|Revision 3.3||10 July 2001|
|Corrected Section 6, calculation of cylinder numbers|
|Revision 3.2||1 September 2000|
|Dan Scott provides sgml conversion 2 Oct. 2000. Rewrote Introduction. Rewrote discussion on device names in Logical Devices. Reorganized Partition Types. Edited Partition Requirements. Added Recovering a deleted partition table.|
|Revision 3.1||12 June 2000|
|Corrected swap size limitation in Partition Requirements, updated various links in Introduction, added submitted example in How to Partition with fdisk, added file system discussion in Partition Requirements.|
|Revision 3.0||1 May 2000|
|First revision by Tony Harris based on Linux Partition HOWTO by Kristian Koehntopp.|
|Revision 2.4||3 November 1997|
|Last revision by Kristian Koehntopp.|
This Linux Mini-HOWTO teaches you how to plan and create partitions on IDE and SCSI hard drives. It discusses partitioning terminology and considers size and location issues. Use of the fdisk partitioning utility for creating and recovering of partition tables is covered. The most recent version of this document is here.
Partitioning is a means to divide a single hard drive into many logical drives. A partition is a contiguous set of blocks on a drive that are treated as an independant disk. A partition table (the creation of which is the topic of this HOWTO) is an index that relates sections of the hard drive to partitions.
Why have multiple partitions?
Encapsulate your data. Since file system corruption is local to a partition, you stand to lose only some of your data if an accident occurs.
Increase disk space efficiency. You can format partitions with varying block sizes, depending on your usage. If your data is in a large number of small files (less than 1k) and your partition uses 4k sized blocks, you are wasting 3k for every file. In general, you waste on average one half of a block for every file, so matching block size to the average size of your files is important if you have many files.
Limit data growth. Runaway processes or maniacal users can consume so much disk space that the operating system no longer has room on the hard drive for its bookkeeping operations. This will lead to disaster. By segregating space, you ensure that things other than the operating system die when allocated disk space is exhausted.
Partitions must not overlap. This will cause data corruption and other spooky stuff.
There ought to be be no gap between adjacent partitions. While this is not harmful, you are wasting precious disk space by leaving space between partitions.
A disk need not be partitioned completely. You may decide to leave some unpartitioned space at the end of your disk and partition it later.
Partitions cannot be moved but they can be resized and copied using special software. This HOWTO only covers the use of the fdisk utility, which does not permit any of these operations.
Table 1. Related HOWTOs
|Linux Multiple Disk System Tuning||Gjoen Stein||How to estimate the various size and speed requirements for different parts of the filesystem.|
|Linux Large Disk||Andries Brouwer||Instructions and considerations regarding disks with more than 1024 cylinders|
|Linux Quota||Albert M.C. Tam||Instructions on limiting disk space usage per user (quotas)|
|Partition-Rescue mini-HOWTO||Jean-Daniel Dodin||How to restore linux partitions after they have been deleted by a Windows install. Does not appear to preserve data.|
|Linux ADSM Backup||Thomas Koenig||Instructions on integrating Linux into an IBM ADSM backup environment.|
|Linux Backup with MSDOS||Christopher Neufeld||Information about MS-DOS driven Linux backups.|
|Linux HOWTO Index||Tim Bynum||Instructions on writing and submitting a HOWTO document|
There is a special nomenclature that linux uses to refer to hard drive partitions that must be understood in order to follow the discussion on the following pages.
In Linux, partitions are represented by device files. These are phoney files located in /dev. Here are a few entries:
brw-rw---- 1 root disk 3, 0 May 5 1998 hda brw-rw---- 1 root disk 8, 0 May 5 1998 sda crw------- 1 root tty 4, 64 May 5 1998 ttyS0
By convention, IDE drives will be given device names /dev/hda to /dev/hdd. The first drive is 'a' the second drive 'b' and so on. For example, /dev/hda is the first drive on the first IDE controller and /dev/hdd is the second drive on the second controller (the fourth IDE drive in the computer). You can write to these devices directly (using cat or dd). However, since these devices represent the entire disk, starting at the first block, you can mistakenly overwrite the master boot record and the partition table, which will render the drive unusable.
Once a drive has been partitioned, the partitions will be represented as numbers on the end of the names. For example, the second partition on the second drive will be /dev/hdb2. SCSI drives follow a similar pattern; They are represented by 'sd' instead of 'hd'. The first partition of the second SCSI drive would therefore be /dev/sdb1.
Under (Sun) Solaris and (SGI) IRIX, the device name given to a SCSI drive has some relationship to where you plug it in. Under linux, there is only wailing and gnashing of teeth. Lower SCSI ID numbers are assigned lower-order letters, so if you remove one drive from the chain, the names of the higher ID number drives will change. If you have two SCSI controllers in your linux box, you will need to examine the output of /bin/dmesg in order to see what name each drive was assigned. If you remove one of two controllers, the remaining controller might have all its drives renamed. Grrr...
This is all you have to know to deal with linux disk devices. For the sake of completeness, see Kristian's discussion of device numbers below.
The only important thing with a device file are its major and minor device numbers, which are shown instead of the file size:
$ ls -l /dev/hda
Table 2. Device file attributes
|brw-rw----||1||root||disk||3,||0||Jul 18 1994||/dev/hda|
|permissions||owner||group||major device number||minor device number||date||device name|
When accessing a device file, the major number selects which device driver is being called to perform the input/output operation. This call is being done with the minor number as a parameter and it is entirely up to the driver how the minor number is being interpreted. The driver documentation usually describes how the driver uses minor numbers. For IDE disks, this documentation is in /usr/src/linux/Documentation/ide.txt. For SCSI disks, one would expect such documentation in /usr/src/linux/Documentation/scsi.txt, but it isn't there. One has to look at the driver source to be sure (/usr/src/linux/driver/scsi/sd.c:184-196). Fortunately, there is Peter Anvin's list of device numbers and names in /usr/src/linux/Documentation/devices.txt; see the entries for block devices, major 3, 22, 33, 34 for IDE and major 8 for SCSI disks. The major and minor numbers are a byte each and that is why the number of partitions per disk is limited.
A partition is labeled to host a certain kind of file system. Such a file system could be the linux standard ext2 file system or linux swap space, or even foreign file systems like (Microsoft) NTFS or (Sun) UFS. There is a numerical code associated with each partition type. For example, the code for ext2 is 0x83 and linux swap is 0x82.
The partition type codes have been arbitrarily chosen (you can't figure out what they should be) and they are particular to a given operating system. Therefore, it is theoretically possible that if you use two operating systems with the same hard drive, the same code might be used to designate two different partition types.
OS/2 marks its partitions with a 0x07 type and so does Windows NT's NTFS. MS-DOS allocates several type codes for its various flavors of FAT file systems: 0x01, 0x04 and 0x06 are known. DR-DOS used 0x81 to indicate protected FAT partitions, creating a type clash with Linux/Minix at that time, but neither Linux/Minix nor DR-DOS are widely used any more.
The number of partitions on an Intel-based system was limited from the very beginning: The original partition table was installed as part of the boot sector and held space for only four partition entries. These partitions are now called primary partitions.
One primary partition of a hard drive may be subpartitioned. These are logical partitions. This effectively allows us to skirt the historical four partition limitation.
The primary partition used to house the logical partitions is called an extended partition and it has its own file system type (0x05). Unlike primary partitions, logical partitions must be contiguous. Each logical partition contains a pointer to the next logical partition, which implies that the number of logical partitions is unlimited. However, linux imposes limits on the total number of any type of prtition on a drive, so this effectively limits the number of logical partitions. This is at most 15 partitions total on an SCSI disk and 63 total on an IDE disk.
Every process running on your computer is allocated a number of blocks of RAM. These blocks are called pages. The set of in-memory pages which will be referenced by the processor in the very near future is called a "working set." Linux tries to predict these memory accesses (assuming that recently used pages will be used again in the near future) and keeps these pages in RAM if possible.
If you have too many processes running on a machine, the kernel will try to free up RAM by writing pages to disk. This is what swap space is for. It effectively increases the amount of memory you have available. However, disk I/O is very slow compared to reading from and writing to RAM.
If memory becomes so scarce that the kernel pages out from the working set of one process in order to page in for another, the machine is said to be thrashing. Expect performance to drop by approximately the ratio between memory access speed and disk access speed. Swap space is something you need to have, but it is no substitute for sufficient RAM. See Section 4.4.1 for tips on determining the size of swap space you need.
Boot Drive: If you want to boot your operating system from the drive you are about to partition, you will need:
A primary partition
One or more swap partitions
Zero or more primary/logical partitions
One or more primary/logical partitions
Zero or more swap partitions
Your boot partition ought to be a primary partition, not a logical partition. This will ease recovery in case of disaster, but it is not technically necessary. It must be of type 0x83 "Linux native". If you are using lilo, your boot partition must be contained within the first 1024 cylinders of the drive. (Typically, the boot partition need only contain the kernel image.)
If you have more than one boot partition (from other OSs, for example,) keep them all in the first 1024 cylinders (All DOS partitions must be within the first 1024). If you are using a means other than lilo loading your kernel (for example, a boot disk or the LOADLIN.EXE MS-DOS based Linux loader), the partition can be anywhere. See the Large-disk HOWTO for details.
Unless you swap to files you will need a dedicated swap partition. It must be of type 0x82 "Linux swap". It may be positioned anywhere on the disk (but see notes on placement: Section 4.4.2). Either a primary or logical partition can be used for swap. More than one swap partition can exist on a drive. 8 total (across drives) are permitted. See notes on swap size: Section 4.4.1.
A single primary partition must be used as a container (extended partition) for the logical partitions. The extended partition can go anywhere on the disk. The logical partitions must be contiguous, but needn't fill the extended partition.
Everything in your linux file system can go in the same (single) partition. However, there are circumstances when you may want to restrict the growth of certain file systems. For example, if your mail spool was in the same partition as your root fs and it filled the remaining space in the partition, your computer would basically hang.
This fs contains spool directories such as those for mail and printing. In addition, it contains the error log directory. If your machine is a server and develops a chronic error, those msgs can fill the partition. Server computers ought to have /var in a different partition than /.
This is where most executable binaries go. In addition, the kernel source tree goes here, and much documentation.
Some programs write temporary data files here. Usually, they are quite small. However, if you run computationally intensive jobs, like science or engineering applications, hundreds of megabytes could be required for brief periods of time. In this case, keep /tmp in a different partition than /.
This is where users home directories go. If you do not impose quotas on your users, this ought to be in its own partition.
This is where your kernel images go. If you use MSDOS, which must go in the first 1024 cylinders, you need to at least get this partition in there in order to ensure that lilo can see it. If you have a drive larger than 1024 cylinders, making this your first partition guarantees that it will be visible to lilo.
With ext2, partitioning decisions should be governed by backup considerations and to avoid external fragmentation (Section 7.3) from different file lifetimes.
Files have lifetimes. After a file has been created, it will remain some time on the system and then be removed. File lifetime varies greatly throughout the system and is partly dependent on the pathname of the file. For example, files in /bin, /sbin, /usr/sbin, /usr/bin and similar directories are likely to have a very long lifetime: many months and above. Files in /home are likely to have a medium lifetime: several weeks or so. File in /var are usually short lived: Almost no file in /var/spool/news will remain longer than a few days, files in /var/spool/lpd measure their lifetime in minutes or less.
For backup it is useful if the amount of daily backup is smaller than the capacity of a single backup medium. A daily backup can be a complete backup or an incremental backup.
You can decide to keep your partition sizes small enough that they fit completely onto one backup medium (choose daily full backups). In any case a partition should be small enough that its daily delta (all modified files) fits onto one backup medium (choose incremental backup and expect to change backup media for the weekly/monthly full dump - no unattended operation possible).
Your backup strategy depends on that decision.
When planning and buying disk space, remember to set aside a sufficient amount of money for backup! Unbackuped data is worthless! Data reproduction costs are much higher than backup costs for virtually everyone!
For performance it is useful to keep files of different lifetimes on different partitions. This way the short lived files on the news partition may be fragmented very heavily. This has no impact on the performance of the / or /home partition.
If you have decided to use a dedicated swap partition, which is generally a Good Idea [tm], follow these guidelines for estimating its size:
In Linux RAM and swap space add up (This is not true for all Unices). For example, if you have 8 MB of RAM and 12 MB swap space, you have a total of about 20 MB virtual memory.
When sizing your swap space, you should have at least 16 MB of total virtual memory. So for 4 MB of RAM consider at least 12 MB of swap, for 8 MB of RAM consider at least 8 MB of swap.
Currently, the maximum size of a swap partition is architecture-dependent. For i386 and PowerPC, it is approximately 2Gb. It is 128Gb on alpha, 1Gb on sparc, and 3Tb on sparc64. For linux kernels 2.1 and earlier, the limit is 128Mb. The partition may be larger than 128 MB, but excess space is never used. If you want more than 128 MB of swap for a 2.1 and earlier kernel, you have to create multiple swap partitions. See the man page for mkswap for details.
When sizing swap space, keep in mind that too much swap space may not be useful at all.
But keep in mind that this is just a rule of thumb. It is easily possible to create scenarios where programs have extremely large or extremely small working sets. For example, a simulation program with a large data set that is accessed in a very random fashion would have almost no noticeable locality of reference in its data segment, so its working set would be quite large.
On the other hand, an xv with many simultaneously opened JPEGs, all but one iconified, would have a very large data segment. But image transformations are all done on one single image, most of the memory occupied by xv is never touched. The same is true for an editor with many editor windows where only one window is being modified at a time. These programs have - if they are designed properly - a very high locality of reference and large parts of them can be kept swapped out without too severe performance impact.
One could suspect that the 25% number from the age of the command line is no longer true for modern GUI programs editing multiple documents, but I know of no newer papers that try to verify these numbers.
So for a configuration with 16 MB RAM, no swap is needed for a minimal configuration and more than 48 MB of swap are probably useless. The exact amount of memory needed depends on the application mix on the machine (what did you expect?).
Mechanics are slow, electronics are fast.
Modern hard disks have many heads. Switching between heads of the same track is fast, since it is purely electronic. Switching between tracks is slow, since it involves moving real world matter.
So if you have a disk with many heads and one with less heads and both are identical in other parameters, the disk with many heads will be faster.
Splitting swap and putting it on both disks will be even faster, though.
Older disks have the same number of sectors on all tracks. With these disks it will be fastest to put your swap in the middle of the disks, assuming that your disk head will move from a random track towards the swap area.
Newer disks use ZBR (zone bit recording). They have more sectors on the outer tracks. With a constant number of rpms, this yields a far greater performance on the outer tracks than on the inner ones. Put your swap on the fast tracks.
Of course your disk head will not move randomly. If you have swap space in the middle of a disk between a constantly busy home partition and an almost unused archive partition, you would be better of if your swap were in the middle of the home partition for even shorter head movements. You would be even better off, if you had your swap on another otherwise unused disk, though.
Summary: Put your swap on a fast disk with many heads that is not busy doing other things. If you have multiple disks: Split swap and scatter it over all your disks or even different controllers.
Even better: Buy more RAM.
This section shows you how to actually partition your hard drive with the fdisk utility. Linux allows only 4 primary partitions. You can have a much larger number of logical partitions by sub-dividing one of the primary partitions. Only one of the primary partitions can be sub-divided.
fdisk is started by typing (as root) fdisk device at the command prompt. "device" (Section 2.1.1) might be something like /dev/hda or /dev/sda. The basic fdisk commands you need are:
print the partition table
create a new partition
delete a partition
quit without saving changes
write the new partition table and exit
Changes you make to the partition table do not take effect until you issue the write (w) command. Here is a sample partition table:
Disk /dev/hdb: 64 heads, 63 sectors, 621 cylinders Units = cylinders of 4032 * 512 bytes Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System /dev/hdb1 * 1 184 370912+ 83 Linux /dev/hdb2 185 368 370944 83 Linux /dev/hdb3 369 552 370944 83 Linux /dev/hdb4 553 621 139104 82 Linux swap
The start and end values are cylinders. The first cylinder (0) is reserved for information about the drive layout.
I start fdisk from the shell prompt:
# fdisk /dev/hdb
Command (m for help): p Disk /dev/hdb: 64 heads, 63 sectors, 621 cylinders Units = cylinders of 4032 * 512 bytes
Command (m for help): n Command action e extended p primary partition (1-4) p Partition number (1-4): 1 First cylinder (1-621, default 1):<RETURN> Using default value 1 Last cylinder or +size or +sizeM or +sizeK (1-621, default 621): +384M
Command (m for help): n Command action e extended p primary partition (1-4) p Partition number (1-4): 2 First cylinder (197-621, default 197):<RETURN> Using default value 197 Last cylinder or +size or +sizeM or +sizeK (197-621, default 621): +128M
Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System /dev/hdb1 1 196 395104 83 Linux /dev/hdb2 197 262 133056 83 Linux
Command (m for help): a Partition number (1-4): 1
Command (m for help): t Partition number (1-4): 2 Hex code (type L to list codes): 82 Changed system type of partition 2 to 82 (Linux swap) Command (m for help): p
Disk /dev/hdb: 64 heads, 63 sectors, 621 cylinders Units = cylinders of 4032 * 512 bytes Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System /dev/hdb1 * 1 196 395104+ 83 Linux /dev/hdb2 197 262 133056 82 Linux swap /dev/hdb3 263 458 395136 83 Linux /dev/hdb4 459 621 328608 83 Linux
For more information, see:
The overview: create one use one of the primary partitions to house all the extra partitions. Then create logical partitions within it. Create the other primary partitions before or after creating the logical partitions.
I start fdisk from the shell prompt:
# fdisk /dev/sda
First I figure out how many partitions I want. I know my drive has a 183Gb capacity and I want 26Gb partitions (because I happen to have back-up tapes that are about that size).
183Gb / 26Gb = ~7
so I will need 7 partitions. Even though fdisk accepts partition sizes expressed in Mb and Kb, I decide to calculate the number of cylinders that will end up in each partition because fdisk reports start and stop points in cylinders. I see when I enter fdisk that I have 22800 cylinders.
> The number of cylinders for this disk is set to 22800. There is > nothing wrong with that, but this is larger than 1024, and could in > certain setups cause problems with: 1) software that runs at boot > time (e.g., LILO) 2) booting and partitioning software from other > OSs (e.g., DOS FDISK, OS/2 FDISK)
Since I have 4 primary partitions, 3 of them can be 3258 long. The extended partition will have to be (4 * 3258), or 13032, cylinders long in order to contain the 4 logical partitions.
I enter the following commands to set up the first of the 3 primary partitions (stuff I type is bold ):
Command (m for help): n Command action e extended p primary partition (1-4) p Partition number (1-4): 1 First cylinder (1-22800, default 1): <RETURN> Using default value 1 Last cylinder or +size or +sizeM or +sizeK (1-22800, default 22800): 3258
Partition number (1-4): 4 First cylinder (9775-22800, default 9775): <RETURN> Using default value 9775 Last cylinder or +size or +sizeM or +sizeK (9775-22800, default 22800): <RETURN> Using default value 22800
/dev/sda1 1 3258 26169853+ 83 Linux /dev/sda2 3259 6516 26169885 83 Linux /dev/sda3 6517 9774 26169885 83 Linux /dev/sda4 9775 22800 104631345 5 Extended
Command (m for help): n First cylinder (9775-22800, default 9775): <RETURN> Using default value 9775 Last cylinder or +size or +sizeM or +sizeK (9775-22800, default 22800): 13032
Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System /dev/sda1 1 3258 26169853+ 83 Linux /dev/sda2 3259 6516 26169885 83 Linux /dev/sda3 6517 9774 26169885 83 Linux /dev/sda4 9775 22800 104631345 5 Extended /dev/sda5 9775 13032 26169853+ 83 Linux /dev/sda6 13033 16290 26169853+ 83 Linux /dev/sda7 16291 19584 26459023+ 83 Linux /dev/sda8 19585 22800 25832488+ 83 Linux
I'd like to submit my partition layout, because it works well with any distribution of Linux (even big RPM based ones). I have one hard drive that ... is 10 gigs, exactly. Windows can't see above 9.3 gigs of it, but Linux can see it all, and use it all. It also has much more than 1024 cylenders.
Table 3. Partition layout example
|/dev/hda2||windows 98 partition||(2 gigs)|
|/dev/hda5||swap space||(64 megs)|
|/dev/hda9||/home||(rest of drive)|
I also noticed that you don't have any REAL examples of partition tables, and for newbies I HIGHLY suggest putting quite a few up. I'm freshly out of the newbie stage, and partitioning was what messed me up the most.
Make a partition that is at least as big as your first partition was. You can make it larger than the original partition by any amount. If you underestimate, there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Command (m for help): n Command action e extended p primary partition (1-4) p Partition number (1-4): 1 First cylinder (1-23361, default 1): <RETURN> Using default value 1 Last cylinder or +size or +sizeM or +sizeK (1-22800, default 22800): 13032 Command (m for help): w
Run dumpe2fs on the first partition and grep out the block count.
% dumpe2fs /dev/sda1 | grep "Block count:" Block count: 41270953
Remove the partition you just created
Command (m for help): d Partition number (1-4): 1
Make a new partition with the exact size you got from the block count. Since you cannot enter block size in fdisk, you need to figure out how many cylinders to request. Here is the formula:
(number of needed cylinders) = (number of blocks) / (block size) (block size) = (unit size) / 1024 (unit size) = (number of cylinders) * (number of heads) * (number of sectors/cylinder) * (number of bytes/sector)
Consider the following example, where a hard drive has been partitioned into four primary partitions of 1, 2, 4, and 8 cylinders.
disk /dev/sda: 16 heads, 63 sectors, 23361 cylinders Units = cylinders of 1008 * 512 bytes Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System /dev/sda1 1 2 976+ 83 Linux /dev/sda2 3 5 1512 83 Linux /dev/sda3 6 10 2520 83 Linux /dev/sda4 11 19 4536 83 Linux
Run e2fsck on it to verify that you can read the new partition.
Repeat Steps 1-5 on remaining partitions.
Credit goes to:
Mike Vevea, jedi sys admin and MGH's finest, for giving me these tips.
At the shell prompt, I begin making the file systems on my partitions. Continuing with the example in Section 5.1.3, this is:
# mke2fs /dev/sda1
The most common file systems can be made with programs in /sbin that start with "mk" like mkfs.msdos and mke2fs.
To set up a swap partition:
# mkswap -f /dev/hda5
# swapon /dev/hda5
Mounting a partition means attaching it to the linux file system. To mount a linux partition:
# mount -t ext2 /dev/sda1 /opt
File system type. Other types you are likely to use are:
nfs (network file system)
Device name. Other device names you are likely to use:
/dev/hdb2 (second partition in second IDE drive)
/dev/fd0 (floppy drive A)
mount point. This is where you want to "see" your partition. When you type ls /opt, you can see what is in /dev/sda1. If there are already some directories and/or files under /opt, they will be invisible after this mount command.
Disk space is administered by the operating system in units of blocks and fragments of blocks. In ext2, fragments and blocks have to be of the same size, so we can limit our discussion to blocks.
Files come in any size. They don't end on block boundaries. So with every file a part of the last block of every file is wasted. Assuming that file sizes are random, there is approximately a half block of waste for each file on your disk. Tanenbaum calls this "internal fragmentation" in his book "Operating Systems".
You can guess the number of files on your disk by the number of allocated inodes on a disk. On my disk
# df -i Filesystem Inodes IUsed IFree %IUsed Mounted on /dev/hda3 64256 12234 52022 19% / /dev/hda5 96000 43058 52942 45% /var
Data transfer is faster for large contiguous chunks of data, though. That's why ext2 tries to preallocate space in units of 8 contigous blocks for growing files. Unused preallocation is released when the file is closed, so no space is wasted.
Noncontiguous placement of blocks in a file is bad for performance, since files are often accessed in a sequential manner. It forces the operating system to split a disk access and the disk to move the head. This is called "external fragmentation" or simply "fragmentation" and is a common problem with MS-DOS file systems. In conjunction with the abysmal buffer cache used by MS-DOS, the effects of file fragmentation on performance are very noticeable. DOS users are accustomed to defragging their disks every few weeks and some have even developed some ritualistic beliefs regarding defragmentation.
None of these habits should be carried over to Linux and ext2. Linux native file systems do not need defragmentation under normal use and this includes any condition with at least 5% of free space on a disk. There is a defragmentation tool for ext2 called defrag, but users are cautioned against casual use. A power outage during such an operation can trash your file system. Since you need to back up your data anyway, simply writing back from your copy will do the job.
The MS-DOS file system is also known to lose large amounts of disk space due to internal fragmentation. For partitions larger than 256 MB, DOS block sizes grow so large that they are no longer useful (This has been corrected to some extent with FAT32). Ext2 does not force you to choose large blocks for large file systems, except for very large file systems in the 0.5 TB range (that's terabytes with 1 TB equaling 1024 GB) and above, where small block sizes become inefficient. So unlike DOS there is no need to split up large disks into multiple partitions to keep block size down.
Use a 1Kb block size if you have many small files. For large partitions, 4Kb blocks are fine.