20 September 2004

Breaking the 137GB barrier

As I mentioned earlier, hard disks are rapidly falling in price. It's easy to pick up a 160 or 200 "gigabyte" disk for less than $200. One thing the vendors don't mention to you as you're purchasing, nor the manufacturers include in their packaging, is that there's a limit to the size of hard disks usuable with most hardware and operating systems more than two years old.

I discovered this limit fairly quickly. My BIOS only showed 137GiB when autodetecting the hard disk. I couldn't believe I could be ripped off by that much by the drive manufacturers, and grabbed the pocket calculator. Yes, my new 160GB drive should have about 149GiB of space (that's 160 000 000 000 bytes).

This page gives a good summary of the problem, but not of any possible solutions. I found Microsoft's suggestion too: as long as your BIOS supports it, upgrade to Windows XP service pack 2.

Unfortunately, my motherboard manufacturer was of the Taiwanese variety. As you can imagine, I didn't buy it for the quality of their support. It was to these guys I had to turn for information about updating my BIOS. I found a few mentions of upgrading the BIOS to fix problems with disk size limitations. After installing a floppy drive in my computer, I managed to do this, but the new BIOS still wouldn't recognise the full size of the disk.

My next step was to purchase a separate IDE interface card. This is a card which sits in a PCI slot and provides additional, possibly faster connections for IDE devices to your motherboard. I picked up a cheap one (yes, probably Taiwanese -- I like their prices) at North Rocks for $45. Not bad, but still an extra expense when a BIOS upgrade should have fixed it.

After installing the new card, and connecting everything to it (it's got a faster ATA133 connection -- why use the on-board interface?) I discovered the first problem: my BIOS won't boot from a hard disk connected to the PCI card. After many different configuration and reboots, I found another limitation: the disk won't boot if there's a PCI IDE interface card and the secondary on-board IDE channel is empty. Obviously I want to run my two DVD drives off the new interface card for the speeed benefit, but with this limitation I can't.

So my final setup was this:

  • Gigabyte GA-7IXE4 motherboard
    • on-board IDE interface
      • primary channel
        • Western Digital 30GB HDD
      • secondary channel
        • Pioneer DVD-ROM
        • Pioneer DVD-R
    • Skymaster ATA133 PCI card
      • primary channel
        • Western Digital 160GB HDD

Upgrading to Windows XP Service Pack 2 went without a hitch. Although it took me a few reboots to work out how to turn off the annoying security announcement. Why does it tell me every login that I decided to disable the firewall?

In the end, the desired result. My new hard disk is available in its full capacity. I'm now in the process of moving all my photos and music onto it.

Now that everything is sorted out, I found this great page that seems to list everything I've encountered. Typical. Although I haven't read it thoroughly, you might want to have a look, if you have similar problems.