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Preparing a Hard Disk for Use

Preparing a hard disk for use in your PC is the process by which you set up the drive so that it can hold your data (everything from Windows to programs and documents files). Usually you'll only need to go through this process when installing a new drive. Occasionally, however, you might decide it's time to give your PC a fresh start, by erasing everything on your drives, re-preparing them, and installing fresh copies of your software. (If you ever decide to do this, be very sure that you've backed up any essential data to another storage medium.)

In most PCs, the system BIOS handles configuration duties for ATA/IDE hard drives (the standard type of hard drive found in most systems). The more expensive (and slightly more advanced) SCSI hard drives are configured by the SCSI BIOS, which is usually found on special SCSI controller cards designed for connecting these devices.

Preparing either of these types of hard disks requires the use of your operating system's disk preparation utilities (Disk Management in Windows XP or Windows 2000; FDISK and FORMAT in Windows 9x/Me). These programs process the disk according to what the system or SCSI BIOS report. If the system BIOS is not configured properly, an ATA/IDE drive will not be recognized at its full capacity. An outdated SCSI BIOS can also prevent SCSI hard drives from being recognized at their full capacity.

Most systems are set to auto-detect the capacity of ATA/IDE hard disks when you install them and turn on the computer; this type of hard disk is the most common type. You can determine if your version of Windows can view the entire capacity of the drive during the disk preparation process.

SCSI drives are detected by the SCSI BIOS built into SCSI host adapters built for hard drives (low-end SCSI host adapters made for scanners and optical drives don't have a BIOS and can't be used for bootable drives). After the SCSI BIOS detects the drive, the drive must be prepared with a host-adapter-specific low-level formatter program before they can be prepared by Windows; see the manual for your SCSI host adapter for details.

Preparing an Additional Hard Disk with Windows XP/2000

The process of installing a hard disk varies according to whether the drive is being added to your computer or is being installed as a replacement. The process described in this section assumes that you are adding an additional hard disk to your existing computer.

Before you start this process

  1. Make sure your computer recognizes the hard disk.

  2. Decide whether you want to treat the new drive as a single drive letter, or subdivide it into two or more logical drives (having a single drive letter is easier to configure).

  3. Decide which file system you want to use for your new drive (usually FAT32 or NTFS).

Fast Track to Success

If all you use is Windows XP, you should use the NTFS (New Technology File System) option to format your disk. NTFS lets you use advanced features such as encryption (which can be used to "hide" files on your system from other users) and compression (which uses less disk space). However, if you installed Windows XP to work in a dual-boot configuration with Windows 98 or Windows Me (you select the Windows version you want to work with when you boot), you might prefer to choose FAT32 for your new drive. Both NTFS and FAT32 can work with large drives, but FAT32 drives can be read by Windows 98 and Windows Me.

What if you want to share your files over a network? Use NTFS, no matter what version of Windows other users have. The network software will take care of recognizing the drive's contents, and NTFS lets you apply better security to each shared folder.

To prepare an additional hard drive for use with Windows XP/2000

  1. Open the Start menu, right-click on My Computer and select Manage.

  2. Click the Storage icon in the left-hand window of the Computer Management screen.

  3. Double-click Disk Management (local) in the right-hand window. The new drive will appear as Unallocated in the display window if the drive is brand-new (see Figure 3.15). If the drive has already been partitioned, the display will indicate what type of a partition is on the drive. You can right-click on the additional drive's partition to remove it, but this will delete its contents. You should use My Computer to view the drive's contents first and copy any files you want to keep to another drive before you continue.

  4. The drive's listed capacity should be similar to the capacity listed on the drive's faceplate or box. If not, see "Troubleshooting Problems with Recognizing Full Drive Capacity," p. 229.

    Figure 3.15 A 1.2GB drive (Disk 1) before partitioning and formatting (which assigns drive letters to the drive) as displayed by the Windows XP Disk Management tool.

  5. Right-click the Unallocated drive and select New Partition to start the New Partition Wizard.

  6. Click Next after reading the introduction to the wizard.

  7. Select Extended partition and click Next to create an extended partition (which will be divided into one or more logical, non-bootable drive letters).

  8. Cautions and Warnings

    If you want to boot from a drive you add to your system as well as from your normal drive, you will need to install a boot manager program such as Boot Magic (provided as part of PowerQuest's Partition Magic) or V-com's System Commander (also part of Partition Commander) and prepare the drive as directed by the vendor. See the documentation for the boot manager program you prefer for details.

    Learn more about Partition Magic and Boot Magic at http://www.powerquest.com.

    Learn more about Partition Commander and System Commander at http://www.v-com.com.

  9. If you want to use the entire hard disk for one or more logical drives, click Next. To leave some empty space on the drive to format under a different file system or for use by another operating system, adjust the partition size and click Next (see Figure 3.16).

  10. Figure 3.16 Configuring a 1.2GB drive as an extended partition with Windows XP's New Partition Wizard.

  11. The wizard displays the settings you have selected; click Finish to perform the listed operations and convert the drive to an extended partition containing free space.

  12. Right-click the free space and select New Logical Drive to set up drive letter(s) to use the free space inside the extended partition (Figure 3.17). Click Next.

  13. Figure 3.17 Preparing to create a logical drive in Windows XP.

  14. Click Next to create a logical drive.

  15. Specify the size of the logical drive if you want to create more than one logical drive; if you click Next without specifying a size, the entire free space will be converted into a single drive letter.

  16. By default, Windows assigns the next available drive letter; click Next to accept it, or use the pull-down menu to choose a different drive letter and then click Next. Other options listed (mount in empty NTFS folder or Do not assign a drive letter) are for advanced users.

  17. Select a format option (see Figure 3.18); I recommend you use the defaults (NTFS and default allocation unit size) unless you need to access the drive by booting the computer with Windows 98 or Me, in which case, use FAT32. Change New Volume to a descriptive name you prefer. Select Enable file and folder compression if you want the option to try it later. Click Next.

  18. Figure 3.18 Selecting format options for the new logical drive.

  19. The wizard displays the settings you have selected (see Figure 3.19); click Finish to perform the listed operations and convert the free space into a drive letter or click Back to make changes. The format operation takes a few minutes to complete.

  20. Figure 3.19 The New Partition Wizard displays the settings selected for preparing the new drive.

  21. When the format process is completed, the drive is identified with a drive letter and its status should be displayed as Healthy (contact the drive vendor if the drive is not identified as Healthy). Click File, Exit to close Computer Management. You can use the newly prepared drive immediately.

Preparing a Bootable Hard Disk with Windows XP

You can prepare a drive with a primary partition (primary partitions are bootable) with the Disk Management tool described in the previous section. Simply select Primary partition when prompted and follow the general outline given above. Generally, you will select this option if you are planning to install a boot manager program and another operating system on your computer.

However, if you want to prepare a new hard drive on a brand-new system (one that doesn't have Windows XP already installed), you can perform this task as part of the Windows installation process.

  1. Verify that your CD-ROM drive is listed before your hard disk in the boot sequence of your computer's BIOS setup (see Figure 3.20).

  2. Insert the Windows XP CD-ROM into your CD-ROM drive.

  3. Start your computer.

  4. The Windows XP installation program starts after the CD boots the computer.

  5. When prompted, select the type of file system (NTFS or FAT32) you want for the hard disk and whether you want to use the hard disk as a single drive letter or subdivided into two or more logical drives. Windows XP will prepare each drive letter you specify during its setup process.

To learn more about accessing your BIOS and changing its settings, see "BIOS Setup," p. 104.

The drive's listed capacity should be similar to the capacity listed on the drive's faceplate or box. If not, see "Troubleshooting Problems with Recognizing Full Drive Capacity," p. 229.

Figure 3.20 This computer needs to have the CD-ROM moved before the hard disk in the boot sequence to enable the computer to boot from the Windows XP CD-ROM.

On the Web

Read Microsoft Knowledge Base article "HOW TO: Partition and Format a Hard Disk in Windows XP" (#Q313348) to learn more about the process of preparing a hard disk with Disk Management or with the Windows XP setup program. Set your browser to http://support.microsoft.com and enter Q313348 in the search box.

Preparing an Additional Hard Disk with Windows 9x/Me

The process for installing a hard disk with Windows 9x/Me is similar whether you are adding a hard disk to a working system or preparing a hard disk for a new installation of Windows 9x/Me. Unlike the wizard-driven Disk Management interface used by Windows XP (and Windows 2000), Windows 9x/Me use separate programs for disk partitioning (FDISK) and disk formatting. Disk partitioning must be started from the command prompt, but you can use Windows Explorer/My Computer to format the hard disk after it's been partitioned with FDISK. In this section, you will learn how to prepare a hard disk you are adding to an existing system already running Windows.

In Windows 9x/Me

  1. Click Start, Run.

  2. Type FDISK and click OK.

  3. Press Y (yes) and ENTER to accept large hard disk support on the first screen you see after starting FDISK; this option enables you to use all of the space on a hard disk as a single drive letter with Windows by using the FAT32 file system; you can also create multiple drive letters if you like. If you press N (no) and ENTER, your maximum size per drive letter is just 2GB.

  4. FDISK displays the startup menu (see Figure 3.21). To select a menu option, type the number of the option and press ENTER.

  5. Figure 3.21 The FDISK main menu on a system with two or more hard disks installed; FDISK omits menu item #5 if the system has only one hard disk.

  6. By default, FDISK works with hard disk #1. To switch to the newly-installed drive (drive #2 or higher), type 5 (Change current fixed disk drive) and press ENTER. The capacity of the newly-installed drive will be displayed without any drive letter as free space (Figure 3.22). The drive's listed capacity should be similar to the capacity listed on the drive's faceplate or box. If not, see "Troubleshooting Problems with Recognizing Full Drive Capacity," p. 229. Type the number of the newly-installed drive and press ENTER to select the drive and return to the FDISK main menu.

  7. Cautions and Warnings

    If you are adding an additional hard disk to your computer, it's critical that you switch to the new disk drive with FDISK before you run commands. FDISK destroys any information already on the drive.

    Use the #4 option (Display partition information) from the main FDISK menu after you select a drive number to see if the current drive contains any disk partitions. If it does, there might be data on the drive. Copy any files you want to keep before you re-partition the disk with FDISK.

    Figure 3.22 An unpartitioned drive as seen by FDISK.

  8. To create a partition on the drive, type 1 (Create DOS partition) from the FDISK main menu and press ENTER.

  9. To create a new partition whose drive letters will follow the current hard drive letters on your system, type 2 (Create Extended DOS partition) in the Create DOS Partition or Logical DOS Drive Menu (see Figure 3.23) and press ENTER.

  10. Unless you want to leave room for another operating system in the future, press ENTER to accept the default (entire drive as an extended partition). The extended partition size will be displayed on screen. Press ESC to continue.

  11. The drive's listed capacity should be similar to the capacity listed on the drive's faceplate or box. If not, see "Troubleshooting Problems with Recognizing Full Drive Capacity," p. 229.

  12. Specify the size of the logical drive if you want to create more than one logical drive (see Figure 3.24); if you press ENTER without specifying a size, the entire free space will be converted into a single drive letter.

  13. Figure 3.23 The Create DOS Partition Menu in FDISK.

    Figure 3.24 Specifying the size of the logical drive in FDISK.

  14. The logical drive letter and size will be displayed If you didn't use all the extended partition for the logical drive, you will be prompted to repeat step 8. Press ESC to continue.

  15. After you have allocated all the space in the extended partition to logical drives, you will return to the FDISK main menu. Press ESC to exit the menu; press ESC again after you read the reminder to shut down Windows and reboot before you format the drive letter(s) you created in FDISK.

  16. Shut down Windows and restart.

  17. After Windows restarts, open the Windows Explorer. Your newly-created drive letter(s) will be displayed. Click on each one and Windows will display a Disk is not Formatted dialog. Click Yes to format the drive; enter a label (a descriptive name for the drive), click Full (format type), and click Start. Click OK to format the disk and click Close after the format process is over. Go to step 14.

  18. If Windows doesn't display the "Disk is Not Formatted" prompt, right-click on the drive you want to format and select Properties. The drive's file system should be displayed as RAW with 0 bytes of used space and 0 bytes of free space. Click OK.

  19. Right-click on the drive again and select FORMAT. Make sure you are NOT formatting a drive that contains data (unless you either no longer need that data or it you have backed it up to another medium). The FORMAT option lists the capacity of the drive. Enter a label (a descriptive name for the drive), click Full (format type), and click Start. Click OK to format the disk and click Close after the format process is over.

At this point, your drive should be ready to go. As a final check, right-click on the newly formatted drive's Windows icon, select Properties, select Tools, and select Error-checking to check the drive for errors before you use the drive.

Preparing a Bootable Hard Disk with Windows 9x/Me

If you need to install Windows 9x/Me on a brand-new system (one that doesn't have Windows already installed), you need to prepare the hard disk with a primary (bootable) partition that can be used for the Windows installation.

You will need to create a Windows Emergency Startup Disk from your Windows CD to perform this task.

Fast Track to Success

The Windows 98 CD-ROM contains a program called FAT32EBD.EXE that can be used to create a startup disk; you can run this from another computer that uses Windows to create a startup disk if you don't have one handy.

Read Microsoft Knowledge Base article "How to Create a Windows 98 Startup Disk that Supports FAT32" (Q187632) for details.

Set your browser to http://support.microsoft.com and enter Q187632 in the search box.

If you're now using Windows Me, you can still use a Windows 98 startup disk to partition and format your hard disk before installing Windows Me.

To set up your new hard disk as a single bootable drive

  1. Boot the computer with the Windows emergency startup disk.

  2. Type FDISK at the command prompt and press ENTER.

  3. Press Y to enable Large Disk Support when prompted. If you select N (no), FDISK will prepare only the first 2GB of your disk.

  4. Select #1, Create DOS Partition or Logical DOS Drive from the main FDISK menu (refer to Figure 3.21).

  5. From the Create DOS Partition or Logical DOS Drive menu (refer to Figure 3.23), press Enter to select #1, Create a Primary DOS partition.

  6. Press Enter again to select the entire usable capacity of the drive as a single primary partition and make it active.

  7. After you press Enter again to accept these changes, you're prompted to shut down the system and reboot it.

  8. This creates a single primary partition on the hard disk that must be formatted by the Format program using the system option before it can be used to boot the system.

  9. After your computer reboots, start the system with CD-ROM support.

  10. Type FORMAT C:/S at the command prompt and press ENTER.

  11. Follow the prompts to format your hard disk and transfer system files.

  12. After the format process is over, you can install Windows from your CD-ROM drive.

To use FDISK to set up the only hard drive on a system as two or more drive letters with a bootable partition, follow this procedure:

  1. Boot the computer with the Windows emergency startup disk.

  2. Type FDISK at the command prompt and press ENTER.

  3. Choose Enable Large Disk Support when prompted to allow partitions larger than 2GB in size.

  4. Select #1, Create DOS Partition or Logical DOS Drive from the main menu.

  5. From the Create DOS Partition or Logical DOS Drive menu, press Enter to select #1, Create a Primary DOS Partition.

  6. Type N (no) when asked if you want to use the entire capacity of the drive.

  7. Enter the amount of space you want to use for the primary partition in either MB or percentages (for example, to use 2GB, enter 2048; to use 50% of the drive, enter 50%) and press Enter (see Figure 3.25).

  8. Figure 3.25 The primary partition on this 1.2GB drive is being set as 800MB by FDISK.

    The drive's listed capacity should be similar to the capacity listed on the drive's faceplate or box. If not, see "Troubleshooting Problems with Recognizing Full Drive Capacity," p. 229.

  9. Press Esc to return to the main FDISK menu.

  10. Because you created a primary partition using only a portion of the disk space, a warning appears to remind you that the primary partition is not yet active; it must be marked active to be bootable.

  11. To mark the primary partition as active, type 2 (Set Active Partition) from the FDISK main menu and press Enter to display the Set Active Partition menu.

  12. Type the number of the partition you want to make active (normally 1), and press Enter. The status line will display an A for active partition, as in Figure 3.26. Press Esc to return to the main FDISK menu.

  13. Figure 3.26 The 800MB primary partition after FDISK sets it as Active. To be bootable, this partition must also be formatted with the /S (system) option.

  14. To prepare the rest of the drive for use by Windows 98, select #1, Create DOS Partition or Logical DOS Drive from the FDISK main menu.

  15. From the Create DOS Partition menu, select #2, Create an Extended Partition.

  16. Press Enter to accept the default (the remaining capacity of the drive); the logical drives will be stored in the extended partition.

  17. Create one more or logical drives when prompted, specifying the size you want for each letter. The drive letter for each logical drive is listed; note the letters because you will need to format each logical drive after you finish using FDISK and reboot.

  18. When the entire capacity of the drive is used, the FDISK display will resemble Figure 3.27. Press Y to view the logical drives stored in the extended partition.

  19. After you press Enter again to accept these changes, you're prompted to shut down the system and reboot it.

  20. After your computer reboots, start the system with CD-ROM support.

  21. Type FORMAT C:/S at the command prompt and press ENTER.

  22. Follow the prompts to format your hard disk and transfer system files; specify a descriptive name for the drive when prompted such as WINDOWS.

  23. Figure 3.27 This drive contains both a primary and an extended partition; logical drives in the extended partition make this entire drive available to Windows 98.

  24. Type FORMAT D: at the command prompt and press ENTER to format the D: drive; follow the prompts to complete the procedure. Specify a descriptive name for the drive when prompted such as DATA. Repeat as needed for any additional drive letters you created with FDISK.

  25. After the format process is over, you can install Windows from your CD-ROM drive.

Troubleshooting Problems with Recognizing Full Drive Capacity

If Disk Management or FDISK doesn't report the full capacity of the drive during the preparation process, check the following:

  • Windows 95 can recognize only 32GB of disk space, regardless of the actual capacity of your drive or your system BIOS. If you want to use a larger drive with Windows 95, you must prepare it with the special disk-setup tools provided by the drive vendor instead of with FDISK and FORMAT, or upgrade to a newer version of Windows.

  • If you are using Windows 98 or Windows 98SE with a hard disk greater than 64MB, you need updated versions of the FDISK program; the original versions of FDISK displays only the capacity of the drive above 64MB. For example, an 80GB drive would be displayed as only about 16GB (80-64=16). Use the search engine at http://www.microsoft.com for article number Q263044, which contains links to the updated FDISK files. Unfortunately, these problems aren't limited to FDISK. FORMAT for Windows 98/Me won't display the correct size either; see article number Q263045 at the same Microsoft site to download updated files. If updates to FDISK and FORMAT still don't display the correct size for the drive, keep reading.

  • Make sure you are using Auto-configure in the system BIOS setup for the hard disk (see Figure 3.28); this enables LBA (logical block addressing) mode, which allows the entire capacity of the drive to be available in Windows.

  • Figure 3.28 A typical system BIOS hard disk setup screen with both User-Defined and Auto-Configured drives listed.

  • If the drive is Auto-configured but is recognized as only about 8GB by Disk Management or FDISK regardless of its actual size, the system BIOS doesn't support a feature called extended disk drive (EDD—also known as INT13h extensions), which enable drives up to 137GB to be supported by the BIOS.

  • If the system locks up after installing the new drive, or is recognized as only 2.1GB or 4.2GB regardless of its actual size, the system BIOS is not compatible with the full capacity of the drive.

To enable the computer to work with the entire capacity of the drive, use one of the following options, listed in order from the best to worst option:

  • Upgrade the system BIOS if an upgrade is available to handle the larger hard disk; download and install the BIOS upgrade from the system or motherboard maker's Web site and retry the drive installation.

  • Install an ATA BIOS support card; these cards have on-board BIOS chips that override the limitations of your system BIOS and enable your computer to use the larger drive. Your computer must have an open PCI or ISA slot on its motherboard to use this option (see "Expansion Slots," p. 97).

  • If you use Windows 9x/Me, check to see if the drive's manufacturer provides a utility program that also includes a BIOS override software option. If they do have one, you may need to install that to allow your PC to recognize your drive's full capacity. Examples of these types of programs include Disc Wizard, EZ-BIOS, or Disk Manager. As a general rule, I don't recommend going this route. It prevents you from using standard boot sector repair programs if your drive becomes unbootable, limiting your recovery options in an emergency. On the other hand, these programs don't cost any money; they either should be included on a utility disk packaged with the drive or are made available for downloaded from the drive manufacturer's Web site.

BIOS Upgrade Cards to the Rescue

If your computer can't handle your ATA/IDE hard disk at full capacity and a BIOS upgrade isn't available or doesn't solve the problem, your best option is to install a BIOS override card. Some drives, such as certain Maxtor 120GB and 160GB drives, include a high-speed PCI interface card that enables the drives to be used at full capacity; the card is also available separately. Get more information about the Maxtor ATA/133 PCI Adapter Card from http://www.maxtor.com.

Other cards from different vendors include

The PCI cards also have on-board ATA/IDE controllers, enabling you to connect up to four additional drives to your system.

If you are installing a SCSI hard disk, the BIOS on the SCSI host adapter, rather than the system BIOS, is used to report the capacity of the drive to the operating system. If the full capacity of your SCSI hard disk is not detected by your host adapter's BIOS setup program, contact the SCSI host adapter manufacturer for a BIOS upgrade.

Troubleshooting Disk Partitioning Problems

If you run FDISK or the Disk Management disk preparation wizard and find that you are unable to partition your drive, or that the drive you partitioned has reverted to an unpartitioned state after you restart your system, you might have the write-protect hard disk feature enabled in your system BIOS.

Many systems have this feature, which is designed to prevent boot sector viruses from attacking your computer. However, this feature also prevents the boot sector from being changed during the disk preparation process. To disable this feature

  1. Restart the computer.

  2. Press the key(s) that start the BIOS setup program when prompted.

  3. Check the BIOS Features or Advanced BIOS setup menus for an option such as "Write-Protect Boot Sector" or "Anti-Virus Boot Sector." Disable this option.

  4. Save the changes and exit to restart your computer.

  5. Retry disk preparation.

On the Web

The Trend ChipAway anti-virus feature used by some motherboards does not need to be disabled to enable you to prepare a new hard disk. Your motherboard might display Trend ChipAway if it's active during system startup, or you would see this option in your system BIOS setup. To learn about the difference between ChipAway and conventional write-protect or anti-virus hard disk BIOS options, see the Trend Micro ChipAway Web site:

http://www.trendmicro.com/en/home/us/enterprise.htm

If your BIOS doesn't have write-protect or anti-virus boot sector protection enabled but you can't prepare the hard disk, check the following:

  • Disable anti-virus software during the hard disk preparation process; some programs of this type can interfere with disk preparation.

  • Shut down the computer, open the case, and inspect the data cable running between the drive and the host adapter. Remove and reattach the data cable where it connects to the drive and host adapter; a loose data cable can prevent successful disk preparation.

  • Replace any data cables that are damaged (cut, scuffed, excessively creased).

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