can result in a major performance loss and maybe even some lost or corrupted partitions and data.

One other configuration type to be aware of is Microsoft's own Dynamic Disk system that employs a different way of managing partitions than on the standard Basic disk. The merits of dynamic disks are not really applicable to PCs or the average user and will add another layer of complexity that does not sit well with multibooting or cloning. The dynamic disk system will link separate partitions and even hard drives together, making them very vulnerable to catastrophic data loss by careless tampering. At the very least you should be capable of recognizing what 'type' a hard drive has been configured to, so that you know what you can and cannot safely do.

Please refer to our article on these three main areas and follow the links you will find there to the other articles and guides that will give you the basics of what you need to know to be safely and optimally creating or reconfiguring partitions on hard drives and other storage devices. info icon What is your Format Style and Type?

Out of Order
If you have more than one hard drive or device then you need to be careful you are going to be altering the device you intended. Drives may be displayed in Disk Management in a different order from the way they are connected to the motherboard drive channels or the way they are listed in the computer's BIOS. What's more the displayed order in Disk Management can change on successive reboots of Windows so you should always identify the device you want to work on by other means, such as by the drive's size or the labels/names of existing partitions, or the details of make and model that you can see in Properties of a drive (fig:2) by right clicking in the grey details box at the left of the graphic bars.
info iconHard Drives Listed in the Wrong Order.

Fig:2 device properties


There are actually only a few basic functions of Disk Management that we should ever need to use. These include creating and formatting partitions and maybe resizing an existing partition. The Disk Management tool can make these operations easy but they can of course be potentially destructive to data and operating systems so you need to know what you are doing. It would be prudent therefore to be in possesion of at least a ruimentary understanding of partitions and some of the rules and conventions you should follow. info icon A Beginners Introduction to Partitions.

For safety reasons the Disk Management tool will block or try to prevent some actions that could cause the destruction of operating systems, but there are still many ways for you to get things wrong and destroy data and partitions or make a machine unbootable. Pay close attention to any warnings that ask if you are sure you want to proceed and do so only if you understend the warning and know why you are seeing it.

Unrecognized Partitions
Windows Disk Management can only work with existing partitions that are unformatted or those that are formatted in a Windows supported file system, like the FATs and NTFS. Any partitions of an unsupported file system such as those of Linux will show as unrecognized, as will some altered and all hidden partitions regardless of their file system. The only available options for such partitions will be to delete or perhaps reformat them. Some altered partitions that have been recognised as utility, recovery or media partitions put there by the computer manufacture may be labeled as EISA or OEM partitions and will be completely untouchable. Sometimes you may in Windows get a pop-up box offering to format unrecognized partitions and you should always reject such offers and make your own decisions on which partitions need formatting. info iconDealing With EISA and OEM Partitions


Using the WIndows Disk Management Tool
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disk iconinfo icon Add, remove or change drive letters.
If you like things logical and organised then within certain limits you can shuffle Windows drive letters around to your pleasure.

disk iconinfo icon Change the Active partition.
Not to be done lightly. Can help with installing Windows in a way that is necessary to use a third-party bootmanager.

disk iconinfo icon Initialize a new hard drive.
You may be asked to “initialize” a newly connected hard drive. It is not as technical or important as it sounds.

disk iconinfo icon Creating and deleting partitions.
One of the two main features you will use to make a place on a drive for that new operating system or data partition.

disk iconinfo icon Resizing an existing partition.
You need free space for new partitions and non-destructively reducing the size of an existing partition is one way to go.

disk iconinfo icon Formatting partitions.
Mostly done as part of the process of creating new partitions, but it can be done separately.

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spacermultibooters.com: Mar 2012 - - Last reviewed or updated: May 2013

Windows-8 Remotely: Use an iOS or Android device to access and control and even do some work on your Windows machine.

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