Why the 2TB Ceiling?

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Why the 2TB Ceiling?

Ask the Doctor LogoI have been putting off building a home file server for more than two years now. I have been patiently waiting for the 2TB SATA hard drives to be surpassed by 2.5TB SATA drives, in the hopes that prices for 2TB hard drives go down to $80 per unit. Needless to say, my patience is running short. It has been more than two years now and hard drive manufacturers seem to have stalled at a 2TB capacity limit for all SATA hard drives.
    
What do you think is causing the stall in hard drive capacity growth? Is it this bad economy? Is it due to Windows XP’s inability to read from hard drives that exceed 2TB? I would really appreciate it if you can provide any insights on when you think this long-standing 2TB capacity limit will be broken with the introduction of 2.5TB hard drives.

—Ivan

There is indeed a 2TB barrier (sorta), but it only applies to boot partitions, not all drives. And not just in Windows XP; it’s a long-standing limitation that is finally being reached by hardware.

Back in the Stone Age, floppy disks were formatted into tiny chunks—512-byte sectors, to be precise. In order to find data on a disk, the drive needs to know where to look, so each sector has an address that the Master Boot Record uses to locate information. The MBR stores disk partition information as 32-bit integers, meaning it can address a maximum of 4,292,964,296 512-byte sectors, or 2,199,023,255,552 bytes. Look familiar? It’s 2.2 tebibytes, or 2TB. Since the MBR can’t allocate addresses to partitions with more than 2TB worth of 512-byte blocks, you can’t boot from them. No problem if you’re booting from another drive, but a bummer for people who really want a massive boot partition.

The solution, as discussed in our June 2010 White Paper, is three-fold. You’ll need a motherboard that uses Extensible Firmware Interface (or EFI) instead of the 32-bit BIOS that’s standard, a GPT-initialized drive (as opposed to MBR), and a 64-bit version of Vista, Windows 7, Linux, or OS X. Only then will you be able to boot from a partition greater than 2TB. Manufacturers have resisted transitioning from BIOS/MBR to EFI/GPT, but as physical drives with more than 2TB of storage become a reality, they may finally have to comply.

So that’s the bad news. The good news is, if you don’t need to boot from it, and just want a storage device that’s greater than 2TB, all you have to do is wait for 3TB drives later this year, as both Western Digital and Seagate are bringing them to market by the end of 2010.

 

SUBMIT YOUR QUESTION Are flames shooting out of the back of your rig? First, grab a fire extinguisher and douse the flames. Once the pyrotechnic display has fizzled, email the doctor at doctor@maximumpc.com for advice on how to solve your technological woes.

 

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SkinnyZeroOne

There is another bothersome snag with the 2 terabyte issue - Namely that hard disk utilities like partionioning software cannot work with disks over 2 terabytes. This is what really is driving me nuts. I have no desire what so ever to boot from a large drive/partition, but I do need to be able to manipulate partitions on them. I currently have 4 640 Gig WDs Black Drives set up in a Raid 0 Array which works out to a 2.32 Gig drive. I have 9 partitions on this array, one of which is where all my games are installed. I cannot use my Paragon Hard Disk Manager Pro to do anything with the partitions as it will not work on disks of this size. This is a much more aggravating than anything else as recently my game partition was running low on space as I've been going bananas buying stuff on Steam. I was limited to using the baked in Windows commands (Win 7 x64) to get myself some more space. I paid over $100 for that program and I really barely use it because of this limitation. It does work with GPT disks, but not over 2 terabytes. One needs to be aware of this in advanced installations. Of coarse, its not their fault but a limit of the Bios as your comment points out. Let me ask you this, do you know of any partitioning software that has found a way around this?

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tyraelphantom

Paragon had just released HDM 2011 Suite which now supports beyond 2.2TB and GPT disk. You should now be able to resize, backup, restore, and copy your hard disk. 

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