The first time you boot up a Windows 10 computer, you’re asked to choose a side: MBR vs GPT. Some have no idea what these two partitioning options are, what they mean for their computer, and which one they should pick. Even if you know what a partition structure is, you might not easily choose between the two. Thankfully, making a choice is not as difficult as it might seem initially. You just have to know how to differentiate the two.
We’ve created a full comparison below, placing MBR and GPT side by side and comparing their specs. Read on to see which partitioning style comes on top.
MBR vs GPT: Full Comparison
Master Boot Record (MBR) and GUID Partition Table (GPT) are the two partitioning structures available to Windows 10 PC users. The two pre-date the introduction of Windows 10 in 2015. They allow you to split hard drives into unique, fully independent segments. These segments can have their own individual operating systems, separate files, and distinct programs. Performance on one side of the partition does not impact performance on another. Each segment is entirely separate.
GPT is the newer structure, while MBR is the more traditional one. Their different ages notwithstanding, these two partitions have unique specs, speeds, requirements, and so on. To compare the two thoroughly, you’ll need to know as much as you can about them first. We’ll begin by placing their specs side by side, then we’ll discuss how to check the differences in performance between the two. Only then can we determine which is best.
Side by Side Comparison: MBR vs GPT
|First Introduced||1983||Late 1990s|
|Maximum Partitions||4 (Primary); 16 (Extended)||128|
|Space per Partition||16 bytes||128 bytes|
|Maximum Storage Space||2 TB||9,000,000 TB|
|Compatible with||All versions of Windows (32- and 64-bit)||Windows, Mac, Linux|
|Types of Partitions||Primary, Extended, and Logical||Primary, Normal, Backup|
|Difficulty of Data Recovery||Hard||Easy|
MBR vs GPT: What’s the Difference?
Because of how Windows 10 presents partitioning structures, you wouldn’t be wrong in assuming an MBR and a GPT are more or less the same. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Even though they’re offered up as two sides of the same coin during the startup, they serve two drastically different purposes. Choosing the wrong partitioning style can impact your drive’s performance.
One of the key differences between the two is age. The Master Boot Record (MBR) dates back to the early 1980s, while the GUID Partition Table (GPT) didn’t come around for another decade. Another critical factor distinguishing the two is size. An MBR allows for fewer partitions, but the partitions themselves are smaller in size. A GPT is almost unfathomably enormous by comparison. It can handle 128 partitions compared to the MBR’s 16. Additionally, a GPT has enough potential space for over nine million terabytes, while the MBR can only handle a measly two terabytes.
Similarities between MBR and GPT
Both MBR and GPT can be used to create a bootable USB. In fact, the bootable USB scenario is a great way to underline the difference between the two partitions. You’d want to use MBR if your bootable USB was intended for a system running on BIOS, and a GPT USB if your system runs on UEFI.
Beyond this, a simple fact remains. MBR and GPT are partition structures. At their very core, they exist to serve the same purpose: creating multiple distinct regions on a disk. Both aim to establish separate places on a disk that operate independently. On the most rudimentary level, this is the primary goal of both the MBR and the GPT: to allow you to split your disk into two or more sections.
MBR vs GPT: 5 Must-Know Facts
- The choice between MBR and GPT is not an optional one. To use a drive, you must partition it first.
- An MBR can only handle four primary and up to 16 extended partitions. A GPT, on the other hand, can handle up to 128 partitions.
- MBRs are only compatible with Windows 10 or below. GPTs can work with Windows 10, other versions of Windows, and macOS.
- The GPT’s maximum capacity of 9 ZB means it could hypothetically handle storing the entire internet 18 times over.
- Data recovery on an MBR is incredibly difficult (if not nearly impossible). Alternatively, data recovery on a GPT is relatively simple.
History of the MBR
The idea of an MBR was first introduced in 1983 with the release of the PC DOS 2.0, written by IBM‘s David Litton. It was conceived to support the IBM Personal Computer XT’s brand-new, state-of-the-art 10 MB hard disk. The MBR partition table allowed for as many as four primary partitions, which we know is still the standard today. Support for extended partitions didn’t come until DOS 3.2, and support for logical partitions didn’t arrive until DOS 3.30.
MBR’s formatting and boot code stayed the same until the late 1990s. Coincidentally, it was around the same time the concept of a GPT partition arose. The MBR added support for logical block addressing (LBA) at the release of DOS 7.10. It was the first major change since DOS 3.30, which was done to add support for disks exceeding 8 GB in size. Desk timestamps were also brought to the table, reinforcing the original concept of the MBR as independent of both operating systems and file systems.
Given its seniority, it’s not surprising that the MBR is widely considered the industry standard. It’s even less surprising when considering the widespread popularity of PCs and the very little change they’ve undergone throughout the decades. However, due mainly to the limitations of MBRs, there’s a new challenger on the rise.
The Rise of the GPT
GUID Partition Table (GPT) has been slowly but surely taking control of the partition debate since it was introduced in the1990s. Before that, the MBR with a 32-bit boot code had been the standard since the 1980s. This partition style had a maximum of four primary portions and 16 extended partitions, totaling 2 TB. Limited partitions made the MBR unsuitable for today’s technology needs, ushering in the era of the GPT.
Developed by Intel while defining the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), the GPT blows the limitations of the MBR out of the water. With a maximum number of 128 partitions and a maximum storage space of nine million terabytes, the GUID Partition Table is far superior to the limited size and scope of the MBR just based on space alone. As our technology advances, there’s little doubt the MBR will continue to fade out while the GPT will only tighten its grip.
Apple Partition Map Explained
Some computers have a third type of partition exclusive to Mac: the Apple Partition Map, or APM. First released with the Macintosh II, the APM is not unlike the MBR for its 32-bit logical blocks and its 2 TB limit. It’s the least popular partition option of the three discussed because there are more PCs than Macs. Still, for those using a Mac, this third partition structure is worth mentioning to clear up any possible confusion.
How to Check If Your Storage Uses GPT or MBR
Here’s how to check the partitioning style of your Windows 10 computer.
- Press Windows key + X, or the Windows Icon on the taskbar
- Click Disk Management.
- Point the cursor to any drive on the screen, right-click it, and click Properties.
- Switch to the Hardware tab and click on Properties.
- Switch to Volume Tab
- You’ll see either Master Boot Record (MBR) or GUID Partition Table (GPT) under disk information.
MBR vs GPT: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?
Deciding between an MBR and a GPT is a solemn one, and not some choice like light mode vs dark mode, nor a matter of preference like Mac vs PC. It’s a foundational decision that will directly impact your computer’s hard drive for the duration of its life. (No pressure, though.)
Considering the above, the GUID Partition Table is the best choice for today’s hard drives. Just think of the sheer number of partitions you can create. Not to mention the maximum space the GPT can handle. Plus, a lot of operating systems are compatible with the GPT. Not forgetting the ease of data recovery. The list of reasons to choose GPT over MBR can go on and on. It’s far and away the winner here.
However, with that being said, there are some instances where using MBR instead of GPT makes sense. Older operating systems, dated hardware, earlier versions of Windows, and other 32-bit operating systems all need an MBR over a GPT. They simply wouldn’t be able to handle a GUID Partition Table.