Manage Hard Disks and File System in Vista

Before you start

Objectives: learn how to manage disks in Vista.

Prerequisites: you have to know what is File system.

Key terms: volume, create, spanned, file, drive, space, simple, stripped, unallocated, letter

Device Manager

First let’s check our disks in Device Manager. Right-click on computer, select the ‘Manage’ option, and then go to Device Manager. Let’s open Disk drives. Notice that in our case we have one disk installed.

Disk Drives

Image 330.1 – Disk Drives in Device Manager

Let’s open the properties of that hard disk and then go to the Volumes tab. Here we will click the Populate button which will query the hard drive and find the various volumes that have been configured on the disk.

Volume Tab

Image 330.2 – Volume Tab

In our case we can see that there’s one volume with a drive letter of C. While we can see the physical disks that are in our system using Device Manager, to manage file system we will typically go to Disk Management. Let’s say that we have bought two new disks and that we have attached the to our computer. We will use Disk Management console to set them up.

Disk Management

Disk Management is also part of the Computer Management console which we have already opened. Simply select it from the menu on the left. To open Disk Management we can always go to Control Panel > System and Maintenance > Administrative Tools > Computer Management > Disk Management. On the top of the Disk Management window we can see all of the volumes that exist on our computer. Notice that we have only one volume. The bottom portion in the middle shows us each individual disk along with the volumes on each disk. Notice that we have two new disks with unallocated space.

 Disk Management

Image 330.3 – Disk Management

In our case Disk 0 is the first disk and it has one volume (C). To be more precise, we have one partition on our disk, and one volume which is using that single partition. Notice that we also have two other disks which are not initialized and the space is unallocated, so before we move on we have to solve that issue. To initialize a disk simply right-click it (in Disk Management) and select the Initialize Disk option. The following window will appear.

 Initialize Disk

Image 330.4 – Initialize Disk

We will use the MBR partition style and click OK. After we have done that we can work with our disks. Let’s play with them a bit. Let’s create a spanned volume from two disks.

Spanned Volume

Spanned volume is made up of disk space on more than one disk. We can create a spanned volume if we need a volume that is too big for a single disk. We can also expand a spanned volume by adding free space from another disk. To do that right click on Disk and select the ‘New Spanned Volume’ option. The wizard will appear. We want our new volume to be 512 MB in size so in in our configuration notice that we have taken 256 MB from every disk.

 Spanned Volume Configuration

Image 330.5 – Spanned Volume Configuration

After we click ‘Next’ we will select to assign a drive letter E to our new volume and to format it using NTFS file system. We will also named it ‘Spanned’. Before we continue we will get a warning that our disks have to be converted to dynamic disks.

 Dynamic Disk Warning

Image 330.6 – Dynamic Disk Warning

That’s fine with us so we can just click OK. If we look in Disk Management console now, we can see our new volume E. Notice that when we click on it on one disk, it will also be selected on all other disks.

Spanned Volume

Image 330.7 – Spanned Volume in Disk Management

So, the spanned volume contains space from two separate partitions on two separate disks, Disk 1 and Disk 2. Let’s create a Stripped Volume now.

Stripped Volume

Stripped volume stores data in stripes on two or more disks. That gives us faster access to our data than a simple or spanned volume. To create stripped volume, right-click on disk (in Disk Management console) and select the ‘New Stripped Volume’ option. The wizard will appear. In our case we will select both disks and take 256 MB on each disk. Our configuration looks like this.

 Stripped Volume

Image 330.8 – Stripped Volume Configuration

We will assign drive letter F to it, format it with NTFS, and label it with ‘Stripped’. Our disks in Disk Management Console now look like this.


Image 330.9 – Spanned and Stripped Volumes Created

Simple Volume

Let’s also create a simple volume on Disk 1. A simple volume can only be on a single disk. To do that we will right-click on Disk 1 and select the ‘New Simple Volume’ option. The wizard will appear. In our case we will select the rest of the space on Disk 1 which is 478 MB.

 Simple Volume Configuration

Image 330.10 – Simple Volume Configuration

We will assign drive letter G to it, format it with NTFS and label it with ‘Simple’. Our volumes now look like this.

After Simple Volume

Image 330.11 – Simple Volume Added

If we don’t assign a drive letter to our volume and if we don’t format it, we won’t be able to use it in Windows. It will exists as a volume in Disk Management, but as a volume without a drive letter label.

Unallocated Space

Notice that on Disk 2 there’s additional space on the disk that is labeled as unallocated. Unallocated simply means that it is a portion of a disk that has not been assigned to a partition or a volume. We can use the unallocated space on the disk to create additional partitions or volumes.

Windows Explorer

We can look at the data that exists on a volume by going to ‘Computer’ or ‘My Computer’ in Windows Explorer. Here we can see the volumes that exist on our computer. Those are C:, E:, F: and G:.

 Hard Disk Drives in Computer

Image 330.12 – Hard Disk Drives in Computer

Notice that they correspond to the volumes that we have defined in Disk Management. Also notice that the unallocated portion on Disk 2 can not be used in Explorer. To see the files that are saved on a volume we can just double click on the volume. Let’s open our Spanned volume. We currently don’t have any files on it. To create a file we can simply right-click and chose New. Then we choose a type of document that we want to create. In our case we will create two text documents, Text 1 and Text 2. Of course we can open a program and edit these documents.

Text Documents

Image 330.13 – Text Documents

We can also use folders to organize our documents. Folders are simply markers that allow us to organize how the files are viewed on the disk. They don’t actually change the position of the file on the disk. They simply change how we see the files when we browse the file system. For example, let’s create new folder called ‘Intro’ and move our file Text 2 to it.


Image 330.14 – Intro Folder

So, we didn’t actually moved the file to a different location on the disk. We have simply associated the Text 2 file with the Intro directory. That way as we browse the volume we can use the folders to organize our files.


Formatting prepares the volume with the structure that is necessary to save files on the volume. Without formatting the operating system does not know how to identify files within the portion of the disk. Let’s see how to format hard drive from Explorer. We wil work on our simple volume which has drive letter G. We have already formatted it, but for the purpose of demonstration we will do it again trough Explorer. We will right click it and select the ‘Format’ option.


Image 330.15 – Formatting Options

By default NTFS is the file system type that Windows prefers, although we can also chose FAT or FAT32. We will leave our label ‘Simple’ and check the Quick Format option. When we click on Start we will get a warning which tells us that formatting erases all the data that’s on the disk. In our case this is fine because there’s nothing on the disk to begin with. If we have something important on our disk, we have to be sure to back it up.


We can use Device Manager to view the physical disks that are installed on our computer. By viewing the properties of the disk we can also look at the volumes that have been defined on that disk. With Disk Management we can view the disks, the partitions as well as the volumes for each of the disks. We can also see unallocated space on a disk. We use Disk Management to create partitions, volumes, to perform formatting and assign drive letters. We use Explorer to browse the file system and view the contents of the disk. Folders are ways of organizing files. Files contain the data that programs create.