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-- by Serdar Yegulalp
One disk, one drive letter. For most of us, hard disks are a format-'em-and-forget-'em issue. But the hard drive pie can be sliced many ways, and dividing your storage carefully can greatly improve its efficiency.
Disk partitions once were set in stone; you changed them only if you didn't mind reformatting your hard drive and losing all your data. Now two software packages-PowerQuest's PartitionMagic 3.0 and Quarterdeck's Partition-It 1.0-let you nondestructively resize, reorganize and redistribute hard drive partitions. PartitionMagic is the older package, with a powerful set of easy-to-use features. Partition-It is a 1.0 product, but it's a strong first outing, possessing many features that PartitionMagic is lacking. Both programs allow you to create, delete, resize, move and change cluster sizes on FAT, HPFS and NTFS partitions.
The 3.0 version of PartitionMagic adds the ability to nondestructively resize and manipulate NTFS volumes, as well as the ability to work with FAT32 partitions. FAT32 is Microsoft's new Windows 95-only disk format, which can allow partitions greater than 2.1GB in size. (For an explanation of FAT32 and how it overcomes the current Windows operating system limitations, see the sidebar "Partitioning Eases the Big-Drive Blues.")
PartitionMagic retains the good features of earlier versions, including the text-only, 16-bit DOS version of the program that can be used from a boot floppy disk. PartitionMagic understands and identifies a greater range of partitions-such as Linux or other non-DOS/Windows/OS/2 partition types-than Partition-It, making it more useful to a technically savvy administrator who is comfortable with working under Windows to manage partitions formatted with non-Windows file systems.
This latest version, however, sports a nasty bug that can render an NTFS primary boot sector unbootable. Fortunately, PowerQuest has placed fixes on its Website. (See Notes from the Lab in this issue)
Partition-It supports both NTFS and FAT32 as well, and while it doesn't identify as great a range of partitions, it's a much friendlier and more Windows 95-centric program. Partition-It works as a 32-bit Windows 95 program; in contrast, PartitionMagic is a 16-bit DOS program with a mock Windows 95 interface.
Neither of these programs will run directly on a Windows NT system. But they will resize and restructure NTFS partitions if you boot a Windows NT system with a DOS boot floppy disk, or boot into Windows 95 on a dual-boot 95/NT machine. This is a badly needed feature for those who use the NTFS file format, because NT's own disk manager can't perform these tasks.
I had problems resizing NTFS boot partitions with PartitionMagic, especially if the partition had originally been formatted as FAT and later converted. That's because PartitionMagic compares the original (creation-time) and current boot records and refuses to proceed if there's a mismatch. At press time, PowerQuest was working to resolve this problem. A fixed version should be available by the time you read this.
PartitionMagic's interface is cleanly designed and gives you only the information you need, although you can get all the technical details about a given partition simply by highlighting the partition and clicking on Info. The interface is designed to mimic Windows 95 menus and windows, while Partition-It uses real Windows 95 elements.
Both programs will perform analyses that determine how much space is being wasted by a poor choice of cluster sizes, what errors (if any) are present on the partition and the presence of extended attributes for OS/2 or NTFS formats. Armed with this information, you can make judgments about whether or not clusters should be resized to gain space (although you can't shrink clusters any smaller than the minimum cluster size determined by the size of the partition) or how much space extended attributes are taking up.
I ran PartitionMagic on a volume filled with bad clusters. PartitionMagic checked to see if it could complete operations safely. It stopped when there were too many errors, offering a browseable error log. Partition-It matched PartitionMagic for thoroughness, checking any volume closely before making any changes. You can turn off error checking to speed up the repartitioning process, but that's not a good idea, since you might miss disk-corrupting errors.
Since playing with partitions can also mean changing how your system boots, PartitionMagic comes with IBM's Boot Manager program. Boot Manager needs to be installed before any operating systems are installed. Partition-It doesn't have a boot manager but does come with a program named the Move-It Wizard, which lets you relocate applications and program groups from one partition to another. The wizard is very smart: It doesn't just copy directories, it also figures out which DLLs and other associated files need to be moved and makes the appropriate changes to the Registry. If you often find yourself trying to make room for new applications, you'll probably appreciate Partition-It's Move-It Wizard.
PartitionMagic will serve you well if you're very technically adept. Partition-It's friendly interface and application-moving utility make it the better choice for the casual user. However, resizing disk partitions isn't something to be taken lightly. Both of these programs should be used with caution, and because neither is foolproof or totally free of bugs, they won't be added to our Recommended List.
PartitionMagic's display is a clever mock-up of the Windows 95 interface. The program actually runs in DOS.