System Partition Vs. Boot Partition

March 1, 2009

One of the more confusing aspects of the Windows NT/2000/XP family lies in the way Microsoft distinguishes between what they call the system partition and the boot partition. Only a few vital files are required to start the boot process, and these files are stored on the system partition. This is the first, active partition on the system: by default, this is the C:\ drive. The boot partition, interestingly, is not the the partition the O/S boots from, but rather the partition that the O/S boots to. The boot partition is the partition that holds the O/S files themselves (in the \WINNT folder).
The system partition and the boot partition can be the same partition (and, if your hard disk drive has only one partition, then they are the same), but they don’t have to be. During Windows NT/2000/XP setup, you can specify any partition as your boot partition. In fact, on systems with more than one O/S installed – multiboot systems – Microsoft highly recommends that you install each O/S on its own partition.
As an example, let’s say you have a system with a single hard disk drive split into two partitions: C:\ and D:\, with Windows 98SE installed on the C:\ drive (i.e. C:\Windows) and Windows 2000 installed on the D:\ drive (i.e. D:\WINNT). The C:\ drive is called the system partition, and the D:\ drive is called the boot partition.

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