When I installed Ubuntu this time around, I decided to partition it in a way where I did not need to copy everything to an external drive before re-installing the OS. It paid off!
My partition scheme is as follows:
sda1: ext4 /boot 2GB
sda5: linux-swap 4GB (amount of RAM I have)
sda6: ext4 / 20GB
sda7: ext4 /home 450GB (remainder of drive)
I had a problem with my Nvidia X server and somehow corrupted the video driver trying to fix it. The result was a computer that would only boot to the command line. I don't know enough to understand what to do when I run the repair option on the install disc so I had to do a new install.
When I reinstalled, I chose the manual partitioning option and edited each partition setting as follows:
sda1: format ext4 /boot
sda2: format linux-swap for swap area
sda6: format ext4 / for root area
sda7: do not format for /home
Then as I installed the system, I used the same user name and password as before.
The end result is that after adding all the updates and reentering Unity, I was able to bring up Firefox -- with all my favorites and passwords still in tact!
After seeing this successful, I installed Claws Email. It, too, came up with all my old email, email accounts and password settings as if I had not crashed.
The added bonus: The video settings now work and are sticky. My problem before the crash was that I would set the video to only use my Compaq monitor and not my TV. However, it would always resort to using both monitors whenever I logged in or rebooted and I would have to change it back to a single monitor manually.
I have always wondered how to set up all these partitions, so in the past, I have just set aside a small partition at the end for the swap area and used the rest of the drive for everything else.
Here is the logic behind my thinking:
I know the first area needs to be the boot partition, so I made it large enough I hoped I would not need to expand it. I allocated 2GB, but it comes out as 1.91GB, probably due to sector rounding.
Then, the swap file will probably work faster if it is near the beginning of the drive instead of at the end. So, I allocated 4GB, the maximum amount of RAM this computer can hold. (Ubuntu install reduced it to 2.81GiB.)
I have no clue what is adaquate for the root partition where all the software and tmp files are stored. I made a WAG and chose 20GB. I hope that is enough.
The rest of the drive was set up as the /home partition. My theory proved to be correct: If I reinstall the system and use the same username and password, I would not lose my data!
My hope for this thread is that someone else may learn a little useful information about partitioning without being overwhelmed by it.
Comments and questions are welcome. If someone can add more useful, simple information, I welcome it.
Thank you to all those who know more than me who have helped me out more recently and over the years!