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Seagate Readies 3TB Hard Drive, but 2.1TB Wall Will Hit Users

Gordon Kelly


Seagate Readies 3TB Hard Drive, but 2.1TB Wall Will Hit Users

What could be better than a two terabyte drive?

Actually the answer may not be as simple as a 3TB drive. Seagate senior product manager Barbara Craig confirmed the massive HDD's existence to Thinq late last night saying "we are announcing a 3TB drive later this year", but it comes with two huge caveats.

1. Only 64bit Windows 7, Vista, Mac OS X and "modified versions of Linux" will be able to read drives larger than 2.1TB. According to Seagate this is because - brace yourself for the sciency bit - the LBA (logical block addressing) standard built into the original version of DOS (yes, it's apparently still a factor) cannot assign enough addresses (identifiers) to all the sections of a drive beyond 2.1TB. In 64bit systems a 'Long LBA' circumvents this.

So say goodbye 32bit OSes and - even worse - these OSes can't even see 2.1TB if a 3TB drive is fitted. Instead Craig points out just 990 megabytes is recognised based on their tests, so it's a complete fail. The problem also affects RAID setups with Long LBA compatible drivers also required and don't even get started on the complexities of NAS support.

2. Even if you do have a 64bit OS, you won't be able to use a 3TB HDD as a boot drive unless you have a GUID partition table (GPT) which is currently limited to UEFI capable motherboards. UEFI has been knocking around for ages, but widespread support is still some way off. Does your mobo support it?

Yes the demand for 3TB hard drives is going to be niche initially, but more worrying is that the tech sector seems horribly unprepared for it. Given that we reviewed our first 2TB HDD (the Western Digital Caviar Green back in January 2009), you'd have thought the industry would have done more to get us ready.

Perhaps the most interesting knock-on effect in all this could be the boost this bottleneck gives to SSDs. With HDDs' rise beyond 2.1TB seemingly hamstrung for the near future it gives solid state drives time to both increase capacity and come down in price, time HDD manufacturers must be dreading...

Link: Thinq


May 18, 2010, 5:52 am

Caveat two isn't that much of an issue. People rarely buy a new system with the absolute biggest drive on the market. The price sweet spot usually means that drives half the size of the largest gets put into new system.

Also anyone who will immediately buy a 3TB drive will have the cash, and prefer, an SSD for the boot drive/OS anyway, for performance reasons. So this 2.1TB limit won't necessarily 'speed' the uptake of SSD's.

The real bummer is that you won't be able to use these in a set-top box/DVR device! They better have a warning on the box. Though since the HDD manufacturers are still doggedly misrepresenting the "usable" space on drives after decades... they probably won't care.


May 18, 2010, 8:01 am

Do all intel-based mac pros support these then, taking conditions 1 & 2 seem to have already been satisfied?


May 18, 2010, 8:55 am

I'd hate to imagine the consequences of a drive such as this failing. The words 'eggs' and 'basket' suddenly spring to mind.

Digital Fury

May 18, 2010, 10:00 am

@ffrankmccaffery yes all ICBMs are covered: EFI, GUID, 64-bit support (you have it even if you don't boot the 64-bit kernel)


May 18, 2010, 10:53 am

For me the biggest disappointment of Windows 7 was the release of a 32bit version. In 2010 we should't have to worry about the restrictions of a 32bit OS.


May 18, 2010, 11:56 am

I have to seriously aks what enthusiast won't have more than 3GB of RAM - meaning they will have a 64bit OS. Servers are a different ball park but I doubt this will servilely limit there uptake.


May 18, 2010, 11:57 am

@Digital Fury - they put these things in Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) now?


May 18, 2010, 1:04 pm

@interpleb - If you didn't have a 32-bit version, you wouldn't have been seeing Win7 on all the netbooks. So blame Intel.


May 18, 2010, 1:55 pm

You would have to lick an awful lot of windows to be using a 3TB Harddisk as your main boot drive.

Anyone not on a 64bit OS within the next year and a half, well, then if this is finally what gives them the push so be it. 64Bit has been great the last few years now and I see even most basic PC's come with it as standard now. Non-issue.


May 18, 2010, 2:10 pm

Imagine the seek times when that 3TB drive gets loaded! I'd never implement a drive of that size in my infrastructure at work.

On a side note, since I got my VAIO Z with it's flashy RAID 0 config, I'd rather have performance over capacity.


May 18, 2010, 2:15 pm

Whilst it may be true that Long LBA is only supported on 64 bit versions of Windows, there is nothing to prevent a 32 bit operating system from using Long LBA.


May 18, 2010, 2:26 pm

@Interpleb & @Runadumb:

There are still plenty of applications out there that won't run on Windows 64-bit. I bought a new laptop last month (with W7 64-bit) as a replacement for my old tablet (W7 32-bit), and tried to install some Oracle BI products on to it - no go, despite them working OK on the old tablet.


May 18, 2010, 2:26 pm

"modified versions of Linux" ? what a joke ! ext3 is commonly used, and has a max.filesystem size of 32 TB ...


May 18, 2010, 3:28 pm

@swift11: fundamentally it's not a filesystem issue, but how the operating system driver communicates with the hard disk and addresses sectors on the disk.


May 18, 2010, 3:35 pm

@Kaurisol seriously? I thought we were past such nonsense. Also I thought it was only 64bit Drivers that were a problem. Thats the only single issue I had when I went to vista 64bit around 3 years ago. My wifi card wouldn't work but then thats because the manufacture dropped support. Hence why I gave my money to someone else for a working wifi card. I haven't had a single issue since and im now on w7 64bit


May 18, 2010, 7:24 pm

The bigger the drive the better! Well, until you try running a full Scandisk or something on it. How many hours, or is it days, would that thing take?


May 18, 2010, 9:02 pm

@KB depends what you put on it. If you fill it with game and application installs (which would take a lot of games!) then it will take a while to scan. If you fill it with video and audio (most likely what you'd use this drive for) then it won't take that long to scan. Virus scanners don't take that long to deal with thousands of video and audio files.


May 18, 2010, 9:18 pm

@BobaFett:" the LBA standard built into the original version of DOS cannot assign enough addresses to all the sections of a drive beyond 2.1TB" How can this affect Linux ?


May 18, 2010, 9:46 pm

@jopey - that's just checking the files. I'm talking about a full scan, checking the disk for bad sectors.


May 19, 2010, 1:33 am

@swift11: I agree it's all a bit confusing since 48 bit LBA with 512 byte sectors would imply a maximum disk size of 131,072 TiB. However it appears that the DOS partition scheme which uses a 32 bit value for addressing sectors is where the 2.1TB limit comes in. So you need a BIOS and OS that support GUID partition tables. Found a decent explanation here along with other issues arising from a move towards a 4KiB sector size:


And here's some info on the Linux ATA drivers:



May 19, 2010, 12:15 pm

@BobaFett: Thanks for the links;

another good one: http://lwn.net/Articles/377...


May 19, 2010, 4:50 pm

Windows doesn't clearly explain the benefits/drawbacks of formatting to GUID. A message simply popped up when I was formatting my 1.5tb hard drive saying "If you choose this option, you may not be able to boot." However reading that GUID was neccessary for future proofing I decided to opt for it on my secondary drive. When I replace my main drive, I'll be formatting that to GUID, as I'm assured that Windows 7 64bit is UEFI compliant. But this needs to be cleared up and explained more simply.

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