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Advanced Format HardDrives

Updated on June 4, 2012

Computer storage is continuing to expand well into the terabyte range these days. The industry standards for these very large storage drives are changing just as fast with them to keep up with the higher demand for more information storage. If, you look back on the recent technology upgrades you already know that the max bytes per sector for a hard drive has continued to be 512 bytes per sector. All of the utilities that we currently use are for exactly those 512 byte sectors. This provides that drive with maximum performance for those size sectors. But, with the building of these larger drives how is the size of those sectors going to run with the software that was optimized for 512.

Benefits of Advanced Format Drives

In comes the newest technology these new drives have much larger sectors to store and catalog information then the standard 512 bytes. These new drives are referred to as advanced format drives, and they are a size of usually no less than 4096 bytes. These new larger sectors have a significant improvement over the old rivals. First it allows for an unlimited amount of hard drive space without the use of spinning platters. Hence, the solid state drives are coming out with this new advanced format. Second it dramatically improves the error correction by allowing for the use of longer ECC codes. This results in faster and more reliable data transfer between the rest of the system.

There is a small downfall to having that much storage with such a high number as 40696 bytes per sector. Because, a lot of older programs have been optimized to use the smaller set of 512 bytes per sector there is a general probability that some of those programs will fail. Things like system drivers, disk utilities, and other programs will have a harder time running. The solution that manufactures of these advanced format drives have come up with is somewhat ingenious. They start by using an emulation program that splits the massive 4096 bytes into 8 sub sectors of 512 bytes each. That’s why when you find a hard drive at your local computer store some of them are labeled with a small “e” for emulation.

Support for Advanced Format Drives in Windows Operating Systems

Older versions of windows like windows XP, windows 2000, and earlier do not contain any built in support for these new drives. Using a 512e drive in one of these OS machines can cause a lot of problems and a variety of new headaches. So, if you are at all uncomfortable with technology then do not use these drives in a older machine.

Windows Vista - Is the first operating system to actually provide built in support for advanced format drives. It can identify a new 512e drive when you slide it in with its new chipsets but unable to perform format or storage until additional drivers are installed.

Windows Server 2008 – Same support as Windows Vista above.

Windows 7 – does include a variety of advanced support for advanced format drives that the other operating systems do not include. There was an initial problem with this support however, Microsoft was quick to release a hot fix for it.

Windows Server 2008 R2 – Same support as for Windows 7 above with certain exceptions.

Identifying Advanced Format Drives

There are several different ways to identify the new advanced format drives. One way of course is manufacture serial number and documentation. Or if the drive is already installed you can use ntfsinfo <drive>:\ unfortunately the old way of getting information about your computer using msinfo32 is not able to tell you if the drive is an advanced format drive.

What does all this info on advanced format drive mean?

Well if you order a new computer today most likely it will contain an advanced format drive because, all the OEM manufactures out there were going to start using them once there old 512 byte sector drives were out. Second if you are a gamer and want a much faster access time to your hard disk array for better performance now is the time to upgrade. Third I’m a nerd and just love talking about all this geeky stuff.


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  • klanguedoc profile image

    Kevin Languedoc 6 years ago from Canada

    Good overview of the HD storage