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Advanced Format Drives with SmartAlign

A while back I wrote a short primer on the pending transition to 4K sectors in the hard drive industry, now officially anointed as Advanced Format by IDEMA (the standards body managing the coordinating this change in the industry).

Advanced Format is a good thing for the industry because it will help delivery higher capacity drives with stronger error correction capabilities (i.e. reliability). Furthermore, everyone will evenutually need to migrate to the Advanced Format because all hard drive vendors will eventually move to the 4K sector format.  However, customers need to think about how they will manage the transition as there are side effects when hard drive partitions are not created with “4K aware” software. Examples are Windows XP and a number of drive partitioning utilites comonly used by system builders and IT managers.

A new solutionwas recently released from Seagate making this hard drive partiion issue moot! It’s called SmartAlign. What is does is dynamically manage each individual miss-alignment condition within the hard drive firmware and without the host computer even knowing.  Test data confirms that the SmartAlign feature can do this while maintaining performance. This is pretty awesome when you consider that an un-aligned 4K hard drive will typically perform at about 30% of top performance. Ouch!

So if you’re  a system builder or IT guy who is installing or or upgrading a hard drive, which Advanced Format solution would you rather use? A 4k hard drive with a software utility that takes you at least 30 minutes to realign your partitions or a 4K hard drive that works just like the legacy 512 byte drives?  No further questions your honor.


  • I’m getting back into building for my Studio after an illness in
    my family and a great deal of sexist violence in the State of Florida,
    including the use of advanced technologies for forms of traficking and
    the failure to use the same technology to find abducted children, 2 issues I have technology experience with. Simply put I’m tired of presenting research nobody reads, even when lives are at stake. So,
    this may seem like a lazy question to you, but format changes/file type incompatibility and legacy problems have cost me the loss of a great deal of data and time.
    Reviews on popular consumer websites point to Western Digital as still the most reliable hard drives, specifically as compared to Seagate. Are drives with SmartAlign backwards compatible with windows and linux? Retail sellers that target business, but not specializing in IT, rarely have sales people able to explain these
    issues.Why are there reports on consumer review sites of Seagate drives that have to be returned for hardware failure?

  • [...] A while back I wrote a short primer on the pending transition to 4K sectors in the hard drive industry, now officially anointed as Advanced Format by IDEMA (the standards body managing the coordinating this change in the industry)…. read entire post. [...]

  • David Burks

    Sorry about your illness…. Yes, SmartAlign is backward compatible. That’s the key benefit – it behaves just like a legacy hard drive.

    My experience is that you will always find people pro one brand or another in the hard drive business. Quality is a big deal to us and the data I see demonstrates that all HDD companies struggle with low levels of returns base on the technology. Hard drive are very sophisticated electro-mechanical devices and some failures will happen with all brands. It’s always a good practice to back up!

  • Is there a white paper or any technical information on how SmartAlign works? At least with other manufacturers’ drives, you know their alignment offset, which is selectable with a jumper. I’m a little sceptical as to how SmartAlign works. What if one partition has odd alignment, another partition even alignment for example?

    On a related note, the ability to reformat an Advanced Format drive to set the alignment manually would be *really* useful for developers and advanced users. Also, the ability to reformat so the drive uses a *logical* sector size of 4096 bytes. That would help greatly with being able to test software on large-sector drives, without the user having to buy several different models of drive. And of course with 4096-byte logical sectors, there is no alignment problem. (4096-byte logical sector drives would be useful particularly for USB external storage, since the MBR partition system works for up to 16TB drives with 4KB sectors.)

    (By reformat I mean the equivalent of a SCSI FORMAT UNIT command, or other vendor-specific ATA/SCSI command, not an OS-level high-level format.)

  • [...] Just four years ago Seagate was the first to introduce a 750GB drive and now we’ve quadrupled that figure!  Whoa.  And what’s impressive about this is not just the size of the drive, but how it was specially engineered to overcome the technological limitations of the Windows XP OS.  My colleague, David Burks, has a great layman’s version of how this was done that you can check out here. [...]

  • David Burks

    Hi Mark – I don’t have a white paper with details on how SmartAlign works because of IP restrictions. However, suffice it to say that the FW essentially manages the read modify write conditions in the background so the host computer does not have to wait for completion. There’s much more to it that I can’t go into here.

    Regarding an reformatting and Advanced Format drive to set alignment… There are two companies who are supplying utilities to help with proper alignment for Advanced Format drives. Acronis and Paragon. I think they both provide solutions for setting up partitions properly or re-aligning partitions after the fact. Great questions!

  • Will current drive imaging software work with SmartAlign™ drives?
    If so, Seagate would appear to have the superior advanced format product.

  • Stian Oksavik Says:

    SmartAlign makes a lot of promises, but with zero information on how it works, it’s very hard to evaluate the soundness of the design, whether there are any drawbacks, and whether it will work properly in all scenarios.

  • Does the Momentus XT support AFT? I certainly hope it does having just purchased one.

  • Mark Wojtasiak

    @Nik Momentus XT is not a 4K drive, so there is no need for AFT compatibility. Thanks for the question. – Mark

  • thank,download

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