From the desk of: Sam C. Chan
March 15, 2012

Hard Drive Re-Partitioning Pre-op Checklist

In-place adjustment of hard drive partitions with a live operating system and extensive pre-existing data is considered an extremely intrusive and risky operation. Successful completion of such procedure is not assured. There is a non-negligible* probability of catastrophic failure, rendering the hard drive unusable in the process.

Often, it'd be more sensible to coincide the revamping of hard drive partitions with major O.S. upgrade/reinstallation. In which case, the sensible path would be: backup/wipe out/fresh install/selective restore (of data & settings).

However, there are scenarios where such sequence would be not practically feasible. In those cases, we must proceed cautiously, preceding the actual operation with comprehensive assessment and preparatory steps:

  • Gather specific data re: motherboard make/model, chipset family, CPU model, storage controller model/rev., hard drive make/model & interface.
  • Brief hardware diagnostics to assure that CPU, memory and hard drive are in working order.
  • Basic O.S. diagnostics to confirm current instance of Windows meets the minimal stability requirements. This includes review of system event logs.
  • Review O.S. Version, SP level and patch status pertaining to repartitioning
  • Analyze partition table structure and existing entries
  • Perform preparatory steps and/or prerequisite remedies.
  • Backup data and configuration files (or advise client to do so).

* In a lab environment, my empirical data shows a 2%~3% failure rate for overall scenarios, with about half of those failures being classed as catastrophic (with data damage), rather than merely abortive. For production systems in the field, I'm seeing a failure rate of below 1%, with zero catastrophic cases so far, in the 15 years or so or performing such  procedures. The strategy is to carefully assess the situation before proceeding, and to be vigilantly looking out for signs for orderly retraction and abortion, upon detecting any sign of danger.

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