Hard disks made easy

When should you use FAT32 and when is NTFS necessary? In this week's Microsoft Challenge, Ed Bott shares on-target insights offered by W2K beta testers—and he poses a new challenge involving portable computers.

OK, so we all survived Y2K with nothing more than a few minor headaches that went away with a little TLC. Come to think of it, that sounds like just about every other New Year’s I’ve celebrated for the last 20 years. After it became obvious early on New Year’s Eve that the world wasn’t going to come to an end, it was a treat to relax and watch the fireworks around the world.

Before I left for a much-needed, three-week vacation, I posed a challenge to TechRepublic members who’ve been beta-testing Windows 2000: Help me make sense of the new disk management tools in Windows 2000. Two alert readers fired back responses that were right on the money.

I asked, “When should you use FAT32, and when is NTFS essential?” had the definitive answer: “I’ve been beta testing since Beta 2. FAT32 is still a no-no for Windows 2000, as NT is meant to run on NTFSv5.” Ralph also advises that you should “never, ever, ever” run NT Server using a FAT or FAT32 boot drive. He’s right—if you care about network security, you absolutely, positively need to protect your crucial system files with NTFS permissions. Ralph earns 500 TechPoints for that advice.

Of course, FAT32 isn’t a complete dead-end, as reader aharden pointed out: “Due to the fact that FAT32 does not support security, it is really only necessary in two cases: a) you are dual-booting with Win95 OSR2 or Win98 and need a partition larger than 2GB, or b) you need a boot partition larger than 2GB that you can get to easily from a Win95 OSR2 or Win98 boot floppy.” In all other cases, he suggests choosing NTFS during Setup: “Win2000's install process lets you create NTFS partitions as large as necessary, since the installer can now natively format NTFS during the first part of the process.” Absolutely right—a Happy New Year and 500 TechPoints to aharden for that astute observation.

I’ve been working with Windows 2000 Professional as my production operating system for more than 18 months now, and I can offer some disk management advice of my own:
  • Use NTFS if at all possible, especially on servers.
  • If you plan to dual-boot Windows 2000 with NT4, install Service Pack 4 or later before you run Setup. If you don’t take this crucial precaution, NT4 will be unable to recognize the new NTFS format, and you’ll have a long repair ahead of you.
  • Use dynamic disks for big storage needs. I’ve added two new 27GB hard drives to my main workstation to handle my digital music collection, which is growing at the rate of more than a gigabyte a week. I can extend the dynamic disks so they appear to be one giant workspace with a single drive letter, or I can create separate volumes and mount them as virtual directories on existing drives. Once you try this functionality, you’ll never go back.
  • To ensure peak performance, periodically run Windows 2000’s Disk Defragmenter tool. If you want to schedule defragmentation sessions to run automatically, you’ll need to upgrade to Diskeeper 5 ( ) from Executive Software.

Here's Ed's new Challenge
Windows 2000 is the ideal operating system for portable computers, with great power management, all-new file replication features, and the ability to go into a battery-saving hibernation mode on command. If you’ve been beta-testing Windows 2000 on a notebook PC, what kind of advice do you have for your fellow TechRepublic members? I’ll award a fistful of TechPoints to you if you can offer specific advice to make the upgrade process smooth and painless. What’s the magic incantation that makes ACPI work flawlessly? Is the Offline Files folder really an improvement over the Briefcase? How can you find out whether your notebook has what it takes to run Windows 2000? If you think you’ve got the answers, click here to tackle this week's Microsoft Challenge.

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