GPT vs MBR: Which one is best for Your PC?June 15, 2021
If you’re building a PC, you might have been asked how you need to install your operating system – GPT vs MBR. The differences between an MBR and GPT partition are much straightforward. But there’s a lot of background information that will help you get a more precise picture about each type of partition table and when you should choose one over the other.
In this article, we’ll work into what a partition is, the difference between an MBR and GPT partition, whether you should upgrade from one type of partition to another, and more.
What’s a partition?
A partition is an implicit division of a hard disk drive (HDD) or solid-state drive (SSD). Each partition can vary in size and typically serves a distinct function.
For example, in Windows, there is usually a tiny recovery partition and a large file system partition labeled C: The C: partition is what most people are familiar with, as it’s where you normally install your programs and store your various files.
In Linux, there’s typically a root partition (/), one for the swap, which helps with memory management, and a large /home partition. The /home partition is similar to the C: partition in Windows in that it’s where you install most maximum of your programs and store files.
If you bought your computer from a store and the operating system is already installed, the manufacturer has already taken care of the partitions. So you don’t need to worry about them unless you want to do dual-boot Windows and Linux from the same HDD or SDD.
Even if you’re installing the operating system yourself, most times, the installer will suggest default partitions and partition sizes. So, again, you usually don’t require to make any adjustments. However, now that you have a high-level summary of what a partition is, we can dive into the differences between MBR and GPT partitions.
An overview of MBR and GPT partitions
Before a drive can be split into individual partitions, it needs to be configured to use a specific partition scheme or table. A partition table describes the operating system how the partitions and data on the drive are organized. For example, the screenshots above show the partition tables on the drive, and each partition is shown as a rectangular block.
MBR stands for Master Boot Record and is a bit of saved space at the beginning of the drive that contains information about how the partitions are organized. The MBR also has code to start the operating system, and it’s sometimes called the Boot Loader.
GPT is an abbreviation of GUID Partition Table and is a unique standard that’s slowly replacing MBR. Unlike an MBR partition table, GPT reserves the data about how all the partitions are organized and how to boot the OS throughout the drive. That means, if one partition is erased or corrupted, it’s still possible to boot and recover some of the data.
If you bought your computer within the last five years or so, it’s likely using GPT partition tables rather than the older MBR tables.
Differences between GPT vs MBR partitions
There are some differences between MBR and GPT partitions, but we’ll cover some of the main ones here. First, the maximum potential of MBR partition tables is only about 2 terabytes. You can manage a drive that’s larger than 2 terabytes with MBR, but only the first 2 terabytes of the drive will be used. The remainder of the storage on the drive will be wasted.
In distinction, GPT partition tables offer a maximum capacity of 9.7 zettabytes. 1 zettabyte is about 1 billion terabytes, so you’re doubtful to run out of space anytime soon.
Next, MBR partition tables can have a peak of 4 separate partitions. However, one partition can be configured to be an extended partition, a partition that can be split up into 23 additional partitions. So the ideal maximum number of partitions an MBR partition table can have is 26 partitions. GPT partition tables admit for up to 128 separate partitions, which is more than enough for most real-world applications.
As MBR is older, it’s normally paired with older Legacy BIOS systems, while GPT is found on newer UEFI systems. This indicates that MBR partitions have better software and hardware compatibility, though GPT is starting to catch up. We’ll need a brief look at both Legacy BIOS and UEFI a bit later in the article.
Should you upgrade from MBR to GPT?
If one of your drives is currently doing an MBR partition table, you might be asking yourself if you should upgrade to the newer GPT standard. In short, probably not. But, as the saying goes, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
It’s easy to ruin the MBR sector of the drive, making it impossible to boot up again. Then you’ll either require to create a recovery USB drive with Windows or Linux or try to repair the MBR or completely wipe the drive and reinstall the operating system.
Speaking from experience, it’s not worth the headache. That said, there are some states where you might consider upgrading from MBR to GPT. For instance, maybe you want to upgrade your drive to one that’s greater than 2 terabytes, or you need more than 26 partitions. Of course, you’ll require to make sure that your hardware can even support a GPT partition table and a UEFI BIOS even in these cases.
If you’ve done the research are positive you need to make the jump to GPT, make sure you have a backup of your drive and all critical data. Worst case scenario, you’ll be capable to roll back without having to reinstall everything and start from scratch.
MBR and GPT BIOS
Because MBR is an older standard, it’s paired with Legacy BIOS systems (and Legacy BIOS can only access drives with an MBR partition). This is not certainly a bad thing, as support for Legacy BIOS is better.
But again, one of the most obvious limitations of MBR partitions is that they can only handle drives that are up to 2 terabytes.
The latest GPT standard is paired with UEFI BIOS systems. Though support for both GPT and UEFI BIOS is not as great as MBR/Legacy BIOS, its growing ground.
More manufacturers are switching over to UEFI BIOS, which requires drives to use the newer GPT format. But the necessity for GPT formatted drives comes with the advantage of a much higher capacity and up to 128 partitions.