Wednesday, 10 March 2010

A Non-Story

I get most of my news from the BBC's News website and I mostly trust their reporting. There are occasionally, however, articles that I know are flawed. As a user of Windows XP I read with interest yesterday's news article entitled Hard drive evolution could hit Microsoft XP users. Go away and read it for yourself then come back and carry on reading here.

You finished reading already?

Now I don't know what the "journalists" intention was when writing that article but it is a complete non-story. Microsoft have made no secret of the fact that they would love every remaining XP user to upgrade to Vista or Windows 7 but a lot of us are quite happy as we are and don't want the expense (time and money) of upgrading our perfectly functional computers. Articles like this seem designed to try and trick unsuspecting users to upgrade in order to avoid a problem that doesn't even exist.

Okay so the change to 4K sectors on hard drives is a bit of an issue. Basically you need to ensure the logical clusters that the operating system writes to the disk align with the physical sectors the disk is constructed from. If they align the disk performs as expected, if they don't then you see a performance drop. I won't go into the details here but if you want to know the technical stuff try reading this informative article. Of course it isn't as if the manufacturers of hard drives haven't thought about this. They don't want to see their products bad-mouthed in the trade press if they under perform. So far the only company to release a disk using this advanced format is Western Digital and they provide two solutions that make the problem disappear. One is a bit of a hack and involves setting a jumper on the disk drive to force it to map a single partition to starting at the beginning of a 4K sector. It's a hack because the drive basically lies to the OS and stores data in a slightly different place. Also it only works if you have a single partition on the disk. The more satisfying solution is to ensure that all partitions start correctly on a 4K boundary and they provide a little utility to do this for you. If you use either of these solutions then you should see the full performance of the drive even under Windows XP. They also make it clear on the label on the drive that if you are using XP you need to apply one of these solutions.

If Western Digital can provide such an easy solution then I'm sure the other hard drive makers will as well. So as I said it is a complete non-story aimed, I believe, at trying to scare people into upgrading away from Windows XP. Maybe the BBC need to take a closer look at the stories their "journalists" write before allowing them to be published on their website.
10 March 2010 at 10:00 , Rob said...

A non-story indeed. You've got to imagine that over 90% of hard disks sold go into new machines running the latest OS versions. Probably over 90% of the remaining upgrades will go to Vista or newer machines anyway leaving this story worrying about 1% of hard disk sales. And as you point out that there are two (count 'em) perfectly viable solutions, so we're truly left with nothing to worry about.

I like you're write up though - and hadn't heard of the non-story previously. I guess for bonus marks we could go in search of the Western Digital press release that the article is presumably regurgitating :)

11 March 2010 at 11:34 , GB said...

So I've just read a blog posting about an press article about a non-story. That was a bit of a waste of time then!!

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