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Preparing A Hard Disk For Use In Windows XP
When a hard disk manufacturer ships a hard disk out, it doesn’t know what sort of computer system it’s going to end up in, so it ships them in a raw, unprepared state.
When you add a new hard disk drive to your computer (covered in part 1), the operating system you use (Windows, Linux, Unix etc.) prepares the disk for use with the correct file system, (FAT32, NTFS, ext3, ReiserFS etc.). For the most part they are all incompatible between OS platforms which is why manufacturers send them out unprepared.
Preparing A Hard Disk For Use In Windows XP is called formatting – where the sectors on the hard disk are arranged in the right way for your OS to read and write data from and to it.
Hard disks can also be split into individual sections called partitions – each of which can be seen by the OS as a separate disk drive, each with it’s own drive letter and individually formatted.
So, to be able to use your newly installed hard disk, you need to first create one or more partitions on it and then format each of them.
This is a lot easier than you might think and in Windows, Microsoft have provided a nice easy to use program to do the job quickly and easily – the Computer Management utility.
Note: The following procedure is assuming you’ve installed a new disk drive. However, the process can also be used as a last resort with older drives that are starting to become problematic as it can often breathe new life into a dying drive. More on this at the end of the article.
Open up the Control Panel and locate the Administrative Tools icon. Double-click on it to open it up. Double-click on the Computer Management icon and when the window opens, click on Disk Management near the bottom on the left side. Double-click on the window’s title bar at the top to make it full screen.
This will show you all the drives that Windows can see. Hard Disk Drives (internal and external) appear at the top and CD/DVD-ROMS appear at the bottom of the list. Space on each drive is represented by a box running across the screen. Partitions are displayed as segments within the boxes (a drive can have multiple partitions, each one with it’s own drive letter).
Working partitions have a blue strip at the top and the text should say Healthy. This may be followed by either (System) or (Active) if the drives have an OS on them and are bootable.
Unpartitioned (new) drives should say ‘Unallocated’ and have a black strip instead of blue.
The drive at the top of the list should be Disk 0 and normally shows as (C:). You should see your new drive somewhere below it.
The first thing you need to do is create one or more partitions…
Warning: Make sure you do not select the wrong drive. Doing the following with a drive other than the newly installed one (the one marked as ‘Unallocated’) will delete all the data currently on it and you will never see it again.
Right click on the box for your new drive and a menu will pop up. Left click on the ‘New Partition…’ entry.
On the next screen, leave Primary Partition selected and click on Next again.
A drive can contain one or more partitions so on this screen you have to decide how many partitions you want and how big you want each one to be by supplying the size in MB. For example, if your new drive is an 250 Gig, you might want it to be a single 250 Gig drive, two 125 Gig drives, or even one 50 Gig and 2 100 Gig drives!
Note: Each partition will appear in Windows Explorer as a different drive – with it’s own drive letter, like E:, F: G: and so on.
If you just want to use all the space as a single drive, the partition size is already set to the maximum value for the drive so you just click on the Next button.
If you want to split the drive into two smaller drives then you need to change the value on screen.
There are 1024 MB in 1 Gigabyte, but for easier maths, you won’t be far out if you use 1000 MB when deciding on what number to type. For example, if you want a partition EXACTLY 10 Gig in size, the number you need to enter is 10 x 1024 (10240 MB). If you enter 10000 (10 x 1000), then you end up with a partition 9.77 Gig in size – close enough to 10 Gig for most of us…
In fact, hard drive manufacturers use 1000, so when your new ‘250’ Gig drive is installed, Windows will tell you there’s only just under 233 Gig free space on it. 17 Gig instantly gone!
As an example, I have a 60 Gig drive and wanted to split it equally to get two 30 Gig partitions. The first partition I created with a size of 30720 (1024 x 30). I then created a second partition with the remaining ’30’ Gig on the drive. When I’d finished, Windows told me the second drive was not 30 Gig, but 25.8 Gig. Hardly equal eh?
Using 1000 instead of 1024, the drives ended up a little closer in size, weighing in at 29.29 and 26.59 Gig respectively.
Tip: If you want a drive to have more or less two equal sized partitions, divide the stated drive size by 2 and then use 950 as the multiplier. For the ‘so-called’ 60 Gig drive this would be 30 x 950 (28500) for the first partition size and the remainder for the second. This gives you one 27.83 Gig drive and one 28.05 Gig drive – pretty close to a 50/50 split.
But let’s assume for now that we just want a single partition. Leave the default maximum value in the box and just click on the Next button. You will then see the Assign Drive Letter screen.
Here you can specify what drive letter you want this partition to have. I always leave this section exactly as it is and just click on Next – you can always change it later if you need to.
The final screen is the Format Partition screen. A partition has to be formatted at some point before Windows can use it, so you might as well do it now.
Leave the Format option on and don’t change the File system – leave it as NTFS for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7. Windows 95 and earlier versions of Windows didn’t support NTFS so only for those operating systems would you choose FAT32.
You can also leave the Allocation unit size as Default too.
You can however change the Volume label to whatever you want. For example, if you are going to store your MP3 collection on this drive, you could enter ‘Music’ for the label.
Finally, put a tick in the ‘Perform a quick format’ box. I only ever leave this option off for a full format if I’m trying to revive an older drive that’s been playing up. With it on, the formatting process takes seconds… instead of forever!
Click Next and you will see a summary of what’s going to happen if you continue, with the option to cancel in case you chose a wrong setting. Click on the Finish button.
The drive letter and ‘Formatting’ appears for a few seconds and if all goes well, you should see the volume label you typed and the word ‘Healthy’.
That’s all you need to do!
Close the Computer Management program and the Administrative Tools window (if it’s still open) and run Windows Explorer (or select Start…My Computer).
Look down the list of drives and you should see your new drive somewhere on the list and you can start moving your data onto it.
Extending The Life Of An Old Disk Drive
All magnetic media eventually wears out after continuous use. Anyone who’s ever used the old audio cassete tapes will tell you that after a while the sound quality goes down and the amount of hiss goes up.
Hard disks are similar. After many months or years of continuous use, they can start generating read or write errors and most people at that point consign them to the rubbish bin.
But, the disk preparation process outlined above, (with a couple of slight changes), can often extend the life of a dodgy drive – often for months or even years. OK, sometimes it doesn’t work and if it does there’s no guarantee it will stay working for long, but it doesn’t cost anything to try…
The resulting ‘revived’ drive won’t be back to ‘out of the factory’ condition by any stretch of the imagination, and shouldn’t be considered 100% trustworthy or used as your main boot-up drive. It should however be fine as a secondary data drive for storing things you can easily replace (or you have backed up), should it fail again some time in the future (which it surely will… eventually).
So, to try and revive an old hard disk, the first thing to do is copy as much data off it as you can before you start. This is because the following procedure WILL DELETE EVERYTHING ALREADY ON THE DRIVE.
Notice the clever use of caps there? I did it because it’s important because if you continue, everything on the drive will be lost… forever! OK, don’t say I didn’t warn you…
If there’s nothing important on it, note the drive’s letter in Windows Explorer and follow the above process, but with the following procedure changes:
When in the Disk Management section of the Computer Management utility, when you locate the drive you are working on, it shouldn’t say ‘Unallocated’ and have a black strip above it. It will probably say ‘Healthy’ and have a blue strip above it.
If it is a blue strip, instead of right clicking on the box and choosing ‘New Partition…’ you should delete the old one first by selecting ‘Delete Partition…’.
Once you’ve done that and it now says Unallocated and has a black strip, (or if was already an Unallocated drive), continue with the above procedure until you get to the screen with the tick box for selecting a Quick Format.
This time, do NOT tick the box. This will do a full disk format and is the bit that attempts to revive the bad sectors on the drive by writing and reading data to them (destroying what was already there in the process).
If a sector still has errors, it is marked as bad and a table of bad sectors created. When your OS accesses the drive later on, it refers to this table so it knows where the bad sectors are and avoids them.
This can take quite a long time to do compared to a Quick Format and depends on both the size of the drive and how bad a condition it is in. You could be looking at hours rather than minutes…
Note: Bad sectors on a hard disk can sometimes be due to the magnetic coating starting to break down. The problem is that when this happens, it’s like a rash on your arm – it can spread. One bad sector can ‘infect’ others and after a while, perfectly good nearby parts of the disk can also go faulty. Remember, a full format may mark a bad sector and redirect to a good working one, but the ‘infected’ bad one is still sitting there on the disk.
Once the format has completed, you’re done and can copy data to and from it to test it out. As mentioned before, don’t just assume that your drive is now back to 100% and be disappointed if you still get errors when testing it out.
Instead, assume it’s still faulty and be pleasantly surprised if the errors are gone!
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