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Windows 7: Manage disks and file systems

You can configure and reconfigure disks, files, partitions and volumes to suit your specific needs.

Jorge Orchilles

Adapted from “Microsoft Windows 7 Administrator’s Reference” (Syngress, an imprint of Elsevier).

The disks and file system are at the center of Windows 7 operations. It’s important to have them correctly configured, or else your system might not function properly or at all. The disks are where all your information is stored: OS files, applications, data, everything. The file system determines how this information is stored on your disks.

Partitions

Partitions divide and segment your disks. You can have a disk with either a single partition or multiple partitions. Even though having a single partition is the simplest way to configure your disks, there are several reasons you might want to have more than one partition.

Having multiple partitions helps you separate your OS files, application files and data files. Sometimes, you’ll need multiple partitions because of size limitations for a partition. You may also need multiple partitions to run a multi-boot system. This would especially be the case if different OSes used different file systems. You’d need a different partition for each of the different file systems.

MBR and GPT

Most legacy disks are Master Boot Record (MBR) disks. MBR disks store partition information in the MBR, hence the name. This information is generally stored in the first sector of the disk.

GUID Partition Table (GPT) disks store partition information in the GPT header. For compatibility with MBR systems, GPT disks continue to store the MBR entry as the first sector of the disk. Following this entry is the start of the GPT, also called the primary partition table header. For redundancy, the GPT header and partition table are also written at the end of the disk.

In Windows 7, you can have MBR or GPT disks. When you first add a new disk, you must choose one or the other. It’s important you understand the differences between these two types of disks. Because the GPT format is newer, you may run into compatibility issues if you choose this format. MBR disks have a wider range of compatibility. GPT disks, however, support larger partition sizes.

Convert from MBR to GPT

You can convert an MBR disk to a GPT disk. To do so, the disk can’t have any volumes. If the disk has volumes, you should remove them before starting the conversion process. To convert an MBR disk to a GPT disk, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Disk Management Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in.
  2. Right-click on the disk and select Convert to GPT disk.
  3. The disk will be converted, and should show as Online.

You can also convert a GPT disk to an MBR disk by following these steps:

  1. Open the Disk Management MMC snap-in.
  2. Right-click on the disk and select Convert to MBR disk.
  3. The disk will be converted, and should show as Online.

Basic and dynamic disks

There are two types of disks available in Windows 7: basic disks and dynamic disks. You can think of basic disks as the traditional technology used for Windows disks. When disks are first created, they’re created as basic disks. In the original Disk Creation wizard, you can covert the disk to a dynamic disk. You can also convert to a dynamic disk later.

Follow these steps to convert a basic disk to a dynamic disk:

  1. Open the Disk Management MMC snap-in.
  2. Right-click on the disk and select Convert to Dynamic Disk. The Convert to Dynamic Disk window will appear.
  3. Select the basic disks you want to convert to dynamic disks.
  4. Click OK. The disks are converted to dynamic disks.

Converting between MBR and GPT format

When you convert a disk from MBR to GPT format, you’ll notice the amount of unallocated disk space on the disk decreases. This is because of the additional space used to hold disk and partition information on GPT disks. When you convert from GPT format to MBR format, you’ll notice the reverse effect. If the disk has a volume on it, you can’t convert it back to a basic disk. You must delete the volume before attempting to convert the disk back to a basic disk.

To convert a dynamic disk back to a basic disk, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Disk Management MMC snap-in.
  2. Right-click on the disk and select Convert to Basic Disk.
  3. Click OK. The disk is converted back to a basic disk.

Volumes

Once you have your disks created and configured, you need to create volumes. You can’t store any information on your disks until you’ve created volumes. There are several different types of volumes from which to choose. You can create simple volumes, spanned volumes, striped volumes or mirrored volumes. Creating a simple volume is easy. Just follow these steps:

  1. Right-click on “Unallocated space.” Select New Simple Volume.
  2. The New Simple Volume wizard appears. Click Next.
  3. On the Specify Volume Size screen, enter the desired size of the new volume. Click Next.
  4. On the Assign Drive Letter or Path screen, choose the desired drive letter for the new volume. Click Next.
  5. On the Format Partition screen, choose the option for “Format this volume using the following settings.”
  6. Choose the NTFS file system. Enter a volume label. Select the option for Perform a Quick Format. Click Next.
  7. On the Completing the new Simple Volume Wizard screen, click Finish. The new volume will be formatted and should show a status of Healthy.

To create a new spanned volume, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click on “Unallocated space.” Select New Spanned Volume.
  2. The New Spanned Volume wizard appears. Click Next.
  3. The Select Disks screen will appear. Select the disk you want to add to the spanned volume. Click Add.
  4. Once the disk is added, you can specify how much disk space from the disk you want to add to the spanned volume. Click Next.
  5. On the Assign Drive Letter or Path screen, choose the desired drive letter for the new volume. Click Next.
  6. On the Format Partition screen, choose the option for “Format this volume using the following settings.”
  7. Choose the NTFS file system. Enter a volume label. Select the option for Perform a Quick Format. Click Next.
  8. On the Completing the new Simple Volume Wizard screen, click Finish. The new volume will be formatted and should show a status of Healthy on each of the disks to which it was added.

Striped volumes and spanned volumes are similar, but have one big difference: Both types of volumes can stretch across multiple disks. Striped volumes use the same amount of disk space on all disks, whereas spanned volumes can use a different amount of space on each disk. To create a new striped volume, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Disk Management MMC snap-in.
  2. Right-click “Unallocated space.” Select New Striped Volume.
  3. The New Striped Volume wizard appears. Click Next.
  4. The Select Disks screen appears. Select the disks you want to add to the spanned volume. Click Add.
  5. Once the disks are added, you can specify how much disk space from the disk you want added to the striped volume. This will be the same for all disks.
  6. Click Next.
  7. On the Assign Drive Letter or Path screen, choose the desired drive letter for the new volume. Click Next.
  8. On the Format Partition screen, choose the option for “Format this volume using the following settings.”
  9. Choose the NTFS file system. Enter a volume label. Select the option for Perform a Quick Format. Click Next.
  10. On the Completing the new Striped Volume Wizard screen, click Finish. The new volume will be formatted and should show a status of Healthy on each of the disks to which it was added.

Windows 7 can create mirrored volumes. Mirroring volumes is done for fault tolerance and redundancy. When a volume is mirrored, a copy of the data written to one volume is also written to a second volume. This way, if one of the volumes becomes corrupted or a disk fails, you can still access your files and data using the copy of the data stored on the other half of the mirror. Follow these steps to create a new mirrored volume:

  1. Open the Disk Management MMC snap-in.
  2. Right-click on “Unallocated space.” Select New Mirrored Volume.
  3. The New Mirrored Volume wizard appears. Click Next.
  4. The Select Disks screen appears. Select the disks you want to add to the mirrored volume. Click Add.
  5. Once the disks are added, you can specify how much disk space from the disks you want to be mirrored. This will be the same for all disks.
  6. Click Next.
  7. On the Assign Drive Letter or Path screen, choose the desired drive letter for the new volume. Click Next.
  8. On the Format Partition screen, choose the option for “Format this volume using the following settings.”
  9. Choose the NTFS file system. Enter a volume label. Select the option for Perform a Quick Format. Click Next.
  10. On the Completing the new Mirrored Volume Wizard screen, click Finish. The new volume will be formatted and should show a status of Healthy on each of the disks to which the mirror was added.

Resize a volume

Sometimes, after you’ve create a volume, you’ll need to change its size. Luckily, once you’ve created a volume, you’re not limited to that size. You can either extend or shrink a volume by taking the following steps:

  1. Open the Disk Management MMC snap-in.
  2. Right-click on the volume to be extended. Select Extend Volume.
  3. The Extend Volume wizard appears. Click Next.
  4. The Select Disks screen appears. You can choose to extend the volume on the current disk or extend it to another disk.
  5. Click Next.
  6. Click Finish. The volume is extended and maintains the same file system as the original volume.

To shrink a volume, do the following:

  1. Open the Disk Management MMC snap-in.
  2. Right-click on the volume to be shrunk. Select Shrink Volume.
  3. When the Shrink Volume window appears, enter the amount of space by which you would like to shrink the volume.
  4. Click Shrink. The volume is shrunk and the freed-up space is seen as unallocated space.

Delete a volume

There are several instances in which you may have to remove a volume. For example, you may need to remove a volume if you want to convert a disk to a different format. To delete a volume, do the following:

  1. Open the Disk Management MMC snap-in.
  2. Right-click on the volume to be deleted and select Delete Volume. You’ll receive a warning that all your data will be erased.
  3. Click Yes to continue. The volume will be deleted and the freed disk space will be returned to unallocated space.

Next month, I’ll cover some more-advanced techniques such as creating a virtual hard disk and advanced diagnostics.

Jorge Orchilles
Jorge Orchilles began his networking career as a network administrator for the small private school he attended. He’s currently a security operating center analyst, and recently completed his Master of Science degree in management information systems at Florida International University.

©2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Printed with permission from Syngress, an imprint of Elsevier. Copyright 2011.
Microsoft Windows 7 Administrator’s Reference(Syngress, 2010) by Jorge Orchilles. For more information on this title and other similar books, please visit elsevierdirect.com.

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