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Adding FAT32 and NTFS partitions to a dual-boot test system

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By James Thompson

Published in TechRepublic's Windows NT Administrator Report

In the article "Creating a Dual-Boot System with Windows NT and Windows 95/98," we discussed how you can stretch your test equipment dollars by configuring a single computer to boot to two different operating systems. We installed Windows 95/98 and Windows NT Server into distinct partitions formatted with FAT16, the only file format supported by all Microsoft operating systems. However, to create a more well-rounded test system, we need to add partitions formatted with file systems specific to Windows 95/98 and Windows NT. In this article, we'll flesh out our test configuration by adding a Windows 95/98 FAT32 partition and a Windows NT NTFS partition.

Getting started

In our sample project, we created two 2GB partitionseach formatted with the FAT16 file systemon a 6.2GB hard disk. We still have available on this disk another 2.2GB of space, which we'll use to create a FAT32 partition. In addition, we'll allocate and format all the space on a second 6.2GB disk (Hard Disk 1) for use with NTFS. Figure A shows how our test system's drives will be configured when we complete the procedure.


Figure A: Our final system will contain one primary partition, two extended partitions and three logical drives.

Note that although we chose to place the NTFS partition on a second physical disk, there's no reason we couldn't have placed it on Hard Disk 0. FAT32 and NTFS can reside on the same drive, as long as neither format is used in a boot partition. You can change the location and size of your FAT32 and NTFS partitions to best fit your system configuration.

Adding a FAT32 partition to your system

To begin, restart your system and choose either the Windows 95 or Windows 98 option from the boot menu. Then, immediately press [F8] to access Windows 95/98's Startup menu. (If you wait too long before pressing [F8], the system will continue to boot directly into Windows 95/98.) In the Startup menu, use the down arrow to select Command Prompt Only and press [Enter] to access the command prompt. You're now ready to create your new partition.

Creating a partition for FAT32

Type FDISK at the command prompt and press [Enter]. As you see in Figure B, FDISK will ask if you want to enable the use of large partitions. Since you aren't concerned with the FAT32 compatibility issues cited in the FDISK screen, type Y and press [Enter].


Figure B: FDISK detects a large hard disk and suggests using the new FAT32 file system.

Next, select option 1 and press [Enter] to create a DOS partition or logical DOS drive. In the next screen, select option 3, as shown in Figure C, and press [Enter] to create a logical drive in the extended DOS partition.


Figure C: FDISK creates logical drives inside an extended partition.

Notice that you aren't creating another extended partition on the first disk. Last month, we created the second extended FAT16 partition on Hard Disk 0 for use with Windows NT Server. (This second extended partition took up all of the available space on Hard Disk 0.)

Next, we created a logical 2GB drive in the extended partition. You may not remember doing this, because the Windows NT setup procedure automatically created the logical drive when you chose where you wanted to install NT. So, although it seemed that you simply created a 2GB extended partition and formatted it with FAT16, you really created a 4.2GB extended partition and broke it into a 2GB logical drive and 2.2GB of unused space. Logical drives are simply partitions within existing extended partitions.

Now, let's add a second logical drive with drive letter E, using the remaining space available on the extended partition. As you can see in Figure D, FDISK shows the maximum available size for the logical drive you're creating. Press [Enter] to accept the default. At this point, you've used all the available space on Hard Disk 0. Press [Escape] three times and restart your system to begin formatting the new logical drive.


Figure D: Since you told FDISK to support large drives, it can create a logical drive with the remaining space on Hard Disk 0.

Formatting the new partition with FAT32

Select Microsoft Windows from the boot menu and let the Windows GUI boot completely. Then, double-click My Computer to view your system configuration, which should resemble the one shown in Figure E. Notice that Windows 95/98 shows a new unlabeled drive E. At this point, you haven't formatted the drive, so you can't access it. Right-click the Drive (E:) icon and choose the Format command from the shortcut menu.


Figure E: Your new logical drive appears in the My Computer window despite the fact that you haven't formatted it.

Windows' default Quick (erase) format option won't work for this procedure; so, select the Full radio button in the Format dialog box. Type W98-FAT32 in the label text box, as shown in Figure F, and click Start to begin the formatting procedure. After you confirm you're formatting the proper drive, click OK; Windows 95/98 will then display the total formatted capacity of the drive. Click Close to continue.


Figure F: You must format new partitions using the Full option, rather than the default Quick (erase) method.

Depending on which version of the operating system you're running, Windows 95/98 may suggest that you perform a thorough scan of your newly formatted drive before continuing. It's best to take Windows' advice at this point. To scan the drive, double-click My Computer, right-click the Drive (E:) icon, and choose the Properties command from the shortcut menu. Click the Tools tab to access the ScanDisk error-checking utility. Click the Check Now button to open the ScanDisk window, shown in Figure G, where you can choose to check all your available drives.


Figure G: Selecting multiple drives from within the ScanDisk main menu saves you time and steps.

Because you haven't tested the drives created in last month's article, choose all the available drives, just to be on the safe side. Select the Thorough radio button to ensure that all the areas of your drives are scanned; then, click Start. Depending on the size and speed of your drives, the scanning process can take a long time. (Before you run ScanDisk, be sure all other applications are closed and that you aren't working with your system. The utility will continually restart itself if it detects disk reads and writesand, obviously, this will lengthen the process.)

Once the scanning process is complete, your FAT32-formatted logical drive will be ready for use. Now, you need to see what effect this new drive has on your Windows NT system.

Hiding the FAT32 partition from NT

As we've already discussed, Windows NT can't access the new FAT32-formatted logical partition. To confirm this, restart your system and choose Windows NT Server Version 4.00 from the boot menu. Be sure you log on using the Administrator account. Once Windows NT finishes booting, open the My Computer window.

As you can see in Figure H, a new drive E without a volume label now appears in the window. If you double-click on the new drive icon, you'll get the message shown in Figure I, saying that NT can't access the drive. Having this inaccessible drive listed on your NT system might cause problemsfor example, a user might reformat the partition or assume that it's a damaged NT partition. Fortunately, you can hide the unsupported FAT32 partition from Windows NT to avoid such possible mistakes.


Figure H: Windows NT will show the new FAT32 partition in its My Computer window.


Figure I: Even though it displays the drive letter associated with the FAT32 partition, Windows NT can't access the logical drive's contents.

You'll use Windows NT's Disk Administrator utility to suppress My Computer's display of drive E. To launch the utility, choose the Program | Administrative Tools (Common) | Disk Administrator menu item. Disk Administrator will notice that you've added a new partition and will update its records. As you can see in Figure J, Disk Administrator lists the three logical partitions on Hard Disk 0 and the free space on Hard Disk 1. Drive E is listed as unknown, because NT doesn't recognize the FAT32 format.


Figure J: Disk Adminsitrator reports the configuration of Hard Disk 0 and Hard Disk 1.

Now, let's tell Disk Administrator to remove the drive letter from the FAT32 partition. Right-click on the unknown partition and choose Assign Drive Letter from the shortcut menu. Select the Do Not Assign A Drive Letter radio button in the Assign Drive Letter dialog box, as shown in Figure K, click OK, and then click Yes in the confirmation dialog box.

Figure K: The Assign Drive Letter dialog box lets you hide a partition from the Windows NT GUI.

Figure K: The Assign Drive Letter dialog box lets you hide a partition from the Windows NT GUI.

From this point on, the Windows NT GUI won't display the FAT32 partition. To confirm this, double-click on My Computer to open the window shown in Figure Lyou'll see an empty space where the FAT32 partition's drive icon was located. However, Windows NT won't assign to other drives the drive letter that would have been assigned to the FAT32 partition. For example, the first CD drive attached to our test system is labeled drive F, not drive E. Remember that the modification you just made won't affect Windows 95/98the FAT32 partition will appear normally when you boot to that operating system.


Figure L: Windows NT no longer shows the drive letter and icon associated with the FAT32 partition.

Our test system now has two FAT16 and one FAT32 logical partitions. The last step in configuring a functional test system is to create a NTFS partition for use with Windows NT.

Creating a partition for NTFS

NT's Disk Administrator tool is running; so, let's take this opportunity to create a partition using the entire 6.2GB of empty space available on Hard Disk 1. Right-click on Disk 1 and select Create Extended from the shortcut menu. In the Create Extended Partition dialog box, shown in Figure M, click OK; doing so accepts Windows NT's default suggestion that you use the full drive to create the extended partition.


Figure M: Disk Administrator assumes you want to create an extended partition using all of Hard Disk 1.

As we said earlier, you must create logical drives within extended partitions before you format hard-disk space. On Hard Disk 0, you split a 4.2GB extended partition into two logical drives, but you'll allocate the entire 6.2GB on Hard Disk 1 to a single logical drive.

Right-click on the new extended partition on Hard Disk 1, which Disk Administrator now displays as Free Space, as shown in Figure N. Select Create from the shortcut menu to open the Create Logical Drive dialog box, shown in Figure O. Click OK to accept the default suggestion to allocate the entire partition to a single logical drive.


Figure N: You must allocate the free space in an extended partition to a logical drive before you format that space.


Figure O: Disk Administrator assumes you want to allocate the full extended partition to a single logical drive.

Figure P shows Disk Administrator's display of the new logical drive. Before Windows NT allows you to format the new drive, you must confirm your partitioning steps. Right-click on the new logical drive and select Commit Changes Now from the shortcut menu; then, click Yes in the confirmation dialog box to complete the process. Disk Administrator will confirm the changes and remind you to update your Emergency Repair Disk with the new configuration. Click OK to continue.


Figure P: Disk Administrator graphically shows the new unformatted logical drive in Hard Disk 1's extended partition.

Formatting the new partition with NTFS

Your only remaining task is to format the new logical drive with the NFTS file system. From within Disk Administrator, right-click on the logical drive and select Format from the shortcut menu. In the Format dialog box, select NTFS from the Change The File System list box. Next, type NT-NTFS in the Volume Label text box, as shown in Figure Q, click Start, and then click OK to begin formatting the new logical drive. When the format is complete, click OK to wrap up the process.

Figure Q: Remember to choose NTFS from the Change The File System list box when you're formatting the new logical drive.

Figure Q: Remember to choose NTFS from the Change The File System list box when you're formatting the new logical drive.

Taking a look with Windows 95/98

Finally, let's view the completed system from the Windows 95/98 side. Boot your system to Windows 95/98 and open the My Computer window, which should look much like the one shown in Figure R. Windows 95/98unlike Windows NTwon't show a formatted partition it can't read. Therefore, you don't need to hide the NTFS partition from Windows 95/98.


Figure R: Windows 95/98 ignores partitions formatted with a file system it can't recognize.


Adding FAT32 and NTFS partitions to a dual-boot system expands its testing ability and spares you the expense of dedicating systems to each OS. In this article, we've shown the necessary steps for adding FAT32 and NTFS formatted partitions to your dual-boot system.

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