So, you have a shiny new hard-drive and want to install multiple operating systems on it, but just how many partitions can you create for those systems? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answers to one reader’s partitioning dilemma.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

Screenshot courtesy of Luis M. Gallardo D. (Flickr).

The Question

SuperUser reader 09stephenb wants to know if it is possible to split his hard-drive into more than 4 primary partitions:

Is there a way to split a hard-drive into more than 4 primary partitions? I am installing multiple operating systems and it would make life a lot easier if there was a way to do this. My hard drive is 1 TB in size.

Is there a way to split 09stephenb’s 1 TB hard-drive into more than 4 primary partitions? If so, then just how far could you ‘go’ with the number of partitions?

The Answer

SuperUser contributors gronostaj and Daniel B have the answer for us. First up, gronostaj:

You can use a GUID partition table instead of an MBR partition table. GPT can handle 128 partitions by default, but you can increase that number by resizing the partition table size, as stated in this article posted in the comments by @Vality.

Note that GPT is relatively new, and older OSes may be unable to handle it correctly. In some cases, your GPT can be completely destroyed if software does not support it.

A grub menu booting 100+ systems of Dos, Windows, Linux, BSD, and Solaris (forum thread) can be helpful if you want to stick to an MBR.

Followed by the answer from Daniel B:

Yes, this is possible even with an MBR partition table. There is a special partition type called Extended Partition. It is essentially another partition scheme enclosed in an MBR partition. Wikipedia has a surprisingly detailed description of this scheme.

So long as the boot loader resides on a regular partition, there are no relevant limitations. Still, some operating systems may throw a tantrum.

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Akemi Iwaya
Akemi Iwaya has been part of the How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media team since 2009. She has previously written under the pen name "Asian Angel" and was a Lifehacker intern before joining How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media. She has been quoted as an authoritative source by ZDNet Worldwide.
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