How big?Seagate has just announced the release of the world’s first 3TB hard drive to the consumer market. Somewhat surprisingly, the mammoth disk is being released in an external drive, as a part of the company’s FreeAgent GoFlex Desk line, rather than as an internal model.
The big news here isn’t that Seagate have pushed platter density any higher, but that its engineers have overcome another, equally problematic technical hurdle. Older drives used master boot record (MBR) partition tables and 512-byte sectors, which gave a hard limit of a little over 2TB. Modern operating systems are compatible with the newer GUID partition table, which has a limit of 8 zettabytes using the same sector size.
Older operating systems, such as still-popular Windows XP, aren’t able to read from drives with the newer partition tables. To maintain compatibility, the crafty engineers at Seagate have used larger 4KB sectors. The result is that, not only can higher capacities fit within the confines of the old MBR partition tables, but capacity is increased as a result of wasting fewer bytes on the headers at the beginning of each sector. Clever, eh?
However, this raises other problems. Even on newer operating systems, many applications still expect 512-byte sectors. Windows Vista and 7 (as well as Linux and OSX) know this, so nicely package eight 512-byte blocks into each 4K sector. XP is again the problem child though, since it isn’t ‘aware’ of the 4K sectors. This means that it will try to split a 512-byte block across two of the 4K sectors, adding a lot of overhead and generally slowing everything down. Thankfully, Seagate has this one covered too, by using its SmartAlign technology to ensure all data fits properly into the 4K sectors, even on Windows XP.
Outside of the raw tech, Seagate has remained largely tight-lipped on the specs of the new 3.5in drive inside the external casing. The one specification that is certain, though, is that the FreeAgent GoFlex Desk will ship with a USB 2.0 interface. This is a huge disappointment for such a colossal drive, as it will take hours, if not days, to fill the device. However, Seagate offers USB 3.0 and FireWire 800 adapters for all of its GoFlex Desk hard drives at an additional $40 and $50 (around £32 and £40, including VAT), respectively.
The 3TB FreeAgent GoFlex Desk should be available immediately for $250 (around £195, including VAT). We think this one has somewhat missed the point by not shipping with a faster interface straight out of the box, but are still excited to see such a high-capacity drive come to market. If nothing else, this should mean cheaper 1GB and 2GB drives will follow shortly.