I just bought a new 2TB disk drive I plan to use as an external drive (connected via eSATA). When I started my computer it recognized the drive fine, but when I got into the Disk Management, a popup told me that I have to initialize that drive and I have to choose between MBR and GPT layout.

The drive will be primarily used on Windows 7 computers (both x86 and x64) as well as on a Windows Vista x64 computer (which is the one the message appeared on).

I do not plan to create multiple partitions on that drive as it is only supposed to be a data storage disk.

Which partition layout should I choose, MBR or GPT? The dialog itself recommends to use GPT on drives >= 2TB or on Itanium based computers, but I want to make sure that I will be able to access the drive later on my other computers.


GPT will not be usable by XP and earlier systems (I think), so avoid it if that is an issue. Not having seen an XP machine in 3 years it's not an issue for me so I use it in preference to MBR, but it makes little difference at this point in time. At some point, you will have to use GPT, until then, make a choice.

  • Well, I don't plan to ever use an XP (or older) system - well, at least not in combination with this drive - so I guess I'm completely fine with GPT. Thanks! – poke Sep 24 '10 at 12:34
  • If you have <4 partitions won't XP be fine with the MBR compatibility stuff in GPT? – Glyph Jun 3 '12 at 20:13
  • @Glyph Actually GPT is safer because it doesn't have "hidden" data that may accidentally be deleted, and it stores the GPT entries in 2 places, so if one has problem it can use the backup one to restore. MBR uses only the first sector to store data so if it fails, you have posibility of losing data. – phuclv May 24 '14 at 14:46
  • Sure. I'm saying that GPT is better even if you do need XP support, because GPT has MBR emulation, but not the other way around. – Glyph May 25 '14 at 18:07

As of now, support for GPT among common systems is limited. Check out the list of supported OSes here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GUID_Partition_Table#OS_support_of_GPT

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    So if I interpret those tables correctly, then that means if I only want to use the drive as a storange disk and will never boot from it, then using GPT is completely fine? – poke Sep 24 '10 at 12:29
  • That concerns only bootable drives - not an issue with external (data storage) drives like the OP is talking about. – CJM Sep 24 '10 at 12:32
  • @poke Basically if you're not interested in XP or earlier, yes. – BloodPhilia Sep 24 '10 at 12:39

Use MBR. It's more compatible with other systems and disk utilities as well. Since the disk is 2TB GPT isn't needed at all

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    Can you give some examples of current systems and software that has problems with GPT and where no alternative exists? It’s hard to believe that there is any compatibility issue left, six years after originally asking this question and coming to the conclusion that GPT has replaced MBR enough to safely choose it. – poke Aug 17 '16 at 5:49

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