Common hard disk drive (HDD) problems

Windows XP can only see 137GB of my 250GB IDE hard disk drive

Hard disk drive problem

I installed a 250GB IDE Maxtor hard disk drive in a computer running Windows XP, but it can only recognise 137GB of the drive.

Answer

Elderly motherboards and Windows 98/Windows Me and Windows XP prior to Windows XP SP1 (that has Service Pack 1 installed) have a 137GB barrier. Any disk space over that amount isn’t recognised because Windows (or any other operating system) requires driver support for 48-bit Logical Block Addressing (LBA), which was only included in Windows XP SP1.

How to enable 48-bit Logical Block Addressing support for ATAPI disk drives in Windows XP – This article describes the Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) 48-bit Logical Block Addressing (LBA) support for ATA Packet Interface (ATAPI) disk drives that can increase the capacity of your hard disk to more than the current 137 gigabyte (137GB) limit. – http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=303013

You should also check the version of the file Atapi.sys that is installed. In Windows XP, it can be found in the C:\Windows\System32\Drivers folder. Locate the file (if necessary by using the Search facility), right-click on it, choose Properties, and then click the Version tab of the window that comes up. The file should be version 5.1.2600.1135 or higher. (I had version 5.1.2600.2180 at the time of writing.)

For more information on this subject read the information on upgrading hard drives on the Upgrading PC/Computer Hardware, Windows & Software section of this site.

Note that if you are using Partition Magic as your partitioning utility, versions earlier than 8.01 don’t support hard drives larger than 137GB.

If you have a motherboard that has an Intel chipset of the 800 series (810 to 860), there are patches that fix the limit available from: http://www.intel.com/

You should make sure that your computer’s BIOS setup program is the latest version. The motherboard’s manufacturer’s site should have details about BIOS updates, what they support, and how to install them. A BIOS update could fix the problem.

You might still have to partition the drive to get it to work. You can create partitions with Windows XP’s Disk Management. To do so, enter diskmgmt.msc in the Start => Run box, or use a free program such as QTParted, which is part of the rescue CD for the Linux operating system that can be obtained from http://www.sysresccd.org/.

[Note that Disk Management in Windows Vista and also in Windows 7 can be accessed by entering diskmgmt.msc in its Start => Start Search (Vista) and Start => Search programs and files (Win7) box. Disk Management in Vista and Win7 allow the resizing of partitions on-the-fly without data loss.

Download the ISO image and then burn it to a recordable CD-R/DVD-R/DVD+R disc. You can run QTParted from the CD. It is meant for use with Linux, but can be used to partition and resize partitions for the NTFS file system used by Windows XP. Alternatively, you can download the program here: http://qtparted.sourceforge.net/, but you’ll have to create your own bootable CD/DVD and copy the program to it if you want to use it from a CD/DVD. You can also use it from Knoppix Linux, which runs from a bootable CD/DVD. Download the ISO image free of charge from http://www.knoppix.org/ and use CD/DVD burning software to burn it to a recordable CD/DVD.

Your PC’s BIOS setup program should be set to boot from a CD/DVD drive in order to boot into Linux at startup without interfering with an installation of Windows XP/Vista. You would place the Knoppix Linux CD/DVD in its drive and reboot the PC. The PC will boot into Knoppix Linux, which looks like Windows. From the Start menu go to System and choose the program QTParted, which looks and works very much like Partition Magic, which was priced at £50 new in the UK at amazon.co.uk at the time of writing (September 2008). It can be used with Windows XP/Vista on NTFS partitions.

If you still can’t get the drive to work at its full capacity, you’ll have to purchase a PCI IDE Controller adapter card. You install it in a spare PCI slot on the motherboard and attach the drive to it instead of to the motherboard.

Many PCI IDE Controller cards are made by Promise Technologies, but the company’s controllers can also be found built into some motherboards. Promise has updated its device drivers to support 48-bit LBA operation, but at the time of writing this, it had not obtained Microsoft WHQL (Windows Hardware Quality Labs) certification for the drivers that gives them a recognisable digital signature.

This situation leads to a driver problem, because Windows XP installs its own drivers for Promise controllers that have not been updated for 48-bit LBA support if it cannot install signed drivers. (48-bit support is required by Windows to recognise the full capacity of drives larger than 137GB.) In this case, even if you download and attempt to install the latest unsigned Promise drivers, Windows will refuse to install them because it has installed its own signed drivers, which always take precedence over unsigned drivers.

If this is the case, the Windows drivers will be dated July 1, 2001 (07/01/01). You can check this by opening the Device Manager. A Promise card or controller will be listed under SCSI Controllers even though it is not an SCSI device. Right-click on the controller’s entry, click Properties in the menu that comes up, and then click on the Driver tab of the window that comes up.

You can force Windows XP to install the Promise drivers. To do that, right-click on the controller’s entry, and then click on Update Driver… You must not allow Windows to search for and install the drivers automatically. Choose all of the manual choices and ignore any warning messages no matter how ominous. You will arrive at the Have Disk button that allows you to point Windows to the location of the driver file. The Promise driver that supports 48-bit LBA support is dated March 28 2003 (3/28/03) or later.

When Windows is restarted, you should be able to see the full capacity of any hard drive larger than 137GB.