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This chapter is from the book

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 disk drives (the standard type of hard drive found in most systems). Many recent systems also support SATA hard disk drives through the system BIOS.

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.

Most systems are set to auto-detect the capacity of ATA/IDE or SATA hard disks when you install them and turn on the computer; this type of hard disk configuration 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.

Preparing an Additional Hard Disk with Windows XP

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, follow these steps:

  1. You need to make sure your hard disk is recognized by your computer.

  2. You should decide whether you want to prepare the new drive as a single drive letter or subdivide it into two or more logical drives.

  3. You should decide which file system you want to use for your new drive.

Here’s how to prepare an additional hard drive for use with Windows XP (these directions also work with Windows 2000, by the way):

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

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

  3. Double-click Disk Management (local) in the right window. The new drive will appear as "Unallocated" in the display window (see Figure 3.17) if the drive is brand new. If the drive has already been partitioned, the display will indicate what type of a partition is on the drive. You can right-click 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. Figure 3.17

    Figure 3.17 A hard disk (Disk 1) before partitioning and formatting (which assigns drive letters to the drive) as displayed by the Windows XP Disk Management tool.

    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," this chapter.

  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, nonbootable drive letters).

  8. 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 for use by another operating system, adjust the partition size (see Figure 3.18) and click Next.

  9. Figure 3.18

    Figure 3.18 Configuring a hard disk as an extended partition with Windows XP’s New Partition Wizard.

  10. 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.

  11. 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 (see Figure 3.19). Click Next.

  12. Figure 3.19

    Figure 3.19 Preparing to create a logical drive in Windows XP.

  13. Click Next to create a logical drive.

  14. 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.

  15. 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 and Do Not Assign a Drive Letter) are for advanced users.

  16. Select a format option (see Figure 3.20). We 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. 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.

  17. Figure 3.20

    Figure 3.20 Selecting format options for the new logical drive.

  18. The wizard displays the settings you have selected (see Figure 3.21). 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.

  19. Figure 3.21

    Figure 3.21 The New Partition Wizard displays the settings selected for preparing the new drive.

  20. 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 previously. Generally, you will select this option if you are planning to install a boot manager program and another operating system on your computer.

If you need to replace your existing ATA/IDE or SATA hard disk with a larger hard disk, use the installation program provided with the hard disk or available from the hard disk vendor’s website. These utilities can copy the data from the old hard disk to the new hard disk and make the process fairly painless.

To learn more about accessing your BIOS and changing its settings, see "Controlling Your PC’s Operation with BIOS Setup," Chapter 1.

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 3.22).

  2. Figure 3.22

    Figure 3.22 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.

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

  4. Start your computer.

  5. The Windows XP installation program starts after the CD-ROM boots the computer.

  6. 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 subdivide it into two or more logical drives. Windows XP will prepare each drive letter you specify during its setup process.

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," this chapter.

Troubleshooting Problems with Recognizing Full Drive Capacity

If Disk Management or a vendor-supplied disk installation tool doesn’t report the full capacity of the drive during the preparation process, make sure you are using Auto-configure in the system BIOS setup for the hard disk (see Figure 3.23); this enables LBA (logical block addressing) mode, which allows the entire capacity of the drive to be available in Windows up to the limits of the system BIOS.

Figure 3.23

Figure 3.23 A typical system BIOS hard disk setup screen with both user-defined and auto-configured drives listed.

If the hard disk is over 128GB in size (such as a 160GB or larger hard disk), but Windows Disk Management only recognizes 128GB, the system BIOS does not support a feature called 48-bit LBA. For a system hard disk, you should update the system BIOS if possible or connect the hard disk to a host adapter card with a 48-bit LBA BIOS onboard. If the hard disk is to be used as additional storage, you could use a USB or IEEE-1394 external hard disk instead.

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:

  • Best 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 website and retry the drive installation. With Windows XP, you also need to upgrade to Service Pack 1 or greater.

  • May also need to...—Install any chipset-specific drivers required for 48-bit LBA support. Check with your system or motherboard maker for details.

  • Next-best option—Install an ATA 48-bit LBA BIOS support card; these cards have onboard 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 slot on its motherboard to use this option (refer to Chapter 1 for more details on PCI slots).

  • Least desirable option—Hard disk setup programs provided by hard disk drive makers usually include a utility program that also includes a BIOS override software option. If one is included, you may need to install it to allow your PC to recognize your drive’s full capacity. Examples of these types of programs include Disc Wizard, EZ-BIOS, and 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, thus 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 download from the drive manufacturer’s website.

Troubleshooting Disk Partitioning Problems

If you run the Disk Management disk preparation wizard or another disk-partitioning utility 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, follow these steps:

  1. Restart the computer.

  2. Press the key or key combination that starts the BIOS setup program when prompted.

  3. Check the BIOS Features and 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.

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

  • Disable antivirus 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, or excessively creased).

Troubleshooting Booting Problems

Once you’ve prepared a drive as a bootable drive, your computer can use it to start your system. However, the drive and your computer must be properly configured to enable this to take place.

Before you can use any type of hard, floppy, removable-media, or optical disk as a bootable drive (a drive that can start your system), the following must be true about the disk:

  • The drive must be selected as a bootable device in the system BIOS (see Figure 3.24).

  • Figure 3.24

    Figure 3.24 A typical advanced BIOS setup screen featuring a bootable drive selection option.

  • The drive must be properly prepared to be bootable. A hard disk must be prepared with a primary partition, be formatted, and have system files transferred to it. Other types of media must be formatted and have system files transferred to the media.

  • The drive must be properly identified in the system BIOS.

Troubleshooting Hard Disk or Optical Drive Bootup Problems

If you cannot start your system from a hard disk you were previously able to boot from, or you can’t boot your system from a bootable Windows CD-ROM, check the following:

  • Drive A: for a floppy disk—A nonbootable floppy disk can’t be used to start a system and also stops the entire system boot process if the floppy drive is listed before the CD-ROM and hard disk drives in the BIOS boot sequence. Remove the disk and try to restart the system.

  • The BIOS setup for the drive—Most drives use Auto as the setup type. If your drive is configured as User-Defined, check with the drive vendor’s website to see if the values listed are correct for the drive. If they are not, reset the drive to Auto or enter the correct values, save the changes, and restart your system.

  • The boot order—Your hard disk should be listed somewhere in the boot order. In Windows 2000 and XP, I recommend that the order be CD-ROM, first hard disk, and then any other bootable device you may have.

  • Whether the drive has an active partition—A hard disk must be prepared as a primary partition and must be set as active before it can be used to start (boot) the system. You can fix this problem using the Windows XP Recovery Console (which can be started from the Windows XP CD-ROM).

If you are having problems booting your system and your drives and boot sequence are configured correctly, you might be having Windows-related startup problems.

See "Fixing Startup Problems," Chapter 2, for other types of startup problems and solutions.

Preparing Other Drives to Act as Bootable Devices

Having a bootable storage device other than your hard disk drive in case your hard drive fails for some unforeseen reason can be critical in recovering from a PC disaster. In cases where you cannot boot your PC from its hard disk, you could be helpless if you don’t have some other means to boot up. Although having bootable media for a floppy, CD-ROM, or other device won’t fix the source problem, it can allow you to keep troubleshooting tools and utilities accessible in case of emergency. If you want to boot from other types of drives, check the following:

  • The drive type you want to use must be listed as a bootable device in your system BIOS.

  • You must make sure the drive appears in the boot order before the hard disk.

  • You must prepare the media to act as a bootable device.

Most recent computers can use optical drives (CD-ROM, CD-RW, DVD-ROM), floppy drives, and SCSI drives as bootable devices. Some can also use removable-media drives such as USB keychain drives, LS-120/LS-240 SuperDisk drives, and Zip drives as bootable devices.

Windows 2000 and Windows XP can be started from the hard disk, from high-capacity removable media that is prepared as a fixed disk, or from the Windows 2000 or Windows XP upgrade or OEM CD-ROM. See the previous section for information on how to make a bootable floppy disk.

If you want to prepare a CD-R, CD-RW, or recordable/rewriteable DVD disc as a startup disc with Windows, see the instructions for your CD mastering program.

Solving UDMA Mode Problems with ATA/IDE Drives

Originally, all ATA/IDE drives used an access method called PIO (programmable input/output). Today, ATA/IDE hard drives (and some types of ATAPI drives) support faster access modes known as UDMA (also called Ultra DMA or Ultra ATA), which range from 33MHz to 66MHZ, 100MHz, and the latest 133MHz speed. If you notice the following problems, your system probably doesn’t have UDMA configured correctly:

  • Very slow hard disk and optical drive performance

  • Inability to use disk-mastering software with your CD-RW or writeable DVD drive

To achieve a particular UDMA speed, all of the following must be present:

  • The correct cable must be used. Whereas UDMA/33 drives can use the older 40-wire IDE cable, UDMA/66 and faster drives must use the 80-wire UDMA cable.

  • The drive must be configured for the fastest UDMA speed supported by both the drive and the host adapter.

  • The host adapter (motherboard or slot based) must have its Windows device drivers installed for maximum performance. View the ATA/IDE host adapters in Device Manager to determine if you need to install device drivers; if the host adapter listing in Device Manager indicates that the correct drivers are not installed, download them from the motherboard or system builder’s website and install them. See "Using Device Manager," Chapter 2, for details.

  • The correct UDMA speed must be selected in the system BIOS setup for the drive if User-Defined, rather than Auto, is used to configure the drive.

Because drives with fast UDMA modes are frequently used on motherboards that support slower UDMA modes, some drives are shipped with their faster UDMA modes disabled. Use the utility disk supplied with the drive, or download a utility from the drive maker’s website, to view and change the UDMA support for your drive.

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Last Update: November 17, 2020