MBR Vs GPT – Everything You Need To Know

Installing systems on older computers used to be a challenge, with manual partitioning and a whole shelf of drivers loaded on CDs. More notably, people had even more trouble if they tried to migrate their system to another drive, whereupon data would be lost due to a bad copy.

The copy can fail for many reasons, a common one being a mismatch of the partition tables, one being MBR and the other GPT. This happens when migrating from an older system to a newer one. The problem lies in MBR and GPT, or rather, the lack of understanding of the terms and what they represent.

Following is a detailed explanation of GPT vs MBR and the nuances of each.

MBR – Master Boot Record

In 1983, the first public implementation of MBR or Master Boot Record was available through DOS 2.0. The master boot record is stored in the first sector of a partitioned storage drive (HDD or SSD, or even a flash drive) and holds the information about logical partitions, file systems and how they are organized.

It also has a part dedicated to booting, also called a loader, which usually delegates to a secondary loader. Volume boot loaders or VBRs can be stored on each partition, if there are multiple systems installed. This entire process is often called the boot loader.

Characteristics of MBR

MBR has a support up to 2 TB or 4 TB size drives, and can hold only 4 primary partitions and up to 26 total partitions, but the rest have to be logical partitions. MBR is primarily used in older systems that have support for legacy BIOS and not UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface).

MBR was extensively used since its implementation for partitioning storage drives, but that took a turn when drives with over 4 TB of storage became available, in the 2000s. MBR uses 32 bits to retain addresses which coupled with at the time typical 512-byte sector hard drives, limited storage to 2 terabytes (or 4 on 4096-byte sector drives through emulation).

This led to the implementation of GPT, or GUID Partition Table.

GPT – GUID Partition Table

GPT was developed by Intel in the late 1990s, as a part of UEFI, a new specification meant to replace the BIOS. In the MBR vs GPT battle, GPT wins in terms of storage size, with 64 bit storage for addresses. This, when multiplied with at the time still standard 512-byte sector hard drives gives an astounding theoretical 9 zettabytes of storage, which is 9 billion terabytes.

GPT Characteristics

GPT, unlike MBR, stores its data throughout the drive and not just in the first sector (which is good in case there are damaged sectors). Apart from the obvious storage size benefits, GPT also wins in the GPT vs MBR partition war, allowing for a total of 128 partitions. GPT also supports legacy MBR booting, but in a way that will not allow GPT data to be overwritten. This is called protective MBR.

While it supports older systems through legacy emulation, GPT is mainly designed for use with newer systems, from the Windows 7 and Ubuntu 8.04 era, or around 2008, when most systems adapted for GPT and with that, UEFI usage.

MBR Vs GPT SSD – Which Partition Table for SSDs?

SSDs have been developed for a while, but have been in commercial use since the start of 2010s. SSDs are installed typically in newer computers, as a system drive, or a work drive, for those who handle lots of small data (audio professionals and video and photo editors). In that case, if a newer machine is in question and the user has bought one of the fastest SSDs, GPT should be used.

If, however, one is reviving an older computer or laptop with an SSD for it to be an HTPC or an old-school gaming PC and it does not support UEFI, MBR should be used.

Shortly, the battle of MBR Vs GPT for SSD storage can be solved by whether the computer supports UEFI and whether the installed system also supports it.

MBR Vs GPT Windows 10 – How Does Windows Handle GPT?

GPT – GUID Partition Table

Windows is pretty good with GPT and has been fully supporting it since Windows Server 2003 and Windows Vista (the 64 bit version). The only caveat is that GPT booting is only supported if UEFI is supported.

Windows 10 supports GPT on both the 32 bit and 64 bit versions.

MBR Vs GPT Performance – Which One is Better?

If one has a new system and a fast SSD, then GPT should be used, with no hesitation. However, on older computers where support could be problematic, even though one might be gaming with a hard drive on that PC, even, MBR might be the better solution, depending on motherboard and OS support.

Unless there are very specific reasons to use MBR, GPT should always be the better solution, for safety, ease of use and features.

Conclusion and Summary – GPT or MBR?

MBR and GPT are both used to store information about partitioning of a storage drive, as well as boot loaders, should there be installed systems. They are used for the same purpose but are different in the following ways.

Number of Partitions4 primary and 26 in total128 partitions
Storage Size2 TB
4 TB (4096-byte sector drives through 512 emulation)
9 ZB (512-byte sector drives)
75 ZB (4096-byte sector drives)
Interface SupportBIOS (legacy)UEFI and BIOS (legacy support on some systems)
OS SupportMost older systems, up to Windows Vista and Ubuntu 8.04Newer systems, typically from 2008 and onwards

GPT is a successor to MBR in most ways and it is more advanced in every way. In newer systems, it should be the default partitioning solution. Older systems that have no support for GPT have to use MBR.

Whether one is using an SSD or HDD should not be the determining factor, but rather motherboard and operating system support, as well as the size of the drives.

About The Author

Milan Zagorac

Milan has always been interested in writing and technology, but managed to pick up a love for music, literature and sports along the way. Essentially a jack of all trades, his interest in all things tech as well as love for the written word, keeps him well occupied.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments