Partitioning not just for Geeks

by Alan Zisman (c) 2000. First published in Toronto Computes, April 2000

Partition Magic 5.0
Approx. $65 (Professional version, approx $700)
For DOS, Windows 3, 95, 98, NT 4.0
Requires 16 MB RAM, 12-20 MB drive space
PowerQuest Corporation

Partitioned your hard drive lately?

Well, probably not.

While it may sound like a geeky thing to do, changing the way your hard drive is divided up may be more worthwhile then it sounds at first glance. Among the scenarios:

-- your computer came with Windows 95 setup with FAT16 which supports a maximum of 2 gig drive partitions. As a result, your hard drive has several partitions and you?d rather have just one, larger FAT32 partition (assuming you?re running an operating system?Windows 95B or later, Windows 98, or Windows 2000) that supports it. Windows 98 lets you convert an existing FAT16 partition to FAT32, but can?t make any other changes.

-- you have a single large partition, but you?d prefer to divide it up into separate partitions for the operating system, your applications, and your data, for easier control and backup. Or you?d like different partitions for different users. My son Joey has his own 4 gig partition for his games, songs, and the like?and is always complaining that he needs more space. At least, if he makes a mess of it, he doesn?t affect my stuff.

-- you want to try out different operating systems?Windows NT, Linux, BeOS, or the like. In some cases, these can be installed and run from the same part of your hard drive as your current system, but it will make for a cleaner and safer installation if each operating system keeps to its own partition. Trust me.

When it comes to partitioning, Windows 95 and 98 show their DOS roots, and rely on the old DOS FDISK utility. In a limited sort of way, it works?but use it to make any changes to your partitions, and the contents get nuked. All you can do is format and start from scratch.

PowerQuest has come to the rescue of would-be hard drive partitioners, with its now-classic Partition Magic utility. Now up to version 5, the program offers the ability to create, remove, and re-size partitions, without losing the data on them. It supports Windows FAT16 and FAT32 partitions, along with OS/2 HPFS, NT?s NTFS, and Linux Ext2 and Swap partitions, and can convert one to another.

The package includes a few other utilities, as well: MagicMover moves applications from one partition to another, updating the Windows Registry as needed?so the applications still work after the move. DriveMapper updates drive-letter references after partitioning?so even though your CD-ROM may have gained a different drive letter, its programs will still work. And BootMagic provides an attractive menuing system that lets you select among different operating systems at bootup.

New in version 5 is the ability to merge partitions?even FAT and FAT32 partitions. New wizards simplify use of the program. As well, it?s the only version with support for Windows 2000?s new NTFS 5 format, and with support for bigger than ever hard drives. The $700 Professional version offers the owner use on an unlimited number of computers, and includes scripting to automate setup of a large number of systems. A limited version of Partition Magic is bundled with several Linux versions, such as Caldera and Storm, but the full version offers much more flexibility.

Not for everyone, perhaps. But if you want to make partitioning changes to an existing system or try out multiple operating systems, it?s well worth the investment.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan