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Nasty Overhang? Maybe It's Time to Partition

March 03, 1997|KIM KOMANDO

In October 1996, Microsoft released a Windows 95 upgrade without any of the company's traditional product release fanfare. There were no pricey television commercials or targeted public relations campaigns touting the product (most often called Original Equipment Manufacturers' Service Release Two, or OSR2 for short). In fact, Microsoft says you can't even get OSR2 unless you purchase a new PC that has it preloaded.

But if you partition your hard disk, you may need it.

In computerese, a partition is a logical disk (as distinct from a physical disk). When you partition a hard disk drive, you divide it into two or more pieces, each of which has its own name and drive letter. Once partitioned, your hard disk acts as two or more hard disks, and you can use each partition to install software and save data.

The primary reason for partitioning a hard disk is to gain disk space by using it more efficiently. One of the limitations Windows 95 inherits from DOS--the original, non-graphical, PC operating system--is that it allocates space inefficiently on large hard disks. As hard disks grow larger, the wasted space becomes greater.

When you, your dealer or your computer manufacturer formats a new hard disk, Windows 95 divides each partition on the disk into 65,536 sectors (another limitation Windows 95 inherits from DOS). The size of the sectors ranges from 2K to 64K, depending on the size of the partition--the larger the partition, the larger the sectors.

When you save a file, Windows 95 saves the information to one or more sectors. Unfortunately, it can't save a small file into a fraction of a sector. Consequently, a file that needs only 250 bytes, such as AUTOEXEC.BAT, occupies 2K of disk space on a small hard disk--and a whopping 64K on one of the new 2.6-gigabyte disks, resulting in more than 63K of wasted space. This wasted space is known as overhang.

To minimize overhang on large hard disks, you partition a large disk into multiple logical disks. I recommend a maximum partition size of 1GB; if you go much larger than that, the sector size will balloon up to 32K. For a 2GB disk, I recommend one 1GB partition and two 500-megabyte partitions.

With OSR2, you get a utility program called FAT32. This is a more efficient way of partitioning larger hard disks, up to 2 terabytes instead of 2GB. FAT32 only needs 4K to save a small file (a Windows 95 shortcut for example) instead of 32K on a 1GB or larger hard drive. Do the math and it's clear that FAT32 can make a lot more hard drive space available on larger hard drives.

If you are buying a new PC, the Windows 95 version you will get is OSR2. Otherwise, you can get OSR2 from a computer dealer as long as it is included with another hardware purchase.

But be forewarned: Upgrading Windows 95 to OSR2 is not easy. It takes many advanced steps, beginning with running the setup program from the DOS prompt, renaming Windows system files and moving files. If you're a "newbie," forget the OSR2 upgrade until Microsoft makes it readily available to everyone.

If you're curious about how efficient your current hard disk usage is, download DriveStat from Inside this compressed archive file you'll find a utility that examines the files on your hard disk and determines the amount of overhang. It also gives you an idea of how much space you could regain if you were to repartition your drive.

If you're in the market for a new system, check with the manufacturer or retailer to see if you can have your new hard disk partitioned for you. If your current machine has a single large partition, you can repartition the disk yourself, but it's not a trivial process.

The formatting process that precedes actual partitioning destroys any information on the disk, so you must back up your entire hard disk before partitioning and then restore the contents of the disk to one or more of the partitions. An easier solution is PartitionMagic from PowerQuest (Windows 95, $49.95; [800] 379-2566), which lets you dynamically partition your hard disk without re-formatting it.

Kim Komando is a Fox TV host, syndicated talk radio host and founder of the Komputer Klinic on America Online (keyword KOMANDO). She can be reached via e-mail at

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