Like filesystems, disks have a particular formatting that
determines how you can use the disk. Windows 7 allows you to configure
disks to be either the basic disk type or the dynamic disk type.
Basic disks are the traditional disk type Windows has used
since it was first introduced. Dynamic disks are a newer disk type that was introduced with
The differences between the two disk types largely concern what you
can do with the disks. Consider the following:
With basic disks, Windows 7 supports both primary and extended
partitions. A primary partition is used to start the operating system.
You access a primary partition directly by its drive designator. You
cannot subdivide a primary partition. In contrast, an extended
partition is designed to be subdivided. After you create an extended
partition, you must divide it into one or more logical drives. You can
then access the logical drives independently of each other.
With dynamic disks, Windows 7 uses volumes instead of
partitions. The most basic type of volume is a simple volume. A simple
volume is a volume on a single disk that can be used to start the
operating system and for general data storage.
In a significant change over previous releases of Windows, Windows 7
allows you to span and stripe drives using the basic disk type as well as
the dynamic disk type. Previously, you could only perform these tasks
using dynamic disks. A spanned drive is a drive with partitions or volumes that
extend across several disks. A striped drive uses allocated disk space from partitions or
volumes on multiple disks and stripes the data as it is written to give
you faster read/write access.
Dynamic disks do continue to have several advantages over basic
disks, including improved error detection and error handling. Also, you
can mirror only dynamic drives. A mirrored drive is a drive that combines
a volume on two different drives to create a single fault-tolerant
Although dynamic disks have advantages over basic disks, when you
want to boot your computer to a non-Windows operating system, such as
Linux, or a pre-Windows 2000 operating system, you’ll usually want to have
a basic disk. Further, you cannot create dynamic disks on any
removable-media drives. You can convert external disks attached via
FireWire or USB to dynamic disks in some cases, but typically you won’t
want to use dynamic disks with external disks.
1. Using Disk Management
Your primary tool for working with your computer’s disks
is Disk Management. You will use Disk Management to partition disks,
format disk volumes with filesystems, and mount disk volumes. You can
also use Disk Management to convert a disk from the basic disk type to
the dynamic disk type and vice versa. However, while you can convert
from a basic disk type to the dynamic disk type without losing data, you
must remove disk volumes on a dynamic disk before you can convert the
disk to the basic disk type.
Using an Administrator account, you can start and work with Disk
Management by completing the following steps:
Right-click Computer on the Start menu.
On the shortcut menu, choose Manage to start Computer
In the left pane of the Computer Management window, select
Disk Management under Storage.
As Figure 1
shows, Disk Management provides an overview of the storage devices
configure within or attached to your computer. By default, Disk
Management’s main windows show the Volume list view in the upper panel
and the Graphical view in the lower panel. The third view available but
not displayed is the Disk List view.
Figure 1. Managing your computer’s disks
You can set the view for the top or bottom pane using options from
the View menu. To change the top view, select View, choose Top, and then
select the view you want to use. To change the bottom view, select View,
choose Bottom, and then select the view you want to use.
Volume list view provides a detailed summary of internal drives
and external devices with removable storage. Devices with removable
media, such as CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives, are listed only if you’ve
inserted a CD or DVD. The volume details provide the following
The drive letter or the volume name and drive letter, such
as C: or Primary (C:)
The layout type of the volume, such as simple
The drive type, such as basic or dynamic
- File System
The filesystem type, such as FAT or NTFS
The status of the volume, as well as any relevant volume
designations, such as Healthy (Active, Primary Partition)
The amount of data the volume can store
- Free Space
The amount of free space in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes
- % Free
The amount of free space as a percentage of total volume
- Fault Tolerance
An indicator as to whether the volume uses fault
The total additional disk space required because of the
fault tolerant feature used (if applicable)
The Graphical view provides a graphical overview of internal
drives, external drives with removable storage, and devices with
removable media. This is the view you use to partition, format, and
In the Graphical view, you can see the individual areas of
allocated and unallocated space on internal disks and disks with
removable storage. An allocated area of a disk has a volume. An
unallocated area of a disk is free space that’s not being used.
As Figure 2
shows, the summary information regarding disks and devices with
removable storage includes the disk number, drive type, disk capacity,
and overall status. For each volume allocated on a disk, you’ll see the
volume name, drive letter, volume capacity, filesystem type, and status
Figure 2. Viewing disk and volume details
Although Disk Management can show only two view panes at a time,
you can display the Disk List view in either the upper or the lower pane
of the main window. As Figure 3 shows,
the Disk List view provides summary information about physical drives.
This information includes:
The disk designator and number, such as Disk 0 or CD-ROM
The drive or media type, such as basic, dynamic, removable,
CD, or DVD. Also displays the drive letter if one is
The amount of data the drive, device, or media can
- Unallocated Space
The amount of space that hasn’t been allocated (if
The drive or device status, such as online, online (errors),
no media, or offline.
- Device Type
The device interface type, such as Integrated Drive
Electronics (IDE), Small Computer System Interface (SCSI), USB, or
- Partition Style
The partition style of the disk or device. Windows 7
supports both Master Boot Record (MBR) and GUID Partition Table
(GPT) partition styles. For the most part, the partition style
used is determined by your computer’s processor architecture and
the type of device.
Figure 3. Viewing a list of disks
When you are working with basic or dynamic disks, you should note
the special designations assigned to drive sections. Drive sections can
have one or more of the following designations:
The drive section used for system cache and startup. Some
devices with removable storage may be listed as having the active
partition, such as when you use ReadyBoost.
The drive section containing the boot manager files needed
to load the operating system. A drive section with this
designation can’t be part of a striped or spanned volume.
The drive section containing the operating system and its
- Page File
A drive section containing a paging file used by the
- Crash Dump
The drive section to which the computer attempts to
write dump files in the event of a system crash.
Your computer has one active, one system, one boot, and one crash
dump drive section. The page file designation is the only drive
designation you might see on multiple drive sections.
Depending on the disk type and status, you might also see the
- At Risk
A drive section with this designation is at risk of failing,
and probably also has an error status, such as Online (Errors).
- Primary Partition
A drive section that is designated as a primary
partition. Although this designation is usually displayed only for
fixed disks, you may see this designation on devices with
removable storage and on devices with removable media.