Windows Hard Drive Partitions vs Folders – A Couple Options

Windows Hard Driive Tweaks

Hard Drive Partitions vs Folders

Note: These are only my opinions. Take them for what they may be worth. ~ Richard

There are a couple main viewpoints regarding hard drive partitioning versus folder management. Neither one is right or wrong. It is simply a difference in the way people tend to look at things.

One school of thought, mine included, says that it is a good idea to separate the operating system from the programs and the programs from the data they generate. This is accomplished by partitioning the hard drive so as to keep these things separated. This can also be accomplished with a folder system.

The other group will say the same thing can be accomplished with folders, thereby keeping everything on one partition. Personally, I don’t see the advantage to this approach. It may be simpler in some respects, but the advantages of partitioning your HDD are lost, as I see it.

The bottom line is that these are two approaches to the same solution: separation of data, programs, and the operating system

Here we go-

Let’s say that you want to install Windows 7 on your multi-terabyte Hard Disk Drive (HDD). You could install it and the Operating System (OS) wouldn’t have a problem with that.

I, on the other hand, have a problem with that. The trouble is that Windows will ultimately install everything else to that hard drive and therein lies the rub. All the programs and data and games will all get put on that same partition. It’s a mess, especially when it comes to backing up your files and photos and music and movies and databases and spreadsheets and so forth, ad infinitum. Another problem becomes apparent when you don’t have a good file-naming convention. If you are not consistent in your methods, it will soon become difficult if not impossible to find anything at all.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that all your favorite family pictures can be found by going to the family pictures partition, or maybe, all your videos are on a video partition, or maybe, all your work documents are on the same work-oriented partition? To me, that is a well thought-out system.

In all fairness to those who prefer a single drive divided by way of folders approach, I must agree that is is an option. I happen to prefer HDD partitions. That’s just me. I’m not sure there is a definitive  advantage by using folders over partitions. Perhaps it’s simply a personal choice.

Note: I don’t believe for a minute that partitioning a hard drive will in any way speed things up. It is merely a method to help you organize your data, make your backups easier to deal with, and nothing more.

Backups and Partitions

The one great beauty of partitioning a hard drive is the control you gain over its size. If all your partitions are equal in size to your backup medium, then you never have to worry about it. It simply fits.

I make all my partitions a multiple of the backup size. For instance, a 4GB DVD is going to equal my partition size. Perhaps, my partition will be equal to two DVDs., but never more than that.
This means that I never have to worry about data that exceeds the size of my backup media. And, yes, I still use DVDs to back up my computer.

Note: In recent times people have said that the CD/DVD media is obsolete. I beg to disagree. Their argument is that cloud storage is the next in-vogue thing. However, cloud storage is no more reliable than a simple hard drive. It can fail just as quickly and drastically as any other form of storage. Simply because they are a huge corporation does not mean their systems are immune to the occasional failures to which we are all susceptible. They all, in fact, deny any responsibility or liability for loss of data. Let that sink in for a moment. Make backups at a local level.

Let’s get organized

The first thing I like to do is keep the Operating System on its own partition. I also want the programs, and the data  they generate, on their respective partitions. So, let’s make a plan.

Windows is, by default, going to be installed on Drive C:. You probably have a CD/DVD drive that will be labeled Drive D:. Let’s presume you have a 160GB HDD. We certainly don’t want to give all of that to Windows 7.

Perhaps a better way would be to divide that drive into segments, that is, Partitions. Let’s give Windows 7, say, 40GB. That leaves 120GB for your Programs, Games, Music, Photos, Data, and whatever else you may have in mind. What this simple idea accomplishes it this: it separates the Operating System from the rest of the world.

Ultimately, this is a very good idea. When it comes time to back up your photos, let’s say, you will no longer have to include Windows in that back up. And when that disastrous hard drive failure occurs, you will no longer have to worry about your photos; they will be intact because of your diligent backup regimen (forgive me- I harp on that subject). And because they were on a separate partition, restoring them will be much faster because of the much smaller partition size. And their backups will be faster for the same reason. And you’ll always know where to look for your photos; right there on the Photos partition. They won’t be mixed up with the rest of your stuff, like Excel spreadsheets, Access Databases, Quicken data files, etc. Very neat, organized and clean.

Some might argue that 40GB for Windows 7 is puny. I maintain that it is more than adequate if Windows is the only thing on that drive. Actually, Windows 7 uses less than 20GB of drive space on its own. I chose the arbitrary 40GB value to afford some wiggle-room. If you start adding programs to that drive, then it will no longer hold true. You’ll run out of HDD space in short order.

I’ve been running Windows 7 on a 40GB SSD hard drive for many months now. It’s using ~23GB of that drive and it’s only that large because I’ve made errors when installing some programs. That is, not taking control of where the programs get installed. Also, because some programs don’t offer me the option (Google Chrome is a good example).

If you’re going to go this route, you have to be in charge. Don’t let the programs tell you what to do; tell the programs what you want them to do. Choose ‘Custom Install’ wherever possible. When they prompt you for an installation directory, point them to the Partition/Drive that you have chosen for Programs. If you let the programs choose they will invariably be installed on your System Drive and this is not what you want! Remember: Keep the Operating System (OS) and Programs separated. Your life will be much simpler in the long run.


Data is what Programs generate. XCel spreadsheets, Access databases, photos from your camera software, financial files from your Quicken software, and the list goes on and on. Programs love to generate data- that’s what they do.

Don’t combine Data with Programs or the Operating System. Keep it separate. In fact, if you don’t tell your Programs to send their data to a particular place, they will happily send it to the C drive. Yep! Right there where I told you not to send stuff.

Not only do you have to take responsibility for where your programs get installed, you will have to do the same for where your programs send their data. I know this seems like a real pain in the neck, but ultimately it will save you a lot of problems in the future, and it’s all part of what operating a complex machine, namely a computer,  is all about.

And, too, remember the almighty backup,


About the Author

Richard Pedersen

Richard received his first computer, a C-64, in 1982 as a gift and began dabbling in BASIC. He was hooked! His love for computing has led him from the old “XT” boxes to the more modern fare and from clunky 10MB hard drives to smooth and fast modern day SSD drives. He has run BBS services, Fido mail, and even operated his own computer repair business.

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