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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Hard Disk Drives | Hard Disk Logical Structures and File Systems | New Technology File System (NTFS) | NTFS Implementation Considerations ]

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 overall performance.

Next: NTFS and Other File Systems

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