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How to Change a a Drive Partition Style from MBR to GPT

Are you looking to change your storage drive to a different style partition? The Windows built-in Disk Management system can easily do this for you, however it does have a caveat. Before you can change a partition style, all existing volumes on the drive must first be deleted. This means all of the data on the drive will be wiped, so backup anything you need before starting this. Before getting started, there’s a little bit of preliminary information you might be interested, if not, just skip down to the instructions.

What is the difference between a MBR and GPT partition style?

A MBR (Master Boot Record) is the partition style that has been around since the early days of the PC. It can run a maximum of 4 partitions, each partition can have a maximum size of 2TB.  GPT (globally-unique-identifier partition table) is the new-school partition style that can support up to near 9.5 billion terabytes on a single volume. Each GPT volume can be up to 256 TB in size with a total of 128 partitions, but this is because of limits set on it by the NTFS file structure. It may be possible for a GPT volume to have unlimited partition.

In terms of data storage, a the GPT style is vastly superior. However the MBT style still maintains the distinct advantage of being able to boot nearly any operating system in existence. A GPT volume can only boot Windows Server 2003 or higher, and Windows Vista or higher.

What is the difference between a Dynamic and a Basic disk style?

Along with choosing between MBR and GPT, you can also choose whether or not a disk should be dynamic or basic. A basic disk is the default format used by Windows and is compatible with all versions of Windows, including MS-DOS. A basic disk can run 4 MBR partitions or 128 GPT partitions within a single volume on a single physical drive. In contrast a Dynamic disk is only compatible with Windows Server, Vista, 7, and 8 (XP can read it, but has limited options). Dynamic disks also aren’t compatible with most portable storage drives (see USB, FireWire), older Server 2003 configurations, and have issues with iSCSi storage area networks.. I don’t suggest using dynamic disks unless you are running a server or NAS (network attached storage) environment on completely modern equipment and software. A dynamic disk supports up to 2000 volumes, which are similar to partitions. Furthermore these dynamic volumes can be customized with certain characteristics, namely:

  • Spanned – Combining multiple physical storage drives into a single dynamic volume.
  • Striped – When data is split across multiple storage drives to improve I/O performance
  • Mirrored – When data is cloned, or duplicated to two or more physical storage drives.
  • RAID-5 – Involves an array of three or more physical storage drives where data is Striped across them. In addition parity information is saved along with the normal data so that in the event that one of the drives crashes the remaining drives are capable of rebuilding the lost data onto a new drive, without any of them actually being a mirror.
Keep in mind this is a simplified explanation of how these partition and disk styles work. For more detailed information see Microsoft’s official library article.

The quickest way to open up the Windows partition manager is to use the key combo Windows Key + R and type: diskmgmt.msc and hit Enter or click OK.

run diskmgmt

In the Disk Management window that appears right-click the volume of the drive that you want to change the partition style of. From the context menu choose “Delete Volume…”

delete volume

A confirmation window will appear confirming that you want to perform this action, as it will delete all of your data. If you haven’t backed up your data yet, now is the last chance as it will be near unrecoverable after this.

erase all data > yes

Next right-click on the same drive, but on the left-pane (the grey one). From the context menu here you can convert back and forth between GPT and MBT, as long as the drive doesn’t have any volumes on it.

image

From this same menu you can also setup a Dynamic Disk array. Note that while you can readily convert a basic disk to a dynamic one, reverting back to basic can be complicated.

convert to gpt disk

When switching to Dynamic it will ask you which physical drives you would like to include in the array. In order to properly set it up, all drives selected would need to be cleared of data. Again, don’t switch to Dynamic unless you’re 100% sure that is what you want to do.

select disks for dynamic array

Find out what style your drive currently is

If you’re unsure what style your drive is using, it’s easy to find out. Just right-click the disk and select Properties.

properties

In the Volumes window it will show whether the type is Basic or Dynamic, and it will also show whether the partition style is MBR or GPT.

volume information

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