Windows 7 : Configuring Disks and Drives (part 1) - Using Disk Management

2/12/2011 3:32:50 PM
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 Windows 2000.

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 volume.

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:

  1. Right-click Computer on the Start menu.

  2. On the shortcut menu, choose Manage to start Computer Management.

  3. 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 information:


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 (GB)

% Free

The amount of free space as a percentage of total volume capacity

Fault Tolerance

An indicator as to whether the volume uses fault tolerant features


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 mount disks.

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 as well.

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 1.


The drive or media type, such as basic, dynamic, removable, CD, or DVD. Also displays the drive letter if one is assigned.


The amount of data the drive, device, or media can store.

Unallocated Space

The amount of space that hasn’t been allocated (if any).


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 FireWire (1394).

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 related files.

Page File

A drive section containing a paging file used by the operating system.

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 following designations:

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.

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