Be wary of preformatted external hard disk drives

Chances are you'll come across some USB 2.0/FireWire preformatted external hard disk drives as FAT32 file systems. When you do, update them.

External USB 2.0/FireWire hard disk drives, in capacities of 200 GB or more, are becoming quite popular. They're

easier to set up and use than an internal hard drive, since they don't require spelunking around inside a computer. And if the inside of the computer is not readily accessible (i.e., a rack-mounted system), it's doubly useful. They're also extremely versatile: Many people are now doing full-system backups by simply plugging in an external hard drive and writing a backup image directly to the other drive.

Why external hard disk drives are preformatted
Many of these external hard drives come preformatted from the factory for quick use. This spares the user the trouble of having to go through the Disk Management console, mount the volume, format it and assign it a drive letter.

Unfortunately, many of these drives are preformatted as FAT32 volumes. This is quite deliberate, as there are still a few computers out there running earlier versions of Windows that cannot see or deal with NT file system partitions.

Sometimes this problem doesn't manifest itself immediately. For instance, if you connect the external hard disk drive and use a backup product (such as Windows's own NTBACKUP) that writes the backup as one contiguous file, the backup may inexplicably fail after the backup program writes 4 GB. The reason is simple: The FAT32 file system cannot support single files larger than 4 GB. It can support large volume sizes, but no one file can be larger than 4 GB.

Updating preformatted external hard disk drives
The solution is simple enough. The first time you connect such a drive, determine what file system it is through the external drive's Properties page. If it's FAT32, reformat it as NTFS. The only exception to this would be if you're connecting to a non-NTFS-compatible system, of course.

About the Author:
Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Insight, (formerly the Windows Power Users Newsletter), a blog site devoted to hints, tips, tricks and news for users and administrators of Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Vista. He has more than 12 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and SearchSQLServer.com.


Hard disk drive management technical guide

  Introduction 
  Be wary of preformatted external hard disk drives 
  Hard disk drive MTBFs: The four biggest misperceptions
  Hard disk drives dying: Six signs a hard drive is about to fail
  Storage management software helps when hard disk drives fail
  Quick-formatting hard disk drives: A shortcut, but safe
  Erasing hard disk drive data: How many passes are needed? 

 

This was first published in June 2005

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