Storage & NASUsing Advanced Format Drives in WHS v1: Seagate SmartAlign

Using Advanced Format Drives in WHS v1: Seagate SmartAlign

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In researching and buying some hard drives for my NAS reviews this week, I stumbled across Seagate’s SmartAlign technology.  It enables AF drives to be used in systems that don’t support AF drives, like say Server 2003 and WHS v1!  Interested?  Read on for details!

Seagate logo

First, some information about Seagate:

Founded in 1979, Seagate is the leading provider of storage devices–in 2008, we became the first hard drive manufacturer to ship 1 billion hard drives–with the industry’s broadest product offering. Our products include 2.5–inch and 3.5–inch hard disk drives, solid state drives and hybrid drives (which incorporate both rotating media and flash memory) for compute–intensive enterprise environments that demand high performance, low–power consumption and proven reliability.

In 2009, Seagate developed its first solid–state drives (SSDs) that leverage non–volatile flash memory instead of spinning magnetic media. Seagate’s first SSDs were designed for enterprise environments utilizing blade and general server applications. We followed that up in 2010 with a solid state hybrid drive for laptops–a product with a unique algorithm that enables the drive to “learn” which files are needed most often and then places them in the drive’s on–board flash memory for lightning–fast access.

Seagate’s products enable high–performance desktop and laptop systems, along with ultraportable devices such as netbooks and thin laptops. We delivered the industry’s first 2TB, 7,200–RPM desktop hard drive, along with the world’s first 7mm, 2.5–inch form factor drive. These innovative storage products deliver super–sized capacities, industry–leading performance, encrypted security features and more.

Seagate makes drives under the Barracuda® brand name.  I have some of their Barracuda® XT drives in my WHS version 1 server and have had really good luck with them.

I have been reluctant to upgrade all of my drives to 2TB as Advanced Format drives are now all that is on the market.  Andrew and Tim have both written articles about the technology.  Here is Andrew’s definition of AF drives;

Advanced Format is a generic term pertaining to any sector format used to store data on the magnetic disks in hard disk drives that exceeds 512 to 520-bytes per sector. Advanced Format is also considered a milestone technology in the history of hard drive storage, where data has been processed in 512 byte increments since the inception of the hard disk drive in 1956. Changing the sector format convention to larger data sectors such as the 4,096-byte structure used in the first generation of Advanced Format technologies, utilizes the storage surface area more efficiently while enabling the integration of stronger error correction algorithms to maintain data integrity at higher storage densities.

Reading his article shows that installing one of these new drives in V1 is possible but a pain in the neck.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to just plug a new AF drive into your V1 box and have it work without setting jumpers or running alignment utilities?

Seagate agrees and has implemented a new technology called SmartAlign into their AF drives.  Here is what Seagate has to say about their technology:

What is SmartAlign™ technology?
Seagate® SmartAlign technology is hard drive firmware that manages read-modify-write conditions resulting from partition misalignment conditions which are associated with the use of 4K sector drives, known as Advanced Format. SmartAlign technology does not realign hard drive partitions; it manages read-modify-write conditions dynamically inside the drive without host computer intervention or knowledge.  Without SmartAlign technology, read-modify-write conditions negatively impact hard drive performance. Seagate testing has demonstrated that SmartAlign technology’s functionality maintains consistent performance in our Advanced Format hard drives for the large majority of desktop workloads. The result for customers using SmartAlign technology is a hard drive that behaves just as legacy 512-byte sector hard drives without the use of additional software utilities.

Why doesn’t Seagate use an alignment utility like other Advanced Format hard drives?
SmartAlign technology avoids the extra time and hard drive integration steps required by the use of an alignment utility. With SmartAlign technology, system builders, IT managers and anyone integrating a Seagate Advanced Format hard drive can use the drive in the same way they always have. No utilities, no hassles—just strong, consistent performance.

Does Seagate have data to demonstrate that SmartAlign technology works?

Testing was on Windows XP systems, where HDD partition alignment with Advanced Format drives is known to be a problem. Drive performance was measured using PC Mark 05 software to simulate standard desktop workloads.  Two tests were performed using the competitive Advanced Format drives: the first with the drive unaligned, the other after the drive was aligned using the manufacturer-provided software alignment utility. The Seagate drive was tested in the unaligned condition but equipped with SmartAlign technology to manage misalignment conditions dynamically.  The data demonstrates that SmartAlign technology’s performance is not only competitive, but slightly faster than the competitive Advanced Format drives, even after running the alignment software utility.

Is SmartAlign™ technology the only tool Seagate recommends to manage alignment issues in Advanced Format drives?
Seagate encourages our customers to use operating systems and configuration tools that create aligned hard drive partitions. Be sure to install 4K-aware operating systems, such as Windows 7 and Mac OS, or 4K-aware hard drive partitioning utilities or imaging tools that produce aligned partitions and ensure good baseline performance.  If this cannot be achieved, Seagate hard drives with SmartAlign technology can be relied on to produce consistent and expected performance, even on unaligned systems. Additionally, fully aligned systems can encounter some read-modify-write conditions, and Seagate drives with SmartAlign technology
will easily manage those.

This is great news!  I bought four of the 2TB green drives, Barracuda® Green Hard Drives Model ST2000DL003 at $69.99 each from Amazon.com to use in the QNAP NAS units.  I’ll use two of these to upgrade the 1.5TB Barracuda XT’s that are in there now and will report back my experiences.  If you are looking for a no-hassle 2TB drive for your WHS V1 box, take a look at these Seagates!

Jim McCarthy
My tech interests include WHS, media streaming, and gaming, among others!

6 COMMENTS

  1. I have started researching these new drives, as I need to update my system drive on my WHS v1 and don’t want to move to WHS 2011. How have these new drives worked out? Are they only being used as pool drives? The Seagate materials make this look simple, but searching the web has turned up little.

    Thanks!

      • Great, thanks. I just found some bad caps on my MB (and that I was using a WD advance format drive without any tweaking) and so now I’ve got quite the project on my hands.

      • Great, thanks. I just found some bad caps on my MB (and that I was using a WD advance format drive without any tweaking) and so now I’ve got quite the project on my hands.

  2. Has anyone used one of the drives for an extended period in WHS v1? Especially as the OS drive. I need to replace out my system drive and one of the pool drives and a little hesitant on using htis drive… but more I read the web is full of doom and gloom with these 2TB drives in a MediaSmart v1 Server.

  3. Hi Jim,

    I am looking at changing the drives in my WHS V1 machine and was wondering how these drives worked for you?

    Thank you for the info.

Comments are closed.

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