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Compatibility problems with Windows XP and 4K Aligned Drivers - ThinkPad

Symptom

Until this year, all hard drives have used a 512-byte sector size. The new, larger sector size promises increased capacities and better error correction but will introduce compatibility problems in older operating systems such as Microsoft Windows XP. Lenovo will begin shipping systems with 4k drives in 2011. This tip is to describe possible options or solutions to deal with these compatibility problems.

 

Affected Configurations

The following ThinkPad

  • T420, T420i, T420s, T420si
  • T520, T520i, W520
  • L420, L520
  • X220, X220i, X220t, X220ti, X120e

 

Additional Information

For more information about the new larger sector size drives, see the IDEMA.org site in the Document Library section on Advance Format. For Advance Format or 512e (where ‘e’ means emulate) drives where the OS is not aligned with the 4K boundary drive the user will experience performance degradation but the OS will continue to operate. This is due to the fact the OS assuming a 512b alignment is typically off by one sector or LBA (Logical Block Address). This leads to write back issues that can impede the drive from performing as expected.

 

Solution

There are three basic solutions to deal with Windows XP OS. The first solution, if you are about to deploy Windows XP then please read and follow the recommendations: Considerations for using 4-kilobyte sector hard drives in Lenovo systems or Error Message when deploying to Thinkpad computers with MDT or SCCM 2007 as deployment methodology - ThinkPad.

The second solution assumes the OS has been deployed and is not 4K aligned but the Hard Drive is either an Advanced Format or 512e drive, in this case the OS needs to be properly aligned for the new 4K boundary. These drives are capable of supporting an older OS because these drives can handle both reads and write on a 512b boundary. However for these hard drives to work at maximum efficiency the OS needs to be properly aligned to a 4K boundary. The simplest solution is to follow up with your hard drive manufacture to see if they have a tool that will align your OS and hard drive. Western Digital and Hitachi have tools that will work but each drive must be done individually and depending on the amount of data to align this can take time to complete. If your hard drive manufacture is unable to help then there are solutions from data management SW companies such as Ghost or Paragon but there will be a cost to utilize these tools. The third solution is to move your image from XP to Windows Vista or a later OS version, like Windows 7. These OS’s have support built into them to support 4K aligned drives. While this seems like a very obvious solution, the reason this solution should be considered is that while Advance Format and 512e 4K drives will support older OS’s on a 512b boundary, newer (2012) 4K drives will not have 512b support built into them. This is due to the need for HDDs to be SATA 3.0 compatible and that emulating 512b align writes is a performance cost. Currently there is no solution to use an OS like Win XP and a true 4K aligned Hard Drive.