About Contribute Disclaimer Contact News
The information on this site is offered in good faith and no responsibility can be accepted for misuse that leads to loss of data or damaged hardware.
Help Us Improve
Have you spotted an error, or found something confusing or ambiguous? Help us improve our articles......

Google Advert Links
spacer Multibooters.com
working guys icon

Working With the New Partition Alignments
and with Advanced Format Hard Drives

The updated rules for partition placement on a hard drive will require the use of compatible
tools for Advanced Format drives, and caution when using these tools on traditional drives.
advanced format hard drive
There are now many different ways to incorrectly configure partitions on both of the currently available formats of mechanical hard drive. Getting it wrong at best will result in a performance loss, at worst a corrupted or lost partition. Getting it right can require knowing which format a hard drive is;  which partition alignments should be used;  and which tools and utilities will do the job required.

General Overview.
The new alignment settings can be used on both formats of hard drive, but the old alignments should not be used on the new AF drives. The traditional hard drive can be either entirely partitioned to the new alignments, or entirely to the old. While it is not impossible to have a mix of partition alignments on a traditional drive we would advise against it because there are certain circumstances where a conflict of standards during the manipulation or creation of partitions can cause other partitions on a drive to go missing. Before carrying out any operations that involve partitions you should determine the current alignments of any existing partitions on a drive and be sure of which alignment standards the tools and utilities you plan on using are going to work to. If all existing and new partitions and all utilities being used will always be adhering to the new alignment standards, and all installed operating systems are AF certified, then it would be possible to forgo having to identify whether a hard drive is Advanced Format or not.

question mark gif Don't confuse the formatting of a partition or drive's file system with this new underlying 'Format' of the entire drive.

AF logo

Advanced Format Hard Drives.

The crucial rule that must be adhered to when working on an Advanced Format drive is that all partitions should follow the new alignment settings. Any partitioning, cloning, imaging or any other procedure that may move a partition should only be carried out with tools and utilities that work to the new alignment standards. Be aware that the majority of utilities that back-up entire operating systems (such as Ghost and TrueImage) do so by copying and restoring entire partitions. If you use a utility of this nature then it needs to be capable of correctly aligning restored partitions. There are still many supposedly up-to-date third-party partitioning and back-up and imaging tools that are not yet (May 2012) capable of working to the new alignment standards and so should not be used on Advanced Format hard drives. After saying all that however there are a couple of exceptions, Seagate and some Western Digital drives have alternative ways to deal with alignment issues - see the “Exceptions” section below.

af aware operating systems

AF Compatible Operating Systems.

Most contemporary PC operating systems are now Advanced Format aware and will only include tools and utilities that automatically work to the new alignments, (or allow manual configuration for the tech guys). All Windows versions since Vista (except WHS v1) and most current mainstream Linux distros will follow the new standards. By the end of 2012 it will be likely that most store bought machines will be fitted with an Advanced Format drive and be running an AF aware operating system. To the average user these changes will go completely un-noticed and never be an issue if they are only ever using the imaging and the backup and restore tools that were supplied with the machine or the operating system. Even a basic dual or multiboot will be possible without having to know anything about the messy details as long as the only partitioning tools or bootmanager used are those included in AF aware operating systems. Trouble will only ensue if incompatible third party utilities or older operating systems such as Windows XP are allowed to mis-align partitions.

Vista and Win-7 were AF aware out of the box but there have been a few updates to improve compatibility.
info icon Hotfix rollup that improves Windows Vista and Server2008 compatibility with Advanced Format disks.
info icon Update that improves the compatibility of Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 with Advanced Format Disks.

af blind operating systems

Pre Advanced Format Operating Systems.

Windows XP and other Windows OSes and Microsoft tools prior to Vista are not AF aware. With Linux we can’t say exactly when or even if all versions are now Advanced Format optimized, but you would be safe in assuming that all of the big players and their popular spin-off distros will have made the change some time ago. Old copies of popular Linux distros and perhaps some specialized Linux and other Unix derivatives may not have been fully updated to Advanced Format, so allowing such operating systems to create their own partition at install time, or using any of the bundled tools, may result in traditionally aligned partitions.

Many of these older pre-AF operating systems can however still be installed to and run quite happily on traditional hard drives that have had their partitions aligned to the new rules. Some may even perform adequately on the new Advanced Format drives, but you would of course have to prevent them creating their own partitions at install time and be careful that none of the bundled tools in a pre-AF operating system were later used to modify partitions on that drive. Microsoft cautions against running XP on Advanced Format drives and while we can say it is perfectly possible we cannot say it is advised as none of our test were taken to a real world in-anger level. If you were only wanting to use XP in a limited fashion and were prepared for problems then it may be practical, but it certainly would not be advised for a mission critical machine.
See this MS document and scroll down to....Overall Windows support for large sector media

Older Hardware - During 2001 a major hard drive capacity limitation was overcome and drives larger than 120gigs first appeared. Motherboards and their BIOS also had to change and became what was called 48-bit LBA capable. Windows operating systems required updating and that came in the form of SP1 for XP, and SP3 for Win2K. Using the new 4k sector alignments with hardware and operating systems prior to these updates has not been tested by us and we understand it is not advised. Around 2003/4 the PC hard drive was again updated to the SATA interface and most of our testing and work has been carried out on SATA hard drives, however we have done limited testing on the preceding ATA/PATA/IDE hard drives and have not experienced any notable problems with 4k aligned partitions.

Traditional SATA Hard Drives - To Align or Not?
On busy servers and high end gaming machines there may be a slight performance gain from using the new partition alignments on traditional hard drives, but on the average working PC the difference would be minimal at best. The decision to use the new partition alignments may simply come down to whether or not your favored partitioning, imaging, backup or cloning tools are able to work to the new rules. If you wanted to continue using that older version of Ghost or TrueImage, or Partition Magic and Drive Image, then you would have to stick with the old partitioning standards. Using a pre-AF partition changing tool on a drive or partition that has been aligned to the new rules will normally by default revert it to the old alignment standards, which may cause you some issues. In the case of Partition Magic and Drive Image it is even more serious as neither can be used with most things Advanced Format. They will see new alignment partitions as having errors and will want to try and repair them, sometimes with disastrous results. see:- info iconNo More Magic

All current operating systems that have been optimized for Advanced Format are of course backwards compatible and will install and function quite happily on pre-AF hard drives and partitions. Most pre-AF imaging and cloning tools are actually perfectly capable of working with the latest generation of Windows operating systems and even Drive Image and Partition Magic can still function as intended with all versions of Windows on a traditional hard drive if that drive has been partitioned entirely to traditional alignments. As with the opposite scenario mentioned earlier it would be necessary to avoid letting an AF aware operating system create its own partition during install, or for you to use any of the bundled apps or tools that may re-align or create partitions to the new rules.

SSD hard drives SSDs - Solid State Hard Drives
The internals of solid state drives are of course somewhat different to mechanical hard drives and this will eventually put a whole new spin on the way data is managed. For the moment however our operating systems are so engrained in working the way of mechanical drives that SSDs have to essentially mimic being one. They internally emulate the sectors of an Advanced Format hard drive, which means that partition wise we can treat them as we would an AF drive. Applying the same rules and procedures described on this page for an Advanced Format drive will correctly partition a solid state drive.
info icon Some further good reading on all aspects of configuring SSDs can be found in these external web pages:-  Here & Here.

Correcting Mis-Aligned Partitions
If you need to correct the alignments of existing partitions to the new standards then you have a few options:-
    • Start over by deleting partitions and recreating them to the desired alignments, then reinstall and restore data.
    • Recreate partitions and restore an OS image with a tool that can do it without altering partition parameters.
    • Clone a partition and its contents to another location and then clone it back to a correctly aligned position;
    • Use one of the apps that were specifically developed to realign misplaced partitions.
We do not favor the realigning apps because moving the starting point of an existing partition can be a complex, risky and sometimes very lengthy operation if large amounts of data along with file tables and indexes, boot records and boot files, all have to be shunted forward on a drive. If you have a lightweight and non mission critical machine then this may be an easy fix you are willing to risk, but It would be foolhardy on a required working machine without having full backups of operating systems and data and the ability to rebuild a drive. One advantage for some people may be that these tools auto-correct for boot problems caused by a moved partition by updating the BCD (boot configuration data) store.

Our favored and recommended method of backing up a partition is to have a full and up-to-date clone of it on another hard drive, which means we are already more than half way towards the clone method of realigning partitions. The time this method takes is predictable from 30 to 60 seconds per gig of data and is much safer because if something goes wrong, such as a glitch or power outage, we still have our unaffected master clone with which to begin again.

One other but more extreme option would be to use a partitioning utility that has the ability to resize a partition from its front end, which can allow you to move the start of a partition forward a little bit on the drive, then move it back to an aligned position. Of course this is doubly risky and only suggested for people who like gambling. If the partitioning tool has the ability to work to both alignment standards then this method could also be used to restore traditional alignments to partitions that had been inadvertently created to the new rules, but again we would recommend the clone backup and restore method of repositioning a partition. info iconMoving Partition Alignments with Gparted (off-site guide, relevant for HDDs).

Hard Drive Partition Re-Aligning Utilities
There is a $30 utility from Paragon Software that will work for any make of hard drive, or you can get a free copy of either the Paragon or a similar Acronis tool from the website of your hard drive manufacturer. The brand specific versions only work for a single make of hard drive so if you need to work on various makes you will need to download additional versions. All these tools only work on partitions with Windows supported file systems - NTFS, Fat32 and Fat16.... so won't work for Linux partitions.

The introduction of Advanced Format was poorly highlighted and so in many quarters it went completely unnoticed. Not just normal people but admin staff and corporations were caught out and some are still incorrectly configuring AF hard drives. In an effort to smooth the transition to Advanced Format, or perhaps as a way to try and ease their conscience a little for slipping the whole thing in under the radar, a couple of drive manufacturers did develop a way to help make their AF hard drives cope with unaligned partitions.

Western Digital's Drive Jumper.
Western Digital equipped their first “EARS” range of AF drives with a hardware jumper that would force an unaligned partition into line. This only works for the first partition on the drive and so can only be used when the entire drive is one single partition. If at a later time you decide to create another partition the jumper has to be removed, which will wipe away the existing partition and all its contents. The folks over at TomsHardware.com don’t recommend using it and we also advise that you give it a miss and instead take the time to correctly align partitions.

Seagate's SmartAlign™
Seagate’s solution is more comprehensive and uses software in the hard drive’s controller to dynamically compensate for any mis-alignment of partitions. It means it is possible to continue using older utilities that set traditional partition alignments without suffering the resulting performance loss or possible data corruption. Indeed you can forget all about partition alignment and just let the hard drive’s controller deal with it. However, (there is always an however) it removes the need for any user intervention or even any knowledge about Advanced Format, which could lead to the use of various utilities that work to opposite alignment standards. As we mentioned earlier the mixing of partition alignments on a drive does not in itself seem to cause any issues, but the conflicts between opposing partitioning utilities can too often result in the loss or corruption of existing partitions. info iconAdvanced Format and Vanishing Partitions

GUID Partition Table
Hard drives that have been configured with the new GPT style of partitioning should be correctly configured to the new alignment settings. This is because no recent partitioning tool or operating system that is capable of working with a GPT styled hard drive would be creating old alignment partitions. Likewise all older tools that can't recognize or work with a GPT configured hard drive can't be used to create partitions on such a drive.
info iconHow to Determine if a Hard Drive is Configured with the MBR or the GUID Partitioning Schemes.

Spanner guy iconTech Bench Extra techie stuff for the more proficient amongst us.
The Microsoft command line tool Diskpart can be used to manually create specified partition alignments. The consensus for Advanced Format drives is a starting offset of 2048 - eg: align=2048 - more on diskpart here and here. Don't go messing with the command line unless you really know what you are doing. There are few visual clues to confirm the correct drive or partition has been selected, and no easy way back if you get things wrong.

XP Anomaly
The Disk Management utility of XP will when creating partitions follow the lead of the proceeding partition and create a new partition on the very next sector, which means if the proceeding partition was 4k aligned, then the start of the XP created partition will also be aligned. However the end of the XP partition will still adhere to the old standards and finish on a cyl boundary, which means a second partition created with XP will not be 4k aligned. Third-Party alignment checking tools we tried on these half aligned XP partitions showed them as aligned, so they could not be used to realign the end of the partition. We expected that resizing the end of the partition with the Windows Disk Management utility from inside a new-gen Windows would do the job, but this was not the case and original alignments were maintained. Using Gparted to resize the end of the partition in MiB alignment mode did the trick.



up arrowTop of page....
spacermultibooters.com: May 2012 - - Last reviewed or updated: Feb 2013

Google's New Desktop Strategy: Build it straight into Windows by way of Chrome itself. www.infoworld.com

multibooters logo multibooters.com
creative commons licence

All product and company logos, icons and images that are reproduced on this site are the property and trademarks of their respective owners and are used here merely to illustrate their products, NOT to indicate or infer any endorsement or partnership unless otherwise stated. We have endeavored not to reproduce copyrighted images or graphics or infringe upon the rights of any trademark or copyright holder. If you believe or suspect we may have breached the permissible use of copyrighted material then please bring it to our attention. The reproducing or copying of original material from this site is currently allowed for non commercial purposes with the provision that your source is clearly indicated and that a back-link to the referenced information is included. Thank You. See our full  Terms of Use.  Material on this site is not guaranteed to be free of errors.   Multibooters.com   2012 - 2013

Home Sitemap Privacy-Policy About Contact/Feedback Donate Copyright/Legal