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Partition Magic

PartitionMagic 4

A "Hard Driving" utility

by Jim Bray

PowerQuest's PartitionMagic is a handy utility that, though its original raison d'être may not be a big deal anymore, can still be a valuable addition to your hard drive.

We first used PartitionMagic as a solution to "hard drive weight problems." That was back in the early days of larger hard drives, when most of them were formatted using the old fashioned FAT ("File Allocation Table") method. FAT is actually a throwback to the olden days of DOS, and is a rather wasteful way of arranging data on your drive.

This didn't matter when hard drives held 200 Megabytes or less, but on today's comparatively gigantic multiple-gigabyte drives FAT wastage could be a legitimate concern. And PartitionMagic can handle drives of up to 20 Gigabyte or more.

Fortunately, newer operating systems like Windows 98 (and later versions of Win95), NT or (if you can find it) OS/2, don't have this weight problem. But if you're still laboring under DOS, Windows 3.x, or the original release of Windows 95, you may need a FAT farm unless you want to risk wasting up to half your hard drive.

Anyway, PartitionMagic is and was a handy little utility that makes losing FAT quick and easy. But with FAT32 and NTFS becoming ever more popular, it needs a new reason to exist – and fortunately (at least for PowerQuest!) it has one.

That's because where PartitionMagic comes in really handy is in manipulating your hard drive and its partitions (hence the name!).

Partitions are those "virtual hard drives" into which your real hard drive can be divided. If you’ve ever set up a hard drive from scratch, you’ve had to enable at least one "partition," and some people like using multiple partitions to organize their data.

For example, I've divided my current 18.2 gig hard drive into 3 partitions. Drive C: (the first partition) is used for Windows 98 and the applications I run specifically under that operating system. The second partition, (D: drive) is for data files or applications that will run under Win98 and NT without having to reinstall them all the time (a wonderful time-saver for someone who is forced to reformat regularly), and the third partition (Drive E:) is for Windows NT (well, a prerelease version of Windows 2000 I'm testing) and the applications I use under it.

This is to make keeping track of everything easier, and hopefully to prevent them from arguing with each other.

Anyway, without a utility like PartitionMagic, partitions aregenerally the dickens to change after the fact, unless you want to reformat your hard disk. This can be a time consuming hassle: you have to back up your files (and I usually forget at least a couple of important ones), delete the partition(s), create and format the new partitions, reinstall your operating system, then reinstall your programs and data.

Might as well just get a new computer!

So why bother? Well, if you want to install 750 megabytes worth of software onto drive E:, but it only has 500 megabytes free, you’re in trouble.

Unless you can resize drive E:. And that's where PartitionMagic shines. Itlets you rearrange your partitions virtually at will, moving your data around on the fly. You can stretch one drive, make another smaller or even (thanks to the MagicMover and DriveMapper utilities) move your applications from one partition to another without confusing the entire system.

The product now includes "BootMagic" as well, which is designed to let you run multiple operating systems safely and in a virtually "no brainer" manner. Since I do this, this is a welcome enhancement.

The product can be used either under Windows or DOS, supposedly, though we found that the Windows version boots you back to DOS before making any changes anyway. Fortunately, the DOS interface feels quite Windows-like anyway.

You can also change cluster sizes or change your FAT hard drive into FAT32. The product also works with NTFS or Linux, but you can't just convert from Linux to FAT32, for example, like you can from FAT to FAT32.

The best time to invoke PartitionMagic is when you're first setting up your hard disk, because partitioning adds "drives" to the hierarchy and that can confuse your system if your CD-ROM (usually the last drive in the series) already has a letter assigned to it. Use FDISK (ugh!) to make a partition for PartitionMagic, then use PartitionMagic for the rest. Putting PartitionMagic and your operating system onto one partition also works well, and that's how I have it set up (it's on C: drive).

Although not specifically required for repartitioning with PartitionMagic, you should still back up your data: hard drives crash, houses and offices burn down, and there's always Murphy's Law...

To be honest, most "ordinary consumers" will probably never need or use a utility like PartitionMagic, but for those who want to take more control over their hard drives, PartitionMagic really does a nice job of empowering you. And that's a good thing.


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January 31, 2006