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Archer's Hard Disk Management
Project date: July 25, 2000 Last update: May 25, 2005

Hint:As this is a fairly longish page, use your browser's Files/Save ... command to save this page for later reading offline and as a reference

Since changing over to Windows as my main working platform I have had to reinstall it so many times because installing and removing large number of programs for editorial reviews, left trash on the drive, bloated the registry and generally affected performance.At some point I got tired of the repeated reinstall process. Reinstallation to get a clean start involved many chores and over a period of time I found that I have been increasingly using certain software to help me and I had also developed certain ways of doing my work with lesser effort and greater certainty. Through this page I share my experiences with the people on the web

I also wish to make it clear that there are commercial software available like Partition Magic, Ghost, Drive Image etc which may give you the results without your having to learn the actual mechanics of the hard disk management. The software I have used is more for the adventurous with a penchant for knowledge. This page is aimed at such people.

STOP PRESS    I have been doing some experiments in extending the life of hard disks that have developed bad sectors and I have described my experiences in this page Nine lives to your hard disk. Hope you will find this page interesting



Disclaimer !!!
I have my own ways of working with my hard disk and so far had encountered no serious problem. However the procedures I have followed may not work with another hard disk or machine or whatever, have the potential of trashing your hard disk and I cannot be held responsible in case of any loss or damage that may be caused by using these procedures. Do experiment at your own risk.

Having that out of the way, let us move on now:

I have found the following tools immensely helpful in managing hard disks: (Links further down)

  1. Version 1.0 by Jad Saliba
  2. Fdisk
  3. Part.exe Version 2.37.12 by Mikhail Ranish
  4. Presizer.exe Version 1.3.4 by Zeleps
  5. Windows Explorer - what else ?
  6. XXCOPY by Kan Yabumoto
  7. And now - SavePart by Damien Guiboure
  8. Notes on formatting hard disks

With the above I prepare my hard disks exactly the way I require them, partition them, copy them, resize them, the whole works with absolutely no loss of data. These tools are extremely handy but, be careful, they are capable of trashing data in the hands of the un-initiated.

Important  Read all the documents and FAQs provided with these software carefully and more than once till you understand the techniques well enough before attempting using them on your hard disk that has valuable data in them.

All these software work under DOS and if you do not have a DOS boot disc then create a Windows boot disc and boot with that. Anyway if you have a FAT32 partition you will not see the hard disk unless you boot with the Windows boot disc. I am afraid most of these programs may not work with XP unless it is an upgrade from Windows.

I have not addressed any of the BIOS questions on the size of the hard disk recognized by it at this time. I assume that you have a BIOS that recognizes your hard disk's entire capacity.

Please note: I have put in a few observations on formatting of hard disks at the very end for those that want to know about the mechanics involved.

Starting with a clean slate

Many times I have had to completely re-partition my hard disk after removing the existing partitions.

The usual method is to use FDISK and remove one by one the logical drives, the extended partition and then the boot partition. And FDISK allows to re-partition the disk only if all traces of earlier partitions are removed. This is a frustrating chore if you have a number of logical drives and here comes a tiny program to the rescue, This program clears entire partition information on the hard disk in a jiffy and makes the hard disk behave as if you have just bought it.

Click here to get a copy of completely removes all partition information so that when you run FDISK it shows no partition and you can partition it the way you like. also allows you to save the partition information so that if you change your mind you can recover the partition information later. (but not after you have re-partitioned and formatted the disk, anyway).


Now comes the question of partitioning the hard disk. What is your objective? You just want a single boot partition for a single Operating System with a number of logical drives?

FDISK is just the tool for this operation available from the earliest MS-DOS days. Using the FDISK you can create a primary partition and make the remaining area into an extended partition which you can sub-divide into logical drives - as many as you want till you have used up the entire disp space. With the version of FDISK shipped with Win95b onwards you have also can choose the FAT32 system, allowing you sizes per partition greater than 2 gb.

FDISK has never been user friendly and it has limitations in that you can create only a single primary partition. And if ever you have to clean up your disk of all partition information then you have to work back, delete step by step all that you created earlier. And after FDISK you are always forced to do a full format of each partition though you may not want it. (Actually the format operation first checks presence of a system area, comprising directory and FAT sectors. If they are not there, the case immediately after partitioning, it forces a complete format to scan every sector of the partition so that it can mark the bad sector information in the FAT area)

The  Real  Real Estate

With dual booting to DOS and still using a number of 16-bit programs I find that it is more convenient to use FAT16 system so my primary partition is just 512 mb. In this partition I boot either Win95 OSR2.5 or DOS (Using F4 at the Starting Windows 95 ... statement). I use a reasonable number of programs, browsers, mail clients, newsreader and more, but have no data on this partition, and I am yet to find the need for the size of a primary partition larger than 512 mb, even with Win98SE. Of course there are logical partitions which are much bigger and I use them for storage. One partition of 500 mb has only DOS programs which I still use. Another 600 mb partition holds all the stuff I download. As soon as a I collect about 500 mb I burn a CD to archive my collection and this size helps me defrag the drive in reasonable time. Another partition holds Linux and this partition is invisible to DOS and Windows but Linux sees all the partitions.

HINT: Digressing, there are many programs that do not write anything to the registry - a standalone exe program or one that works in its own folder and does not depend on other Windows components. I never put these in my Windows/DOS partition, but in another. When the registry gets bloated and performance degrades I format my boot partition and reinstall Windows and I never have to reinstall these programs. I just save the link (files with the .lnk extension) files and copy them back after re-installation of Windows.

HINT #2: Did I say reinstall windows? Never. I have a small spare hard disk in which I have a copy of minimum, fully tweaked windows install (Win95OSR2.5 - No IE - installed size is less than 50 mb) and I just copy this installation back to my working hard disk - a few minutes work compared to the normal time involved in installing afresh every time!!!

Stan Brown had a page on hard disk partitioning that was very informative and gives good value for your time - it talks of partitions, the why and how of it. Stan removed this sometime back from his site for personal reasons but he was good enough to permit me host that page at my site itself.

Hard Disk Partitioning: Why and How

More than one OS

If you require more than one Operating System to be installed then you have to arrange multiple primary partitions which can be chosen using a boot loader program. The FDISK Program does not allow more than one primary partition and there are several priced software that can be used to get this done.

Mikhail Ranish has provided a very compact Partition Manager that is simple in its execution but is very powerful. This program, according to the author, can be evaluated for a period of "Ten years" after which you can send US$ 10 if you continue to use the program. Well, if you cannot afford $$$ then you can send a picture post card !!! Anyway it boils down to the fact that the program can be used by individuals for own use for a reasonably long period.

PART.EXE can handle several types of OS like Win9x/FAT16, Win9x/FAT32, NTFS, Linux etc.

Go to the site and download the earlier version 2.37.12 which is still available there as PART.ZIP. The latest version is now in 2.40 (this 32 bit version is only for more experienced users but can handle large disk sizes but can handle only 4 primary partitions unlike 2.37.12 which can do 32 and reads only the first 8 gb of the hard disk)

The earlier version 2.37.12 has a more simple interface and is easy to understand for the beginner. Read all the documents and FAQs provided at the site.

Home Page of Mikhail Ranish - Get a copy of here

With the simple boot manager provided by the Ranish Partition Manager you can have four primary partitions of which only one can be active at a time, to be chosen via the boot manager. But the program has the capacity to provide for up to 32 primary partitions using the Advanced Boot Manager!! and I am sure you will never have to have that many different Operating Systems on your hard disk.

A Great Help and a Lifesaver idea (Recovery primer!)

Whichever way you partition your hard disk, run part.exe and note down all the CHS (that is Cylinder, Head, Sector) values for the MBR and the various EMBR levels.

You can also use the command line instruction

part -p -r > disk.txt

that will save the partition information to the disk file disk.txt from you can take out a print.

This will come in handy to recover the partitions in case the partition information was trashed by accident or a virus. In most instances destruction of partition table alone does not affect the data in the disk and using PART.EXE you can restore the partitions by entering the information noted earlier by you and saving it to the hard disk. Just start part.exe and enter manually all the CHS values you had noted earlier, save them and bingo! your partitions are back.

Even if you do not have the CHS boundary values for the partitons you can still recover lost partitions. This will take some time and your patience so you can try this if you have important data you want badly from the disk. From the size of the partitions you had on your disk you can roughly calculate the approximate beginning of each patition. Then use a sector reading utility, for example, Findsect.exe from Seagate, check some sectors in the vicinity of the calculated beginning sector. You cannot miss the starting sector which may go like this

.< .M SW IN 4. 1. .. ..
.@ .. .. .. ?. @. ?. ..
A. .. .. ). .' .
FA T1 6 3.
.. .. {. .. x. .v .. V.
U. ". .~ .. N. .. .. ..

And that is your begining of a partition. Note the beginning sector for all the partitions in this way and then enter them manually using part.exe and you are done ! And remember that all partitions begin at the first sector of a cylinder.

As an example the MBR of the partition table of a hard disk having 1022 physical Cylinders, 64 physical Heads (Sides) and 63 Sectors per cylinder (normally called CHS values, having logical values 1021-63-63 in this case) made into four partitions will show as follows. Remember that Cylinders and Sides start counting from 0 while Sectors from 1.

Partition Table 1021-63-63
  Starting Ending  
Record Cylinder Head Sector Cylinder Head Sector Comments
MBR 0 1 1 248 63 63 Primary partition, C:
249 0 1 1021 63 63 Entire extended partition
EMBR1 249 1 1 497 63 63 Partition, D:
498 0 1 726 63 63  
EMBR2 498 1 1 726 63 63 Partition, E:
727 0 1 1021 63 63  
EMBR3 727 1 1 1021 63 63 Partition, F:

While the MBR holds the entries for the primary partition and the entire extended partition each EMBR hold the entries for itself and the following partition.

You can see that the primary partition starts at 0-1-1 and not 0-0-1 and that is the case with all other partitions, that is, they all start at Side 1. The Side 0 is kept for partition information for the primary partition (MBR) and this is consistently followed by other partitions too. (Theoretically a partition can start anywhere but practice follows the above convention)

The starting sector data shown earlier (for DOS & Windows, that is) is always found at Side 1 Sector 1 of any partition and this helps you hand code the partition information using PART.EXE. (In the example above you will find that data at (C-H-S) 0-1-1, 249-1-1, 498-1-1 and 727-1-1. The sector reading programs will give you the address of that sector and you can make a table. Remember that each sector is 512 bytes in size and a kilo byte is 1024 bytes in computerese though hard disk manufacturers use the (metric) kilo as 1000 bytes that gives you misleading sizes - you always see the capacity shown by Windows is lower than that stated by the manufacturers.

All these hassles can be avoided if you just run PART.EXE after you partition a hard disk and write down the values in your scrap book for use at a later date. Note that modifying partition tables does nothing to the data in the hard disk and data can be accessed once you restore the original values - provided you did not write to the disk in between.

Playing with Partition sizes

Here comes another great gift in the form Zeleps's Partition Resizer - a freeware program that is a real wonder.

Go to Zeleps's site and download the latest version of Partition Resizer, Version 1.3.4 using the following link:

Zeleps's Home Site - Get a copy of here

How does this program help you? OK, let us take a look at this case. Suppose I had my partitions in a 1 gb hard disk as two equal halves and suddenly I end up with the following situation:

Active partition C: Windows with minimum programs 500 mb

Partition D: All my software and shareware collections 500 mb

At one point I find that I have hardly used 250 mb of C: but D: is full with downloaded programs. I want to have 100mb more in D: What do I do?

Partition Resizer will do all without a hitch. First I defrag C: and move all data to the beginning of the partition. When I run Partition Resizer it says I can have minimum size of 250 mb for C: but to be on the safe side I (graphically) change the size to 400 mb and once I ok the parameters the program completes the job and on rebooting I have C: with 300 mb and a D: with 500mb. At this point the 100 mb is shown unused if you run part.exe on the disk

Now, using Partition Resizer again, I enlarge, grow - to use the correct word, D: to 600 mb (that is I first move the 500 mb nearer C: and then grow D: to the maximum - all this is graphically shown on the screen) and I have what I wanted. Of course, all the above could have been done in a single step too.

The program actually creates additional space or reduces the space required for the fat and directory entries relative to the size of the new partition size, relocates the the data area by moving sectors. As the program handles only at the sector level, all your data is intact including Long File Names (LFN) And it does it fast and very well.

In fact, according to the documents available with the program, Presizer is capable of completing the job successfully even if interrupted by a power failure by your sister-in-law pulling off the power plug; I have had no occasion to test this feature.

If on the other hand you need to get 600mb of C: and 400 mb of D: no problem. Use the program to reduce D: to 400 mb, moves it to the end of the hard disk so that you can grow C: to 600 mb. Simple, right?.

And all this done without any data loss.

Getting a working copy of Windows on another hard disk

(Using Windows itself)

Please note that there may be some problem in the running of some programs due to the way Windows assigns short file names which may not agree with the short file names stored in the registry. Luckily, I suppose, I never encountered such a problem but you may not be so lucky!

Lots of people are using different commercial programs or even xcopy to copy all files from one disk to another but I have always used the Windows Explorer to do this and I have never failed once.

I install and uninstall so much shareware, at least one a day, removing it perhaps after a few hours or days, mostly for evaluation for magazine reviews. Most uninstall programs do not remove everything and leave garbage about in the c:\windows and C:\windows\system folders.. My registry also is left with a lot of dud entries that do not go away even if I Regclean every week and compress the registry once in a while. Result - A mega registry which uses up memory.

I therefore go for a fresh installation of Windows every three months or so but this again is a hassle, sitting in front of the computer and responding to the setup prompts and choosing settings not to mention the few reboots.

I installed Windows, the barest minimum and tuned it to my exact requirements. (I also never keep my data in the C:\ partition so that when I format it the data is never lost nor have I to save the data except when I take an archive.) Then I copied it to another spare hard disk and now whenever required I simply boot with the spare disk and copy back the stored installation to my working disk.

So if you want to copy your hard disk to another just follow these steps:

1. Using any of your favorite utility, prepare (partition, format and set the active partition) the second hard disk and connect it to the computer (primary slave or secondary master).

2 Start Windows. Your boot drive will be C: and the boot partition of the second hard disk will be D: in the normal course. You want a copy of C: in D:

3. You need a boot disk and if you do not have one go ahead and make one. Start up Control Panel, click on Add/Remove Programs and click on the Startup Disk tab and create the startup disk.

4. Start Windows Explorer and click on View and then Options. You will get a dialog box as follows: (This looks way different in Windows 98 but you cannot miss the proper entries)!

Settings dialog of Windows Explorer

Make sure that boxes are checked exactly as shown.

5. Make sure no other programs are running. Now in Windows Explorer highlight C: and drag it to D:. Wait till all files have been copied.

6. Switch off the computer and connect the second hard drive as the primary master. At this time the hard disk will not be able to boot. Use the startup disk to boot the computer and when you are at the A:\ prompt type sys c: and press Enter. The required boot information will be copied to the new disk and you have a working copy of the old hard disk.

Important Note  Many people have been objecting to this method of copying in the newsgroups for the simple reason the way Windows creates short file names which can lead to certain program not working ater copying. So use a bit of caution in selecting this method.

An eXcellent XCOPY for you

Here is a utility, XXCOPY, (courtesy: Kan Yabumoto) that you can use to clone your disk with considerable ease . Apart from several switches which can control the various options, it has a super switch XXCOPY /clone that meets all the requirement of cloning your hard disk. But do remember to use your Windows boot disk to do a sys C: and set the partition active so that the cloned drive becomes bootable. There is extensive documentation available at this site on this program and it is well worth your time reading them.

You can download the latest version of XXCOPY from one of the following sites:

Get XXCOPY from this site

SavePart A free handy util for your Hard Disk cloning

Here is one utility from Damien Guiboure, actually three, (1) to save a copy of your partition as a file, (2) to restore that file to a new partition and (3) to clone a disk.

All copying programs take the filename, find its location, copy the file to the memory and then copy it to the destination. And the file name is destroyed when it happens to be a long file name unless the copying program itself can handle the long file name.

However if you copy sector to sector without worrying about the contents then you get an exact copy and as no files are handled the long file names are safe. Further improvements to this process were implemented by adding capcity to create a compressed file of the sectors and copy only occupied sectors as well as adjusting to the size of the destination partition size if it was different from the source partition.

Though there are priced software, SavePart does this job equally well. The utility allows you create a compressed file of the sectors and you can adjust the compression level. Be warned though - too much compression will lead to long copy times. You have to choose between time and file size. Please read the documents, the program can handle a number of file systems.

You can get here, its home-page

A note on formatting hard disks

Many people in the newsgroups ask questions about Low Level Formatting. In older computers the bios itself provided a low level formatting facility which had trashed many a disk and newer computers do not include this facility. The IDE drives use certain translation routines that does not agree with those older bios routines. Low level formatting is not required in the normal usage of a hard disk as this has been done already by the manufacturer. What is being currently talked about is a sort of pseudo low level format that does not disturb the physical sectors - just write zeroes to all sectors.

However, if all else fails to recover a hard disk you can attempt a low level format, writing all zeroes to every sector for which safe Low Level Format programs are provided by most hard disk manufacturers.

These LLF programs write to every sector of the disk, wiping all data in the disk. It just informs the user of the presence and address of the bad sectors. Note that none of this information is not written to disk (unlike the normal format operation where bad sectors are marked as such).

But you face the situation where you have to clear a partition of all data. Usually a quick format will be sufficient to clear the particular hard disk partition of all "data pointers". I say this because the quick format just places a new FAT (file allocation table) that shows all clusters are free (except the ones marked bad , though) and an empty directory. All the original data in the data area is still there and will just be overwritten when you copy new files.

The FORMAT program has a small problem. Immediately after you make the partitions using FDISK there are no FAT and Directory areas, called the System area and so FORMAT program, sensing the absence of the system area, insists on a complete check of all the sectors so that when it writes the FAT table it can indicate the bad sectors and programs will avoid writing to these sectors.

This happens everytime you repartition your drive and it really takes too long with the latest large size disks. This is where you can use Ranish's PART.EXE to save time. Later ...

For an already formatted partition, Quick format is best, the least punishing and the fastest option if you are sure no bad sectors have crept in since the previous format.

If you have used PART.EXE for a while and have become familiar with it you will start using its format option because it is fast, it does not force you to verify the entire partition. So if you are sure that the partition you want formatted has no bad sectors part.exe is the program to use with the "F /quick" option. You can also do an extremely fast verify too, if you need to, with PART.EXE

Compared to the Quick format the normal unconditional format is used when formatting immediately after partitioning or changing partition sizes. During this operation every sector is read (nothing is written to the data area of the disk) to verify it and a note of bad sectors are made. The fat and the directory entries are then put in marking the bad sectors as unavailable.

Unconditional format does not write anything in the data area of the hard disk. A few times, I have given a format c: /u command by error on the wrong disk and realizing my mistake when the format has gone 60 or 70% I had pressed the panic button and noted with pleasant surprise that the hard disk was just the same as before I started the format operation.

Warning! Quick format is a different story altogether- it gives no time for thinking - it straightaway writes a new FAT and Directory information, so be careful if you carry valuable data in the hard disk.

Request to Visitors to this site:
If you think there are errors or I have made mistakes please do give me a few minutes of your valued time to send me mail so that I can correct myself and the page and also help others better. Please note that I have no personal interest in the software referred to above except that I am a satisfied user and have only praise for these compact and efficient pieces of programing. You can also tell me whether it will be helpful to add more information or improve this page. Thanks in advance.

Mail Archer : Direct your brickbats here

Note: Before you click that Send button on your email software, please replace the AT with an @ . I have been spammed enough by providing the unmunged email id on this page.