In this article, we’ll be discussing MBR and GPT. These are two partitioning schemes for hard drives everywhere, with GPT being the new standard. Let’s explain what they are, and how they differ.
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What are MBR and GPT?
MBR and GPT stand for Master Boot Record and GUID Partition Table. These two things, despite their name differences, do basically the same thing: they manage how partitions are created and organized on a hard drive.
Partitions, for those who don’t know, are seperate sections on a hard drive that the operating system can use. For instance, many laptops have a “system” partition where everything in the Windows installation goes on, with a hidden “recovery” partition that can be used to restore the system in case of an accident.
Another reason to partition a hard drive is to install multiple operating systems on the same hard drive (Linux, Windows, etc).
How do they differ?
The main difference between MBR and GPT is that MBR has some limitations for modern usage. Namely, MBR can only handle four primary partitions and 2TB of HDD space. GPT, meanwhile, doesn’t have these limits at all. There’s no limit to partitions or storage outside of what the drive itself can handle.
However, versions of Windows earlier than 8 can’t boot off of GPT drives. This means earlier Windows versions have to use MBR on their primary/boot hard drives.
Which one do I use?
Basically, newer versions of Windows will use GPT by default. If you get an external HDD or SSD and have the choice between ways of formatting it, you should format it with GPT, just so that you can take advantage of the faster speeds, unlimited partitions and significantly larger storage capacities.
That being said, there are some reasons to continue using MBR. If you deal primarily with drives below 2TB or older versions of Windows, you might be better off formatting all of your drives with GPT so that you don’t risk breaking compatibility with any of your hardware.
Windows 7 and onward, however, can use GPT. Just not as a boot drive (without a UEFI BIOS). If you’re still running XP/Vista, you might have some bigger problems.