Hard Disk and SSD Drives

Current HDD and SSD capacities, the 2.19 barrier, NTFS and GPT file systems and 3TB SSDs reviewed

To get an idea how much hard disk and SSD drives currently cost, visit the Amazon website the serves your country. In the UK, it’s amazon.co.uk and the information is found by searching for hard disk and SSD under the Computers & Accessories category. It is also always worthwhile reading the purchaser reviews, which are often very reliable and informative.

The majority of all internal hard disk drives are produced by only three manufacturers: Toshiba, Seagate and Western Digital. There used to be six, – Hitachi, which absorbed IBM’s hard-drive business, Samsung and Maxtor, but they were all absorbed by the big three.

By January 2012, hard disk drives have reached capacities of 3TB (3000GB using the method that the drive manufacturers use to determine 1TB as being 1,000GB, not the 1024GB used by software developers) and their capacities will keep increasing. Most of the high-capacity drives selling on Amazon in June 2014 were 1 to 3TB. 4TB drives are available.

Note that there are several issues with regard to using a hard disk drive as the boot drive (not as a storage drive) if it has a capacity larger than 2.19TB. A hard drive with a capacity higher than that requires a 64-bit operating system (a 64-bit version of Windows, which means a 64-bit version of Windows Vista, Windows 7/8/8.1), device-driver support and has to be formatted to the GPT file system and have UEFI BIOS support. Note that Windows XP and later versions of Windows support GPT, but only 64-bit Windows Vista and Windows 7 & 8 support it during the boot process.

The BIOS has to be a UEFI BIOS. For example, to overcome all of these issues, Western Digital provides a HighPoint Rocket 620 adapter card that uses a PCI Express x1 slot on a motherboard with its 3GB drives, which supports booting to a formatted 3TB drive if the motherboard provides UEFI support, which most motherboards currently in use do not.

The following article provides detailed information on the 2.19TB barrier.

The 2.19TB Barrier – http://www.anandtech.com/show/3981/…

Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 fully support storage (non-boot) drives larger than 2.19TB connected to a computer with a standard BIOS (not a UEFI BIOS).

For example, Windows Disk Management can format a 3TB external drive normally as long as the user chooses to format the drive as a GPT partition, which allows Windows Vista/Win7/Win8 to create a single partition of a drive with a capacity exceeding 2.19TB. GPT uses 64-bit addressing requiring a 64-bit operating system that allows a truly enormous partition size of 10 zettabytes (ZB) – a 1 followed by 21 zeros, measured in bytes of information. The number of bytes of information in a terrabyte (1TB) is a 1 followed by 12 zeros. Every time a zero is added the whole number is multiplied by ten, so the GPT file system is going to around for a very long time.

GUID Partition Table – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GUID_Partition_Table

The Master Boot Record (MBR) format used by the FAT followed by the NTFS file systems, used for decades, has a maximum partition size of 2.19TB, therefore for partitions larger that they have to be partitioned as GPT partitions. It’s a 32-bit limit that goes along with the RAM-memory limitation in 32-bit systems of 3.2GB. To use bigger partitions requires 64-bit addressing and more memory requires using a 64-bit version or Windows (Vista, Win7, Win8/8.1, etc.) or another 64-bit operating system, such as Linux.

The new format also lets you create more than four primary partitions on the same drive. MBR can only be used to create four primary partitions (defined as a partition that can be used as a bootable system partition). A primary partition can be further partitioned into one extended partition that can itself be partitioned into logical partitions that are each given a drive letter (G:, H:, etc.) but can only be used for data storage or have software installed on them that is not the operating system.

On Windows computers, full GPT support requires 64-bit Windows (Vista or later) and a UEFI (Universal Extensible Firmware Interface) BIOS.

The second method applies to systems with traditional BIOS and/or 32-bit Windows installed. These systems can work with primary (boot) partitions larger than 2TB, but to do so they need intermediary software (such as Seagate’s DiscWizard) to handle the necessary addressing conversions.

Full GPT support requires a 64-bit version of Windows (Vista/Win7/Win8) and a UEFI – Universal Extensible Firmware Interface – BIOS. Note that from Vista to Windows 8, 32-bit and 64-bit versions are available. A 32-bit version of Windows cannot be upgraded to a 64-bit version. To have a 64-bit version requires a clean installation using a 64-bit installation DVD.

To open Disk Management, which provides the information and formatting options on the installed data-storage drives, in XP enter the diskmgmt.msc command in the Start => Run box. It’s the Start => Search box in Vista/Windows 7. In Windows 8, press the Windows key (the one with a flag on it) plus the X key on the Desktop screen to bring up a menu containing it or press the Windows plus the R key to bring up the Run box and enter that command in it.

Windows XP and Windows XP Pro for the home user is no longer supported by Microsoft, cannot format drives exceeding 2.19TB, but if the drive is an external, non-boot drive, the drive manufacturer can provide and installation option to format it for Windows XP compatibility. The drive’s user manual should explain what to do.

This article reviews four 3TB hard disk drives made by Hitachi, Seagate and Western Digital, providing information on why they don’t always work as expected:


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