How to Partition a Hard Drive (Windows 11, 10, 8, 7, +)

Hard drives must be partitioned before being formatted in Windows

What to Know

  • The first thing to do after installing a hard drive is to partition it.
  • Open Disk Management, select the drive, create a volume at the size you want, and select a drive letter.
  • You'll want to format the drive next unless you have advanced plans for the partition, but that's not very common.

This article describes how to partition a hard drive in Windows 11, 10, 8, 7, Vista, and XP.

How to Partition a Hard Drive in Windows

Don't worry if this process sounds a bit more complicated than you thought because it's not. Partitioning a hard drive in Windows isn't at all hard and usually only takes a few minutes to do.

Here's how to do it:

These instructions apply to Windows 11, Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP.

  1. Open Disk Management, the tool included in all versions of Windows that lets you partition drives, among a number of other things.

    In Windows 11/10/8/8.1, the Power User Menu is the easiest way to start Disk Management. You can also open Disk Management via command prompt in any version of Windows, but the Computer Management method is probably best for most people. Check which version of Windows is installed on your computer if you're not sure.

    Disk Management section in Computer Management window
  2. When Disk Management opens, you should see an Initialize Disk window with the message "You must initialize a disk before Logical Disk Manager can access it."

    In Windows XP, you'll see an Initialize and Convert Disk Wizard screen instead. Follow that wizard, making sure to not select the option to "convert" the disk, unless you're sure you need to. Skip to Step 4 when done.

    Don't worry if this window doesn't appear. There are legitimate reasons you may not see it—we'll know soon if there's a problem or not. Skip down to Step 4 if you don't see this.

    Ok button in Initialize Disk dialog
  3. On this screen, you're asked to choose a partition style for the new hard drive. Choose GPT if the new hard drive you installed is 2 TB or larger. Choose MBR if it's smaller than 2 TB.

    Choose OK after making your selection.

  4. Locate the hard drive you want to partition from the drive map at the bottom of the Disk Management window.

    You might need to maximize the Disk Management or Computer Management window to see all the drives on the bottom. An unpartitioned drive will not show up in the drive list at the top of the window.

    If the hard drive is new, it will probably be on a dedicated row labeled Disk 1 (or 2, etc.) and will say Unallocated. If the space you want to partition is part of an existing drive, you'll see Unallocated next to existing partitions on that drive.

    If you don't see the drive you want to partition, you may have installed it incorrectly. Turn off your computer and double-check that the hard drive is properly installed.

  5. Once you've found the space you want to partition, tap-and-hold or right-click anywhere on it, and choose New Simple Volume.

    In Windows XP, the option is called New Partition.

    New Simple Volume right-click menu in Disk Management
  6. Choose Next > on the New Simple Volume Wizard window that appeared.

    In Windows XP, a Select Partition Type screen appears next, where you should choose Primary partition. The Extended partition option is useful only if you're creating five or more partitions on a single physical hard drive. Select Next > after making the selection.

    Next button in New Simple Volume Wizard
  7. Choose Next > on the Specify Volume Size step to confirm the size of the drive you're creating.

    The default size that you see in the Simple volume size in MB: field should equal the amount shown in the Maximum disk space in MB: field. This means that you're creating a partition that equals the total available space on the physical hard drive.

    You're welcome to create multiple partitions, that will eventually become multiple, independent drives in Windows. To do so, calculate how many and how large you want those drives to be and repeat these steps to create those partitions. For example, if the drive is 61437 MB and you want to partitions, specify an initial size of 30718 to partition only half the drive, and then repeat the partitioning again for the rest of the Unallocated space.

    Next button on Specify Volume Size dialog
  8. Select Next > on the Assign Drive Letter or Path step, assuming the default drive letter you see is OK with you.

    Windows automatically assigns the first available drive letter, skipping A & B, which on most computers will be D or E. You're welcome to set the Assign the following drive letter option to anything that's available.

    You're also welcome to change the hard drive letter later on if you want.

    Next button on the Assign Drive Letter or Path dialog
  9. Choose Do not format this volume on the Format Partition step, and then select Next >.

    If you know what you're doing, feel free to format the drive as part of this process. However, since this tutorial focuses on partitioning a hard drive in Windows, we've left the formatting to another tutorial, linked in the last step below.

    Do not format this volume radio button and Next button in Format Partition dialog
  10. Verify your choices on the Completing the New Simple Volume Wizard screen, which should look something like this:

    • Volume Type: Simple Volume
    • Disk selected: Disk 1
    • Volume size: 61437 MB
    • Drive letter or path: F:
    • File system: None
    • Allocation unit size: Default

    Because your computer and hard drive are unlikely exactly like mine, expect your Disk selected, Volume size, and Drive letter or path values to be different than what you see here. File system: None just means that you've decided not to also format the drive right now.

    New Simple Volume Wizard screen showing new drive specifications
  11. Choose Finish and Windows will partition the drive, a process that will only take a few seconds on most computers.

    You might notice that your cursor is busy during this time. Once you see the new drive letter (F: in our example) appear in the listing at the top of Disk Management, then you know the partitioning process is complete.

  12. Next, Windows will try to open the new drive automatically. However, since it's not yet formatted and can't be used, you'll see this message instead: "You need to format the disk in drive F: before you can use it. Do you want to format it?"

    This only happens in Windows 11, 10, 8, and 7. You won't see this in Windows Vista or Windows XP and that's perfectly fine. Just skip to the last step below if you're using one of those versions of Windows.

  13. Select Cancel. Or, if you know how to format a hard drive in Windows, feel free to choose Format disk instead. If you don't, consult a tutorial first before attempting it.

    Cancel button on formatting dialog in Disk Management screen

What Is Partitioning?

To partition a hard drive in Windows means to section off a part of it and make that part available to the operating system.

In other words, a hard drive isn't useful to your operating system until it's partitioned. Additionally, it's not available for you to store files on until you format it (which is a separate, just as simple process).

Most of the time, this "part" of the hard drive is the entire usable space, but creating multiple partitions on a hard drive is also possible so that you can store backup files in one partition, movies in another, etc.

Manually partitioning (as well as formatting) a hard drive is not necessary if your end goal is to clean install Windows onto the drive. Both of those processes are included as part of the installation procedure, meaning you don't need to prepare the drive yourself.

Advanced Partitioning

Windows only allows very basic partition management after you create one, but a number of free disk partition management software programs exist that can help if you need them.

  • How do I remove a hard drive partition?

    In Disk Management, select the partition you want to remove. Right-click on that partition and select Delete Volume. Select Yes to confirm that all data will be lost.

  • How do I remove a hard drive partition on my Mac?

    Go to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility. Select the partition to remove and click Erase. Confirm the deletion by selecting Erase, then select Done.

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