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Using the Disk Management tool in Windows XP Professional


By Jason Zandri
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This article will cover using the Disk Management tool in Windows XP Professional. The emphasis of this first part will be on the different disk types in a Windows XP Professional system.

Using Disk Management tools in Windows XP Professional

In Microsoft Windows XP Professional, you can perform most disk administrative tasks, both local and remote, by using the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in tool called Disk Management, which can be used to convert disks, as well as format current partitions and unallocated space. You can also check on the status of fixed and removable disks and their associated properties.

Using the Disk Management tool
Just as a quick review from last week, you would normally need to be a local administrator to perform most system configuration functions (even just taking a look at the current configuration settings) on a Windows XP Professional system, and in some cases, there may be a local policy set by some other administrator or if your system is in a Domain, a Domain policy setting which may prevent you from performing some actions.

To open the Disk Management MMC, you can select Start, right-click My Computer, and then click Manage, which will open the Computer Management MMC. Under the Storage icon, click Disk Management to open the Disk Management MMC.



You can also type compmgmt.msc in the RUN box or from a command line to launch the Computer Management MMC.



[NOTES FROM THE FIELD] - What your Start Menu options look like all depend on how you have the menu set. If you are using the Classic Start Menu, you would not see My Computer as a selection to right click on. Your options would be to click Start, select Administrative Tools and then select Computer Management. Not a whole lot different, but perhaps just enough to confuse you.

I seem to continually repeat this from article to article, but it is important to stress, the Windows XP Professional exam rarely tests you on Classic anything. You need to know how to get from Windows XP Professional settings to Classic and back, but in 90% of the cases you're going to find instructions laid out in the Windows XP Professional vein. I will do my best to point out alternatives in the [NOTES FROM THE FIELD] section as I have done here.


If you want to directly open the Disk Management MMC you can type diskmgmt.msc from the RUN box or from a command line. This will run the tool independently from the Computer Management MMC.

Disk Management, which was introduced in the Windows 2000 line of NT-based Windows operating systems, replaces the Disk Administrator utility found in Windows NT 4.0.

There are two different types of disk storage in Windows 2000 and Windows XP Professional: basic disks and dynamic disks.

Basic Disks

The number of partitions you can create on a basic disk depends on the disk's partition style.

On master boot record (MBR) disks, you can create up to four primary partitions, or you can create up to three primary partitions and one extended partition. Within the extended partition, you can create an unlimited number of logical drives.

[NOTES FROM THE FIELD] - You used to be limited to the number of logical drives that could be created on a system by the number of remaining drive letters that were available to assign to the formatted partitions. With volume mount points this is no longer the case.

On GUID partition table (GPT) disks, you can create up to 128 primary partitions. Because GPT disks do not limit you to four partitions, you do not need to create extended partitions or logical drives.

[NOTES FROM THE FIELD] - The GUID partition table (GPT) disk-partitioning scheme is a format that is used by the Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) in Itanium-based computers. GUID partition table offers more advantages than master boot record (MBR) partitioning because it allows up to 128 partitions per disk, provides support for volumes up to 18 exabytes in size, allows primary and backup partition tables for redundancy, and supports unique disk and partition IDs.

A primary partition of a basic disk is a portion of the physical disk that functions as though it were a physically separate disk. On most Intel based systems this partition is the one that is marked as active which allows the computer to start up. You can create up to four primary partitions (sometimes called volumes) on a single disk or three primary partitions and an extended partition with multiple logical drives.

Extended partitions allow you to create more than four individual volumes on a basic disk. Unlike primary partitions, you do not format an extended partition with a file system and then assign a drive letter to it. Instead, you create one or more logical drives within the extended partition. It's the logical drive of the extended partition that you format and assign a drive letter to. You can create an unlimited number of logical drives per disk.

[NOTES FROM THE FIELD] - Volume mount points allow a volume to be mounted on an existing folder rather than at the root of a new drive letter. Establishing a volume mount point for an empty NTFS directory allows an administrator to create new volumes without requiring additional drive letters.

Some of the properties and characteristics of basic disks are outlined below.
  • Create and delete primary and extended partitions.
  • Create and delete logical drives within an extended partition.
  • Format a partition and mark it as active.
  • Establish drive letter assignments for volumes or partitions, optical storage devices and removable drives.
  • Establish disk sharing and security arrangements for volumes and partitions formatted with NTFS.
  • Convert a basic disk to dynamic.
Convert a basic disk to dynamic

In order to convert a basic disk to dynamic you would start the Disk Management tool and Right-click the basic disk you want to convert, click Convert to Dynamic Disk.

You can upgrade a disk from basic storage to dynamic storage at any time without loss of data in much the same way that you might run the CONVERT command line utility to change a FAT or FAT32 partition to NTFS without losing any data. Along the same lines, all data on a dynamic disk will be lost when you convert it to a basic disk just as you would going from NTFS "back" to FAT or FAT32.

In order to convert a basic disk to a dynamic disk there needs to be 1 MB of free disk space for the upgrade to succeed. This 1 MB of free disk space is needed to hold the configuration data for the dynamic disk structure.

Converting basic disks to dynamic disks produces the following results.

Basic disk organization Dynamic disk organization
System partition Simple Volume
Boot partition Simple Volume
Primary partition Simple Volume
Extended partition Simple volume for each logical drive and any remaining unallocated space
Logical drive Simple Volume
Volume set Spanned Volume
Stripe set Striped Volume

There is a very good article on the Microsoft Web site entitled Description of Disk Groups in Windows Disk Management (Q222189). While it is based off of the Windows 2000 line of operating systems it is still for the most part pertinent and a good read.

Dynamic Disks

The dynamic disk format can be accessed only by Windows 2000 and Windows XP Professional operating systems.

You convert basic disks to dynamic by using the Disk Management snap-in or the DiskPart command line utility. When you convert a basic disk to dynamic, all existing basic volumes become dynamic volumes.

Dynamic disks provide features that basic disks do not, such as the ability to create volumes that span multiple disks (spanned and striped volumes), and the ability to create fault-tolerant volumes (mirrored and RAID-5 volumes).

[NOTES FROM THE FIELD] - Windows 2000 Servers and the up and coming .NET server line provide fault tolerance on dynamic disks in the form of software based (operating system) disk mirroring (RAID-1) or striping with parity (RAID-5).

Windows XP Professional does not provide fault tolerance.

Hardware devices that support fault tolerance, such as RAID controllers, can make a Windows XP Professional fault tolerant, but it is this third party hardware solution that is providing the fault tolerance, not the Windows XP Professional operating system.


Windows XP Professional supports dividing dynamic disks into volumes, which can consist of a portion, or portions, of one or more physical disks.

There are five types of dynamic volumes: simple, spanned, striped, disk mirroring (RAID-1) and striping with parity (RAID-5). Mirrored and RAID-5 volumes are fault tolerant and are available only on computers running the Windows 2000 Server family of operating systems.

When you have converted a basic disk to dynamic storage, you can create Windows XP Professional volumes, of which there are three different types that can be utilized on the local system:

Simple volumes. All of the disk space from a single disk is used and it is not fault tolerant.

Spanned volumes. Includes disk space from multiple disks up to a total of 32. Data is written to a spanned volume on the first disk, completely filling the space, and continues to the next until it is full and then the next, and so on, through each disk that you include in the spanned volume. These volumes are not fault tolerant either. If any one single disk in the whole entire spanned volume fails, all the data in the entire volume is lost.

Striped volumes. Combines areas of free space from multiple hard disks (up to 32) into one logical volume. In a striped volume, Windows XP Professional optimizes performance by adding data to all disks at the same time in succession, a direct contrast to spanned volumes. If any one single disk in the whole entire striped volume fails, all the data in the entire volume is lost.

Some of the properties and characteristics of dynamic storage are outlined below.
  • Extend a simple or spanned volume.
  • Reactivate a missing or offline disk.
  • Check disk properties, such as capacity, available free space, and current status.
  • View volume and partition properties such as size, drive letter assignment, label, type, and file system.
  • Establish drive letter assignments for volumes or partitions, optical storage devices removable drives.
  • Establish disk sharing and security arrangements for volumes and partitions formatted with NTFS.
[NOTES FROM THE FIELD] - Do not modify the structure of dynamic disks with the DiskPart command line tool because you might damage your partition table within the dynamic disk structure.

  Storage Types Partition Styles
Operating System Basic Volumes Dynamic simple, spanned, and stripped volumes MBR Disks GPT Disks
Windows XP Home Edition YES NO YES NO
Windows XP Professional YES YES YES NO
Windows 2000 Server YES YES YES NO
Windows 2000 Advanced Server YES YES YES NO
Windows 2000 Datacenter Server YES YES YES NO
Windows XP 64-Bit Edition YES YES YES YES

Dynamic Disk Limitations

Just like anything else, with certain advances there are certain limitations and drawbacks.
  • Laptop Limitation. Dynamic disks are not supported on laptops, removable disks, such as Jaz or ORB drives, detachable disks that use Universal Serial Bus (USB) or IEEE 1394 (FireWire) interfaces, or on drives connected to a shared SCSI bus. On laptops you do not even see the option to convert basic disks to dynamic within the Disk Management tool.
  • Multi-boot considerations. Dynamic volumes cannot be accessed by MS-DOS, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Millennium Edition, Windows NT 4.0, or Windows XP Home Edition operating systems that are dual-booted with Windows XP Professional. If you want computers running these operating systems to be able to access the data, you need to store the data on basic volumes.
  • Extending Volumes. When basic volumes are converted to dynamic they may or may not have an entry in the partition table depending on whether that volume was a system or boot partition. If the volume that was converted was originally a system or boot partition it retains its old entry in the partition table. You can install Windows XP Professional on that volume, however, you will be unable to extend it. If the converted volume was not originally a system or boot volume it will not have the old partition table entry. You won't be able to install Windows XP Professional on the volume, but it will be possible to extend it.


  • Volumes converted from partitions on Windows 2000 systems have an entry in the partition table. On Windows XP Professional systems, volumes converted from partitions do not have an entry in the partition table unless the partitions were originally system or boot partitions. You can see if a volume has an entry in the partition table by right-clicking the volume in within the Disk Management tool. If the Extend Volume option is disabled, the volume has an old entry in the partition table.

    "Absolute anonymity isn't practical, or possible, in real life or on the internet."

    Jason Zandri
    2000trainers.com

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