Recommended Drive Configuration

Awhile back, a good friend and MVP asked how I configured my drive(s) on a new machine.   There’s no single right or wrong way of course, but thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject, especially now that Windows 7 is arriving on the scene.  Let’s start with some assumptions:  the first assumption is that the machine is laptop – not that a desktop would be all that different, but there are a lot more options on a desktop (RAID, larger drives, etc.) that would influence my choice.  The second assumption is that you’re a power user and would like to boot to other OS’s, but not lose your current OS installation.  Next, there are tools on the market that allow you to resize/create partitions dynamically, including tools built into Windows;  however, ideally I prefer to not muck with the configuration.  And finally, I still have virtual machines I use, but this is for a primary OS setup.

First things:  I use Windows Home Server to manage backups.  This is an useful for backups, but even more so if you’re paving drives and want a way to “go back” – it has never been easier for me to restore an entire drive and when you’re formatting drives a lot, it’s nice to have some peace of mind.

In laptops, I recommend going for solid state drives if you can afford it, otherwise stick with 7200 RPM drives.  There’s a temptation to go 5400 RPM (or lower) because of the larger capacities available, but I really don’t recommend this.  In my laptops, I typically create 2 or 3 partitions, plus one drive for data.  Each partition runs an OS – on my current setup, I run two OS installations (C: and D:) plus one data drive (E:):


Every time I install applications, I’ll do so under the OS installation drive, but any data gets stored on my E: drive.  That way, I can repave my drives and simply reinstall applications I need – my WHS has snapshots so if there are any critical files I unintentionally delete, it’s easy to get them.

When I install a new OS, I’ll reformat the drive on setup.  One problem you’ll run into when doing this on the primary OS is blowing away the BCD (boot configuration database) (unless you’re using WinXP, which uses the boot.ini).  If you want to boot to the other drive, you’ll need to edit the BCD in the new OS.  The BCD was introduced in Vista as way to abstract the boot configuration (both MBR and EFI architectures) and support Unicode strings for internationalization.  As a downside, BDCedit isn’t all that intuitive to use.

One tool I’ve used to play around with the BCD is EasyBCD.  EasyBCD gives you a nice GUI to edit the BCD:


While development of the tool hasn’t caught up with Win7 yet, it worked pretty well except for one little glitch.  When I added my old Win7RC boot, I couldn’t get the drive assigned properly (it kept pointing to U:), but this was easily fixed under the Change Settings section and resetting the drive:


Obviously, it doesn’t make much sense for me to run Win7 RTM and RC, but it’s necessary until I’m done migrating and ensure all my projects work.  I’ll install Server 2008 R2 over the RC installation. 

On my other laptop, I have 3 partitions + 1 for data, but turns out I only use 2.  For the fringe cases, I use VPCs.

Comments (1) -

Ed Eddleman
Ed Eddleman
9/19/2009 7:39:25 PM #

I have setup many drives and I have found that 40g for C and 40g for programs and the rest for data. If I keep the C: with as few files as possible then it buys me performance.
I try to install everything to the programs partition. Then I map everything to the data drives for documents, photos, music, videos and any other kind of data. If I keep the C: below 10g on a quad processor then the system flies.

If MS would use this practice on OS install it would double and triple performance. I notice that Dell, HP and ACer setup one partition for a large drive. Once the user gets 40g or more on the C: the performace takes a big hit.

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