partition

In personal computers, a partition is a logical division of a hard disk created so that you can have different operating systems on the same hard disk or to create the appearance of having separate hard drives for file management, multiple users, or other purposes.

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In personal computers, a partition is a logical division of a hard disk created so that you can have different operating systems on the same hard disk or to create the appearance of having separate hard drives for file management, multiple users, or other purposes. A partition is created when you format the hard disk. Typically, a one-partition hard disk is labelled the "C:" drive ("A:" and "B:" are typically reserved for diskette drives). A two-partition hard drive would typically contain "C:" and "D:" drives. (CD-ROM drives typically are assigned the last letter in whatever sequence of letters have been used as a result of hard disk formatting, or typically with a two-partition, the "E:" drive.)

When you boot an operating system into your computer, a critical part of the process is to give control to the first sector on your hard disk. It includes a partition table that defines how many partitions the hard disk is formatted into, the size of each, and the address where each partition begins. This sector also contains a program that reads in the boot sector for the operating system and gives it control so that the rest of the operating system can be loaded into random access memory.

Boot viruses can put the wrong information in the partition sector so that your operating system can't be located. For this reason, you should have a back-up version of your partition sector on a diskette known as a bootable floppy.

This was first published in April 2006

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