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NTFS Partitioning Strategies
When setting up a new system using the NTFS file system, one decision that you need to
make is how you are going to set up your NTFS partitions. Modern hard disks are very
large; in many situations, it makes sense to not put all of the space in a hard disk into
a single partition. NTFS is often used for server machines, which may make use of RAID technology to allow the creation of very
large logical disks. If you have a 500 GB RAID array, it is certainly conceivable that you
might not want all of that space put in a single volume!
I discuss partitioning issues, including the various tradeoffs in choosing numbers and
sizes of partitions, in this comprehensive discussion of
partitioning. While that discussion is oriented around the FAT file system, many of
the same points apply to NTFS. A key one is that NTFS is like FAT in that the cluster size of the partition affects its performance, and the
default cluster size depends on the size of the partition selected. Other general
"common sense" issues are also relevant to NTFS as well as FAT; for example, not
splitting up your disk into too many partitions to "organize it".
In addition to that section, here are a few specific points that you may want to keep
in mind when partitioning a system with NTFS:
- Limit the Number of Partitions: NTFS is designed to be able to
gracefully handle much larger partitions than FAT can. As a result, you should avoid the
temptation to "go overboard" and segment large disks or RAID arrays into many
little volumes. Doing this makes the system more difficult to manage in most cases and
results in not much improvement in performance.
- Consider A Dedicated Operating System Partition: Many people who set up
NTFS systems use two partitions. The "C:" (boot) volume is made smaller (a few
gigabytes) and dedicated to the operating system and the installation of low-level
utilities and administration tools. The other volume (normally "D:") is used for
applications and data. This split may make administration easier and avoid problems
associated with using too large a boot partition size with Windows NT.
- Adjust Cluster Sizes If Needed: The default cluster size on an NTFS
partition can be overridden, as described here. You may
wish to use larger or smaller clusters than the system would normally select, depending on
your needs. For example, you may want a larger cluster size for a partition that will be
holding large multimedia files. Do be aware that there can be consequences to going away
from the default values. For example, NTFS compression will
not work on a volume that uses clusters greater than 4 kiB in size.
- Beware of Converting Partitions to NTFS Under Windows NT: Converting a partition from FAT to NTFS under Windows NT results
in the NTFS partition being assigned the smallest possible cluster size, 512 bytes. This
may cause a degradation in performance.
- Multiple Operating System Compatibility: Some systems use multiple
operating systems, some of which cannot natively read and write NTFS partitions. For
example, Windows 9x/ME cannot read and write NTFS partitions. On these machines, some
people create one FAT partition, in addition to any NTFS partitions, for compatibility and
file transfer purposes. Note that this is not required for accessing files on an NTFS
partition over a network; files on an NTFS partition can be shared across a network even
if the network client's operating system cannot use NTFS locally. See
this page for more information.
These suggestions should help guide you as you set up an NTFS system and determine how
to partition it. Once again, I would encourage you not to worry too much
about fine-tuning your partition selection strategy. Most of the other system setup and
administration decisions you make in setting up the PC will have more of an impact on
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