New breed of hard disks could leave XP users with performance issues

It may be old news, but it’s better to be safe than to be sorry: by 2011, all hard disks will utilize a different format that will significantly change the way data is stored, and if you’re still on Windows XP by then, you may be setting yourself up for a whole bunch of problems.

Read on for more information.

If you’re currently planning on getting a new hard disk sometime in 2011 but refuse to upgrade to a more modern operating system like Windows Vista or Windows 7, do take note: you might end up causing your computer to suffer significant slowdowns when writing or reading data from the new hard disk.

According to a report by BBC News, all new hard drives in the market will soon use a different and “advanced format” that fundamentally alters how data is written to the device, and the change is set to be completed by early 2011.

The new format will make it easier for manufacturers to “produce bigger drives that use less power and are more reliable”, but might end up causing more problems for Windows XP users, especially for those who just insert one of these new drives for use with the operating system.

Unlike current hard disks which make use of 512 byte sectors, a trait which stretches back all the ways to the days of floppy disks and DOS-based operating systems, the new hard disks will ditch the 512 byte in favor of a 4k sector, “means about eight times less wasted space but will allow drives to devote twice as much space per block to error correction”.

In addition to allowing more data to be stored on the disk, the 4K sector format also allows manufacturers “to make more efficient use of the real estate on a hard drive”.

However, as Windows XP was released way before the 4K format was confirmed as a standard by manufacturers, it has completely no support for the new format and is thus vulnerable to any potential performance issues that may result when using such a hard disk on a Windows XP system.

In contrast, Vista, Windows 7, Mac OS X versions Tiger and above, as well as versions of the Linux kernel released after Spetember 2009 are “4K aware” and are not likely to suffer from any issues when the transition to 4K sector hard disks is complete.

And while the new formats allow for emulation so as to ‘trick’ Windows XP or older OSes into thinking that the hard disk is still running on 512 byte sectors, much like how SATA drives allowed for IDE emulation in the past, there can be significant performance hits when the OS tries to write data into the hard disk.

Mr Burks from Seagate claims that the performance drop will be noticeable, and cautions that in certain cases the performance hit could reach up to 10%.

Source: BBC News

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