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how are 2TB and up desktop hard drives formatted and partitioned?

Posted on 2015-01-18
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Last Modified: 2015-02-01
Hello and Good Evening Everyone,

             With the increase of very large internal hard drives like 2TB and greater, I am wondering how they are prepared with respect to formatting and partitioning.  I am somewhat familiar with the FAT32 and NTFS format structure.  However, I am not sure if NTFS would even support 2TB and larger internal hard disk drives.  Perhaps there is a new file system which I am unfamiliar with that supports drives that large.  At any rate, I am curious about the procedures or logistics of formatting and partitioning the more modern and larger hard drives.

              Any shared input regarding this question will be appreciated.

             Thank you

             George
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Question by:GMartin
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John Hurst earned 250 total points
ID: 40556881
NTFS will easily support 2TB and beyond. You need to make sure the BIOS in your computer will accommodate 2TB drives, but NTFS is no issue at all.
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by:Seth Simmons
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ID: 40556886
I am not sure if NTFS would even support 2TB and larger internal hard disk drives

2tb is the limit when using 4k cluster size
when formatted with 64k cluster size, 256tb is the limit
certainly can support physical sizes larger than 2tb (as GPT)

Understanding the 2 TB Limit in Windows Storage
http://blogs.technet.com/b/askcore/archive/2010/02/18/understanding-the-2-tb-limit-in-windows-storage.aspx

Perhaps there is a new file system which I am unfamiliar with that supports drives that large.

the only thing new with windows 2012 is ReFS which has a volume limit of 1yb (about a trillion tb - hurts my brain to try comprehending that)

ReFS
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ReFS
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by:GMartin
ID: 40556901
Hello

            With respect to hard disk management tools,  can someone recommend a really good one for formatting and creating/managing partitions on the larger hard disk drives?

              Thank you

              George
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by:John Hurst
John Hurst earned 250 total points
ID: 40556905
Windows 7 and Windows 8 Disk Management should be able to manage 1 to 2 TB drives and format them just fine. I do not think you need additional tools. I have just used Windows.
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by:Seth Simmons
Seth Simmons earned 100 total points
ID: 40556907
if by some chance you do need to use a 3rd party utility because of some system issue, gparted (live cd) comes in handy

http://gparted.org/download.php

the native disk management tool can also do 3tb and 4tb drives just fine
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by:nobus
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ID: 40557142
for disks greater than 2 TB, they can be used in 2 formats : ntfs and gpt
on 32 bit systems, the limit is 2 TB :  http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2581408
but you can use drives larger than 2 TB - but you have to make several partitions

if you want the disk to be booatable, you need GPT :  http://blogs.technet.com/b/petergu/archive/2014/06/10/installing-windows-on-disks-larger-than-2tb.aspx
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by:noxcho
ID: 40557183
If you want a really good hard disk management tool then Hard Disk Manager 15 is a right choice: http://www.paragon-software.com/home/hdm-personal/features.html
You have in it all you would ever need for PC maintenance.
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by:rindi
rindi earned 50 total points
ID: 40557368
The disk size limit isn't dependent on the file-system, As already mentioned, NTFS has no problem handling disks and partitions larger than 2TB.

The limiting factor is the disk's boot sector setup. Conventional MBR boot sector disks only support up to 2TB. So if a disk is initialized in the conventional way as an MBR disk, you will only be able to use up to a maximum of TB, even if the disk has more space available. If on the other hand you have used the new GPT way to initialize the disk, you can use more than 2TB. In Windows diskmanagement you can convert disks to GPT, and most other tools, like GParted or Paragon that were already mentioned can also do that.

One stumbling block for Windows and GPT disks though is that in order to be able to boot Windows to a GPT disk, you need a modern UEFI BIOS, and Windows also needs to be 64bit. So if your PC doesn't have a modern UEFI BIOS,  the disk you boot the OS from must be MBR, and that limits it to a usable size of 2TB. Further disks can be GPT and larger than 2TB, it's just the one you boot from that needs to be MBR. For other OS's like Linux that isn't a problem, with those you can also boot to GPT disks if your PC still has a non UEFI, conventional BIOS.
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by:nobus
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in short - there is much to tell about the differences for using disk sizes this big
if you want to refresh your disk size knowledge :  http://www.dewassoc.com/kbase/hard_drives/hard_drive_size_barriers.htm
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Author Comment

by:GMartin
ID: 40565695
Hello and Good Evening Everyone

            I am still reading the information contained within each submitted link.  As such, I will need a little extra time or extension before closing this post just in case I might have a relevant follow up question.

            Many thanks once again for all of the given information.  It is really interesting reading and certainly adds to my knowledge of hard drive disk maintenance and management.

           George
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by:GMartin
ID: 40574141
Hello and Good Evening Everyone,

             I must confess that I am very impressed with the content of each link submitted in addition to everyone's shared insights.  After reviewing all of the information, I do have one more follow up question of technical interest.  With respect to formatting a hard drive using 4k cluster size and formatting a hard drive using 64k cluster size, is it reasonable to conclude that more data is packed within a 64k cluster block as compared to the 4k cluster size block?  In simpler terms, could it be compared to a small attic of a house that is 12x8 to a much larger attic of a different house that is 56x23?  I am assuming that each block or cluster on the hard drive created from formatting is like real estate or property for building data.  

            Just to add, I remember several years ago terms like sectors (electro-magnetic lines created on the hard drive that make it readable/writable) and cylinders (electro-magnetic circles on the hard drive used to store data) were created through the use of formatting and partitioning tools.  I am not sure if this ties into our discussion or not, but, it seems like it might have merit here.  If someone could tie this in with everything discussed so far, perhaps that will paint a clearer picture.  

           George
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by:noxcho
ID: 40574187
All depends on the data type you are going to store on this drive. If the data consists of mirriades of tiny data pieces then making a cluster size smaller is reasonable. For bigger data a bigger cluster size is good.
Look here for nice explaining: http://www.pcguide.com/ref/hdd/perf/perf/ext/fileCluster-c.html
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by:nobus
ID: 40574627
the disk buildup is the same : with heads, and platters
the platter still has tracks, divided sectors
to make things better adressable, they use a cluster based format, which comprises  alot more sectors
this explains it well :  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_cluster
sectors : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disk_sector
also nicely shown here :  http://ntfs.com/hard-disk-basics.htm
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by:John Hurst
ID: 40581813
@GMartin - Thanks and I was happy to help.
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by:GMartin
ID: 40581831
Hello and Good Afternoon Everyone,

              Thanks so much for the shared insights and especially for the resourceful links.  After reviewing all of the information given, it certainly makes more sense to use the Windows 7 and Windows 8 Disk Management tool as opposed to using a third party program.  However, I did proceed with successfully creating a bootable ISO file for GParted Live CD for future references.  

             With respect to my confusion surrounding any potential formatting size barriers, I must conclude that stems from my lack of knowledge or insights about the differences between legacy BIOS and UEFI BIOS.  Of course the more modern computers of today have what is called the UEFI BIOS which will permit formatting drives larger than 2TB.  From my readings though, the UEFI BIOS does require some reconfiguration, especially disabling Secure Boot, before setting the desired boot sequence.  It is not as straight forward as it has been in the past using older Legacy BIOS.  Additionally, the terminology surrounding what is called a bootable drive has  shifted.  If I am not mistaken and drawing wrong conclusions, it is my understanding that a MBR or Master Boot Record must be created on drives at 2TB or smaller to make it bootable.  Whereas, if the drive is larger than 2TB, a GPT must be created to make that partition or hard drive bootable.  Perhaps I overlooked this in my readings, but, I never do remember a reference being used for the proper size of partition to use for an operating system like Windows 7 or Windows 8 on the hard drives that are 2TB or larger.  To me, it would make sense to take a very large hard drive like that and divide it into several partitions.  One partition (Primary, bootable one) or C: could be laid aside for the operating system, drive D; could be laid aside for applications, games, utilities, etc. drive E: could be set aside for a music archive, and so forth.  However, that suggestion does bring me to a question though.  Would it not be better to place all installed programs on the same partition with the operating system?  It seems like it would be better that way by speeding up the time the operating system needs to open and close a program because of it being on the same partition.  Just a thought though.

           In closing, I sincerely thank everyone for their shared views and tips.  As with many of my post, I often find answers leading to more in-depth questions which keeps my curiosity and eagerness very much alive.  Each expert with EE always brings with them a special way of looking at a technical situation while exercising a willingness to work with me regardless if I have one follow up question or a dozen.  At times, I feel like I give more of a critique of the responses as opposed to an analytical overview of the outcome of a troubleshooting session.  For that, I am sorry.  I just never want to forget to remind each and everyone of you how important your opinions and insights are to me as a continued learner of EE.  

              Have a great evening everyone.

              George
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by:rindi
ID: 40581908
It seems you have misunderstood several of the points.

1. "...the UEFI BIOS which will permit formatting drives larger than 2TB."

You don't need a UEFI BIOS to use disks larger than 2TB. In order to be able use all the data on a disk larger than 2TB, it just needs to be made a GPT disk. GPT disks are supported by both, legacy and UEFI BIOSes. But is your OS happens to be an m$ OS, you can't boot to a GPT disk if the BIOS isn't also UEFI. But there is no problem booting to an MBR disk and accessing a 2nd disk that is GPT. Other OS's hat aren't from m$ don't have that restriction. You can boo Linux from a GPT disk even if the BIOS is legacy, for example.

2 "...some reconfiguration, especially disabling Secure Boot, before setting the desired boot sequence..."

The boot sequence has nothing to do with "secureboot". Secureboot is a function in the BIOS which checks all your media for certificates that have been accepted as safe to boot from. Those certificates are stored in the BIOS database, and included on the media, but they aren't free. Manufacturers of OS's and boot media would have to buy those certs from the cert. authorities, and then they would have to be added to the BIOS database. Older boot media won't have those yet, besides, needing to buy those certs would make some free software not free anymore, so also those won't always have those certs, even if the software is more trustworthy than an m$ OS... Secureboot is an attempt to keep you booting any other OS than m$ OS under the pretext of keeping malware off.

3. "...MBR or Master Boot Record must be created on drives at 2TB or smaller to make it bootable.  Whereas, if the drive is larger than 2TB, a GPT must be created to make that partition or hard drive bootable..."

MBR or GPT disks don't have anything to do with making the disk bootable. It just defines how much of the disk's size is accessible. An MBR disk limits the accessible size to 2TB, even if the disk is larger, while a GPT disk allows you to access more than 2TB space.
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by:GMartin
ID: 40582001
Hello

            I always thought that the MBR is the area of the hard drive which stores system boot up files needed by the operating system to load.  In other words, the hard drive is not bootable unless the system files are present.  For instance, the older drives would have system files such as the config.sys , autoexec.bat, and I believe sys.com which would allow Windows 95 to load.  It seems reasonable to even the more modern operating systems such as Windows 7 and Windows 8 would follow a similar premise.  Now, the names of these boot up files might be different as compared to the ones used in the Windows 95 and Windows 98 days.  

            With respect to my comments about 2TB and larger hard disk drives, I need to clarify further what I meant by my statements.  I always look at the hard drive consisting of a Primary Partition or C Drive which is the bootable sector of the HDD along with an Extended Partition which acts like a container with Logical Drives.  For older computers which do not have a UEFI BIOS, the hard drive will need to be partitioned off using a utility like GParted Live CD or within the tools given by Windows for disk management to divide up the HDD into 2TB or smaller portions.  With respect toe GPT, I always thought that was a new standard used in defining much larger 2TB HDD and greater and came out about the time of UEFI BIOS.  In other words, if the Primary (bootable partition) is larger than 2TB, then, GPT would be used instead of MBR.  

            In closing, I realize that I am still learning here and certainly do not have all of the answers.  I can merely reflect upon my own conclusions and come forward with them for possible correction and elaboration.  At any rate, just further thoughts here.

            Take care

            George
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by:rindi
ID: 40582239
MBR or GPT doesn't make a disk bootable, for that you require additional bootcode. The first part of the bootcode though is stored in the partition table, whether it is GPT or MBR.

Any disk larger than 2 TB has to be GPT, whether it is the disk you boot from or not, provided you want to access all the space on the disk. If you make a disk that is larger than 2TB an MBR disk, you will only be able to access 2TB of it the rest of the space is lost.

Extended partitions were a way of allowing MBR disks to be divided into more than 4 partitions, as MBR disks only allow you to have a maximum of 4 primary partitions. A further limitation was that Windows OS's could only be installed to primary partitions, as most of the bootcode for those OS's needed to be started from a primary partition. This limit again is not valid for linux, you can install Linux to logical partitions within an extended partition. Only the boot loader from which you choose what OS to boot from needs to be on a primary partition.

GPT disks don't support extended partitions anymore, but it also doesn't have the 4 primary partition limit.
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by:Gerald Connolly
ID: 40582292
And it doesn't help to have your OS on a <2TB partition on a >2TB disk unless you have a BIOS  that can boot from a DISK that is bigger than 2TB  ie UEFI
The size of the partition is irrelevant in this situation
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by:rindi
ID: 40582311
That only applies to m$ OS's. Linux, BSD etc. can handle booting to GPT disks even if the BIOS isn't UEFI. So requiring UEFI to boot to GPT disk is a limit that was introduced by m$'s OS's, either due to poor programming or deliberately, maybe for marketing reasons.
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by:Gerald Connolly
ID: 40583052
The OP was about NTFS , I think we can assume that it's Windows involved
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by:GMartin
ID: 40583099
Hello

              Yes, it is about Windows.  I am not versed or experienced in any of the other operating systems.

               Thanks

               George
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