New Hard Drives Trouble for WinXP, Home Server Users

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft has warned users of its Windows Home Server technology that they could have problems using newer hard drives. It follows earlier warnings that the drives are also problematic for Windows XP users.

Drives Use Advanced Format Technology

The situation involves sectors, the individual chunks into which a hard drive is divided. The standard size of each sector has traditionally been 512 bytes, but some drives are already using a 4 kilobyte sector, and this will become the standard size for all drives after 2011.

The new drives are referred to as having "Advanced Format" technology, similar to Western Digital EARS series of hard drives.

The reason for the change is that not all of each sector is used for the data itself: some is reserved for a marker, spacing and an error code. Switching to larger sector sizes means there are fewer sectors, and thus less of the drive is taken up by this extra information, making the drive more efficient.

The larger sectors also create room for more detailed error codes, thus improving reliability.

Performance Slowdown on Older OS

It had already been noted that XP users could experience performance slowdowns if they installed the new drives. That's because, unlike Vista and Windows 7, Windows XP was created without any expectation that 4k sectors would ever be used. This creates a need for a brief extra step when writing information to the drive, which can add up to a noticeable slowdown.

Windows Home Server Users Warned

Now, Microsoft has noted there may be similar problems with Windows Home Server. That's a system designed for consumers with multiple computers that allows them to use one main computer as a server and the other machines as clients. This makes it easier to carry out automatic backups from one machine to another, or to stream media files from one machine to another (including the Xbox 360 video game console).

Microsoft is now warning that users should not install the newer drives (which are marketed as Advanced Format) in the machine they use as the server. Although it will still technically work, doing so will mean "performance degradation". The company says it is "critical" to avoid using the newer drives on the server machine. (Source:

Though Microsoft hasn't detailed the problem, it is likely that the delay is magnified where information is transferred between computers.

Windows Home Server "Vail" Recently Released

The newer drives will work fine when installed on a client machine. They will also be fully compatible, even on server machines, with the next edition of Windows Home Server, which is currently codenamed Vail and was recently released for public beta testing. (Source:

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