Basic and Dynamic Disks
Before partitioning a drive or getting information about the partition layout of a drive, you must first understand the features and limitations of basic and dynamic disk storage types. For the purposes of this topic, the term volume is used to refer to the concept of a disk partition formatted with a valid file system, most commonly NTFS, which is used by the Windows operating system to store files. A volume has a Win32 path name, can be enumerated by the FindFirstVolume() and FindNextVolume() functions, and usually has a drive letter assigned to it, such as C:.
There are two types of disks when referring to storage types in this context: basic disks and dynamic disks. Note that the storage types discussed here are not the same as physical disks or partition styles, which are related but separate concepts. For example, referring to a basic disk does not imply a particular partition style, the partition style used for the disk under discussion would also need to be specified.
Basic disks are the storage types most often used with Windows. The term basic disk refers to a disk that contains partitions, such as primary partitions and logical drives, and these in turn are usually formatted with a file system to become a volume for file storage. Basic disks provide a simple storage solution that can accommodate a useful array of changing storage requirement scenarios. Basic disks also support clustered disks, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 1394 disks, and universal serial bus (USB) removable drives. For backward compatibility, basic disks usually use the same Master Boot Record (MBR) partition style as the disks used by the Microsoft MS-DOS operating system and all versions of Windows but can also support GUID Partition Table (GPT) partitions on systems that support it.
You can add more space to existing primary partitions and logical drives by extending them into adjacent, contiguous unallocated space on the same disk. To extend a basic volume, it must be formatted with the NTFS file system. You can extend a logical drive within contiguous free space in the extended partition that contains it. If you extend a logical drive beyond the free space available in the extended partition, the extended partition grows to contain the logical drive as long as the extended partition is followed by contiguous unallocated space. The following operations can be performed only on basic disks:
Dynamic disks were first introduced with Windows 2000 and 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). Like basic disks, dynamic disks can use the MBR or GPT partition styles on systems that support both. All volumes on dynamic disks are known as dynamic volumes. Dynamic disks offer greater flexibility for volume management because they use a database to track information about dynamic volumes on the disk and about other dynamic disks in the computer. Because each dynamic disk in a computer stores a replica of the dynamic disk database, for example, a corrupted dynamic disk database can repair one dynamic disk by using the database on another dynamic disk. The location of the database is determined by the partition style of the disk. On MBR partitions, the database is contained in the last 1 megabyte (MB) of the disk. On GPT partitions, the database is contained in a 1-MB reserved (hidden) partition.
Dynamic disks are a separate form of volume management that allows volumes to have noncontiguous extents on one or more physical disks. Dynamic disks and volumes rely on the Logical Disk Manager (LDM) and Virtual Disk Service (VDS) and their associated components. These components enable you to perform tasks such as converting basic disks into dynamic disks, and creating fault-tolerant volumes. To encourage the use of dynamic disks, multi-partition volume support was removed from basic disks, and is now exclusively supported on dynamic disks. The following operations can be performed only on dynamic disks:
Another difference between basic and dynamic disks is that dynamic disk volumes can be composed of a set of noncontiguous extents on one or multiple physical disks. By contrast, a volume on a basic disk consists of one set of contiguous extents on a single disk. Because of the location and size of the disk space needed by the LDM database, Windows cannot convert a basic disk to a dynamic disk unless there is at least 1MB of unused space on the disk.
Regardless of whether the dynamic disks on a system use the MBR or GPT partition style, you can create up to 2,000 dynamic volumes on a system, although the recommended number of dynamic volumes is 32 or less. The operations common to basic and dynamic disks are the following:
Unless specified otherwise, Windows initially partitions a drive as a basic disk by default. You must explicitly convert a basic disk to a dynamic disk. However, there are disk space considerations that must be accounted for before you attempt to do this.