Windows allows two types of disks, basic and dynamic. By default, your disk comes as a Basic disk, but you can change it to a dynamic one manually.
However, you may want to know a bit more about both disks before determining whether you want to keep using a basic disk or switch to a dynamic disk. Or you may have accidentally converted to a dynamic disk and ruminating whether you should keep it as is or revert back to a basic one.
Basic disks and dynamic disks are quite different in their operation and application. So, depending on your situation, either one may be suitable for your use. In this article, we go through all possible differences to aid you in making such decisions.
What is Basic Disk?
A basic disk is the most traditional disk storage type in Windows. It uses logical partition tables to manage the partitions on a disk and provides a simple storage structure to store and manage your files.
You need to format the partitions using a file system before being able to use them for storage purposes. Also, the system partition must be marked as active on a basic disk before you can actually load the operating system from this partition.
What is Dynamic Disk?
A dynamic disk is a more flexible disk storage that uses a Logical Disk Manager (LDM) and Virtual Disk Service (VDS) to group two or more drives in a pool and then use the storage pool to create dynamic volumes. Depending on the nature of the volume, it is also possible to freely modify their size without affecting the data on dynamic disks using such virtual disk technology.
These multiple dynamic disks must be part of the same disk group, where each disk stores a copy of a dynamic disk database containing all the disk information. The division of the disk group is not called partitions but dynamic volumes to differentiate them from the basic disk’s partitions.
Depending on your need, you can have different types of volumes, such as simple, stripped, spanned, mirrored, or RAID-5 volumes.
- Simple volumes are extremely similar to the partitions of a basic disk. Also, since other types require a multi-disk setup, you can only use simple volumes if you have just one dynamic disk. If you have multiple disks, you can easily convert simple volumes to other dynamic types.
- Spanned volumes use spaces from multiple volumes. Such spaces also do not need to be the same. Unlike simple volumes, you can’t only shrink or remove a portion of a spanned volume. You need to delete it in its entirety to do so.
- Stripped volumes distribute input/output requests throughout the multiple disks. It uses equal-sized stripes of unallocated space from these disks for read/write purposes.
- Mirrored volumes provide duplicates of themselves to another dynamic disk. So, unlike spanned or stripped volumes whose data gets lost when one of the disks gets corrupted, mirror volumes still retain a copy of data. This way, you can keep operating your system or accessing your data.
- RAID-5 volumes stripe data along with parity to multiple disks. If a disk fails, the parity helps recreate any lost data by using the remaining data on other disks, preventing such loss. So, while mirrored volumes provide fault tolerance by compromising the available free space, RAID-5 does the same without using up so much space.
Differences Between Basic and Dynamic Disks
Basic and Dynamic disks both support MBR or GPT systems. However, apart from that, they are different in every aspect. So, here is the breakdown of all the differences according to various aspects of a disk drive:
A basic disk contains basic partitions, which in Master Boot Record (MBR) partition system includes primary and extended partitions. You can have four primary partitions or three primary partitions, and one extended partition. And you can further divide the extended partition into 128 logical drives. In GUID Partition Table (GPT) system, you don’t need an extended partition as it supports up to 128 primary partitions.
You can extend the partitions using adjacent or contiguous unallocated space as long as they have NTFS file system. If you already have a partition, you can’t merge it with another without deleting one of them. Deleting a partition creates an unallocated space by removing all the data present in the partition.
On a dynamic disk, the dynamic volumes can span over non-contiguous areas on the same or different disks. The database on each disk stores and tracks information related to dynamic volumes or other dynamic disks to allow such partitioning.
You can also freely change the size of your volumes without having to delete or shrink one of them to make free space available. If you want to reallocate space from one volume to another, they do not have to be in contiguous locations.
If any data becomes corrupt on a basic disk, it is lost for good. So, you need to have a separate backup if you ever need to restore such data.
It is not an issue for dynamic disks. They support mirror volumes or RAID-5 volumes through which you can use multiple disks to create a fault-tolerant system. If any data in a dynamic disk becomes corrupt, the system can restore it from the mirrored disk or by using the database on another dynamic disk.
Converting a basic disk to a dynamic one is extremely easy. You can convert it through Disk Management without affecting any data present in the disk.
However, you need to delete or format all the data in a dynamic disk to be able to convert it to a basic disk using built-in methods. You can use third-party software to make a non-destructive conversion, but most such applications require paid subscriptions.
Basic disks are the only current option if you need a multi-boot setup. You can use various bootloaders and install different operating systems on your machine as long as the hardware supports those systems.
Dynamic disks do not support having bootloaders and consequently don’t allow a multi-boot setup.
Need for Reconfiguration
If you transfer a basic disk to another PC, you can directly use it without having to make any changes to your system. In technical terms, it means that the disk goes online automatically.
However, if you move a disk to another PC, it will be in an offline state initially. You will need to open Disk Management, right-click on the dynamic disk and select Online or Import external disk to be able to use it.
Compatibility and Support
Basic disks are the most traditional Windows disk technology used since MS-DOS systems. So, it is naturally compatible even with extremely old versions. However, since Windows 2000 and above systems all support dynamic disks, there’s no practical difference if we consider compatibility for Windows systems.
Other operating systems like Linux do not support dynamic disks, though. Also, basic disks are the most common disk types, so developers all consider this disk type while making various applications. Hence, you may encounter issues if you try using certain apps with dynamic disks.
Furthermore, dynamic disks are already deprecated except if you want to mirror the boot volume to another disk for backup. For all other purposes, Microsoft has introduced a more resilient storage virtualization technology called Storage Spaces.
Should I Use Basic Disk or Dynamic Disk?
As we mentioned earlier, dynamic disks are already obsolete. So, if you want to use a RAID array or use virtual or more flexible disks, we recommend using Storage Spaces instead.
If you don’t need such functions, it’s always better to keep using or revert back to basic disks instead. Most small business and personal users only require basic disks as they keep things simple and are easy to migrate.
If you only use a single disk, using it as a dynamic disk or with storage spaces is not really necessary, as they won’t provide fault tolerance anyway.
How to Change Dynamic Disk to Basic Disk?
Now that you know the differences between the disks, you may want to take a look at how you can convert between these disk types before deciding which one you should use.
As we mentioned earlier, you can convert a basic to a dynamic disk using Disk Management. To do so,
- Open Run by pressing Win + R.
diskmgmt.mscand press Enter to open Disk Management.
- Look for the disk and right-click on it.
- Select Convert to Dynamic Disk and click OK.
On the other hand, changing a dynamic disk back to a basic one is not so easy. If you don’t want to lose data, you need to use third-party software. Alternatively, you can back up all the data on the disk and perform the steps below to use Disk Management for this purpose:
- Open Run.
diskmgmt.mscand press Ctrl + Shift + Enter to open Disk Management as admin.
- On the disk you wish to convert, right-click on all volumes and select Delete Volume > Yes.
- After you are done, right-click on the disk and select Convert to Basic Disk.
- Confirm your choice.