Having partitions on a hard disk works like, although not exactly the same as, having different hard disks.
If your computer has unallocated space on a hard disk, you can create additional partitions from the unallocated space after logging on as an administrator. If a hard disk space is fully allocated, unallocated space can be generated if the size of a partition is reduced or a partition is deleted.
One of the main objectives of having partitions in a hard disk is for separation of user files from operating system files. By keeping user files in a separate partition from another that hosts the operating system, user files can usually remain intact if the operating system needs to be reinstalled. If you need to prepare for a multi-booting setup from a single disk, it would be ideal to have a separate partition for each system. Other than these purposes, you might also want to refer to other benefits for disk partitioning as described here.
Some users may prefer Windows’ built-in Disk Management utility to manage partitions, but most average users will like third party or standalone partition managers, which are usually equipped with more features and easier to use in general.
[Doakio Editor's Note: This article was restored from Gizmo's Freeware archives as a service to the freeware community. Gizmo's Freeware provided high-quality, volunteer freeware reviews for decades. They shut down in July of 2021.]
MiniTool Partition Wizard A very easy program to use with the power and features needed for your disks
Our Rating: 5
License: Free (Private/Educational use)
EaseUS Partition Master Free Easily create, delete, format, convert or explore partitions on your hard drive
Our Rating: 4.5
Paragon Partition Manager Free Make disk management easy with wizards
Our Rating: 4
GParted A GNOME partition editor for resizing, creating, deleting, moving or copying partitions
Our Rating: 3.5
License: Free (Open source)
Lost/Deleted Partition Recovery
My top two choices both offer partition recovery wizards. Both work as expected. For Partition Wizard, you will need to download the bootable recovery CD from their website and burn to a CD. Why make a recovery disk? Well, if the partition that you happen to delete is the main OS partition, your computer will not boot, so a recovery CD will be essential in restoring the partition or fixing the master boot record in order to return your computer to a bootable state.
You might also want to try TestDisk. This is a console application designed for data recovery. The free program can be used to fix partition table, recover deleted partitions or copy files from deleted partitions. Other features include recover or rebuild NTFS or FAT boot sector, fix FAT tables, undelete files from the file systems, etc.
Other Partition Managers
These are a number of other free partition managers which were brought up in comments here or noted from other sources. As they are not rated in this review, I am listing them here with brief descriptions and links to their sites for ease of reference.
- Partition Logic allows you to create, delete, format, defragment, resize, move partitions and modify their attributes. It is based on the Visopsys operating system, booting from a CD or floppy disk and running as a standalone system, independent of your regular operating system.
- Cute Partition Manager is using DOS interface to add, edit, delete and manage the partitions in your computer, but merging or resizing existing partitions is not supported.
- Ranish Partition Manager is a hard disk partitioning tool to create, copy, and resize primary and extended partitions. It includes command line interface and simulation mode that works with large files.
- Number of partitions: A hard disk configured as a basic disk is limited to 4 primary partitions, or 3 primary partitions and 1 extended partition that can contain multiple logical drives.
- Basic disk: A basic disk is a physical disk that contains primary partitions, extended partitions, or logical drives. Partitions and logical drives on basic disks are also known as basic volumes.
- Primary partition: A primary partition can be created on a hard drive that can host an operating system and functions as though it were a physically separate hard drive.
- Extended partition: An extended partition is a container that can hold one or more logical drives, which function like primary partitions except that they cannot be used to start an operating system like Windows.