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Author Topic: Advanced Disks and Drives Management in Windows Vista  (Read 1553 times)

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Amker

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Advanced Disks and Drives Management in Windows Vista
« on: 04. August 2007., 21:20:39 »
Disks, partitions, drivers, FAT, NTFS, volumes... the fact of the matter is that it all comes down to storage. So, essentially, managing disks and drives via Windows Vista will allow users to control the storage space available on the local hard drive or even drives if that should be the case. Instead of having a single drive on which the operating system has to coexist with all additional data, Vista will allow you to break up the cohabitation into smaller storage areas, as the predecessor versions of the Windows operating system did. If you are already familiar with the disk management capabilities of XP, you will notice that Vista brings to the table a few improvements.

It is always a healthy technique to reserve an entire volume just for Windows Vista. In the first set of screenshots below you will be able to see that I have started with a clean installation of Windows Vista Enterprise. The operating system was installed without partitioning the space available of the hard drive in any manner. Click on the thumbnails to access larger versions of the images. There is just one hard disk and a single partition. Now, didn't I say this was unhealthy? Well yes, but such a basic setting allows me to demonstrate the advanced disk and drive management features built in Windows Vista. And of course that there are third party products designed especially for such tasks, but Vista has plenty to offer and users get access to a great deal of capabilities that ship by default with the platform.

Please do bear in mind that this is only a demonstration. You can manage your hard drives in accordance to your needs and preferences. You might just be the adept of keeping the operating system and all your personal data on a single volume. Frequent backups saved on external storage might just do the trick for you. But then you'll be missing out on giving the Vista disk management resources a try. And this is why I will cover the Disk Management tool and DISKPART (but only a tad).

Are You Calling Me FAT? Well, Are You? I Thought So!

Before getting down to FAT32 vs. NTFS, I thought I would joggle with some of the terminology associated with managing the hard disk drives in Windows Vista, especially Formatting and File System, just because the two concepts are interconnected. Formatting a disk via the Format command is a process designed to get the physical device ready for storage in relation to either the FAT32 or NTFS file systems. FAT (File Allocation Table) and NTFS (NT File System) along with CDFS (Compact Disc File System) and UDF (Universal Disk Format) are the file systems supported in Vista. And file systems provide a method for organizing the contents, either files or folder, stored on a particular disk.

 
So which one will it be? FAT32 or NTFS? Surprisingly enough, even in  the context of Windows Vista, there are users that still
oscillate between the two. Vista does point in the right direction. The latest operating system from Microsoft will only install by default on a NTFS partition. FAT32 just doesn't bode well with Vista. I recommend using NTFS for all formatting involving Windows Vista on your local hard drives. Of course that if you are still running Windows 98 for example then you should also turn back in time to FAT32. But it is not right to consider FAT32 obsolete, while it is the file system of choice for USB flash disks, mainly because of issues involving backward compatibility, even though FAT dates back to the late 1970s and was related to the MS-DOS operating system.

FAT of course grew to FAT12, FAT16 and FAT32, an evolution that marked the parallel increase in bits, before Microsoft introduced NTFS concomitantly with Windows NT. But when it comes down to FAT32 vs. NTFS, the truth is that the first comes with inherent limitations, the first of which are related to scalability. Starting with Windows 2000, the Redmond company limited the size of volumes formatted via FAT32 to just 32 GB, while the actual restriction involves 2 terabytes. FAT32 also comes with issues of support for alternate data streams in transfer scenarios with the source formatted as NTFS or UDF. Additionally, considering the fact that the maximum size of a file on FAT32 cannot go higher than, well... 32-bits, a partition formatted with this file system will not store files over 4 GB. And to top it all off, FAT32 comes with no data recovery capabilities and because of the lack of clustering it suffers a continuous degradation in performance.

So the obvious choice is NTFS. When formatting your hard disk this is the only option you should consider. While NTFS is superior to FAT32, there are better solutions for a file system available and one of them, Sun Microsystems' Zettabyte File System will be integrated into Mac OS X Leopard in October 2007. But in Vista we simply have to work with what we've got. As a journaling file system, NTFS does come with recoverability, based on the transaction model of handling metadata. Moreover the file system provides users with security features such as restrictive access, optimized disk space utilization, managing volumes greater than 8 GM more efficiently than FAT32, increased speed and extends the maximum file size to 256 terabytes.

As previous versions of Windows, Vista also allows users to convert a FAT32 disk or partition to NTFS via the command-line Convert utility. All you have to do is enter "cmd" in the Search Box under the Start Menu and press Ctrl + Shift + Enter in order to launch command prompt with elevated privileges. Then simply type "convert e: /fs:ntfs" where "e:" is the actual partition you want to convert from FAT32 to NTFS. You have to keep in mind the fact that the conversion process requires the drive not to be in use. Otherwise you can schedule the task for the next time Vista reboots.

It's Right About Time You'd Get Your Hands Dirty...

The Disk Management tool and the Diskpart Command-Line Utility are the two ways you can manage Vista's resources. In order to access Diskpart open a command prompt window with elevated privileges. And that's it, you are set. However, the utility is only designed for the most advanced users. The minute you use the old "/?" after DISKPART in the command prompt window you will understand why. But since all the tasks that you can perform via Diskpart can be replicated with the Disk Management tool, with some exceptions, I will focus on the latter. Still, if you want to master disk management via the command prompt then Microsoft has set up "A Description of the Diskpart Command-Line Utility" to address just such cases.

So we are left with Disk Management. You can execute the tool by entering "diskmgmt.msc" in the Search box under the Start menu, or in a Run dialog. Right clicking on Computer will bring up a contextual menu and the Manage option will open the Computer Management window centralizing such system and storage tools as Task Scheduler, Event Viewer, Device Manager and of course Disk Management, along with additional options. And last, you can always navigate your way via Start Menu, Control Panel, System and Maintenance, Administrative Tools and then Create And Format Hard Disk Partitions. Just stick with the first variant...

Via Disk Management you will be able to access detailed information related to various properties of your disk and volumes including size, status, file system, free space, etc. In addition you can also manage partitions, logical drives and dynamic volumes, formatting them, creating new ones or deleting the ones you don't need. This is also the best tool when it comes down to changing or assigning new drive letters to hard disk volumes, expand and shrink partitions, handling the conversion from basic disks to dynamic disks and building spanned and striped volumes.

Since I only have a single hard drive available I won't be able to demonstrate the conversion of basic disks to dynamic ones. According to Microsoft a basic disk is "a physical disk that can be accessed by MS-DOS and all Windows-based operating systems. Basic disks can contain up to four primary partitions, or three primary partitions and an extended partition with multiple logical drives," while a dynamic disk involves "a physical hard disk formatted for dynamic storage, which includes support for volumes that can span multiple disks."

In this context, it is important to understand that striped and spanned volumes are also connected to multiple physical hard disks. Microsoft offers the following descriptions for the two:

"A striped volume is a dynamic volume that stores data in stripes on two or more physical disks. Data in a striped volume is allocated alternately and evenly (in stripes) across the disks. Striped volumes offer the best performance of all the volumes that are available in Windows, but they do not provide fault tolerance. If a disk in a striped volume fails, the data in the entire volume is lost. You can create striped volumes only on dynamic disks. Striped volumes cannot be extended. You can create a striped volume onto a maximum of 32 dynamic disks."

"A spanned volume is a dynamic volume that consists of disk space on more than one physical disk. If a simple volume is not a system volume or boot volume, you can extend it across additional disks to create a spanned volume, or you can create a spanned volume in unallocated space on a dynamic disk."

As you can see I broke the initial partition into two and with the help of the New Simple Volume Wizard I took care of the formatting. You will only be able to access a new volume after formatting has completed. At that point there will also be a new drive letter in the Windows Explorer. You can continue to subdivide your volumes as much as you see fit, just keep in mind that there are only so many letters in the alphabet.
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Advanced Disks and Drives Management in Windows Vista
« on: 04. August 2007., 21:20:39 »




 

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