This is the process of dividing a physical drive into smaller logical drives that the operating system manages as individual drives. Even if you don’t have, or plan on having multiple partitions, the drive is still partitioned (as one active primary DOS partition). This information is stored in the partition table at the beginning of any physical drive. The first partition of the first hard drive (primary master) usually becomes drive C: and is the boot partition. Unless you use a third party boot manager like System Commander, Windows must install to the boot partition. If you have multiple hard disks configured as RAID 0 then they are treated as one large hard disk. If you have two hard disks configures as RAID 1 then, for all practical purposes you will be working with, and partitioning, only one hard disk and the second will automatically become a copy of the first.
Note that if you are just reformatting to correct a messed up operating system this step may not be necessary, as the partition tables are still intact. In fact, one advantage of having more than one partition is that you can format your C: drive without affecting the other logical drives. If both Windows and DOS can’t see one or more of your drives, however, it might be a good idea to repartition.
I am going to introduce you to the MSDOS partitioning utility FDISK. I’ll be keeping it simple rather than trying to walk you through a complicated multi partition setup.
The FDISK Utility
For the purpose of this discussion, we will remove existing partitions and create new. Boot with your Win95 or Win98 startup disk and type Fdisk at the A: prompt. If you are running Windows 95B (OSR2) or Windows 98, the first screen you will see when you run the FDISK program will ask you if you wish to enable large disk support (Y/N).
Answering Yes to this prompt will enable the FAT32 file system. If you are running Windows 95A (OSR1) or earlier you will not see this prompt as the operating system is not FAT32 aware. If you do not wish to use FAT32 say No to this prompt, but you will not be able to have a partition larger than 2 Gb, which means you will have to use more than one partition for your drive.
On the next screen you get a menu. The first step is to select option 4 and view the existing partition info. Note that it is safe to run FDISK and view the partition info at any time and it can even be done in a DOS window. As long as you don’t delete or try to create any partitions and use the ESC key to exit, you cannot harm anything. I warn you right now, however, if you delete or create any partitions a format will be required afterwards and you will lose all data on that volume. Now that you know what your current partition setup is, the next step (following the example, remember you may not want or need to repartition here), is to delete the existing partitions. Hit ESC to go back to the menu and choose option 3.
When deleting partitions, to avoid problems it is a rule of thumb to start with NON-DOS partitions and work your way up deleting all logical, then the extended and finally the Primary DOS Partition(s). When you are finished, the next step is option 1, creating DOS partition or logical DOS drive.
Here is how this works. You can have 4 primary partitions per fixed disk. One of these can be an extended partition, which must have at least 1 logical partition, but can have up to 20 logical partitions. Please note, however, that DOS and Windows will only see one primary partition, any other primaries will be invisible. This is really only useful for Non-DOS partitions, for example partitions belonging to other operating systems. Therefore, I do not recommend that you create more than one primary, unless you know really well what you are doing. If you need more than one partition, I recommend creating one primary DOS partition and an extended partition and logical partition(s) under it. You MUST set your primary DOS partition active (i.e. setting it as the “boot” drive), this will become your C: drive. Selecting option 1 to create a Primary DOS Partition, you will be asked if you wish to use the maximum available size for a primary DOS partition.
If you answer Yes to this question, it will use the entire fixed disk as your primary partition. This is fine if your hard drive is less than 2 Gb or you are using a FAT32 aware operating system and have said Yes to enabling large volume support. If you say No to this, you will be prompted to enter the desired size of the partition either in Megabytes or as a percentage of the total drive capacity. Once you have created all of your partitions, you have to return to the main FDISK menu and set one of the primaries as active. I recommend partition 1.
When you are finished, and exit FDISK you will be prompted to restart your computer. I recommend you do that immediately. After restarting, you must format each and every partition you have created.