What is a Dynamic Disk in Windows? A Guide to Basic and Dynamic Disks, Volume Types, and Conversion

For Microsoft Windows users who have computers running Windows 2000, XP, Vista Business/Enterprise/Ultimate, or Windows 7 Professional/Enterprise/Ultimate, or those running Windows 2000/2003/2008 servers, you have access to two hard drive disk configurations. While the basic disk is the most common hard drive configuration and is seen in all newer versions of Microsoft Windows computers, those running the aforementioned have access to dynamic disks as well. But, what exactly is a dynamic disk, and how is it different from your basic disk? In this guide, we’re going to run through what a dynamic disk is, compare it to basic disks, and explain how to convert. 

What Is a Dynamic Disk?

A dynamic disk is a physical disk that uses a form of volume management that allows you to have one volume with non-contiguous or disconnected (not adjoining) information spanning across one or more physical disks. For this to work, dynamic disks use Windows Logical Disk Manager (LDM) and Virtual Disk Service (VDS) to manage their volumes so that they can track the information on the disk, as well as any information across other dynamic disks in the system. This is done by storing a replica of the dynamic disk database on each dynamic disk, ensuring that if one dynamic disk becomes corrupted, another can be used to repair it. 

Example of a Dynamic Disk

Where is the database stored on a Dynamic Disk?

The location of the dynamic disk database is determined by the type of partition you have your dynamic disk set to. For instance, if you’re using an MBR (Master Boot Record) partition, the database will be contained in a 1 megabyte (MB) partition on the disk. On the other hand, if you are using a GPT partition (as most dynamic disks use), the database will be contained in a 1 megabyte (MB) hidden partition. 

Why would you want a Dynamic Disk?

A dynamic disk offers Windows users increased flexibility for volume configuration. Instead of just having one volume that’s been partitioned into a single primary and an extended section, you can instead create numerous other types of volumes like fault-tolerant volumes using RAID technology, such as RAID-01 (mirrored sets), RAID-05 (striped sets with parity), and RAID-50 (striped sets with parity distributed across multiple disks) in order to enhance your computer’s performance. We will explain more about this below.

What is a Basic Disk?

A basic disk is a physical disk that uses the standard Master Boot Record (MBR) partitioning scheme to store information. In this type of configuration, you can have up to four primary partitions on a single drive, or three primary partitions and one extended partition with multiple logical drives. Basic disks also use Windows Logical Disk Manager (LDM) to manage dynamic volumes if any are present. However, they are more limited in their scope of capabilities, as they can only create and delete primary/extended partitions, logical drives within extended partitions, or format partitions and mark them as active. 

Example of a Basic Disk

How are Dynamic Disks different from Basic Disks?

Here are the main differences between dynamic disks and basic disks. 

  • Partitions and Volume Type
    A dynamic disk is divided into dynamic volumes that are not limited to primary or secondary-extended partitions. In contrast, a basic disk uses normal partition tables, and each drive can only hold 3-4 partitions and only one secondary-extended partition.
  • Styles of Partitions
    Dynamic disks do not have partitions and instead contain simple volumes, spanned volumes, striped volumes, mirrored volumes, and RAID-5 volumes. A basic disk only has two styles of partitions, MBR or GPT.
  • Conversion and Data Loss
    In order for a dynamic disk to be converted to a basic disk, all volumes must be deleted on the dynamic disk. With a basic disk, you can easily convert it to a dynamic disk without data loss. 
  • Modification of Partitionsan Volumes
    With dynamic disks, you can easily extend the volumes. With basic disks, a partition that is already created cannot be changed or modified. 
  • Boot configuration
    Dynamic disks do not support multi-boot configurations, whereas basic disks do. 

As you can see from the differences, dynamic disks have many advantages and are a lot more flexible than basic disks. However, they do have some drawbacks in that dynamic disks do not work in dual-system computers, and they don’t support Windows Vista Home or Windows 7 Home Editions. 

What volume types do Dynamic Disks support? 

Dynamic disks support five volume types: simple, spanned, striped, mirrored, and RAID-50. 

1. Simple volumes

A simple volume is a single physical disk that’s divided into one or more partitions to create separate volumes. This type of volume doesn’t provide fault tolerance and isn’t recommended for use on computers that are used as servers. The maximum size for this type of volume is 256 terabytes (TB).

2. Spanned volumes

A spanned volume combines two or more physical disks into one logical volume. When you add disks to the spanned volume, Windows automatically starts using the additional space to store data. Because this type of volume does not provide fault tolerance, you should not use it for critical data. The maximum size for this type of volume is 32 TB.

3. Striped volumes

A striped volume writes data across multiple disks in a way that optimizes disk I/O (input/output). This type of volume is also known as RAID-0. When you create a striped volume, Windows creates a virtual disk that appears to be one physical disk, but the data is actually spread out evenly across multiple physical disks. Because this type of volume does not provide fault tolerance, you should not use it for critical data. The maximum size for this type of volume is 64 TB.

4. Mirrored volumes

A mirrored volume creates a copy of the data on one physical disk and stores it on another physical disk. This type of volume provides fault tolerance, so if one of the disks fails, your data is still available. The maximum size for this type of volume is 256 TB.

5. RAID-5 volumes

A RAID-5 volume provides both striping and parity, which is a technique for achieving fault tolerance. This type of volume requires at least three disks and can tolerate the failure of one disk. The maximum size for this type of volume is 64 TB.

Types of Dynamic Disk volumes

How to convert a Basic Disk to a Dynamic Disk

Now that you know what a dynamic disk is, we’ll show you how to convert your basic disk into a dynamic disk. The process of converting is relatively easy and is something that you can do by simply using the Disk Management Tool in Windows. To convert from basic to dynamic, follow these steps: 

  1. In your computer’s search menu, type in “Disk Management”. 
  2. You will see your disks located at the bottom of the Window pane.
  3. Right-click on the basic disk you’d like to convert. 
  4. In the list, choose the convert to dynamic disk option. 
  5. If your disk does not contain any partitions, it will convert automatically.
  6. If your disk does contain partitions, you’ll need to confirm that you want to convert all into the dynamic disk.
Convert a Basic Disk to Dynamic Disk

After the conversion is complete, Windows will create new simple, dynamic volumes on the disk. You can then start using them as you would any other dynamic volume.

How to convert a Dynamic Disk to a Basic Disk

Warning: If you’re looking to convert your dynamic disk back into a basic disk, it is critical that you back up all of your data before proceeding. This is because when you convert a dynamic disk to a basic disk, you must first delete all dynamic volumes from the disk, which permanently erases the data on the disk. 

Here is how to convert a dynamic disk to a basic disk:

  1. Create a backup your data that you want to keep.
  2. Open up the Disk Management Tool by using your computer’s search menu. An easy way to do this is to search “Computer Management”, then click on Disk Management in the new window pane. 
Disk management
  1. Find your dynamic disk in the Disk Management window. 
  2. Right-click all volumes within the dynamic disk and choose to delete them. You will need to do this 1 volume at a time.
  3. When all volumes are deleted, right-click on the disk again.
  4. Choose to convert it to a basic disk. 

Converting a dynamic disk to a basic disk with Command Prompt

You can also convert your dynamic disk back into a basic disk by using the Command Prompt tool. As with the previous method, make sure to back up your data first. 

  1. In your computer’s search menu, type in “CMD” or “Command Prompt”.
  2. Open it as an administrator. 
  3. Type in “diskpart” and hit Enter. Then type in “list disk”, and hit Enter.
  4. Note which disk is the dynamic disk that needs to be converted.
  5. Type in “select disk <disk number>” and hit Enter. Replace <disk number> with the number of the dynamic disk that you want to convert.
  6. Then type in “detail disk”.
Diskpart example in Command Prompt
  1. For each volume on the disk, type in “select volume= <volume number>” and then type in “delete volume”. Again, replace <volume number> appropriately.
  2. Finally, after deleting all volumes, type in “select disk <disk number>” to choose the dynamic disk again. 
  3. Now type in “convert basic and hit Enter. 

Note: You’ll need to hit Enter after every command line that you type in. 

The Command Prompt will tell you that it will take some time, and you’ll need to wait for the conversion to complete. Once it has been converted back into a basic disk, you can create partitions and logical drives only. 


Do you have any further questions about dynamic disks? Let us know in the comments below. And be sure to check out our other Windows-related content for more helpful guides and tips.

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