Boot [Hard] Drive Organization 101

Whether you’re dealing with data storage or into gaming, you may hear a lot of talk about boot drives and partitioning drives.  If this discussion about boot drives leaves you lost and utterly confused, know that you’re not alone.

Keep reading to learn the basics of boot drives, along with the whys and hows of boot drive organization.

What Is a Boot Drive Anyway?

Boot Managers

A boot drive, sometimes also called a boot device, is hardware required to start or boot your computer. It tells the computer to use a specific operating system to start and run the machine.

Usually, boot drives are internal to the computer, like an internal hard drive. Sometimes, however, an external drive can be used to boot up a system. Common external boot sources include:

  • ​External hard drive.
  • ​Optical drive (CD-ROM or DVD).
  • ​USB device/jump drive.
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    Network adapter.
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    Boot chip (common in phones).

​​​​​Some people use external boot devices for routine startups, as well as to install or test new operating systems. They are also used as a backup when an internal drive fails and in recovery mode.

What Are Common Boot Drive Problems?

Boot Device Not Found Error

If you see error messages like the following, it’s usually the sign of a hard drive failure:

  • ​Boot device not found.
  • ​No bootable device.
  • ​No boot devices available.

​​​Another common cause of these error messages is a connection problem with an external device. Either the external device is not properly connected, or an external device was not correctly removed after use.

Hard drives can fail for a number of reasons. In a brand new computer, failure could be caused by manufacturing defects. This should be covered by your computer’s warranty.

Sometimes failure is due to the age of a computer and wear and tear. Viruses and corrupted files can also cause a hard drive to die, as can power surges and outages.

The most common reason for hard drive failure, however, is nearly always preventable: overheating.

If your computer gets very hot to the touch, if the fan stops working, or if it clicks when running, take action now. Repair the fan or use a cooling device to prevent losing your hard drive in the future.

It’s tempting to jump to disastrous conclusions about your hard drive when you get that ominous error message. However, it’s wise to double check for any simple solutions to booting problems.

A second type of booting error message is inaccessible boot device. This typically means you have a corrupt boot device, whether internal or external. While a little more complicated to fix than simply checking plugs, corrupt devices can sometimes be corrected.

Fixes in this situation usually involve wiping the drive clean to get rid of any corrupt files. You may lose data if you haven’t backed it up, but you can frequently rescue the hard drive itself.

Why Should You Partition Your Boot Drive?

Partitioning HDDs to prevent data loss

Stay with us here because backing up data is an ongoing theme in this article. One of the biggest reasons to organize your boot drive is to avoid losing data in the event of a boot or hard drive failure.

Let’s talk more about that. First, understand that most PC users have one internal hard drive that serves as the boot drive and stores data. That drive is typically labeled C and is one undivided compartment.

Would you prefer to throw all your clothing in a giant box or divide it into categories by using dresser drawers? Partitioning your hard drive asks you the same question about your computer.

You can create smaller divisions within your hard drive/boot drive that tell the computer to view each partition as a unique drive. You can put data in one partition and your operating system (OS) in another. If your hard drive goes down, you won’t necessarily lose your data.

Here are some other top reasons why you should consider partitioning your boot drive/hard drive:

Data Retrieval

Loss of data can be caused by lots of problems integrally related to hard drive failure:

  • ​Viruses and malware.
  • ​Hardware failure.
  • ​Software issues.
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    Program installation error.
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    Human error.

​​​​​If you suffer a boot drive/hard drive failure, it’s easier to restore your data from your own computer than from elsewhere. While you can back up data in the Cloud or on an external drive, and you should, it can be a pain to retrieve it.

Improved Computer Performance

HDD Stacks

Your hard drive is essentially a series of super thin disks stacked one on top of each other. When your system runs programs and retrieves data for you, it has to move back and forth across all those disks to perform its required tasks.

When you partition the hard drive, your computer only has to look at chunks of the drive at any one time. The drive heads aren’t moving around constantly trying to locate bits of information because that data is neatly stored in smaller compartments.

This efficiency translates to fewer micro delays, which in turn adds up to faster overall performance. Saving this time can really make a difference when it comes to gaming or using graphics-heavy programs.

Partitioning a hard or boot drive also makes defragmentation go quicker. Whether your computer does it automatically or you are manually doing a defrag, it will be a snap with the right drive organization.

More Efficient Storage

Partition Names

Do you ever have trouble remembering where you stored things on your computer? Partitioning your boot drive can help with that because it lets you sort your storage by categories.

You may just want one partition for your operating system and programs and a second for your data. However, you may desire to further compartmentalize your drive sorting by:

  • ​Documents.
  • ​Photos.
  • ​Videos and films.
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    Podcasts.
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    Music.
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    Games.
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    Backup data.

​​​​​​​The bigger your hard drive (such as over 1TB), the more you want to sort your files by type in different drive partitions. Likewise, if you store a lot of graphics-heavy material, such as if you’re a professional photographer, partitions can be your friend.

Multiple Operating Systems

Partition Managments Multi OS

Normally, most computer users work with one operating system (the one that comes already installed on their machine). However, some people like to use multiple operating systems, and the only way to do this is with a partitioned boot drive.

Windows and Linux are a popular combination for computer buffs. Gamers who use their computer for work may wish to separate their gaming OS from their work system. Other reasons to run multiple operating systems include:

  • ​Drivers for older hardware you still use are unavailable.
  • ​Web designers want to see their work in different systems.
  • ​You’d like to use different versions of one OS (AKA dual boot).
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    You don’t want multiple computers in a small workspace.

​​​Separation of Business and Personal Functions

If you use one laptop for both business and personal functions, you don’t want to mix data and programs between the two. Organizing your boot drive into sections lets you keep them separate. This makes both sides more efficient and reduces the risk for you.

If you keep data for your employer or clients on your machine, you don’t want to chance that a personal program could damage them. Conversely, you wouldn’t want a corrupt work file to ruin your personal stuff.

Multiple Device Users

Many households share computer systems, with partners, kids and roommates all using the same machine. This can be a recipe for disaster if one user isn’t very computer savvy or opens risky files.

The solution is to have a boot drive partition for each user, at least for documents and other data storage. If you have data or programs you need to protect, don’t even tell others in your home how to access your personal drive.

Facilitating Encryption

HDD Encryptions

If you want to encrypt only part of the data you store, it’s much easier if you have your hard drive partitioned. This way, you don’t have to go to the time and expense to encrypt files that don’t need the extra security.

If you have a portion of your data that needs to be super secure, put that in one partition of your boot drive, encrypt it, and leave the rest alone. This could happen in the situation where you are using one laptop for both work and personal computing.

Saving Money

For many people, buying two separate computers or a multi-system computer to solve the above-mentioned problems is out of the question. You can save hundreds, if not thousands, by simply partitioning your hard drive.

Changing Hard Drive Technology

Hard drives are becoming ever more sophisticated. Because hard-drive platters are now being made of ultra-thin material, like glass, manufacturers can increase their storage capacity. Drives of up to 12TB are now possible, with 20TB storage expected in the future.

At some point, looking for data and running programs from such enormous boot drives is an unwieldy task. By partitioning your hard drive and organizing your programs and files, you can enjoy huge storage without delays and confusion.

How Do You Organize a Boot Drive?

Different operating systems require individual directions when it comes to the nuts and bolts of boot drive organization. Let’s take a look at a Windows PC, which is a common machine for work, home computing and gaming.

Fortunately, newer Windows models use the Disk Management utility. This makes advanced storage jobs infinitely easier. You can find this utility in one of two ways:

Enter Disk Management in the search field.

Press the Win key + R, then type diskmgmt.msc.

Find the drive you want to partition, which for most people is C. Right click on that drive.

You need to create space on this drive first before you can partition it. Therefore, your next step is to select Shrink Volume. Make sure before you shrink the existing sole partition that you don’t need to write or move anything to that drive.

Windows will automatically shrink your drive as small as possible to make room for additional partitions. When in doubt, it’s best to manually shrink the drive, so it doesn’t get too small for future use.

Once you are happy with the space allotted, press Shrink. It will normally take Windows several minutes to perform the function.

Now you need to deal with your new space. Right click to make a New Simple Volume. Windows will automatically try to use all of the remaining space for the new partition.

This is fine if you are only creating two subdivisions of your boot drive. However, if you are going to be making additional partitions, now or in the future, you need to manually select how much space to allow.

If you goof up and later want to create more partitions you haven’t planned for, you can shrink your new partition. Nevertheless, it’s easier to create the right number and size partitions from the start.

Decide how you want to label your new partition. You can give it a letter name, or to make things easier, call it Documents or Videos. Your final step is to move your data to the new partition. 

Tips for Partitioning Your Boot Drive

HDD Spaces

If you’ve never organized your boot drive before, it’s best to take it slow to avoid errors. Here are some tips for making the process smoother.

Assess Your Space

First, you need to make sure you have enough space to bother partitioning your drive. If your machine is older, you may need to upgrade or replace the hard drive with a larger one.

If you are already reaching the limits of your boot drive but can’t make changes, think about alternatives. Could you delete old files and programs you no longer need? Could you archive old data to external or Cloud storage to make more room?

Don’t Wait to Get Organized

If you have a new computer system without much on it yet, now is the ideal time to organize your drive. It’s easier to create partitions and put new files there as you acquire them than to move existing files.

Do you have an overloaded email inbox with thousands of messages you keep meaning to deal with?  Don’t let your new hard drive get like that.

Plan Ahead

Before you do anything else, think about how you intend to use your computer. Again, it’s easier to put your files where you want them for the first time than to relocate them later.

Give thought to how you want to partition your boot drive, such as:

  • ​Is there data you need to encrypt?
  • ​Do you need to separate data for different users?
  • ​Is your computer for both work and personal use?
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    Do you do a lot of gaming?
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    Is your storage heavy on graphics and video files?
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    Do you want to run multiple operating systems?
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    How many partitions do you need?
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    Where could you use folders instead of partitions?

​​​​​​Remember that not all files take up the same amount of space. Videos, for example, use more hard drive space than emails or word processing documents. You don’t necessarily need to divide your hard drive into equal segments.

Think About the Future

Preparing HDDs and SSDs for the future

How you divide up your hard drive isn’t just about your computer use now. You need to think about how you intend to use your machine in the future.

You can partition your boot drive perfectly, but if it doesn’t leave enough space for future data, it won’t be of any use.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • ​Are you going to be the sole user of the machine?
  • ​Do you have kids starting to use your computer?
  • ​Is it necessary to separate work and personal computing?
  • What new programs or games would you like to add?
  • How long do you intend to use this machine?
  • Are you due for OS or program upgrades soon?
  • What would you like to improve about your organization?

​​​​​​​There are dozens of ways you can partition your boot drive, but a few common categories typically work best. One is to put your OS and programs in one partition and all your files in another.

A second popular option is to use four partitions, one each for media, games, personal files and operating systems/programs.

Create a Safety Net

Data Migration PCs

Chances are if you’re reading this article, this is your first attempt to partition a hard drive. You can protect yourself from mistakes by taking simple precautions first.

Before doing any drive reorganization, clone your interior hard drive to an exterior drive. This way, you’ll have a backup in case you make any fatal mistakes, and you can experiment without fear of losing vital data.

Make Notes

As you divide up your boot drive, especially if you’re moving around a lot of existing files, take copious notes. You might think you’ll remember where everything is, but you might not. Leave yourself a list of what went where, at least until you use the new method for a while.

Follow Instructions Carefully

Take your time as you work, and be sure to follow instructions precisely for your specific computer. Friends may offer advice, but if they don’t have the same system, the process for drive organization may be different.

Finally, dealing with boot drive organization can be complicated, if you have a lot of files, an older system, or a non-PC computer. If you can’t do it on your own, it’s perfectly okay to call in a pro to make sure the job gets done right.

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