Home > Articles > Hardware > Upgrading & Repairing

Upgrading Your Upgrades, Part 5: Giant Hard Drives – Are You Ready to Upgrade?

  • Print
  • + Share This

Upgrading Your Upgrades, Part 5: Giant Hard Drives – Are You Ready to Upgrade?

In 1957 Cyril Northcote Parkinson published his famous compilation of essays titled "Parkinson's Law", which starts off with the statement: "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."* A corollary of Parkinson's most famous "law" can be applied to hard drives: "Data expands so as to fill the space available for its storage." This of course means that no matter how big a drive you get, you WILL find a way to fill it. I know that I have lived by that dictum since purchasing my first hard disk drive almost 20 years ago.

Even though I am well aware of the exponential growth of everything associated with computers, I am still amazed at how large and fast modern drives have become. The first hard drive I purchased was a 10MB (that's 10 megabyte - not gigabyte) Miniscribe model 2012, which was a 5.25-inch (platter) drive that was about 200mm x 140mm x 80mm or 7.9" x 5.5" x 3.2" (L x W x H) in overall size and weighed 2.5.kg (5.5lb, which is more than some laptop computers)! By comparison, the Seagate Barracuda 180 drive (currently the highest capacity 3.5-inch hard drive) uses smaller 3.5-inch platters, is about 5.7" x 3.9" x 1.6" or 145mm x 100mm x 40mm (L x W x H) in overall size, weighs only 1.04kg (2.3lb), and stores a whopping 181.6GB, which is 18,160 times more storage in a package that is about one fourth the size and weighs about half as much. That's a pretty large step in 20 years time!

As drives get larger and larger and cheaper per GB, its tempting to get the largest drive your money can buy. But, before you make the jump to todays biggest hard drives, you need to make sure your hardware and software is ready to make the jump with you.

*Note that the book: "Parkinson's Law" (ISBN 1-5684-9015-1 is still in print and is in fact considered one of the essential tomes of business or management study.

How Much Storage Space is Enough?

If youve exhausted the space on your 10GB or 20GB hard disk, you might be wondering, how much storage space is enough? While we could say "Too much is never enough", hard disk maker Western Digital provides an entertaining and thought-providing answer with their Filling Up web page at http://www.wdc.com/products/fillrup/fillingup.asp. This page analyzes the space requirements of todays most storage-hungry file types: digital photos, music, and video, operating systems, applications and games. Click on the overstuffed computer icon to go to an interactive Flash animation where you can load a 40GB hard disk with your choice of file types. I selected 600 high-res photos (500KB each), 12 hours of digital music, 5 games, 20 applications, and just 90 minutes of digital video. That overfilled the drive with an estimated 43GB of information. While the exploding system animation this overload triggered is amusing, running out of storage space on a real-life system is more serious; when Windows runs out of temporary memory or room for vital program or data files, crashes and data loss are inevitable.

What are the Limits for Hardware?

How big a hard drive you can use depends somewhat on the interface you choose. While the ATA interface is by far the most popular interface for hard drives, SCSI interface drives are also available. Each has different limitations, but those of ATA have always been lower than those of SCSI.

When ATA was first created in 1986, it had a maximum capacity limitation of 137GB (65536*16*255 sectors). BIOS issues further limited capacity to 8.4GB in systems earlier than 1998, and 528MB in systems earlier than 1994. Even after the BIOS problems were resolved, however the 137GB limit of ATA remained. Fortunately this was recently broken in the new ATA-6 specification drafted in 2001. ATA-6 augments the addressing scheme used by ATA to allow drive capacity to grow to 144PB (PetaBytes, or quadrillion bytes), which is 248 sectors. This has opened the door allowing ATA drives over 137GB to be released. Obviously any drives larger than 137GB would by nature conform to ATA-6, however if you are installing a drive larger than that you should also insure that your motherboard BIOS has ATA-6 support as well.

SCSI was designed from the beginning with fewer limitations than ATA, which is why SCSI is more commonly used in high performance file servers, workstations and other high-performance computer systems. Even though SCSI originated prior to ATA, the architects had the foresight to allow SCSI to address devices up to 2.2TB (TeraBytes, or trillion bytes) in capacity (232 sectors). More recently in 2001, the SCSI command set was further upgraded to support drives up to 9.44ZB (ZettaBytes, or sextillion bytes) in capacity (264 sectors). Because SCSI was initially designed with fewer limitations and greater performance in mind, manufacturers have always released their largest capacity drives in SCSI versions first. If you absolutely, positively, must have the biggest drive, then it will almost always be a SCSI drive you are looking for.

Due to the changes in 2001 to both ATA and SCSI, it will be many years before the capacity limitations of either interface will become a problem. If youre working with large games, digital photos, music, or video, youll probably want a hard drive of at least 80GB in size, and thats just the beginning of the super-sized drives now on the market. Several vendors now offer 100GB and 120GB drives, while Maxtor was the first to break the has broken the 137GB barrier of the ATA-5 standard with its new 160GB ATA-interface hard drive. IBM has the largest drive for laptop, notebook and other portable systems at an incredible 60GB, and Seagate currently makes the largest PC hard drive in the world, a 180GB SCSI drive.

Problems with Windows and Large DrivesYour operating system may also cause limitations when it comes to using large drives. See my article titled "Why New Hardware May Mean It's Time for a New Version of Windows", for more details on various problems with Windows.

Large Drives from Major Vendors

If you are thinking about purchasing a large drive, the following table lists most of the 80GB and larger IDE/ATA and SCSI drive offerings currently available from major manufacturers:

Manufacturer and Drive Series

Model

Capacity

RPM

Interface Transfer Rate

Media Transfer Rate (Avg)

Notes

Maxtor DiamondMax D540X

4D080H4

80GB

5,400

ATA-100

31MB/sec

Maxtor DiamondMax D540X

4K080H4

80GB

5,400

ATA-100

31MB/sec

Maxtor DiamondMax D540X

4G120J6

120GB

5,400

ATA-133

31MB/sec

1

Maxtor DiamondMax D540X

4G160J8

160GB

5,400

ATA-133

31MB/sec

1

Maxtor DiamondMax D536X

4W100H6

100GB

5,400

ATA-100

26MB/sec

Maxtor DiamondMax D536X

4W080H6

80GB

5,400

ATA-100

26MB/sec

Maxtor DiamondMax 80

98196H8

80GB

5,400

ATA-100

26MB/sec

Maxtor DiamondPlus D740X

6L080J4

80GB

7,200

ATA-133

42MB/sec

Maxtor DiamondPlus D740X

6L080L4

80GB

7,200

ATA-133

42MB/sec

2

WD Caviar (HP)

WD1200BB

120GB

7,200

ATA-100

42MB/sec

WD Caviar (HP)

WD1000BB

100GB

7,200

ATA-100

40MB/sec

WD Caviar (HP)

WD800BB

80GB

7,200

ATA-100

40MB/sec

WD Caviar (SE)

WD1200JB

120GB

7,200

ATA-100

42MB/sec

3

WD Caviar (SE)

WD1000JB

100GB

7,200

ATA-100

40MB/sec

3

WD Caviar (Std.)

WD1200AB

120GB

5,400

ATA-100

36MB/sec

WD Caviar (Std.)

WD1000AB

100GB

5,400

ATA-100

36MB/sec

WD Caviar (Std.)

WD800AB

80GB

5,400

ATA-100

30MB/sec

Seagate Barracuda ATA IV

ST380021A

80GB

7,200

ATA-100

39MB/sec

2

Seagate U-Series 80020

ST380020A

80GB

5,400

ATA-100

31MB/sec

Seagate Barracuda 180

ST1181677LCV

180GB

7,200

Ultra160

36MB/sec

4

IBM Deskstar 120GXP

IC35L120AVVA07

120GB

7,200

ATA-100

42MB/sec

5

IBM Deskstar 120GXP

IC35L100AVVA07

100GB

7,200

ATA-100

42MB/sec

5

IBM Deskstar 120GXP

IC35L080AVVA07

80GB

7,200

ATA-100

42MB/sec

5

IBM Travelstar 60GH

IC25T060ATCS05

60GB

5,400

ATA-100

20MB/sec

5, 6

Table Notes:
ATA-100 = 100MB/sec | ATA-133 = 133MB/sec | Ultra160 = 160MB/sec

Note 1: Available with or without Maxtors ATA 133 PCI host adapter, which provides BIOS support for drives larger than 137GB and support for up to four IDE/ATA devices.

Note 2: Uses fluid dynamic bearings.

Note 3: Caviar Special Edition drives have 8MB buffers, compared to 2MB buffers on other models.

Note 4: This is a SCSI drive, and currently the highest capacity PC hard drive available

Note 5: Uses IBMs pixie dust (antiferromagnetically coupled) media and glass platters

Note 6: This is a 2.5-inch laptop drive that is only 12.5mm tall; this drive will fit in most laptop/notebook systems, and is currently the highest capacity 2.5-inch drive on the market

ATA-133 Transfer Rate Hype

Hopefully you can see one thing clearly by looking at this table of drive specifications, and that is that the interface transfer rate doesn't mean much in the real world.

Don't be fooled by the interface transfer rate hype, especially that around ATA-133. As you can see from the table, a far more important gauge of a drive's performance is the average media transfer rate, which is significantly lower than the interface rate of 133MB/sec. The media transfer rate represents the average speed at which the drive can actually read or write data. By comparison, the interface transfer rate merely indicates how fast data can move between the motherboard and the buffer on the drive. The rotational speed of the drive has the biggest effect on the drive's true transfer speed, in general drives that spin at 7200 rpm will transfer data faster than those that spin at 5400 rpm.

A New Super-sized Drive May Make Your Disk Tools Obsolete

Before you purchase leap for the biggest drive you can afford, take a hard look at the hidden costs of your choice. One of those relates to capacity. If the drive is ATA and over 137GB, then a BIOS upgrade (or ATA adapter with on-board BIOS) may be required. If you choose a SCSI drive, you will most likely have to purchase an expensive SCSI adapter as few motherboards feature SCSI built-in.

Finally, you may need to upgrade your operating system (Windows 95 especially), and may need new versions of any disk utility software that you may run.

If you use third-party disk tools for re-partitioning, disk cloning, or disk copying, youd better check with your software vendor before you opt for a giant drive. Some of the biggest vendors in the disk-tool software business, such as PowerQuest, V-Communications and Symantec, have issues with older and even current versions of some of their products.

PowerQuest

Many people appreciate the power and convenience of disk tools such as PowerQuests Partition Magic (repartitions drives without data loss), Drive Image (creates compressed disk images for backup and reloading) and Drive Copy (copies the contents of one drive to another), but drives above 80GB in size arent supported yet by PowerQuests product line. If youre moving up from a 40GB or smaller drive to an 80GB drive, you will need to upgrade to the latest version of your favorite PowerQuest disk tool.

V-Communications

Lately V-Communications has become one of the leaders in disk utility software. Partition Commander is regarded as one of the best partitioning programs on the market. Their latest version supports Windows XP and can handle any size drive including those over 137GB. They also have DriveWorks, an integrated suite of their top disk utilities including Partitioning Commander, Image Commander, Copy Commander and Secure Erase. They also have the System Commander program which can manage multiple operating systems on a single drive, and it includes a copy of Partition Commander as well. All of these programs will work on the larger sized drives.

Symantec

Many IT shops swear by the power of Norton Ghost when it comes time to clone a drive or partition, but older versions (version 2000, 5.1d, and before) will not work with large hard drives: version 2000 and 5.1d are limited to 12GB drives, while older versions are limited to 8.4GB or less. Youll need to upgrade to the latest version before you use Ghost with larger drives.

Even if you use other disk-management and backup tools, you should check with your software vendor before you move to an 80GB or larger drive to make sure your software will work, or to get the updates you need.

BIOS Support

If your current hard drive is 8GB or smaller, your system might not be able to handle a larger drive without a BIOS upgrade, since many older BIOSes cant handle drives above the 8.4GB limit, and some have other limits such as 32GB, which is also a limitation of Windows 95. While most IDE/ATA hard drives ship with a setup disk containing a software BIOS substitute such as OnTracks Disk Manager or Phoenix Technologies EZ-Drive (Phoenix purchased EZ-Drive creator StorageSoft in January 2002), I dont recommend using a software BIOS replacement. Ez-Drive, Disk Manager and their OEM offshoots (Drive Guide, MAXBlast, Data Lifeguard, and others) can cause problems if you need to boot from floppy or CD media or if you need to repair the non-standard master boot record these products use.

BIOS Upgrade Cards

If your motherboard BIOS cant be upgraded by your system or motherboard vendor, you can still get full BIOS support for drives up to 137GB by installing Micro Firmwares ATA Pro card (about $40). It uses a single ISA slot, doesnt require an IRQ, and can be upgraded to support the latest hard disk BIOS standards.

If you have no ISA slots on your motherboard, as is the case with many recent systems, you can also use a PCI-based add-on card from Promise Technologies, such as the Ultra133 TX2 and Ultra100 TX2, both of which also supports drives up to and beyond the 137GB limit imposed by the ATA-1 through ATA-5 standards. Although the interface speed isn't as important as discussed earlier, these cards do support ATA-133 and ATA-100 interfacing (a firmware upgrade may be necessary for the Ultra100 TX2), and are also backwards-compatible with older, slower ATA drives. Both Promise cards and the Maxtor card (next paragraph) support up to four ATA/IDE drives, doubling the number of ATA/IDE drives you can use in a typical system.

If you decide that the Maxtor Diamond Max D540X 120GB or 160GB drives are right for you, you may prefer to buy these drives bundled with Maxtors ATA-133 host adapter card, which like the cards from Promise also provides BIOS support for drives beyond 137GB. It uses a PCI slot. Some vendors sells these drives with or without the host adapter, so check prices and descriptions carefully.

Fast or Large Choose One

The fastest of the big drives currently on the market isnt the biggest; according to the Storage Review website, its the 120GB Western Digital WD1200JB. Remember that you need to look at the media transfer rate for a more true measure of the drive's actual performance. But even that won't tell the whole story, as other factors can have an effect as well. Still, in comparing the Maxtor 160GB to the Western Digital 120GB model for example, the 160GB drive offers a third more capacity, but spins more slowly (running at only 5,400 RPM versus 7,200 for the Western Digital model), and has a slower true (media) transfer rate.

Even though the Maxtor model offers ATA-133 support versus the Western Digitals ATA-100 support, the actual media transfer rate of the 120GB (ATA-100 speed) drive is 42MB/sec average, while the larger 160GB (ATA-133 speed) drive has a SLOWER media transfer rate of only 31MB/sec. I'm sure there will be many people who will trade in an ATA-66 or ATA-100 drive for an ATA-133 model (plus the requisite adapter or motherboard upgrade) only to find that the supposedly faster ATA-133 drive actually runs slower! To prevent this mistake from happening to you, be sure to check the true media transfer rate of any drives you are comparing.

On systems with an up-to-date ATA-5-compliant BIOS, the 120GB drives would be the largest you can use without an add-on card; until the ATA-6 standard is officially adopted and becomes widely supported in system BIOSes, you will need an add-on card to use drives over 137GB. Technical Committee T13 is currently developing the ATA-6 standard; you can learn more about it at www.t13.org.

SCSI drives don't have these capacity issues since even the oldest versions of the SCSI standard could handle drives up to 2.2TB. Also the motherboard BIOS isn't an issue either, since SCSI drives are supported not by the motherboard BIOS, but instead by the BIOS built-in to the SCSI adapter you install.

Time for a New Backup Drive?

If youre planning to move into giant-drive territory, one more consideration should be your choice of backup devices. While CD-RW drives are great for backing up a few gigabytes of data, trying to back up 80GB or more will result in a massive amount of CD-swapping and the possibility of data loss. Even the new crop of DVD+RW drives at 4.7GB per platter are overmatched, so you should seriously consider adding a high-performance, high-capacity tape backup drive to your system when you supersize your hard disk storage. Some of the models worth considering include:

  • Exabyte (formerly Ecrix) VXA-1 (33GB native, 66GB at 2:1 compression), available in SCSI, IEEE-1394, and IDE interfaces.

See www.exabyte.com/products/products/vxa.cfm for more information.

Although even these high-capacity drives cannot backup an entire drive with a single tape, they support spanning to multiple tapes during backup. Most come with high-performance backup software, and all are widely supported by third-party backup software. Tape drives are designed for both disaster-recovery and file-based backup tasks.

Conclusion

Todays multimedia environment makes bigger storage a necessity. Before you choose a large hard drive, make sure you take into account the hidden costs and additional backup requirements a larger drive imposes. For more information about backup philosophies and methods, see “Data Protection and Recovery Techniques - Part 1 Basic Backup Philosophies, Methods, and Products” on this Web site.

Web sites for further information:

Disk Drive Products
IBM Deskstar 120GXP home page
www.storage.ibm.com/hdd/desk/ds120gxp.htm

Maxtor Diamond Max (5,400 rpm) series spec sheets
www.maxtor.com/products/diamondmax/diamondmax/default.htm

Maxtor Diamond Max Plus (7,200 rpm) series spec sheets
www.maxtor.com/products/diamondmax/diamondmaxplus/default.htm

Seagate U-series 80GB home page
www.seagate.com/cda/products/discsales/marketing/detail/0,1081,374,00.html

Seagate Barracuda ATA IV 80GB home page
www.seagate.com/cda/products/discsales/marketing/detail/0,1081,381,00.html

Western Digital hard drive products overview page
www.wdc.com/products/

Technologies
Maxtor’s “Big Drives” web site (support for drives above 137GB)
www.maxtor.com/products/bigdrive/default.htm

Maxtor’s ATA-133 “Fast Drives” web site
www.maxtor.com/products/fastdrive/default.htm

Technical Committee T13 ATA-6 draft standard
(PDF file – open with Adobe Acrobat)
www.t13.org/project/d1410r3a.pdf

Technical Committee T10 SCSI standards
www.t10.org

Utilities
PowerQuest
www.powerquest.com

V-Communications
www.v-com.com

Symantec
www.symantec.com

Hard Drive Review Sources
Storage Review
www.storagereview.com

Tom’s Hardware Guide
www4.tomshardware.com/storage/

Copyright©2002 Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

Related Resources

There are currently no related titles. Please check back later.