As human beings, we are all very organized (at least we want to believe we are)! Whether we use this skill in our lives or not is a different issue altogether, but for sure, we are organized when it comes to our hard drive. We partition our hard drive into disks, create folders, subfolders, and more to be able to find and access our content whenever we want. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of disks used in Windows operating systems: a basic disk and a dynamic disk.
Let’s learn all about these disks, what they can do for you, and how you can convert from one type to another.
What is a basic disk?
Basic disks are the most common type of partition used in Windows operating systems. This disk uses primary partitions and logical drives that are formatted with a file system, typically NTFS.
Basic disks support two styles of partitions — master boot record (MBR) and GUID partition table (GPT).
MBR partition style uses a partition table that contains the location where partitions are stored on the disk. This is the only partition style available on x86-based computers prior to Windows Server 2003, so it is used automatically.
In MBR, you can create up to four partitions — three primary and one extended or all four primary. The extended partition, in turn, can contain four logical drives within it.
Computers running Windows Server 2003 or later versions can choose from MBR and GPT partition styles. A GPT partition supports up to 128 primary partitions, so there is no need for you to create a logical drive at all.
Also, GPT allows partitions to be larger than 2TB and is more reliable because it supports cyclic redundancy checks.
Operations in basic disk
Regardless of whether you use MBR or GPT styles, you can do the following operations in a basic disk.
- Create primary and extended partitions
- Create logical drives in extended partitions, though this is more likely when using MBR style.
- Delete primary and extended partitions and logical drives.
- Format a partition at any time and mark it as active.
What is a dynamic disk?
A dynamic disk gives more flexibility than a basic disk because it does not use a partition table to keep track of all partitions. Instead, it uses a hidden logical disk manager (LDM) or virtual disk service (VDS) to track information about the dynamic partitions or volumes on the disk.
This tracking system allows you to create partitions (volumes) that span across many disks such as spanned or striped volumes, and you can even create fault-tolerant partitions such as RAID-5 or mirrored volumes. Like basic disks, dynamic disks also support GPT and MBR partition styles.
Dynamic disks support five types of volumes, and they are:
- Simple volumes — Functions like primary partitions on a basic disk.
- Mirrored volumes — Creates a copy of the data contained in this volume, and in the process provides fault tolerance.
- Striped volumes — Distributes I/O requests across disks to improve disk input/output performance.
- Spanned volumes — Combines the disk space available in two or more hard disks to create a dynamic volume.
- RAID-5 volumes — Stripes data and parity across three or more disks.
As you can see, these different volumes allow you to do so much more than a basic disk.
Operations in dynamic disk
Since dynamic disks are more flexible than basic disks, you can do a lot more operations. Here’s what you can do with dynamic disks.
- Create and delete simple, striped, spanned, RAID-5 and mirrored volumes
- Remove a mirrored volume or break it into two volumes
- Reactivate a missing disk
- Repair RAID-5 and mirrored disks
- Extend a simple or spanned partition.
Now that we have a good understanding of basic and dynamic disks, let’s take an in-depth look into their differences.
Differences between basic and dynamic disks
Here are the differences between these two types of disks.
|Tracking partitions and volumes
|Uses a partition table
|Uses a hidden logical disk manager (LDM) or virtual disk service (VDS)
|Supported operating systems
|Basic disks are supported by all Windows operating systems starting from MS-DOS, Windows 95/98 to Windows 8
|These are supported by Windows 2000, XP, 2003, 2008, 2011, 2012, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 only. The older operating systems do not support dynamic disks
|Expanding the capacity of volumes
|No. Once a partition is created, you cannot change its capacity directly. You require third-party tools to do this.
|Yes. You can expand the capacity of partitions without even restarting. There is no loss of data at any time.
|The maximum capacity is limited to 2TB.
|Partitions can be larger than 2TB.
|Number of partitions
|If you’re using MBR partition style, then a maximum of four partitions. All four can be primary partitions or you can have three primary partitions and one extended partition. The extended partition can have logical drives. If you’re using GPT style, a maximum of 128 partitions.
|Unlimited number of partitions.
|Allows only primary or logical partitions
|Allows simple, spanned, striped, mirrored, and RAID-5 volumes.
|Basic disks can be converted to dynamic disks without any data loss
|All volumes on the dynamic disk should be deleted to convert a dynamic disk to a basic. The only option to avoid losing data is to use third-party tools.
Thus, these are the major differences that are present between the two disk types.
Next, let us see how we can convert one type to another, and the considerations that come with it.
How to convert a basic disk to a dynamic disk
Converting a basic disk to a dynamic one is fairly easy because it is nothing but an upgrade in many ways. Here are the steps to make this conversion.
- Right-click on basic disk and from the pop-up menu, choose “convert to dynamic disk” option.
- Click “OK” and tap “convert.” This will open a dialog box, in which you can select the disks you want to convert.
- Choose the disks you want to convert and confirm.
Next, you’ll get a rather long message. Essentially, this message will tell you that except the current operating system, others will be unbootable. This is a system warning to users who have dual or multi-booting Windows on the same disk, as this conversion will not allow you to boot other operating systems anymore.
- When you understand this message and click OK, the basic disk will be converted to a dynamic one.
A note here: The system will throw an error if you don’t have enough space for this conversion.
To fix this error, shrink the last partition.
- With these steps, your basic disk is now a dynamic disk.
How to convert a dynamic disk to a basic disk
Converting a dynamic disk to a basic disk is a little tricky. In disk management, the option “revert to basic disk” is grayed out, which means, you can’t convert a dynamic disk to a basic one directly.
That said, there are three ways to do this conversion, and they are explained below.
Converting the disk with manual deletion
You can manually convert your dynamic disk to a basic one by cleaning all the volumes on your dynamic disk. This means you’ll have to back up all your data elsewhere before you begin this process. Once the partition is reverted back to basic, you can copy your data to the partitioned disk.
While this is doable, it is time-consuming and can be frustrating as well, especially if you have large volumes of data.
If you prefer to convert with this option, here are the steps.
- Log into your Windows system with administration privileges.
- Go to start menu -> run and type “diskmgmt.msc”
- When disk management opens, delete all the volumes on the dynamic disk. Do a backup before you start this process if you want to save your data.
- Now, if you right-click on your disk, you can see the option “convert to basic disk.” Click on it, and confirm your choice. Your dynamic disk will be changed to a basic disk.
Diskpart.exe is a built-in command line tool that converts dynamic disks to basic disks. The steps to use this tool are as follows.
- Open a command prompt with administrator privileges
- Type diskpart.exe
- At the prompt, type the name of the disk you want to revert. For example, Disk1 or Disk2
- In the next prompt, type, “clean.” This command will clean the disk you want to convert
- Finally, type “convert basic” to convert the disk to basic.
Though this process is easier than manual conversion, there will still be data loss. You have to back up your data before running this tool.
Using third-party tools
The most convenient option is to use third-party tools that will convert your dynamic disk to a basic one. There will be no loss of data and you don’t have to do any backup. However, these tools are mostly paid, so you’ll have to buy the license.
As you can see, although there are a few similarities between basic and dynamic disks, dynamic disks offer a lot more flexibility to store your data in the way you want. It supports more partitions and even allows you to store volumes across multiple disks.
The best part about these disks is you can convert from one to the other. Converting from basic to dynamic is simple and straightforward, while the other way is a little tricky. You’ll have to back up your data or use third-party tools.
Have you done this conversion? Do you know any other easy way? Please let us know in the comments section.