Category Archives: USB3-SATA-U3

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Understanding Large SATA Drive Compatibility

This post is intended to offer detailed technical information for troubleshooting issues affecting new “Advanced Format” 512e SATA disk drives.

Plugable’s full-size 3.5″ hard drive docks, the USB3-SATA-UASP1, and USB3-SATA-U3, both feature support for these new 512e Advanced Format drives. Our Plugable Storage System “PSS” products also support 512e large volumes (as soon as 2.5″ drive capacities increase and these drives become available in smaller sizes than 3.5″).

Currently two firmware “tracks” exist for Plugable’s USB 3.0 SATA docks:

1. 32 bit Windows ONLY firmware version for the USB3-SATA-U3, 12092681f600.
This firmware has a special feature enabling use of more than 2.19 TB of space on “Advanced Format” or 512e drives under 32 bit Windows operating systems. See chart under “evolution” below for maximum capacity supported by your OS version.

2. 32/64bit interoperable firmware versions USB3-SATA-UASP1 130107917d00 and USB3-SATA-U3 13022081f602.
These firmware versions are recommended for most consumers. Anyone using a modern 64 bit OS is should use one of these newer versions. Other, newer, operating systems WILL be able to access the full capacity of larger volumes natively, eliminating the need for any special firmware in the drive dock.

The feature that enables using capacities above 4TB on Windows XP 32 bit requires that drives initialized and formatted using the unit NOT be used with other SATA controllers in desktop PC’s or other drive docking stations, unless those units also have a matching firmware version and support for this feature.

To summarize, for customers needing support for volumes over 2.19TB on Windows XP 32 bit systems, U3 units currently shipping with firmware 12092681f600 are recommended, while customers on all newer OS versions are advised to update to the latest firmware for your model listed below in order to minimize the chance for errors where drives cannot be detected when moved to another dock or SATA controller.

For the USB3-SATA-U3, refer to our USB3-SATA-U3 Firmware Update post if you are interested in resolving compatibility issues specific to the U3 Communicator drive docking station units with serial numbers beginning in 991 or 112 where drives formatted and initialized in other devices are not recognized by the U3.

For the USB3-SATA-UASP1, shipping units should NOT require update. To confirm your unit has the latest firmware and apply the update if needed please refer to the USB3-SATA-UASP1 Sleep and Large Volume Firmware Update post for details on how to resolve issues where the UASP1 may not spin down hard drives during periods of inactivity, or recognize newer Advanced Format drives only under Windows XP 32 bit.

Background

The storage model used by disk makers for the last 10+ years is changing, and this post is an effort to explain how these changes work in detail. In case of issues moving drives between different systems, or when encountering issues using USB attached drives to host enterprise application data, the details here can help understand what factors are at play.

Data is stored fundamentally in bits (bits with a little b). Busses like USB often measure throughput in bits, like USB 2.0′s 480 Megabits per second (480 Mbps) or SATA III’s Gigabits per second (6 Gbp/s). Eight of these individual bits of data make up one of the capital-B “Bytes” that we usually measure data in, be it kilobytes (KB) in a document, MegaBytes (MB) in an MP3, or GigaBytes (GB) of data on a storage volume like a hard drive or SSD. Generally speaking, transfer rates industry-wide are measured in bits so transfer rates appear higher than if they were measured the same way the data is actually stored, in Bytes.

On modern solid state drives and traditional hard or even floppy disks, these bytes are grouped into sectors for actual read/write operations. Over the last decades, almost all storage drives used 512 Bytes per sector to store data since addressing individual bits and Bytes would be impractical.

Having all drives at 512 bytes per sector was nice, as there were few compatibility issues to think about when moving drives between systems or SATA docks, or when cloning them.

Evolution

512 byte sectors present problems with larger capacity drives (3TB+)- to make way for larger drives, sector sizes had to grow. This presents challenges throughout the “software stack” from the SATA hardware controllers and their firmware, their drivers, the operating system, and even to how applications may sometimes assume certain sector sizes or where sectors will start. Resulting issues are numerous and will take time for the industry to fully work out.

Over the past few years, Advanced Format Drives (512e, AF) drives reporting 512 Bytes/”logical” sector while actually using physical sectors of 4096 Bytes/”physical” sector have gained in popularity due to their higher data density potential, and resulting larger capacities. For more on how these drives work and why the industry switched, read this great ZD net post. Soon, we’ll be seeing drives that use 4096B logical and physical sectors.

Drive type Support/functionality
4K native (4K logical sector size) Supported on the following operating systems:

  • Windows 8
  • Windows Server 2012
Advanced Format or 512E (4K physical and 512-byte logical sector size) Supported on the following operating systems:
  • Windows Vista
  • Windows 7
  • Windows Server 2008*
  • Windows Server 2008 R2*
  • Windows Server 2012
  • Windows 8

*Except for Hyper-V. See the “Application support requirements for large-sector drives” section.

Specific requirements are listed in the following section. Run only applications and hardware that support these drives.

512-byte native (512-byte physical and logical sector size) Supported on all platforms.

*from Microsoft support policy for 4K sector hard drives in Windows

As you can see from the table above, determining whether you have a 512n (drive with reported and physical sectors of 512 bytes), 512e (the 512 emulation 4096 “Advanced Format” drives with physical 4096B clusters), or 4Kn (drive with both reported and physical sectors of 4096B) is crucial to determine which Windows operating systems will be able to recognize the drive.

On OS X, large volume support is somewhat better, with effectively no limits on volume size in modern OS X versions:

Maximum number of volumes (all Mac OS X versions)

no limit

Maximum number of files (or files and folders) in a folder (all Mac OS X versions)

up to 2.1 billion (2)

Maximum volume size and file size (Mac OS X v10.0 – 10.1.5)

2 TB (1)

Maximum volume size and file size (Mac OS X v10.2 – 10.2.8)

8 TB (1)

Maximum volume size and file size (Mac OS X v10.3 – 10.3.9)

16 TB (1)

Maximum volume size and file size (Mac OS X v10.4 or later)

close to 8 EB (1,3)

*From Mac OS X: Mac OS Extended format (HFS Plus) volume and file limits

How to check your drive’s sector size

To determine if you have an 512e Advanced Format Drive, open an administrative command prompt and run the following command on the NTFS formatted volume:

fsutil fsinfo ntfsinfo [your drive]

[your drive] will be the letter of the disk you’re testing, so c: or d: etc.

The output will look like this, with the bold portion below being the relevant information. Bytes per Sector of 512 and bytes per Physical Sector of 4096 indicate a 512e drive:

C:\Windows\system32>fsutil fsinfo ntfsinfo h:
NTFS Volume Serial Number : 0x8a0c5e820c5e68e9
NTFS Version : 3.1
LFS Version : 1.1
Number Sectors : 0x00000001d1bcafff
Total Clusters : 0x000000003a3795ff
Free Clusters : 0x000000003a3671d7
Total Reserved : 0×0000000000000000
Bytes Per Sector : 512
Bytes Per Physical Sector : 4096

Bytes Per Cluster : 4096
Bytes Per FileRecord Segment : 1024
Clusters Per FileRecord Segment : 0
Mft Valid Data Length : 0×0000000000040000
Mft Start Lcn : 0x00000000000c0000
Mft2 Start Lcn : 0×0000000000000002
Mft Zone Start : 0x00000000000c0000
Mft Zone End : 0x00000000000cc820
Resource Manager Identifier : DB59D441-7AD6-11E2-BEE8-00027232D73D’

If your drive reports:
Bytes Per Sector : 512
Bytes Per Physical Sector : 512

This one of the 512n volumes commonly used over the last decade. Support for these drives is universal.

If your drive reports:
Bytes Per Sector : 512
Bytes Per Physical Sector : 4096

The volume is operating in 512e mode, and should be recognized by most Windows Vista (SP1 and later) systems, as well as by newer Windows 7 and 8 PC’s. Windows 7 and Server 2008 users who do not have Service Pack 1 installed need a system update for 512e compatibility.

Macs should also be able to see the volume with no issue, however do not have native NTFS write capabilities, so they may only be able to read the drive.

If your drive reports:
Bytes Per Sector : 4096
Bytes Per Physical Sector : 4096

A special feature of the U3 firmware v12092681f600 that re-emulates a larger 4096B logical sector to enable Windows XP to address volumes larger than 2TB was used to partition the volume. This is a convenient way to enable access to capacities beyond 2TB on 512e large volumes under Windows XP, by increasing the sector size, we are able to overcome the 2.19TB limitation for NTFS volume sizes that 32 bit systems inherently were limited to.

Other storage controllers (besides the ASMedia controllers and firmwares combination below) will not be able recognize the drive without re-initialization and formatting- which would destroy all the data on the volume. The drive will remain accessible in U3 docks with firmware v12092681f600, or in UASP1 docks with firmware v121026910000. If using the drive with other storage controllers is important, make sure to backup all data before updating the dock firmware to v13022081f602 for the U3, or v130107917d00 for the UASP1.

How to clean and re-initialize a volume

Moving volumes initialized with 4096B sector re-emulation to other SATA controllers (other drive docks or PC SATA connections) may result in drives that are visible in disk manager but with no partitions, and no option to re-format the drive since the “new” (non U3) SATA controller doesn’t support the 4096B sector re-emulation. In this case, wiping the drive is necessary to use it on the new controller.

Customers seeking to use a 512e drive initialized on another storage controller not also offering 4096 sector re-emulation mode (most docks fit this description) will also be affected by this issue. This is because of a work around implemented in the U3′s firmware for Windows XP’s 2tb volume limitation.

Customers with a U3 who are more interested in interoperability than in large volume support on 32 bit Windows XP are invited to contact support@plugable.com for options. In short, applying firmware version 13022081f602, will disable the 4096B sector re-emulation feature of the U3. Cleaning and re-initializing the volume after applying firmware update 13022081f602 will allow the volume to be used interchangeably on the widest variety of platforms possible.

Wiping a misaligned drive’s partition table will allow the volume to be re-initialized as though it were new, and a new partition table may be written when the disk is re-formatted.

Performing the following steps will destroy all data on the disk selected, so these steps must be performed with extreme caution.

To check for all attached volumes, open an administrative command prompt and enter diskpart, then enter the list disk command as shown below, and select the disk of your choice to clean. After selecting whichever disk number you want to wipe, the clean command will destroy the partition table and allow you to re-initialize the volume.

C:\Windows\system32>diskpart

Microsoft DiskPart version 6.2.9200

Copyright (C) 1999-2012 Microsoft Corporation.
On computer: GRANDCENTRAL

DISKPART> list disk

Disk ### Status Size Free Dyn Gpt
——– ————- ——- ——- — —
Disk 0 Online 111 GB 1024 KB
Disk 1 Online 1863 GB 0 B
Disk 2 No Media 0 B 0 B
Disk 3 No Media 0 B 0 B
Disk 4 No Media 0 B 0 B
Disk 5 No Media 0 B 0 B
Disk 6 Online 1862 GB 0 B
Disk 7 No Media 0 B 0 B
Disk 8 Online 465 GB 0 B

DISKPART> select disk 8

Disk 8 is now the selected disk.

DISKPART> clean

DiskPart succeeded in cleaning the disk.

DISKPART>

From here the disk is blank and can be re-initialized and formatted with whatever partitions are desired. Most consumers will not need to be aware of the other issues that can arise with Advanced Format volumes in enterprise applications.

Partition Alignment

If the performance of your 512e large volume has degraded when being moved from system to system, partition alignment issues may be the cause. Issues with non-bootable cloned volumes may also be due to improperly aligned partitions. Western Digital and Hitachi offer drive alignment utilities for affected operating systems. Seagate drives should not require alignment. Customers with other brands of drives will need to check with the manufacturer of their drive to determine if an alignment tool is available and/or necessary. Partition alignment issues often affect older Windows Vista and Windows XP systems where drives are frequently accessed on other operating systems.

Before initializing a new drive, using a large volume with Windows XP, or especially before cloning an Advanced Format Western Digital drive, please check the chart below to determine if aligning your drive is necessary for maximum performance and compatibility with your software environment.

Using your WD Advanced Format Hard Drive with a Windows Operating System may require you to run the WD Align Windows software utility after you install your operating system or partition and format the drive as a secondary drive. The WD Align software aligns existing partitions on the Advanced Format drive to ensure it provides full performance for certain configurations. (Please see table for configuration details)

Running Hitachi’s “HGST Align” tool may be necessary for Windows XP or Windows Vista users. Windows 7 and Windows 8 users should not need to use this utility.

Windows support in the enterprise

Most end-users won’t need to worry about drive sector sizes, partition alignment, or any of the details above. Due to the specific issues documented by Microsoft with some of their enterprise applications, thorough planning for drive purchasing and migration is crucial in enterprise environments leveraging the following technologies:

*from “Microsoft support policy for 4K sector hard drives in Windows.

For more details on 512e and 4Kn Advanced Format support across Windows versions, application specific issues, other known issues, and unsupported scenarios, read Microsoft support policy for 4K sector hard drives in Windows.

Further details on the evolution from 512n to 512e and 4Kn drives are available in this presentation from IDEMA (International Disk Drive Equipment and Materials Association).

Deeper technical details for driver developers are available in Microsoft’s “Advanced format (4K) disk compatibility update (Windows)” article.

[usb3-sata-uasp1-post][usb3-sata-u3-post]

USB3-SATA-U3 (ASMedia 1051e) Firmware Update

Plugable is pleased to announce that a firmware update for our USB3-SATA-U3 adding the following features is now available:

  1. Improved support for 512e “Advanced Format” drives.
  2. Spin down disks after 10 minutes of inactivity, resume on access.
  3. Spin down disks on system sleep, resume on system wake.

Any customers who have a USB3-SATA-U3 in roughly March-August 2012 who are NOT using 32 Bit PC and wishing to access volumes above 2.19TB should apply this update. To be clear, this update is recommended for most users with docks beginning with serial numbers 991 101, or 102.

For customers with older docks with serial numbers beginning with an 8 or lower, these docks used a different chip set, and this update is not relevant. Issues with these older docks are more likely due to outdated USB 3.0 host controller drivers. For customers with newer docks beginning with serial numbers 103 or higher, this update should have already been applied and should not be necessary- feel free to use the firmware check utility below to confirm, and proceed with update as needed.

Checking firmware version

All units with serial numbers beginning with 991, 101, or 102 are expected to have firmware version 12092681f600.

A utility to verify firmware version on Windows is available here.

Mac users can open system information (open the Apple Menu, hold the alt/option key, and select system information). From the USB section of System Information, click to highlight the USB3-SATA-U3, and then verify the serial number as shown here:

serial 101

serial991

If your serial number in system profiler begins with 991, 101, or 102, this firmware update is recommended.

After update, docks will report a serial number matching the one shown below, 1051E121005010000:
firmware 121

Updating Firmware

Updating firmware on the USB3-SATA-U3 is only possible on Windows, however nearly any Windows PC with USB will do, as this update can be completed over USB 2.0. Mac users may wish to borrow a friend or neighbor’s Windows PC to complete this update, however for Mac users can also use virtual machine options like Parallels or VirtualBox to complete this update by assigning the USB3-SATA-U3 device to the virtual machine, and using it to complete the update. Mac users who cannot get access to a USB 2.0 capable Windows PC can instead contact support@plugable.com to make other arrangements.

To update your USB3-SATA-U3, first download the firmware update utility here, and follow the steps below.

  1. Double click the“U3_FW_Updater_130220.exe” update utility.
  2. If prompted by User Account Controls, select yes. User Account Control Approval
  3. Check to see that your U3 is listed by the update utility as pictured here, and press start:
    ASMedia FW Update
  4. After upgrading verify that firmware version 13022081f602 is reported by the update utility.

For deeper technical details, read our post on understanding large SATA volume compatibility.

Please let us know if you have questions or run into issues by posting below, or shoot an email to support@plugable.com.

[usb3-sata-u3-post]

OS X Mid-2012 MacBook USB and Graphics update

Good news Mac owners! Apple has released a graphics and USB focused update just for late model, Mid 2012 MacBook models including “all Mac notebooks released in June 2012.” This update “includes graphics performance and reliability enhancements and improves compatibility with some USB devices.”

As with any OS X update, simply choose updates in the App Store or choose Software Update from the Apple menu. Once all prerequisites are installed (which include 10.8.2), the update will appear.

Details on the update are rather sparse at the moment, however initial findings on the 11 inch Air I use as a primary work laptop are positive. After installing the update, some U3 Communicator HD docks which I had previously identified as defective actually worked consistently and at normal speeds.

I’ve also noticed better reliability on the arrangement of the quad display panel I use with the tiny Air and a set of our DisplayLink-based UGA-165 adapters. Previously I could virtually never reboot and have my display arrangement persist, but now that seems to have been corrected- however this probably has more to do with the unusual number of hubs and devices I go through in day to day equipment testing and the constant swapping of ports that comes with it.

One frustrating issue that persists is when an USB storage volume unexpectedly disconnects, finder will freeze- immediately if you instruct it to eject the improperly disconnected volume. Forcing a reboot corrects the issue, however the system is largely unresponsive until the reboot which of course could result in data loss.

We’d love to hear your input on how this update is affecting your Plugable devices on those shiny new MacBooks!

MacRumors of course has a thread on the topic with very active discussion: http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1486234