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Having partitions on a hard disk works like, although not exactly the same as, having different hard disks.
If your computer has unallocated space on a hard disk, you can create additional partitions from the unallocated space after logging on as an administrator. If a hard disk space is fully allocated, unallocated space can be generated if the size of a partition is reduced or a partition is deleted.
One of the main objectives of having partitions in a hard disk is for separation of user files from operating system files. By keeping user files in a separate partition from another that hosts the operating system, user files can usually remain intact if the operating system needs to be reinstalled. If you need to prepare for a multi-booting setup from a single disk, it would be ideal to have a separate partition for each system. Other than these purposes, you might also want to refer to other benefits for disk partitioning as described here.
Some users may prefer Windows’ built-in Disk Management utility to manage partitions, but most average users will like third party or standalone partition managers, which are usually equipped with more features and easier to use in general.
MiniTool Partition Wizard Home Edition is a very easy program to use with a solid graphical interface and the power and features to accomplish everything you need done to your disks. From the standards like resizing, creating, moving, deleting, formatting and copying disks and partitions to some fancy tasks like Hot Extend of the system partition without reboot, wiping your disks and partition recovery — Partition Wizard aims to be your one-stop software for all your disk needs. It supports all hard disks including IDE, SATA, SCSI, USB external disks, Fire wire disks. Now, with the new version 7.0 edition, Minitool has a '7' instead of a '6' in its name.
My testing on modest hardware returned very fast results for most tasks. On the average, a disk resize including reboots clocked in at under 5 minutes. These results are very close to my results for Easeus Partition Master. In fact, the times for Partition Wizard and Easeus were so close that the differences in completion time are not even worth mentioning. I elaborate on my testing procedures below for anyone interested in the details.
A few notable features - The partition recovery wizard worked great. I was able to see the previous partitions created and deleted, regardless of the tool used, and recover 100% of those partitions complete with data. There is also an enhanced data protection mode that you can optionally select when you are modifying your disks and partitions. The website describes the data protection mode as insurance against corrupting your disks while a partition task is running due to power failures and other electrical disturbances. This sounded like a great safety feature, but not one I was willing to test. Since the overhead of using this feature was a few megabytes of disk space, this is one of those "just use it" features. Recent experience shows this must add capability others can't match - I was able to alter certain partitions without the system needing to reboot, while other online programs required a reboot to complete the operation, probably related to the 'hot-extend' feature. Again, this can cause havoc with dual-booting systems.
EASEUS Partition Master (Home Edition) allows you to easily create, delete, format, convert or explore partitions on your hard drive. A few clicks and you can also resize, move, hide or unhide existing partitions - all without harming your data. Also included is a Copy Wizard. Upgrading from smaller disks to larger disks is easily accomplished with the help of the copy wizard.
All of the above functions are accomplished by using an intuitive, user-friendly interface. Only relevant tasks are enabled when a partition is selected. This takes much of the guess work out of deciding what you need to do to complete a task. Since the software is installed onto your hard drive, you work within the familiar Windows environment without the need to boot from a Live CD.
EASEUS Partition Master works with different file systems and supports up to 4.0 TB hard disks. It can handle up to 32 hard disks and works with hardware RAID as well. Supports Windows 7, GPT partitioning and partitioning Linux file systems: delete, create, format, recover EXT2/EXT3 partition, etc. Now as of version 9.0 supports merging, and wiping unallocated regions of disks.
As of Version 9.1 can merge adjacent partitions and Easeus offers to migrate your system to a larger drive with almost '1-click' ease, us hasn't tried this, the procedure appears little different from cloning to a larger partition.
One significant drawback is that Easeus free edition has no bootable recovery CD, for this kind of applications that can so easily render your machine unbootable, this should not be overlooked (make sure you have a recovery option available to you if you are altering your system partition, or even the system disk).
Paragon Partition Manager Free Edition offers a few basic tasks: create a partition, resize partitions, copy and delete a partition.
This program includes a wizard to create a new partition in the appropriate place of your hard disk, format it to NTFS and make it available in the system by assigning a drive letter. It also has a wizard to increase free space on one partition by up-taking the unused space of an adjacent partition of your hard disk. The main screen in partition view shows an impressive array of data about all of your disks/partitions, including start/stop sectors, size, label, Partition ID, filesystem. Now if only they offered a way to export all that great data [MiniTool can export much of these data, but doesn't have a view where you can see it all at once]
A copy wizard is also included with the program, while deleting partitions in a hard disk is supported.
A few drawbacks to this program are that it requires you to register online to get a free serial number for installing the program and more advanced features are only available to the paid version.
GParted is a GNOME partition editor for resizing, creating, deleting, moving or copying partitions on a hard disk. You can also create a partition table and enable or disable partition flags such as boot and hidden.
This partition editor offers support for journalled file system including ext2, ext3 and ext4 commonly used on Linux, the NTFS file system used on Windows, and FAT file system widely used on most computer systems, memory cards and portable devices.
GParted runs on the Linux system and can also be used on Windows by booting from a LiveCD called GParted Live.
Lost/Deleted Partition Recovery:
My top two choices both offer partition recovery wizards. Both work as expected. For Partition Wizard, you will need to download the bootable recovery CD from their website and burn to a CD. Why make a recovery disk? Well, if the partition that you happen to delete is the main OS partition, your computer will not boot, so a recovery CD will be essential in restoring the partition or fixing the master boot record in order to return your computer to a bootable state.
You might also want to try TestDisk. This is a console application designed for data recovery. The free program can be used to fix partition table, recover deleted partitions or copy files from deleted partitions. Other features include recover or rebuild NTFS or FAT boot sector, fix FAT tables, undelete files from the file systems, etc.
I used modest hardware for my testing. I wanted to simulate test times that were more average than taint the test times by using my primary computer which is a modern high-end workstation. My test box is a Dell Dimension 3000 (circa 2005) with an Intel Celeron 2.4Ghz CPU, 1GB RAM and a 40GB HD. I loaded Windows XP SP3 as the OS of choice simply because it is still the most used OS. Due to the type of software being tested, I used a clean image on a physical machine. No Virtual machines for this test.
With each software program, I ran a very simple set of tests. I started with the drive partitioned as one large 40GB partition. I split the partition into 2 equal sized partitions, formatted the new partition as NTFS, then used Windows explorer to move 10GB of data from the original partition to the new partition. I then reversed the process and combined the two partitions back into a single partition. I timed each task from the time I clicked the apply button to when the computer rebooted when the task was completed. I ran each test 3 times and took the average of the three results. I also tested the delete, recovery and format features using a similar test sequence.
Other Partition Managers
These are a number of other free partition managers which were brought up in comments here or noted from other sources. As they are not rated in this review, I am listing them here with brief descriptions and links to their sites for ease of reference.
- Partition Logic allows you to create, delete, format, defragment, resize, move partitions and modify their attributes. It is based on the Visopsys operating system, booting from a CD or floppy disk and running as a standalone system, independent of your regular operating system.
- Cute Partition Manager is using DOS interface to add, edit, delete and manage the partitions in your computer, but merging or resizing existing partitions is not supported.
- Ranish Partition Manager is a hard disk partitioning tool to create, copy, and resize primary and extended partitions. It includes command line interface and simulation mode that works with large files.
- Number of partitions: A hard disk configured as a basic disk is limited to 4 primary partitions, or 3 primary partitions and 1 extended partition that can contain multiple logical drives.
- Basic disk: A basic disk is a physical disk that contains primary partitions, extended partitions, or logical drives. Partitions and logical drives on basic disks are also known as basic volumes.
- Primary partition: A primary partition can be created on a hard drive that can host an operating system and functions as though it were a physically separate hard drive.
- Extended partition: An extended partition is a container that can hold one or more logical drives, which function like primary partitions except that they cannot be used to start an operating system like Windows.
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MiniTool Partition Wizard Home Edition 7.0
Paragon Partition Manager 14 Free Edition
EASEUS Partition Master (Home Edition)