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What is MBR (Master Boot Record) Partition ?

What is an HDD Partition?

To understand both MBR and GPT, you should understand what a partition is. Partitions are separate sections on a hard drive that the operating system uses to boot and function. Windows displays them as drives in File Explorer, even though they are on the same hard disk drive (HDD). For instance, many laptops have a “system” partition where everything in the Windows Operating System (OS) goes (often the C: drive), plus a hidden “recovery” partition that can get used to restore the system in case of an accident. Another reason to use partitions is to install multiple operating systems on the same HDD (Linux, Windows10, Windows 7, etc.)

What is MBR?

MBR manages how partitions are created and organized on the hard disk drive (HDD). MBR uses Bios firmware and stores code in the disk’s first sector with a logical block address (LBA) of 1. The data includes information related to how and where Windows resides to manage the boot process in the PC’s primary storage and internal random access memory (RAM), not external memory such as DDR2 and DDR3 memory cards/sticks.

The MBR data stored in LBA 1 of the HDD includes the following:

Master partition table: Abbreviated as MPT, the table stores all partition information found on each HDD, including their format type, capacity, and other necessary details. For the OS and the PC to function correctly, they need a record of HDD partitions and sizes and a way to identify the bootable, active partitions. The MPT provides all that essential information.

Master boot code: Sometimes abbreviated as MBC, the code executes the launch of the operating system and manages the configuration for the bootup process (to confirm any changes), such as detecting drives, calculating RAM (external), detecting displays, and other essential device and configuration information.

Disk signature: Every drive needs a unique identifier, which gets created in the form of a signature. This identifier ensures that the correct drive and partition reads and writes data when using several disks, and it ensures proper PC functionality and security protocol for all read/write data transactions.

The PC’s/motherboard’s basic input/output system (BIOS) looks for the device with an MBR, and then it executes the volume boot code from the partition that has it. Next, the MBR activates the boot sector of the drive to launch the OS.

MBR’s Limitations

MBR was first introduced with IBM PC DOS 2.0 in 1983. It’s called Master Boot Record because the MBR is a special boot sector located at the beginning of a drive. This sector contains a boot loader for the installed operating system and information about the drive’s logical partitions. The boot loader is a small bit of code that generally loads the larger boot loader from another partition on a drive. If you have Windows installed, the initial bits of the Windows boot loader reside here—that’s why you may have to repair your MBR if it’s overwritten and Windows won’t start. If you have Linux installed, the GRUB boot loader will typically be located in the MBR.

MBR does have its limitations. For starters, MBR only works with disks up to 2 TB in size. MBR also only supports up to four primary partitions—if you want more, you have to make one of your primary partitions an “extended partition” and create logical partitions inside it. This is a silly little hack and shouldn’t be necessary.

When to Use MBR ?

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 to MBR so that you don’t risk breaking compatibility with any of your hardware.

Windows 7 and onward, however, can use GPT. Unfortunately, compatibility gets based on whether the motherboard and CPU support a UEFI BIOS, or else it can only get used on non-boot partitions. If you’re still running XP/Vista, you certainly won’t get GPT to work at all, which leaves you with the MBR option only.

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