What is your Format, Style and Type?
The underlying Format of a hard drive and how it has been configured for Style and Type are just a few of the things we need to consider before carrying out any partitioning, imaging and cloning, or before installing an operating system or bootmanager.
Determine What Lies Within.
There are several things we need to establish about a hard drive before embarking on any major surgery. The modifying of partitions and boot records has never been something to take lightly and recent changes and design updates will make our lives even more complicated. In addition to Format, Style and Type we also need to consider such things as system or recovery partitions, drive encryption, hardware RAID and several other things. See our Various Variables section for a more complete list.
When creating a new dual or multi-boot system we would always recommend starting with a clean drive so that there are fewer surprises or restrictions ahead. Re-configuring an existing system can be a challenge but even starting from scratch now requires a decent working knowledge of Format and Style and at least the ability to recognize Type and know which to choose. Hopefully this article can help to bring these three main areas into better focus.
Style - The partition scheme used on a drive - either the classic MBR or the up coming GUID Partition Table (GPT).
Type - A Microsoft classification to distinguish between a Basic drive or their own Dynamic drive system.
Both of the different Formats of hard drive can be configured by Style and so be given either the MBR or GPT partitioning schemes. These 4 different arrangements can all also be configured by Type and so be converted to the Windows Dynamic disk system, which means there are 8 potential products of Format, Style and Type.
Is Your Format Advanced?
The new Advanced Format drive requires its partitions to be specifically aligned with the new larger sectors that are at the heart of the updated specifications. Any tool, utility or operating system that is used to create or manipulate partitions will need to be advanced format aware and work to the new rules to correctly configure the new drives. The mis-aligning of partitions with the new sectors can cause a performance loss, but it is using an incompatible tool on a hard drive that is of the biggest concern as this can lead to the corruption or even the deletion of existing partitions.
Advanced Format drives first appeared on the market in early 2010 but the first PCs did not start to ship with them until early 2011. Uptake was gradual however and they did not really become prevalent until around mid 2012. If your machine was manufactured from January 2011 then it could have an Advanced Format hard drive. Solid State drives (SSDs) are different internally and don't have physical sectors, but they should be configured to Advanced Format specifications.
A plain language introduction to Advanced Format hard drives.
How to determine if a hard drive is Advanced Format or traditional.
Our guide to safely creating and working with Advanced Format drives and partitions.
Establish Your Style.
New PCs and most component motherboards will for a while retain an option to switch between UEFI and BIOS firmware so that MBR styled hard drives and older operating systems can still be used. The only Windows operating systems that can be installed directly to a GPT styled hard drive are the 64bit versions of Vista,7 and 8. All other Windows versions will only natively install to MBR styled hard drives. It is however possible to use a GPT styled hard drive as a data drive in a BIOS machine as long as the operating system on the MBR boot hard drive is GPT aware, which is any version of Vista/7/8 and the 64bit version of XP. Most Linux distros are also now fully UEFI and GPT capable.
Multibooting from a GPT hard drive is going to be a different game to the classic MBR styled drive, so if you are on UEFI and using a GPT styled hard drive then please be aware that much of the current material on our site will not be applicable. We will be covering everything GPT in due course, but for now you may need to seek direction elsewhere. As yet there are no simple and truly user-friendly bootmanagers for GPT styled systems so if you want a multiboot machine you will either have to keep it simple by following only Microsoft methods, or be up to configuring one of the few GPT capable bootmanagers, or revert to an MBR styled boot hard drive with a BIOS set motherboard.
Determine if a drive has been configured with the MBR or GPT partitioning schemes.
How to establish if a machine is using UEFI or BIOS firmware.
Introduction to UEFI Firmware and the GPT style of hard drive partitioning
Don't be the Dynamic Type.
Only Windows operating systems can see and use dynamic disks and then only the high end fully featured versions of Windows since Win2000. This can obviously be a bit of a limiter when multibooting with operating systems that are not dynamic disk aware. The other main problem is that on dynamic disks you are limited to only one bootable partition (volume) per hard drive, so if all your disks or your only disk is dynamic then you have even fewer options. We think it is wise to avoid the use of dynamic disks in any dual or multiboot system unless you really are a super-geek who understands what you are doing and truly appreciates the limitations and risks involved. Many of the steps necessary to configure a multiboot machine can easily break dynamic disks and you don't ever want to be in the situation where you have to try and repair or recover volumes or data from broken dynamic disks.
Real World: Dynamic versus Basic Disks
We used to be big fans of dynamic disks. They provided increased flexibility and functionality in a way that was pretty transparent. And they were a huge step forward when they were introduced in Windows 2000........ If using dynamic disks increases your options, isn't that a good thing? Well, yes. But. And it's a big but. A dynamic disk complicates the disaster recovery process, and we dislike anything that creates potential issues in a disaster recovery scenario. We definitely don't think dynamic disks are appropriate for a system disk........