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Wed, Feb. 27th, 2019, 05:39 pm
Why is the hard disk drive C on Windows computers?

From a Quora answer.

Windows 10 is Windows NT version 10. Windows NT copied the patterns of MS-DOS, because DOS was the dominant OS when NT was launched in 1993.

DOS copies its disk assignment methods from Digital Research CP/M, because DOS started out as a copy of CP/M.

What Microsoft bought was originally called QDOS, Quick and Dirty OS, from Seattle Computer Products.

The way IBM PC-compatibles assign disk drives is copied from the way the IBM PC running PC DOS assigned them. PC DOS is IBM’s brand of MS-DOS. See the answer about Apricot computers for how (some) non-IBM-compatible DOS computers assign drive letters.

The way that CP/M and MS-DOS originally assigned drive letters was simple.
The drive you booted from was the first, so it was called A. It doesn’t matter what kind of drive. But floppy drives were expensive and hard drives were very expensive, so in the late 1970s when this stuff was standardized, most machines only had a floppy drive or 2.

If you only had 1 drive, which was common, then the OS called it both A and B. This is so that you could copy files from one disk to another; otherwise there would be no way.

So, you copied from A: to a the virtual drive B: and the OS prompted you to swap disks as necessary.
Floppy drives got cheaper, and it became common to have 2. So, the one you booted from was A, and the second drive was B.

So far, so simple. If you were rich and added more floppy drives, you got A, B, C, D etc. and if you were lucky enough to have good firmware that let you boot from any of them, the one you booted off was A and the rest were simply enumerated.

It is common to read that "certain drive letters are reserved for floppies". This is wrong. Nothing was reserved for anything.

If you had a floppy and a hard disk, then if you booted off the floppy, the floppy drive was A and the hard disk was B. If you booted off the hard disk — and early hard disks were often not bootable — then the hard disk became A and the floppy became B.

You didn't need the virtual drive thing any more; to copy from one floppy to another, you copy from floppy to hard disk, then swap floppies, then copy back.

However, having drives change letter depending on which you booted from was confusing — again, see the Apricot comment — so later firmware started changing this. So, for instance, in the Amstrad PCW range, the last new CP/M computers made, Amstrad hard-wired the drive letters.

The first floppy was A. The second, if you had one, was B. And the rest of the machine's RAM aside from the 64 kB that CP/M used was made into a RAMdisk called drive M: "M" for Memory.

The IBM PC hard-wired some letters too. Floppy 1, A. Floppy 2, B, even if not there. Partition 1 on hard disk 1, C. Partition 1 on hard disk 2, D. Partitions 2+ on HD #1, E/F etc. Partitions 2+ on HD #2, G/H etc.

This was very common as up to and including MS-DOS 3.3, DOS only supported partitions of up to 32 MB. So, for instance, in 1989 I installed an IBM PS/2 Model 80 with a 330MB hard disk as a server running the DOS-based 3Com 3+Share NOS.

It had hard disk partitions lettered C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L and M. (!)

DOS has a setting called LASTDRIVE. This tells it how many drive letters to reserve for assignment. Each takes some memory and you only had 640 kB to use, no matter how much was fitted. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conventional_memory

The default value for LASTDRIVE is E. Thus, the rival Novell Netware OS used the first drive after that as the "network drive" with the login command and so on: F.

So, drive letters are not "reserved". They were originally assigned sequentially starting with the boot drive, and then by hardware ID number, and later by that and partition number, according to a slightly complex scheme that several people have linked to.

It is a convention that A was the first floppy and C was the first hard disk, and everything else was assigned at boot time.

Fri, Mar. 1st, 2019 12:03 pm (UTC)

I think this is now my most-upvoted answer on Quora. So, er, yay, I guess.