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I have just purchased a 1Tb external hard drive, the reason being I am moving jobs and changing computers. I thought I could install all my personal programs and data on the external drive instead of on the laptop drive. My questions are; Should I partition the drive? How many partitions and how big should the partitions be? What should I put on each partition? Is there a piece of software (preferably free or included in Windows) that I should use?

I hope someone can help

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closed as not constructive by techie007, Kyle Jones, Josip Medved, 8088, Canadian Luke Jan 1 '13 at 5:28

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5 Answers

Unfortunately the situation isn't that simple when it comes to programs. Most modern windows software will write to the registry when it is installed unless it is specifically described as portable. I'd generally stick to just having data on the external hard drive, I wouldn't even suggest moving your My Documents folder onto it unless you can guarantee never wanting to run your PC without it connected since windows will probably get upset if you do.

I'd generally only recommend using external drives for backup or archiving purposes. As such one large partition is fine for this subdivided into folders. The problem I've found with partitioning is that you never seem to get the sizes right and resizing partitions although easier than it used to be is something to be avoided.

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Generally speaking external drives don't have the throughput to run software as quickly as you would run it from your laptop's internal drive. That said, many so called "portable" versions of applications do exist which can be run from external drives; PortableApps is the best resource. Running Firefox in this way for example lets you keep all your bookmarks and preferences from machine to machine.

Personally, I'd advise not partitioning external drives with multiple partitions. From experience I'd always "eject" one of the partitions and forget to eject the other before physically unplugging the unit, which can cause data loss. If you're less absent minded than me though, fire away :)

Your primary concern would probably be be which file system to use, and it largely depends on the machines you'll be using it with. Provided you'll be using it with Windows XP, Vista and 7 computers, you can get away with just using one partition and NTFS for maximum reliability and performance.

Partitioning tools exist in Windows 2000 and later under Administrative Tools → Computer Management → Storage → Disk Management. If this doesn't work (rare, but not not unheard of), PartedMagic is a free, bootable Linux distribution with very simple to use graphical partitioning tools. As with any hard drive operations though, remember to back up your data before attempting anything!

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Find Disk Management in Administrative Tools. That should help you partition your hard drive. The best thing is that it's built in in Windows and it's free.

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My advice is generally to partition in 2 parts; 1 NTFS and 1 FAT32.

NTFS - To be able to store large files (4gb+)

FAT32 - To be compatible with other devices that generally don't support NTFS - e.g XBOX 360

Generally 50/50% split works well.

Windows has built in partitioning tools:

Computer Management > Storage > Disk Management

Right click on device and select 'New Simple Volume'

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You should partition when there is a need to partition. Otherwise just use folders, especially on an external drive where you don't have to worry about separating your OS(es) from your data.

The only reason I ever had to partition an external drive was to use it as a backup for my PC HDD. I'd use some image program (for example Acronis) to make an exact copy of my C:\ drive and then use the rest of the disk for data. That way if anything where to happen to my PC HDD, I'd just swap the disks and be up and running in 5 minutes.

Only other reason I can think of is if you want to have an encrypted partition with TrueCrypt, but it's not exactly something the average person does.

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