How to properly format an Advanced Format Harddrive for Windows XP is easier than you might think. If you are reading this you’re probably already aware of what an Advanced Format Hard Drive is, but if not, here is the cliff note version. Up until about 2010 most consumer Hard Drives had 512 bytes per sector. Seagate developed a new standard of 4096 bytes per sector and any drive released after January of 2011 is very likely this new Advanced Format, whether it is from Seagate, Western Digital, IBM, or other. This larger 4096 byte sector allows the error checking code to be moved to the end of the sector by combining eight 512 sectors, allowing data to be read more efficiently and eventually allowing for more dense platters, aka bigger drives.

The problem is up until Vista, operating systems in all flavors (including Linux and Mac) did not correctly write to these new drives, they expected 512 sectors and found 4096 sectors, causing them to need multiple rotations to do the same work, basically making them slow and prone to errors. Even with Vista and above you need to make sure you have the correct service pack installed. So what if you have over 500 computers in your environment that still run Windows XP? Simple, buy Seagate Drives because they include firmware on the drives that makes this transition transparent to the operating system. What if your purchasing agent instead purchased something like Western Digital because they were a buck cheaper? Well then you have problems. According to WD you can run a tool to properly align the drive. This isn’t a great idea since you could lose your data and plus the data has already been installed. I’ve also noticed that the Western Digital tool will report the drive incorrectly as aligned when it isn’t so forget that junk tool.

This is what you do, simply download and burn a copy of Parted Magic, it is Free and is the #1 tool for partitioning Hard Drives, Thumb Drives, birds, mice, whatever, ok it only works on drives and disks but whatever.

**** WARNING ***** if you are reading this you better have all your data backed up because this will wipe the drive, you have been warned!

I’m just going to give a quick overview of the process since it is fairly straight forward. Here are the steps, good luck.

1. Boot Parted Magic and choose default

2. Double Click “Partition Editor” on desktop

* If more than one drive is installed, be sure to choose the correct drive on the right top of the screen drop downs.

3. Select “Device”, then “Create Partition Table” from the menu at the top of Gparted (this is the Partition Editor Program)

4. You will get a warning ” This will erase all DATA on the entire disk…” simply click “Apply”

5. Right Click on the drive and choose “New”, change File System to “NTFS” and click “add”

6.Right Click on the New Partition #1 and choose “Format To” and then NTFS, click “Apply”

7. Click “Apply” at top of current window, you will get a message saying “Are you sure you want to apply pending operations?” Click “Apply” to continue.

You should see “All operations successfully completed” just click close, wait for rescan of drives to finish and close gparted.

You can then shut down the computer.

Now when you go to install Windows XP you will come to the section to Partition the drive, just select “Leave the current File System intact (no Change)” Since I use slip streamed installs I dont have the exact screen this will show up on but it will be obvious.

With this process, it’s actually a little quicker to use Parted Magic to create and format your partition, but it is a two step process which is just 1 step too many, so as I suggested at the beginning, simply buy Seagate Drives and don’t worry about this new Advanced Format.

If you want to verify your drive is aligned I recommend the dell utility if you have a Dell, actually it might work on others but I don’t have a machine to test that on. I will include a copy of the file since it is kind of a pain to find on Dell’s Home Page. DELL_ADVANCED-FORMAT-HDD-DET_A00_R306204

To see if you have an Advanced Format Drive, you can, depending on your version of fsutil installed, run an elevated command prompt and type fsutil fsinfo ntfsinfo c: you will see there is a section on Physical Sectors and Bytes per sector, if physical sectors say 4096, then you have an Advanced Format Drive.

I just did some testing with a Seagate and they say their firmware handles this transparently, but it appears this is not the case. I will continue to test and update this post ***CORRECTION