Webmaster's Thoughts

Are Hard Drive Partitions Really Necessary?

by Bobby Draves

This last week we have had a few folks inquire about partitioning the hard drive of their new computers.   Partitioning is an individual choice and is not for everyone.

In our home the first thing we do is partition our new computers to enable us to have more than one workable booting system available.   With two systems installed on different partitions, should the system you normally use suddenly become unbootable, your Macintosh will automatically look for the other system regardless of what partition (drive) it is on and it will use that system to boot the computer.

On many older computers, choosing to boot from a different system on a different partition requires you to reset the startup drive using the Startup Drive Control Panel and then reboot, but on the latest Mac G4’s you can switch to a specific partition at startup time by holding down the option key on bootup.

New Macintosh’s are now being delivered with the latest Mac OS 9.x Systems and although any OS 9.x is a great system, there are older programs that will just not run on them.  Having an older system available takes the heartbreak out of not being able to use a favorite older program.

Should you decide to partition your hard drive you can use a program called "Drive Setup" which Apple has included in the Utilities Folder on all new Macs.   It allows you to divide a large disk or hard drive into one or more partitions.   Once partitioned, each partition must now be initialized or formatted.   The question now is do you make all of the partitions HFS or make them HFS+.

Prior to the advent of System 8.1, HFS was the only format available.   Regardless of the disk size it could contain only 65,536 blocks, so actual block size was always proportionate to the size of the drive.   For example, with HFS, a 2KB file on a 1GB disk or drive would occupy 17KB block.   On a 9GB Hard Disk the same 2KB file would occupy a 150KB block. As you can see, a lot of space is wasted for small files as drives become larger.  Proportioning allowed each partition to have 65,536 blocks, so block size could be made smaller with much less wasted space on smaller drives.   Systems 8.1 introduced the new format called HFS+ where block size is about .5KB for any size drive, so partitioning no longer provides any real advantage in saving space.   In my opinion however, it is still to your advantage to have two partitions with a different OS Systems on each.

In the past the down side of HFS + was that in order to make your drive a plus drive you had to reinitialize the drive and reinstall new system software.   This worked fine with new computers with only the original software on the drive since you could restore the software easily by using the Restore CD that came with the computer.   For computers that had added software on the drive it could become a tedious job trying to replace everything and get it all working again.   That has changed however with the advent of a program called "Plus Maker" available from "Alsoft Sales" of Spring, Texas.

PlusMaker gives you the space-saving benefits of Apple's new Extended Disk format (HFS +) without the hassle of reinitializing your disks and restoring all of your files from backups!   Your aliases will still work, plus your disk will have much less wasted space and the allocation block size will be a tiny 0.5KB, the smallest possible, yet it will incur no performance penalties!   Of course it is always recommended you have backups of the programs and files on the drive before starting any format change.  You can read all about PlusMaker at http://www.alsoft.com".

A word of warning though for older computers which can run both OS 7.x or earlier and OS 8.x or later systems.  Should you elect to put OS 7.x on a partition, you will not be able to use or even see or any of the files on your HFS+ partitions.   Instead you will find a Readme file in each HFS+ partition window with the question "Where have all my files gone".   The text will tell you that all of your files are still there but that the current system you are running cannot read nor even recognize HFS + drives.

Since systems 7.6 and earlier cannot recognize HFS + drives, the Startup Disk Control panel on 7.6 will not give you the choice of selecting a HFS+ drive for your next boot.   In fact the drives will not even show in the Control panel.   To get back to your HFS+ systems you will need to have a bootable OS 8.1 or later system.   Any CD with OS 8.1 or later works great for this purpose as you can reboot by holding down the "C" key while booting.   Once you have booted, go to the Startup disk Control Panel and select your HFS+ drive.   Reboot again to be able to use all of the files on all of the other drives.  Newer computers cannot use versions of OS 7.x, so they do not have this problem.

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