Howto for properly partitioning new drives with 4096 byte sectors (like Western Digital Advanced Format EARS drives)

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Concerning the recent rollout of HDDs with 4 kb physical sectors and
512 byte logical ones (see:, what's the official
correct method to partition the drives using util-linux's fdisk so
that the sector/partition alignment ends up being correct?

There's no consensus about that, considering the following LKML thread
and other threads (see below):


"hpa> Martin K. Petersen wrote:
>> Modern Windows aligns the first partition on a 1 MB boundary.
>> As far as disks go, initially the plan was to have "legacy" branded
>> drives with 63-sector alignment. But I think that has been abandoned
>> in favor of instant one-time formatting. I.e. you can pick your
>> poison *once* and that formatting will be done in constant time. Any
>> subsequent changes to blocking and alignment will require a real
>> low-level format.
hpa> Why one-time?
It's a compromise to avoid hours of low-level formatting before you can
use a drive. New drives will come from the factory formatted in a
special way that can be switched instantaneously. But once you start
writing you're stuck with it. "


"> Are we *sure* that this is what they plan to be doing? Is there a way
> we can query the hardware to find out for sure what drives are doing
> what?
The drive I have that's pretending to be a 512/4k drive reports this:
$ sudo sg_readcap -l /dev/sdc
Read Capacity results:
Protection: prot_en=0, p_type=0
Last logical block address=625142447 (0x2542eaaf), Number of logical
Logical block length=512 bytes
Logical blocks per physical block=3 (log base 2) [actual=8]
Lowest aligned logical block address=0
Device size: 320072933376 bytes, 305245.3 MiB, 320.07 GB
This disagrees with Martin's assertion."


"martin.petersen at oracle:
Matthew> This disagrees with Martin's assertion.
Quick answer from one of my contacts. Desktop drives will indeed ship
with an alignment of 1(*). The alignment is hardwired at time of
manufacture and can't be changed.
(*) I had to go back and reread the ATA spec to grok this. READ
CAPACITY(16) indicates the lowest naturally aligned LBA. With LBA 63
offset in play that would be LBA 7.
ATA, on the other hand, indicates how much LBA 0 is offset from the
beginning of the first physical sector. If LBA 63 is naturally aligned
that means that LBA 0 is offset 512 bytes (physical sector 0 starts at
LBA -1 if you will). Hence IDENTIFY DEVICE word 209 will contain 0x4001.
So you need to tweak your RC16 response a bit..."


"FYI: It sounds to me like partitioning tools should totally drop
efforts to align with cylinders, instead they should start asking what
the unit of atomic read/writes is at the physical layer and if any
offsets are needed to align the partition with the atomic write areas.
That would fit better for both SSD technology and for this 4K sectors
issue than trying to continue to support cylinders at all. "

and this one especially important for fdisk:

"> If so the issue becomes the partitioning tools (fdisk etc.) putting
> the partitions at the right place. Can't those tools bypass the bios
> somehow and ask the drive itself what it's geometry is?
It can, but it MUST NOT do so. The fields that are to be entered into
the partition table are BIOS CHS values, not any other kind of CHS.
> From what I understand Vista has already made the jump and is now
> ignoring CHS and instead just putting the first partition at 1 MiB
> into the drive. (sector 2048 with 512 byte sectors.)
> Sounds like fdisk and friends should be updated to do the same.
Yes, that is way overdue."

however, for the Advanced Format drives, it seems that Western Digital
has made a sane move:

"> The plan does seem to have changed - WD's shipping 4k sector drives that
> are sane and require a drive jumper or tool for WinXP and old cloning
> utilities.
Even more important, the alignment can be changed as opposed to being
fixed for the manufacture of the disk. "

Leaving the LKML thread, there are other places on the net where
people try to establish how to properly handle these drives and not
end up with block/sector misalignment:

"So now I get to the silly (question?):
CentOS tools, like 'fdisk', 'LVM', and 'mkfs.ext3', do have options to
"align right", if you know what you are doing. No need to wait for
critical feature updates from upstream. But it seems that they do not
offer the "4k alignment" (or whatever a particular brand of SSD
prefers) by default, and that the user has to know the correct magical
incantations. INET is full of "incantations", but whom can you trust?
WD attempts to "educate" their customers, should we increase our
awareness too?"

So I figured that the best way is to ask at the source, on the mailing
list of fdisk developers - what incantations are needed for the
current version of fdisk and whether there are any code/documentation
changes planned to clarify this and possibly add extra options to the
tool? Could someone qualified write a simple fdisk HOWTO for that?

Another question, would using GUID Partition Table (GPT) format be a
proper solution (as the table has a fixed size of 4 * 4096 bytes)?

If so, is it still true that fdisk does not support GPT (seems that
it's in the TODO:;a=blob;f=TODO;h=9df5b7b447cd4f379caae8d08b59ee18fa641544;hb=HEAD)?

What are the chances that it will be implemented in the near future?

Best Regards,
  Aleksander Adamowski
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