if you re-install the operating system over the old operating system without re-formatting you will not lose any files, even if you only have 1 single large partition. this is called an OS overlay installation i think.
Are you sure about that? I have been told otherwise by tech support last time I had to reinstall my OS. I am running NTFS (XP home) if that makes any difference.
and yes, I probably did word it wrong, and I can see where you are coming from on that. What I was referring to is the fact that on my computer (A gateway laptop) you cannot access the internal HD unless you are booting off of it, there is no DOS, and no other boot disks that have access to it. So when my system crashed and I could non longer boot off of the HD, I could not access the files in order to rescue them. I have a 20GB USB HDD that I use for storing images, documents, and music, and I could use it to back up all of the important files in an emergency, but only if I can still boot the computer off the internal HD, (and I would rather not have to keep spending hours at a time backing up the HD every week.)
What I am trying to do is to make sure there is a way of accessing the HD if the OS fails to boot, and for that the idea of using a second (unused) partition seems appealing if it is possible to install an OS onto it, and use it to access it and move everything off the HD onto another drive. I would only need enought space in that partition to install a full OS, because I would plan on reformatting the HD and starting over anyways, I just want sure way of saving the data first.
This also brings up the question of the copy of windows I am using, I only have one OS installation disk (XP home) and I don't know if the computer would allow me to run two copies of that OS on the same network. I would expect that there could be problems with that.
So the final question is this; would leaving 5GB of unpartitioned space on the disk allow me to later partition it and install an OS on it to allow me access to the files on the crashed portion of the disk? Giving up 5GB of space on my HD for that seems a small price to pay for the ability to save my files if anything should go wrong.