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Preparing A Hard Disk For Use In Windows XP
When a hard drive manufacturer ships a hard drive, they don’t know what kind of computer system it will end up in, so they ship them in a raw, unprepared state.
When you add a new hard drive to your computer (covered in Part 1), the operating system you’re using (Windows, Linux, Unix, etc.) prepares the drive for use with the correct file system (FAT32 , NTFS, ext3, ReiserFS, etc.). For the most part, they are all incompatible between operating system platforms, which is why manufacturers ship them unprepared.
Preparing a hard drive for use In Windows XP is called formatting, where the sectors of the hard drive are arranged in the correct way so that your operating system can read and write data from and to it.
Hard disks can also be divided into individual sections called partitions, each of which can be seen by the operating system as a separate disk drive, each with its own drive letter and individually formatted.
Therefore, in order to use your newly installed hard drive, you must first create one or more partitions on it and then format each partition.
This is much easier than you might think, and in Windows, Microsoft has provided a nice and easy-to-use program to get the job done quickly and easily: the Computer Management utility.
Note: The following procedure assumes you have installed a new disk drive. However, the process can also be used as a last resort with older units that are starting to become problematic, as it can often breathe new life into a dying unit. More on this at the end of the article.
Open Control Panel and locate the Administrative Tools icon. Double-click it to open it. Double-click the Computer Management icon, and when the window opens, click Disk Management near the bottom of the left side. Double-click the window’s title bar at the top to make it full screen.
This will show you all the drives that Windows can see. Hard disk drives (internal and external) appear at the top and CD/DVD-ROMs appear at the bottom of the list. The space of each unit is represented by a box that runs across the screen. Partitions are shown as segments within boxes (a drive can have multiple partitions, each with its own drive letter).
Working partitions have a blue stripe across the top and the text should say Health. This may be followed by (System) or (Active) if the drives have an operating system and are bootable.
(New) unpartitioned drives should say “Unallocated” and have a black stripe instead of blue.
The drive at the top of the list should be disk 0 and is usually shown as (C:). You should see your new drive somewhere below.
The first thing you need to do is create one or more partitions…
Warning: Make sure you don’t select the wrong drive. Doing the following with a drive other than the one most recently installed (the one marked “Unassigned”) will delete all data currently on it and never be seen again.
Right click on your new drive box and a menu will appear. Left-click on the “New partition…” entry.
On the next screen, leave the primary partition selected and click Next again.
A drive can contain one or more partitions, so on this screen you need to decide how many partitions you want and how big you want each partition to be by providing the size in MB. For example, if your new drive is a 250 Gig drive, you might want it to be one 250 Gig drive, two 125 Gig drives, or even one 50 Gig and 2 100 Gig drives!
Note: Each partition will appear in Windows Explorer as a separate drive, with its own drive letter, such as E:, F: G:, etc.
If you just want to use the entire space as a single drive, the partition size is already set to the maximum value for the drive, so just click the Next button.
If you want to split the unit into two smaller units, you need to change the value on the screen.
There are 1024 MB in 1 gigabyte, but for easier math, you won’t get far if you use 1000 MB to decide which number to write. For example, if you want a partition EXACTLY 10 Gig in size, the number you need to enter is 10 x 1024 (10240 MB). If you enter 10000 (10 x 1000), you end up with a partition 9.77 gig in size, close enough to 10 gig for most of us…
In fact, hard drive manufacturers use 1000, so when your new “250 Gig” drive is installed, Windows will tell you that there is only less than 233 Gig of free space. 17 Gig gone instantly!
As an example, I have a 60 Gig drive and wanted to split it equally to get two 30 Gig partitions. The first partition I created with a size of 30720 (1024 x 30). I then created a second partition with the remaining ’30’ Gig on the drive. When I finished, Windows told me that the second drive was not 30 gigs, but 25.8 gigs. Almost the same huh?
Using 1000 instead of 1024, the drives ended up a bit closer in size, weighing in at 29.29 and 26.59 Gig respectively.
advice: If you want a drive to have more or less two partitions of the same size, divide the indicated drive size by 2, then use 950 as a multiplier. For a so-called 60 Gig drive, this would be 30 x 950 (28500) for the first partition size and the remainder for the second. This gives you a 27.83 Gig drive and a 28.05 Gig drive, very close to a 50/50 split.
But let’s assume for now that we only want a single partition. Leave the default maximum value in the box and click the Next button. You will then see the Assign Drive Letter screen.
Here you can specify which drive letter you want this partition to have. I always leave this section exactly as it is and just click Next; you can always change it later if you need to.
The final screen is the Format Partition screen. A partition must be formatted at some point before Windows can use it, so you might as well do it now.
Leave the Format option on and do not change the file system; leave it as NTFS for Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7. Windows 95 and earlier versions of Windows did not support NTFS, so you would choose FAT32 only for those operating systems.
You can also leave the allocation unit size as default.
However, you can change the volume label to whatever you want. For example, if you want to store your MP3 collection on this drive, you can enter “Music” for the label.
Finally, check the “Perform a quick format” box. I only leave this option off for a full format if I’m trying to revive an old drive that’s playing. With it enabled, the formatting process takes seconds… instead of forever!
Click Next and you’ll see a summary of what will happen if you continue, with the option to cancel if you choose the wrong setting. Click the Finish button.
The drive letter and “Format” appear for a few seconds and if all goes well, you should see the volume label you typed and the word “Healthy”.
That’s all you have to do!
Close the Computer Management program and the Administrative Tools window (if it’s still open) and run Windows Explorer (or select Start… My Computer).
Look at the list of drives and you should see your new drive somewhere on the list and you can start moving your data.
Extending the life of an old disk drive
All magnetic media wears down after continuous use. Anyone who has ever used the old audio cassette tapes will tell you that after a while the sound quality drops and the amount of hissing increases.
Hard drives are similar. After many months or years of continuous use, they can start to generate read or write errors and most people at this point trash them.
But, the disk preparation process described above, (with a couple of slight changes), can often extend the life of an unreliable drive, often by months or even years. Ok, sometimes it doesn’t work and if it does there’s no guarantee it will stay working for long, but it doesn’t cost anything to try…
The resulting “revived” drive will not be “out of factory” again by any stretch of the imagination and should not be considered 100% reliable or used as a primary boot drive. However, it should be fine as a secondary data drive to store things you can easily replace (or have backed up), in case it fails again in the future (which it most certainly will.. .eventually).
So, to try to revive an old hard drive, the first thing to do is copy as much data as you can to it before you start. This is due to the following procedure IT WILL ERASE EVERYTHING ALREADY ON THE DRIVE.
Notice the clever use of caps? I did this because it’s important because if you continue, everything on the drive will be lost…forever! Ok, don’t say I didn’t warn you…
If nothing major, note the drive letter in Windows Explorer and follow the above process, but with the following procedural changes:
When you’re in the Disk Management section of the Computer Management utility, when you locate the drive you’re working on, it shouldn’t say “Unallocated” and have a black bar over it. It will probably say “Healthy” and have a blue stripe across it.
If it’s a blue stripe, instead of right-clicking the box and choosing “New Partition…”, you should first delete the old one by selecting “Delete Partition…”.
Once you’ve done that and it now says Unallocated and has a black stripe (or if it was already an unallocated drive), continue with the above procedure until you get to the screen with the checkbox to select a quick format.
This time, do NO tick the box This will do a full disk format and is the bit that tries to revive bad sectors on the drive by writing and reading data from it (destroying what was already there in the process).
If a sector still has errors, it is marked as bad and a table of bad sectors is created. When your operating system accesses the drive later, it refers to this table so it knows where the bad sectors are and avoids them.
This can take a long time to do compared to a quick format and depends on both the size of the drive and how bad it is. You could be looking at hours instead of minutes…
Note: Bad sectors on a hard drive can sometimes be caused by the magnetic coating starting to break down. The problem is, when this happens, it’s like a rash on your arm: it can spread. One bad sector can “infect” others, and after a while nearby perfectly good parts of the disk can also fail. Remember that a full format can mark a bad sector and redirect to a good one, but the “infected” bad one is still sitting on the disk.
Once the format is complete, you’re done and you can copy data over there from it to try it out. As mentioned before, don’t just assume your drive is back to 100% and be disappointed if you still get errors when testing it.
Instead, assume it’s still buggy and be pleasantly surprised if the bugs go away!
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