Stump the Geeks

Careful with your backup drive's partitions

March 3, 2013 

Q: I have an older Dell desktop running XP. Disk partition C: has a capacity of about 60 GB and is getting full. Disk partition Backup (D:) has a capacity of about 18 GB and is 99 percent empty. Can I safely move some of the free 18 GB in D: for use? Can I safely use D: to store files without corrupting its intended purpose? What is the intended purpose of Backup (D:)?

– Allen, Raleigh

Many PCs by Dell and other manufacturers have a preinstalled backup partition – essentially a walled-off portion of the hard drive. It can sometimes be hidden by default, but it’s solitary purpose is to store a copy of all the original software installed on the computer when it shipped from the factory.

Much older computers shipped with physical backup CDs containing this content, but the concept is the same: If something goes horribly, horribly wrong, you can theoretically take your PC back to the beginning.

In that way, “backup” is a bit of a misnomer, since this partition isn’t meant to store or save the important files on your main C: partition. And although repartitioning your hard drive to divvy up storage space differently is certainly possible, my assumption is that the manufacturer had a reason, however opaque, for allotting 18 GB of storage.

That being said, there’s no particular issue with using the backup partition for file storage, says Craig Petronella, president of Petronella Computer Consultants. Just make sure you’re clear about its purpose.

“Assuming both the C: and D: partitions are on one physical hard drive, it is perfectly safe to store files on D:,” Petronella said in an email. “But do not consider it a reliable backup location, as it resides on the same physical media as C:.”

Petronella recommends first doing some routine housecleaning: Uninstall programs you don’t use and defragment your drive with the Windows utility to free up some space.

But in the grand scheme of things, it might be time for you to invest in an external hard drive.

Aside from the ability to increase your current storage capacity by orders of magnitude, many external hard drives have automatic backup features that can keep all that data safe even if your Dell crashes and burns.

And with prices as low as $30 from sites like Amazon and NewEgg, it’s probably the most cost-effective combination of insurance and storage you can buy.

Q: Is it possible to have one’s Facebook account active, yet hidden from all friends’ “friends lists” so that it appears to the public the account is inactive and no comments or “likes” can be seen on friends’ timelines (except just that particular friend)? I have scoured the Facebook privacy and help sections but cannot find if this privacy option exists.

– Mary L., Raleigh

Facebook’s privacy options are always subject to change on the whims of its creators, but some sharing settings are out of our control. As it stands, likes on any post are visible to everyone who can see that post.

That means if your friend chooses to broadcast her political rant with the world via the “public” sharing option, the world will be able to see your “like” as well.

The best we can do is take a bit of advice from Facebook itself: “If you aren’t comfortable with who can see the post, please don’t comment on it or like it.”

Send technology questions to stumpthegeeks@newsobserver.com. Please include your name, city and daytime phone number. Sorry, we can’t answer every question.

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