back to article WD targets Win XP users to ease 4KB drive upgrades

Western Digital is to help Windows XP users more easily make the transition to so-called '4K' hard drive technology, the new standard for basic drive formatting. Hard drive makers segment each data-storage platter into small, addressable units called sectors. For years, the sector size was set to 512 bytes - a standard set by …


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  1. Ralph B

    Should we trust them?

    I mean, they're selling us a 4KB drive upgrade, but will it actually 4000B rather than 4096B?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not only win xp

    What about something for us OS/2 users? Just because IBM has tried to kill off OS/2 does not mean it is dead - far from it.

    1. Peter Kay

      It'll still work, and OS/2 remains dead

      The translation is carried out internally by the drive, so all that will happen is a performance hit. The drive should be clever enough to combine reads and writes, so it shouldn't even match worst case performance degradation.

      I'm sure OS/2 might still do the job, but please do try a modern Windows or Linux installation. They're pretty damn good now. Leave OS/2 where it should be : boot it up every often to play a bit of Galciv 2 (which is also on Windows now, and technically way more advanced, albeit possibly a bit overcomplex).

      Finding the way to the more interesting applications for Windows can be harder than the OS/2 world's concentration on Hobbes and Netlabs, but there's lots of interesting stuff out there, much of which is free.

      I used OS/2 until 1999 for personal use and until a couple of years ago professionally (legacy customers), but it was time to admit defeat. I still have an old OS/2 system for running old programs, but Windows is better in every respect. OS/2 hasn't progressed architecturally and its software development has slowed to a trickle (yes, I still check its status from time to time. Yes, I'm running the very latest Warp 4 post FP15 kernel. No, I'm not spending 200 quid on eCS)

      I never got to use eComstation, but WSeB was a complete bastard to get working even on some older hardware, not to mention the networking - and believe me, I've done some gnarly OS/2 installs in my time. Then there's the development.. some of OS/2's APIs may be more logical than Windows, but the environments and rich functionality of Windows means I would really rather not return to DOS/Gpi/PM programming, never mind having to write 16 bit code when going especially low level.

    2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Not only win xp

      Your ATM's HDD is full?

    3. Mussie (Ed)

      hey you were in a BOFH episode wernt you ?

      hey you were in BOFH episode wernt you ?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I don't know about XP, but I've been using 64KB sector sizes on EMC disk presented to w2k3 and w2k servers for ages, you just need to set the offset with diskpart (or diskpar on 2k) then set your allocation unit size to 64KB sector size. Is this software just automatically detecting the different sector size? Also, if you don't bother to offset, you just get rubbish performance, it's not like it doesn't work, I wonder how many people will be be caught out by this.

    1. Eddie Edwards


      Indeed, the Win32 APIs contain functionality to query the sector size of each drive, with grave warnings about not assuming it is 512B. I felt sure that NTFS was aware of this sector size internally.

      Things can "not work" with the wrong sector size. I'm not sure about specific Windows software, but I know that ZFS on Solaris uses a transactional layer that's based on atomically writing the root sector, and its robustness relies on this not trashing the surrounding sectors if the root sector write fails. Software expecting 512B sectors which are actually a part of a 4KB sector could corrupt surrounding 512B sectors if the power goes during a write, thus destroying data which should be preserved. Worse, the software won't necessarily be able to detect this condition after the fact (i.e. tell you to restore from backup) so it could go unnoticed for some time .

    2. Dale 3


      Your 64kB sectors are a different thing to what they are talking about. Hard disks have always been physically formatted to 512 byte sectors (sometimes known as a low-level format). The format that you perform via your operating system sets up its own set of allocation units using those physical sectors. Some disk formats confusingly also refer to their allocation units as sectors, but they're not the same thing. Others use different names, such as blocks or units.

      Each of your 64kB OS sectors actually comprises 128 physical sectors, and the OS takes care of translating "give me sector #100" into "give me physical sectors #12800-12927" when passing the instruction over to the disk. What is changing here is that newer drives will have 4kB physical sectors. You can still have your 64kB OS sectors (comprising this time just 16 physical sectors each).

      (Of course, the reality of this is somewhat more complicated, but this is the basic idea.)

    3. david 12

      4K sectors and 64K clusters.

      If you use clusters larger than 512B, and set the alignment using diskpart, then you've manually detected and adjusted for the hardware sector size. It doesn't matter that the software can't automatically detect the hardware sector size.

      By the way, are you booting from those disks? I've never managed to get w2k3 to boot from a disk with 64KB clusters, so I suspect that this may be one place where the hardware sector size may matter.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @David 12

        Yes, we're booting from EMC disks, I don't do the provisioning, but I seem to recall that the trick is to get the boot drive to be the lowest LUN number. Or, something like that, I forget exactly.

  4. David Perry 2

    SANs / NASes ?

    Can I assume SAN and NAS manufacturers have updated or updating their firmware to handle this upgrade as well as OS developers?

  5. beneix

    Use on non-WD drives?

    Has anyone successfully used the WDAlign tool on non-WD drives? If so, it could rescue people with mis-aligned SSDs (I know, Fraser, you can use diskpar etc. but a) I've spent many hours trying to get that to work and b) it has to be done before the fact, this could be used after-the-fact).

  6. Grant 5

    @ Ivan 4

    "What about something for us OS/2 users? Just because IBM has tried to kill off OS/2 does not mean it is dead - far from it."

    What is it with you people??? Get with it, Windows 7, OSX, any Linux flavor...this is your wake up call welcome to 2010 and on and on ;)

    1. ml100

      yeah thanks

      ...only a consumer [and I do mean that as a derogatory term] would have such a narrow minded view.

      Some of us are part of [or manage] a corporate network infrastructure and as such cannot move to Windows 7. If M$ spent the time to talk to businesses about what they need rather than pandering to fashion and entertainment needs of consumers then we wouldn't have a problem. Why would anyone want an OS 'upgrade' that delivers no performance benefit and no useful new features.

      Where in the OS portfolio of M$ is there an upgrade from XP for anyone who doesnt want to stream movies or organise their pictures? Where is Windows 7 workstation or any variant that doesnt f@ck up everyones network with its 'helpful' wizards?

      1. Peter Kay


        I've only done some initial tests of Windows 7 in a corporate environment, but the signs are good. It's a lot better than XP on the same hardware, has better facilities for browsing networks, especially for using different privilege levels and there are distinctly less issues with group policy and Windows update. That's before you even start on the automated installation facilities.

        If you're running extremely old and slow hardware maybe your situation is different, but I don't see Windows 7 as fitting into 'no performance benefit or useful new features'.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Real world

      If you are in the real world where OS/2 servers are working and not likely to be changed in the foreseeable future - we reboot them once a year just to check and/or do a disk upgrade - you would know what you are saying is bull s**t.

      We have some machines still using DOS because there is no way they are going to take down a working factory with machinery that just keeps on working to do an unnecessary upgrade of an OS.

      I suppose it is different if all you want to do is play games or try and impress someone. Meanwhile the real world gets on with the job.

  7. Peter Kay

    It'll work anyway - just be slower

    The drive still presents itself as having 512 byte sectors, but uses more than that internally.

    This was discussed on the OpenBSD list a few months ago; certain parts of the code (softraid in particular) have strong dependence on 512 byte sectors. So does qemu.

    Setting the translation jumper led to an appreciable boost in speed. So it'll still work, it'll just be slower in some cases. Same with OS/2, DOS etc.

    1. Ammaross Danan


      Yep, just set the jumper when installing the new disk and all will be well in the world.

      Nothing to see here, move along.

      p.s. Why would someone be dropping a 2TB HDD into a DOS-based system anyway? I know log files can get long, but sheesh.

      1. Peter Kay

        Good point..

        OS/2 can handle 2TB drives if you're running recent versions with JFS, otherwise you'll have trouble with partitions vastly smaller than that (HPFS chkdsk eats memory and is slow, even on recent versions).

        FAT32 can allegedly handle 2TB too and even larger with massive cluster sizes, but DOS/Win 9x/ME doesn't support 48bit LBA. FreeDOS does, but who the heck is going to run FreeDOS with a 2TB drive? I suppose there might be some industrial data collection requirements, if you searched.

  8. Phil Rigby

    @Ivan 4

    What about BeOS? CP/M? Hell even AmigaOS!!!!

    Get with the 21st century buddy. OS2 had it's time, it's gone.

  9. John Ridley 1

    This is news?

    I got a pair of these drives about 3 weeks ago, with the message. I jumpered one, ran the utility for the other. Both are working fine.

  10. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Please Please

    downgrade to vista or w7.

    cache - whats that?

  11. Grant 5

    @ Ivan 4

    But it's still a product that eventually needs to GO and changes like this highlight this. Simple facts.

    I used to love OS2 as well and in the real world but as I stated above.

  12. Philip Nicholls Silver badge


    Greetings from Rip van Winkle.

    This is my quarterly post to boast about using OS/2 all day every day for years and on the same machines. And I run Word Perfect for DOS under OS/2.

    AND still waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with a reliable, efficient and virus-free system.

    The system runs off OS/2 Server on a machine which I last re-booted ... hell I don't remember when.


  13. Richard Boyce

    > 2TB

    This is a non-issue compared to the problems users of XP will face with drives with capacities > 2TB . I suspect that's why we've not seen such drives released yet.

  14. tony trolle


    Fraser is going down the right road but it's "Diskpar" for XP

  15. ben_myers
    Thumb Down

    Deja Vu All Over Again

    For me, this is deja vu all over again. Back in the pre-historic times of mainframes, maybe around 13 BG (13 years Before Gates), I chaired a product design review for a new (new back then) removable hard drive product which increased hard drive capacity by 10% over its predecessor by increasing the hard sector size. Of course, the capacity increase was at the expense of a serious degradation in the performance of disk writes, because the operating system was built around the smaller sector size. Our design review flagged this as an unacceptable error, but the division general manager went ahead and released the product to marketing any way.

    Try as they might, WD would have a helluva time selling me one of these drives for use on an XP system. The only possibility for these WD drives would perform adequately would be to modify the XP file system and/or its disk cache algorithms, something Micro$oft clearly will not do. Forcing the file system to allocate all files on LBAs modulo 8 helps a bit, but really not much... Ben Myers

  16. Daniel Warner

    OS debates?

    Why does everything turn into an OS debate? I get that there are still some companies running OS/2 or even DOS but why come on here and stir it up into a debate about which OS is best? Would you recommend we all downgrade to 8 bit tape-driven computers? No?

    This article is about a new hard drive software to help Windows XP users for crap's sake! Let's be grateful for WD for releasing this software for those who still run XP.

    Chill everyone!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    WDAlign, so that's what is does...

    Hi, I just cloned a customer's old XP hard drive to their new 1TB drive and ran WDAlign after. It worked well but I was unclear what I was doing. Thanks for explaining it in tech terms. Changing the basic low level format from 512k sectors to 4096k sectors. Just for your info WD diagnostics can repair the low level format if it gets corrupted. Don't writeoff WD disks at bad sectors until you run the diagnostics and try to repair it.

  18. cmaurand

    I don't know what the fuss is about

    If you're running linux and using a file system such as reiserfs or ext4 you won't be block aligned anyway. 4K blocks are an inefficient way to store small files on block aligned system like NTFS. You won't care so much if you're storing large files like movies, but if you're storing lots of MP3's, wordprocessing docs, source code modules, spreadsheets, etc. I wouldn't want 4K blocks. For example a 1K file will consume 4K of disk space. If you're an OS/2 user running HPFS, you're not worried about it either since you're using an extent based filesystem. The default on my Windows XP boxes is to use the default for the size of the harddrive. I always choose 512B. The drawback is RAM overhead needed for that.

    reiserfs, ext4, hpfs, Novell Storage Systems, xfs and zfs will pack multiple files into a block. NTFS is still in the dark ages and is still block aligned. Its really FAT 64 with a better index table structure. HPFS is even cooler since it keeps its table at the seek center of a partition and acts more like a database because of the extended attributes.

    There's a reason I buy Seagate drives exclusively. This is one of them.

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