back to article Western Digital gears up for mighty formatting

WD and other disk drive manufacturers are increasing disk sector size eightfold to prepare for 2TB-plus capacity drives. Current hard disk drives have a 512 byte data sector sector size and have had for up to 30 years. Each sector has a sync/DAM header and an ECC (error checking and control) trailer followed by an inter-sector …


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  1. Anton Ivanov


    The biggest beneficiaries are actually Linux and co which do not support 512 blocks (smallest fs block is 1K) and default to 4K on large filesystems.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Does this mean...

    They'll stop ripping everybody off now, using 1,000 (i.e. 1K decimal) as the base for all their space calculations - and finally embrace 1,024? (or should that be 4,096? :)

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge


      If you want them to sell "931GiB" drives instead of "1TB" ones, for the same price. Meanwhile everyone else gets on with their lives.

      1. Goat Jam
        Thumb Up

        or . . .

        . . . they start making 1TB drives that actually hold 1TB.

  3. Eddie Edwards

    Memory lane

    Reminds me of when Acorn boosted the sector size of the DD floppies from 256B to 1024B, allowing 5K of data per track instead of 4.5K. Golden days.

    The idea of making a 4K sector "look like" eight 1/2K sectors is fundamentally broken, however. Software is supposed to be able to rely on a sector write being atomic; in particular if the write is interrupted (e.g. power outage) it should not corrupt an adjacent sector.

  4. joe_bruin

    32 bit code strikes again

    Looks like our friends in the storage industry are running up against the limits of their 32 bit controllers (2^32 = 4.3 billion). Unfortunately it seems like we're in for a rough ride since they will need to bump up the sector size again soon. This is not unlike the way FAT file systems handled this problem when they exceeded 2 GB disks, and again we will have large inefficiencies in storing small files (unless your FS packs them like Reiser 4). That 10% you gain will be chewed up rather quickly, especially when they step up to 32 or 64KB sectors.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: 32 bit code strikes again

      "Unfortunately [...] they will need to bump up the sector size again soon."

      That's what struck me, too. This seems an incredibly short-sighted way to extend. Still, as the XP driver issue demonstrates, it isn't enough to give your drive a 64-bit clean controller if it is being instructed by an OS that uses 32-bit logical block addressing. There's probably no elegant solution.

      I'm puzzled though. At the Windows application level, the "sector size" for aligned accesses (such as for bypassing the cache) has always been 4K, and before that the cluster size on a FAT filesystem was always, er, variable. The only devices I'm familiar with that actually advertised 512 byte sectors to user-level code are floppy drives.

      And quite separately, accessing a modern hard-disc in lumps of less than about a quarter of a megabyte is just plain inefficient. For years, HDs have been essentially sequential access devices. It's about time that file-systems (or rather, their OS interfaces) acknowledged this fact.

  5. Sean Timarco Baggaley

    @Sorry that handle is already taken:

    Would you care to explain to me exactly when the Standards Institute managed to get a registered trademark on all greek prefixes? Do they own the copyright in them too?

    Also, modern computers only have *eight* bits to a byte, not ten. Why are you measuring bytes in SI units when the byte itself fails to meet the most basic requirement of an SI system? The only valid use of decimal SI units is therefore in the measuring of bits, not bytes.

    Finally, the prefixes up to, and including, "kilo" all refer to specific quantities—10, 100, 1000. But the larger magnitude prefixes most of us now use daily—Mega and Giga—do not. They're the greek equivalent of "many" and "lots". There's no commandment graven in stone that requires them to be used ONLY in the context of round, decimal numbers.

    Pretty much the only industry using these smaller units is the data storage industry—and even then, it's only that part of the industry reliant upon older, mechanical storage systems of some sort, rather than solid-state technology. Everyone else uses power-of-two measurements.

    Stop pandering to these bullshit merchants and just tell them to stop lying. It's no more difficult to use base-2 measurements when designing hard drives than it is to use base-10—there may not be anything inherently base-2-ish about spinning disks, but there's nothing inherently decimal about them either.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Paris Hilton

      @Sean Timarco Baggaley

      "Finally, the prefixes up to, and including, "kilo" all refer to specific quantities—10, 100, 1000. But the larger magnitude prefixes most of us now use daily—Mega and Giga—do not."

      mega = 10^6, giga = 10^9. Search for "SI prefixes" and you'll find more...

    2. unitron

      it Hertz so good

      Actually, before RAM and disk drives got into the act, communications and power had been using mega and giga (pronounced 'jiga', from the same root as "gigantic") for years to mean 1million (base 10) and 1 thousand million (base 10), which in the US is a billion, though I hear that England considers a billion to be a million million. (As they say, two people divided by a common language).

      Mine's the one with the "Back To The Future" DVD in the pocket, along with the DeLorean keys.

      1. Freddie

        @it Hertz so good

        "... 1 thousand million (base 10), which in the US is a billion, though I hear that England considers a billion to be a million million. (As they say, two people divided by a common language)."

        I've heard that too and I live in England. If anyone actually tried to use 1 million = 1 000 000 000 000 I would assume they're taking the piss.

        I've been told that it was the case a long time ago, but I've yet to come across anyone who thinks this is still the case (who has a full bag of marbles, of course).

  6. AndrueC Silver badge

    Mega and giga are defined

    ..and have been for years. Even higher prefixes exist.

    A few programmers in the early days thought it was 'cool' to pervert an internationally agreed standard. It was fun being a geek on the frontiers of a brave new world. Almost no-one knew what a computer was and no harm was done if you screwed it up. There was no-one outside of your discipline to talk to anyway.

    Those days are long past. Software development is an engineering discipline that has a major impact on all our lives. It needs to talk to other engineering disciplines in a way that can be understood. Miscommunication can cost large sums of money and in some cases lives.

    HDD manufacturers are using the internationally agreed upon prefixes the way they are were always supposed to be. Software engineers have a choice of continuing to abuse the system and cause confusion or else they can grow up and join the rest of the engineering community.

    As a software engineer I favour the second option. It isn't 'cool' to be different when you're an engineer. It just makes the other 99% of engineers think you're a pratt.

    1. Pirate Dave Silver badge


      Dude, you're sucking all the fun out of things with your talk of "discipline" and "engineer". Really, go find yourself a book on coding games and learn to enjoy programming again. It doesn't HAVE to be a droll ho-hum job. Let's leave that to the sysops and librarians.

  7. Keith Oldham

    Re: it Hertz so good

    UK changed to a billion being a thousand million officially ages ago (In 1975 -Chancellor Denis Healey) - still some pedants around though.

    Mine's the one with 10^9 GBP in the pocket - I wish !

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Keith Oldham

      Even as he was changing it I was still being taught that 1 Billion was a million million.

      We should readopt it.

      1) to mess with peoples head's

      2) to make our financial shortcomings look less

      1. Quirkafleeg
        Thumb Up

        Re: @Keith Oldham

        3) so that we can sensibly use "milliard"

  8. LaeMi Qian

    the 'i's have it

    Of course there is a 2-based standard notation. It is written kiB, MiB, GiB, etc.; (note the lower case 'i'). Most people, even in the trade don't seem to know this: I have been called a geek* by other IT professionals for my insistence on using the correct units in internal documentation.

    *I have never eaten a live animal as a circus act. Honest. ;-D

  9. Joe User


    Welcome to my change service. Give me a pound, and I'll give you 93p in change. What, you want change that adds up to a whole pound? It's only 7p -- get on with your life!

  10. Nick Stallman

    Advanced Formatted Whitepaper

    Advanced Format drives use Advanced Format media. Advanced Format media has Advanced Format sectors.


    What the hell?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @Nick Stallman

      Nick - Everything is now "advanced" - in fact to help you we have legally changed your name to Nick Advanceman.

      Thank me later!

  11. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Down

    MS feels the love

    Does Windows remain the least efficient user of disk space in the OS world? My impression is that by default it still fails to pack sub-sector sized files together (although I've something of the sort can be enabled)

    it is interesting to note that as the interface has gotten more complex the app softwares ability to optiimise data layout on a disk has fallen. How does an app programmer looking for ultimate performance (IE your writing Oracle, not writing *in* Oracle) these days?

    Agree it does sound very short sighted but do modern OS's work around it.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Apparently, NTFS stores small files in the NTFS index files!

  12. Lennart Sorensen

    Ehm, check your match again.

    If at 512 bytes/sector a 2TB drive will have, approximately, 3,906,250,000 sectors (3.9bn), then at 8 times larger sectors (4096 bytes/sector) a 2TB drive will not have 953,674 sectors, it will have 476,837 sectors. This of course means you need a 16TB drive (8 times larger obviously) before you hit the same sector count of 3.8bn or so again.

  13. David Bird

    Another maths complaint

    When did the fraction "one eighth" or "an eighth of" become "eight times fewer"? "Times" surely refers to multiplication (well it did when I was at school), making things bigger if the multiplicand is greater than one.

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