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Windows 7 tips and tweaks

Create and use virtual disk drives

When you have just one hard disk drive, every file you create or download from the internet gets stored on it and after a while it becomes a disorganised mess. It gets harder to find files and when you are working on projects, you can't find the items you need or where you last stored something.

A second or even third hard disk drive is a big help and you can store music, video or documents on it, you can create and store various projects, you can have folders that are easy to find, and so on. Extra disks are great, so how about a free one or even two? Windows 7 lets you create as many virtual hard disk drives as you need.

A virtual hard disk drive isn't a physical one and it is really just a file on the existing hard disk drive. However, it acts just like a real one and it can be accessed using Explorer, applications see it as a separate disk drive and can use it for storing files on, and so on. It's really useful for organising files and it works just like the real thing.

Click Start and then right click Computer. Select Manage from the menu and then select Disk Management in the left hand pane under Storage. Go to the Actions menu and select Create VHD (virtual hard disk). In the dialog that is displayed, click the Browse button and choose where to store the file, such as C:\ and enter a filename, like MyDisk.

A virtual hard disk can be a fixed size or dynamically expanding. A fixed size disk is the size you enter and if you enter 100Mb or 1Gb then that's how much disk space is used on your real hard disk drive. A dynamically expanding disk is only as big as the files you store on it. It starts off using little disk space and then it grows as you copy files to it. The choice is yours, but the fixed size disk is recommended.

Make sure that the graphical view is selected on the View menu so you can see the new disk drive. It will probably appear as Disk 1 or 2. It's blank, like a new disk drive from the factory and it needs to be initialised and formatted before it can be used. Right click the disk name on the left of the graphical view and select Initialize from the menu.

In Windows 7 you can ether of the use MBR or GPT partition styles that are offered, but unless you are creating virtual disks greater than 2Tb, use MBR because that's more compatible with old versions of Windows. Now that the disk is initialised, right click the disk itself in graphical view and select New Simple Volume. Keep clicking the Next button to accept the defaults unless you want an unusual format like FAT32 for some reason.

When it's finished, you'll have a new disk drive and you can close the Computer Management window and open an Explorer window to view its contents, copy files to it and so on. It acts just like a real disk drive.

When you shut down Windows, you'll find that the disk is no longer available the next time you start up. You must click Start and then right click Computer. Select Manage from the menu and then select Disk Management in the left hand pane under Storage. Go to the Actions menu and select Attach VHD. In the dialog that is displayed, click the Browse button and choose the file you created earlier. The drive will then appear and can be used in the normal way.

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