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I see that most people tend to make /boot, swap, Windows System partition, etc first. And some say that it'll be faster to do so, while others say 'outer tracks' faster. Could you tell me which one (or both?) makes sense and why?

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So, do tell, which one makes sense and why? Neither "Disk Utility benchmark" nor Tom's benchmarks answer your question. –  msw Jul 6 '10 at 3:23
Maybe I did not ask well because of my poor English, but I've got what I wanted to know: The outer tracks (usually) resist first in the partition graph and the read speed is faster, while no clear random access speed difference. –  lilydjwg Jul 6 '10 at 9:43

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Yes. Data located at the outer edge of a traditional hard disk will be sequentially read faster than data closer to the center of the platter. This is just physics. The tangential velocity of the outer tracks is faster than inner tracks so the rotational latency is lower.

The easiest way to see this is to look at any disk drive test tool which graphs the throughput of a drive. The highest throughput will be at beginning of the drive which is located on the outer edge.

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Now whether or not that matters in any significant way with doing the more typical random accesses an OS is going to do with a /swap partition is more debatable. I'm also not sure how relevant the /swap partition is these days when the size of RAM memory is typically a few GBs. FWIW, I usually don't bother with this. But to each their own ...

If you're using a current version of Ubuntu the Disk Utility app has a "benchmark" function which can give you a rough idea of what sort of a difference there is between the "outer" and the "inner" parts of your drive.

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I've tried the "benchmark" function and see that. It's a nice tool for this. Thank you! –  lilydjwg Jul 5 '10 at 5:26
+1 for noting the difference between lab tests and "Now whether or not that matters in any significant way with doing the more typical random accesses an OS is going to do with a /swap partition is more debatable." –  msw Jul 6 '10 at 2:59
+1, but would be nice to have the original source for the graph you used. –  jupp0r Dec 4 '12 at 12:37
@jupp0r I don't remember the exact source other than (obviously) it came from one of the test articles on tomshardware.com. Probably something in the Internal Storage: Articles & Reviews section from a few years ago. (Most of the current articles are about SSDs). –  irrational John Dec 4 '12 at 21:39
@jupp0r Just a guess, but I think the graph may have been taken from the fourth page of Reviewed: 2.5" Notebook Hard Drives From Toshiba And Hitachi. –  irrational John Dec 4 '12 at 21:52

Hard disks are most definitely faster on the outer tracks (use a utility like HD Tune to see for yourself), so I always want my Windows system partition (typically the C: drive) to be the first partition created on the disk. The ability for a hard disk to read and write data efficiently is by the biggest bottleneck in today's computer system. That is why the solid state disks are becomming so popular as prices fall. Their read and write speeds far exceed that of mechanical disks.

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So you mean the first partition created will be the outermost one? Is it true that the left of the graph usually shown by partitioning software (eg Windows' default tool) is corresponding to the outer tracks? –  lilydjwg Jul 4 '10 at 15:47
If you use the Windows Disk Management utility (diskmgmt.msc at a command prompt), then yes, the leftmost partitions are on the outer tracks of a drive. –  irrational John Jul 4 '10 at 16:45

I'd be surprised if it made a noticeable difference for a desktop user given modern drive controllers.

... "So this small differential may be the only thing to distinguish drives; and small differences are what you are likely to see..." -- pcguide

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From the list of partitions you mention it sounds like you're talking about a Linux/Windows dual-boot system, and in that case it's worth mentioning that the Windows installer doesn't seem to work properly if you ask it to install on any but the first partition. So for that reason, a lot of people who run a dual-boot system install Windows on the first partition. After that, it probably makes sense to put the swap partition as far toward the outside of the disk as possible; since that's going to be caching RAM, it's probably more important for it to be fast than for the regular file partitions to be fast (although what irrational John says about the swap partition being less important when you have large amounts of RAM is true). But generally, I don't think the speed difference between the inside and the outside of the disk is going to be a big issue. No matter where you are on the drive, it'll be slower than RAM access and faster than network access.

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Yes, I'm going to have my dual-boot system rearranged and reinstalled. Win7 seems OK to be install on other primary partition. In fact, the speed difference is bigger than what I thought :-) –  lilydjwg Jul 5 '10 at 5:42

The page file should be set to fixed size on the first partition which should also be the system partition. There is no advantage at all in creating a separate page file partition, even if it is the first partition. Having the page file at the start of the disk can actually slow things down if you have a lot of data. The page file is very relevant even with lots of RAM, because of the way Windows addresses virtual memory.

Windows will perform better with a page file that is a set size and contiguous (ie not fragmented), even if you have truck loads of RAM. The page file should be located at approx 20-30% into the disk from the outer tracks. A fragmented page file kills performance.

A good tool to use is Ultimate Defrag, where high performance data is put on the outer tracks and 'archive' data out on the inner tracks. Settings exist to defragment the page file on reboot and moved to approx the 30% mark.

Page file should be set to at least 2 x the RAM size, despite what Microsoft suggest. RAM should be the minimum for Windows to perform properly otherwise Windows will use the page file even if it does not need to. Windows will perform better with a page file even if you have truck loads of RAM. Don't ask me the reason why, I didn't create Windows, what I do know is what I observe.

As a standard, for Windows 7, things work best with a minimum of 8GB RAM and a page file of 16384 or greater.

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