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Installing A New PC Hard Drive

Huge disk drives are becoming the norm for PC musicians, but there's more to installing them than plugging in and turning on. Martin Walker talks you through the hard part...

Adding a second hard disk to your PC is normally a fairly easy operation; and for anyone indulging in hard disk recording it can make day‑to‑day operations a lot easier. A separate fast hard drive dedicated to music data can easily be defragmented on a regular basis, and you can back it up without all the rigmarole of having to choose the appropriate set of data from among a sea of application and system files. Also, if you opt for a removable drive, you may find it easier to keep tabs on several different projects at any one time.

The complications start if you decide to buy a faster or bigger hard disk to replace your existing drive. Although you can retain the old one for additional storage, you'll get a far more significant improvement in system performance if you use the new faster drive to boot up and run your main system files. If you remove the old drive and replace it with the new one, it can be a bit mind‑boggling to switch on your machine for the first time, only to discover that your PC doesn't even recognise that you have a hard disk connected. Effectively, you are starting from scratch, since your new drive will be completely blank, and of course you will no longer have Windows 95 to hold your hand with a nice graphical point‑and‑click environment.

A further complication arises if your new drive is a big one. As anyone who's attempted to install a larger drive than 2Gb will know, there's plenty of fun to be had working round the quirks of the modern PC. For historical reasons (see 'Going For The Big One'), DOS and Windows cannot see a single drive larger than 2Gb unless it's first been partitioned into two or more separate areas (more on this later). Unless you do this, a 4Gb EIDE drive will simply appear as a 2Gb one. Many complete systems are supplied nowadays with 2.5Gb drives as standard, but it's not unknown for them to be delivered with a single partition, which Windows will only see as 2Gb. So for anyone buying huge drives for a PC 8‑track recording systems, here is the comprehensive SOS guide to hard disk installation...


If you're replacing an existing drive, before you go haring off to pull the old one out, check that you have created a floppy startup disk. Without one of these (or, for long‑standing PC users, disk 1 of the set of DOS installation disks), which will contain the vital FDISK and FORMAT utility programs, you will find it impossible to partition and format your hard drive. You can create one from the Add/Remove programs applet in the Control Panel (see Figure 1). Some hard disk packages may include a manual and floppy disk with helpful utilities to guide you through the whole installation process, but if you buy at rock‑bottom mail‑order prices you'll often be lucky to get more than the bare drive, an invoice, and a jiffy bag.

Masters And Slaves

If you intend to install more than one drive, you need a way to tell the computer which one contains the Windows 95 operating system, so that the machine can finish booting up to the familiar desktop environment. Modern PCs can support up to four EIDE drives in a single machine (if SCSI is fitted, up to eight SCSI devices can be connected in addition to these). The four EIDE drive connections are called primary master, primary slave, secondary master and secondary slave, and are configured using small 'jumper' connectors on the drive itself. The master device will always get priority over the secondary one when booting. On most modern motherboards, the primary connectors run through the PCI buss, but the secondary ones use the ISA buss, and will therefore have reduced capability.

If you're installing a single new drive to replace the existing one, leave it with the default factory setting of Master. If you're installing a second drive, one drive will need setting to Master and the other to Slave. For the best system performance, set up your fastest drive as primary master, and install the operating system on it. If you have more than two drives, connect the third drive onto the secondary buss as secondary master, and a fourth one as secondary slave.

If you are adding a second drive for music data, and leaving your existing drive as primary master, this master device may also (depending on the model) need a jumper adjustment to let it know that you have connected a slave as well. If you have an ATAPI‑specification CD‑ROM drive, you can simply attach this to a hard disk connector just as you would a hard drive, leaving it in its default slave setting. This may slow down the associated hard disk speed to that of the CD‑ROM drive, though. In most cases, it's better to connect the CD‑ROM drive as the secondary master or slave device, leaving both the master and slave connectors of the primary channel for hard‑drive use.

Preparing For Action

Follow the mechanical installation instructions carefully, paying attention to the correct orientation of ribbon cables (check your existing drive and make some notes on which way round they plug in). Once you've physically attached a new EIDE drive into a spare drive bay, connected the data and power cables, and checked the position of any jumpers, you're ready to re‑connect the power. At this stage, your PC will still have no idea that a new device has been attached, and you now need to tell it about your new toy. So enter the BIOS setup routines (normally by pressing the Delete key during the boot process). Most modern BIOS screens have an Auto Detection option on the initial menu screen, which you can select to recognise and configure the new drive automatically. This will find a number of hardware characteristics such as size, number of cylinders, heads and sectors, which then appear on the Standard CMOS Setup screen in the BIOS.

As anyone who's attempted to install a larger drive than 2Gb will know, there's plenty of fun to be had working round the quirks of the modern PC.

If for some reason this doesn't work, you can enter the correct information by hand. Either select the drive type directly using the figure supplied with the drive itself (if it conforms to one of the 40 or so drive types incorporated into the BIOS), or select Type 47 (also referred to as User type), which will allow you to enter user‑defined values. These should be provided with the drive itself, or printed somewhere on the casing — look before you bolt it into the darkest recesses of your PC! When you exit the BIOS main screen, save this new information in the CMOS battery‑backed‑up memory by selecting the appropriate menu option, so that the new drive characteristics will be in place every time you boot up in future. Once the BIOS knows about your drive, it will dump you unceremoniously at the C:/ prompt, now known only to people who remember the bad old pre‑Windows days of DOS.

For those lucky owners of a new SCSI drive, if it's simply an additional disk to the main boot EIDE drive, you needn't set up the BIOS as just described — you can move straight on to partitioning. However, if you want to boot from this new SCSI drive, you'll need to enter Type 0 or 'No hard disk installed' in the BIOS, so that the system will look elsewhere for the SCSI one. Apart from that, you'll need to partition and format in exactly the same way, although you may be supplied with specific utilities for SCSI drives. It is wise to use these, to ensure that you can take advantage of every feature of your new drive.


Whether you're going to be using your new drive for secondary storage, or to replace your current drive for primary use when you boot up the computer, it will first need formatting. The low‑level format (also known as the physical format — physically laying down tracks and sectors onto the drive) will have been carried out by the manufacturer during the test process, and modern drives don't need this to be repeated. (Even though some drives allow a so‑called low‑level format, this is actually a write‑read verify process that you can use if you suspect a faulty drive, or you've suffered a boot‑sector virus attack.)

The first thing you should do, if you need to, is partition the drive (see the 'Divide & Conquer' box) — either to create a separate data area, to run multiple operating systems, to minimise wasted space, or so that the operating system can see more than the current 2Gb limit using the FAT16 file system. Until recently, the only way to partition was to use the FDISK program supplied with Windows and DOS (or Adaptec's AFDISK for SCSI drives). But there are now several special programs such as Partition Magic and Partition‑It, which have the huge advantage of letting you create new partitions or re‑size existing ones without disturbing any existing data (more on this later). The DOS program FDISK is designed to be used on a blank drive, and will write special information to the boot sector of the drive. DOS and Windows can then treat the drive as several smaller 'logical' ones, each with its own unique letter, such as C, D, or E.

The normal all‑in‑one partition that most people use is a 'primary' partition, and this can contain both an operating system and data. If you need to install multiple operating systems (such as Windows 95 and Windows NT) on the same machine, you'll have to create a primary partition for each. Only one of these can be active at any time (the 'active primary' or 'boot' partition), and this will be used to boot up the operating system. When one primary partition is active, data in another primary one will not be accessible. You can create up to four such primary partitions. If you decide to create a separate partition for data, you will need to create an 'extended' partition. This is often a good idea — a large drive, for all practical purposes, will end up as several smaller, more manageable ones. An extended partition is essentially a container for more logical partitions which can all be used for data; all the logical partitions will be available to the active primary partition. Don't panic if you can't get your head round all this at first. Remember that you're only likely to set up a new drive once — day‑to‑day operation after this point is easy.


Once you've done any partitioning, you can use the FORMAT command from your floppy Startup disk to carry out the high‑level format that writes the FAT (the system's catalogue of all the files stored on the disk) and directory structure for each partition. This creates a separate 'address book' in each partition for managing files — it's what most people normally understand as 'formatting' a disk. From the A:/ prompt provided by your Startup disk, type 'FORMAT C:'; or, if you intend to boot from this new drive, type 'FORMAT C: /S'. This is assuming that your new device is going to be your primary C: drive. If it's an additional drive, it will probably be the D: drive. Don't format the wrong one by mistake! If you're using SCSI drives, the manufacturer will normally provide specific format utilities. After formatting, you're ready to start reading and writing using the new drive.

If you decide to buy a hard disk partitioning utility such as Partition Magic or Partition‑It, both partitioning and formatting can be combined in one easy operation, and you'll have the added benefit of a graphical interface rather than the bland text‑only typing of the DOS FDISK and FORMAT utilities. However, the much bigger advantage of the specialist utilities is that, once the operating system and data is all in place, you can create or re‑size partitions without disturbing any of it. If you use the DOS utilities to change the partitions on an existing drive, they'll completely wipe your hard disk, giving you a mammoth back‑up and re‑installation job (see the April issue of SOS for my review of Partition Magic, in 'Essential Accessories For The PC Musician').

Installing CD‑ROM Support

After all this effort, the only result so far is that you can see your new hard drive; you can't actually do anything very useful with it yet. So now you need to install an operating system, which will let you use the familiar commands, and retreat to the comfort of a graphical environment. The last big fly in the ointment is that Windows 95 comes on CD‑ROM, but the CD‑ROM drivers are part of Windows. So, without Windows 95, you can't use the CD‑ROM to install Windows 95... catch 22! The solution is to install a basic DOS driver (which, fortunately, comes on a floppy disk), so that the CD‑ROM is recognised and useable before you install the Windows operating system. At this point in the proceedings, anyone who has mislaid their CD‑ROM driver floppy disk may now quietly go and bang their head against a convenient wall. This DOS driver will also be needed if you ever need to access the CD‑ROM drive from DOS programs, such as most games. If you leave it permanently installed for occasional DOS use, it will be quietly ignored when Windows 95 is running, but will still occupy some memory, so it's best only loaded when specifically needed.

The simplest solution when you're installing a new hard drive is to create a special Startup floppy disk that contains the two extra files needed for CD‑ROM support, along with some slight changes to two small text files, also on the floppy disk. To do this, first create a Startup floppy disk as described earlier, and then make the following modifications. First, copy across the file MSCDEX.EXE (Microsoft CD Extensions), which is normally found in the Windows\Command folder on your hard disk. The second file will be specific to your particular CD‑ROM drive, and should already be mentioned in the CONFIG.SYS file currently in the root folder on your hard drive. Open this up in a text editor like Notepad and have a look (see Figure 3). The relevant line (for my system) is highlighted: yours will also contain the letters 'cd' in the filename. Note down the final part of this line (ignoring the Windows\Command bit), as it will be needed shortly. Then find this file on your hard drive, and copy it across to your Startup floppy disk. If there is no mention of this file in your CONFIG.SYS file, you will need to use the CD‑ROM driver floppy disk that arrived with your CD‑ROM drive. Run the install program on it and the appropriate line should then be in your CONFIG.SYS file the next time you look at it.

Now, in Notepad, open the AUTOEXEC.BAT file that you will find in the root folder of your hard drive. You will probably already find the extra line for the MSCDEX.EXE driver that you need for the CD‑ROM drive (see Figure 3 again). During setup, Windows 95 'comments' this out (by adding the rem part before the C:\ filename), so that it is not actually loaded (if you want CD‑ROM support for DOS games, remove the initial portion of the line up to the C:\ bit). Again, note down exactly the final part of this line. Next, load the slimmed‑down AUTOEXEC.BAT file that you will find already on the Startup floppy disk, add an extra line containing the information you have just noted (see Figure 4), and then save this edited file onto the floppy disk. Do the same for the Startup floppy disk CONFIG.SYS file, and then save this one back onto the floppy disk. Remember that it's only the versions on the floppy disk that you change — leave the ones on your hard disk alone. You should now have two files on your floppy disk that look similar to the versions shown in Figure 4. Now, if you place this floppy disk in the drive before rebooting your PC, it should boot up to the A:\ prompt, complete with CD‑ROM access. Typing D: (or whichever letter your CD‑ROM drive has) will transfer you to that drive, and you can then run programs directly from CD‑ROM.

Installing Dos And Windows

If you have the full version of Windows 95, installation is now simply a matter of running the SETUP program found on the CD‑ROM (just type D:\SETUP). If you bought the upgrade from Windows 3.1, then life is rather more interesting. Windows 3.1 must first be installed so that the Windows 95 upgrade can find it before it installs itself over the top. However, on your blank hard drive, to install Windows 3.1 you need a version of DOS in place. Newcomers will probably have their jaws touching the ground by now, but no doubt old‑timers will be grinning from ear to ear. Yes, for those who have patiently upgraded at each stage over the years (including me!) the procedure is to install DOS 5, then Windows 3.1, then the Windows 95 upgrade. No doubt the Windows 95 upgrade only looks for a few vital components of Windows 3.1 before proceeding, so that you ought to be able to simply copy these onto your drive and then install the Windows 95 upgrade directly, but, understandably, Microsoft are rather cagey about telling you what they are. Quite frankly, the easiest thing to do is to buy or borrow a full copy of the Windows 95 CD‑ROM (it will probably cost you about £70).

If you received your machine with all its software fully installed, you have now reached the stage of needing all of the original program installation disks — anyone left scratching their head at this stage will now appreciate how the price of their PC managed to be so low. Unscrupulous suppliers load machines with hundreds of pounds' worth of software (all from a single set of original disks), but provide no manuals or original disks. Make sure that you get these when you buy a new system. The supplier may make an extra charge, but it's a lot cheaper than having to buy them all again later. One final point during the Windows 95 installation — if your machine came with software pre‑installed, you may find your BIOS still configured to check for boot‑sector viruses. If you ever suffer from one of these, it may prevent the hard drive booting up, so many BIOS chips contain code that actively prevents any piece of software writing to the boot sector of your hard drive. Unfortunately, Windows 95 needs to write to the boot sector during installation, and will flag an error with this BIOS feature enabled. You'll need to enter the BIOS features page, and alter the Virus Warning option from 'enabled' to 'disabled'.

Well, if you've hung in there, you should certainly know a lot more about PC hard drives. However, if you are thinking of installing a new drive yourself, don't be alarmed by all the technical stuff I've covered. Most drives should come with easy‑to‑follow instructions that hold your hand during the process; it's only replacing your primary (boot) drive that complicates the procedure. If you want to cheer yourself up immediately, take a look at the 'DriveCopy' box, where you will find a piece of software that does most of the hard work for you!

Going For The Big One

Back in the days when 20Mb of hard disk storage were considered a luxury, no‑one could be blamed for designing a BIOS that could only cope with a maximum of 528 million disk bytes (504Mb). The limitation arose because of the way IDE drives were divided up for use, and when the Pentium arrived, a new scheme was adopted to overcome it. All modern EIDE drives use Logical Block Addressing (LBA). This part of the BIOS code sits between the operating system and the hard disk, intercepting any requests for access to a particular sector on the drive. Modern drives are passed a single index number (0 to about 2,000,000 for a 1Gb drive). Older drives have to be accessed by a combination of cylinder, head and sector numbers (the subdivisions inside the drive), and in this case the LBA in the BIOS translates the numbers appropriately. Any drive larger than 504Mb will either need a BIOS with LBA (and all modern ones feature this) or, failing this, a special software driver provided by the drive manufacturer. This allows you to use drives up to 8.4Gb (subject to the limitations on partition size — see 'Divide & Conquer').

Divide & Conquer

To organise data on the drive, most small hard disks are formatted as one huge area, which is called a logical drive and given a unique letter, such as C. However, it is perfectly possible to format the drive as several separate partitions, each of which is recognised by the operating system as a separate logical drive, with identifiers such as C, D, and E. For a particular size of partition, there will be an associated basic unit of storage (known as a cluster), made up of a fixed number of disk sectors. With the worst case of a drive between 1 and 2Gb using a single partition, the cluster size will be 32Kb. Since only one file can be stored in a single cluster, a 1Kb file will still occupy a whole cluster, wasting the other 31Kb. It's like a jack plug rattling around in a bass bin! Over a typical 1Gb drive, the total wastage for files that don't completely fill each cluster can be considerable — it's not unusual to find hundreds of megabytes wasted overall. Since the cluster size is proportional to the partition size, the solution is to format the drive into several smaller partitions, each of which will have smaller clusters. Your data will be identical, but the wasted space will be much smaller, letting you reclaim many megabytes of space on your hard disk.

PC operating systems such as Windows 3.1, Windows 95 and Windows NT have largely up to now supported the FAT16 (File Allocation Table) system. As well as being wasteful with the larger cluster sizes it uses with large partitions, FAT16 has the disadvantage of allowing a maximum partition size of only 2Gb. If you have a larger drive, it must be partitioned into two or more logical drives or Windows will simply ignore the remainder. With the introduction of Microsoft's new FAT32 file system (which is part of the latest release of Windows 95), both large cluster sizes and the 2Gb restriction disappear. Unfortunately, this update is only available to other equipment manufacturers (OEM) and is therefore supplied with some new systems, but not to the general public.

FAT32 can handle disks bigger than 2Gb without partitioning, and has been redesigned to waste far less space with small files by having 4Kb clusters. The downside (isn't there always one of these?) is that Windows 95 recognises it, but Windows 3.1 and DOS don't. This may not seem a great loss, but if you ever get a problem with your hard disk, and attempt to boot from your old DOS floppy disks, your hard disk will suddenly disappear. Whoops! Because of this problem, many suppliers are sticking to the FAT16 version, so partitioning is still mandatory for any drive over 2Gb.

Terminology Unchained

  • BIOS: The Basic Input/Output System is the chip that handles communications between the computer and its peripherals. This is the code used when the computer is booting up, before control passes to an operating system such as Windows.
  • CLUSTER: The smallest unit of storage available for files.
  • FAT: The File Allocation Table is a small area of the drive used as a catalogue of all existing files stored on the disk. Until recently, most systems used FAT16, but the most recent version of Windows 95 incorporates FAT32, which allows much larger drives to be formatted as a single partition.
  • JUMPER: A small plastic clip that creates a connection between two adjacent pins on a circuit board. If the two pins do not need connecting, push the jumper onto a single pin, leaving the other end 'floating'. Plug and Play has removed the need for many of these jumpers, as you can now configure many devices automatically using the BIOS and Windows 95.
  • LBA: Logical Block Addressing is the way that hard drives are accessed by the operating system, and is part of the BIOS.
  • LOGICAL DRIVE: A drive recognised by the operating system with a unique identifier such as C or D. A single physical drive can act as several logical drives, each with its own identifier.
  • PARTITION: A section of a hard drive devoted either to a particular operating system or to data alone. Although many drives consist of one large partition recognised by both DOS and Windows, it is possible to have up to four partitions on a single hard drive, each occupied by a different operating system.

Drive A Hard Bargain ‑‑ Drivecopy

Some bright spark will no doubt already be wondering why you can't initially install the new drive as a secondary one, partition and format it, and then boot up as before using the old drive. You could then copy across the entire contents of your old drive to the new one, switch off, and change the master/slave settings so that the new drive simply replaces the old. This is indeed possible, although it uses a rather involved DOS command line to cope with all the hidden and system files. Enter PowerQuest, makers of Partition Magic, mentioned elsewhere in this feature. They have a new utility called DriveCopy, which is "the safest, easiest, and most affordable way to copy everything from your old drive to your new drive".

Not only does it copy all of your old disk contents across automatically, it performs the partition and format of the new one as well. The idea is that you install your new larger and faster drive as the 'master' device (DriveCopy refers to this as the Target drive), and change the previous drive to 'slave' operation (the Source drive). This will require a jumper change to your existing drive, which has previously been the master. The reason behind this is that most people will want their new faster drive to become the main one.

Once the physical installation is out of the way (and this is nicely covered in the manual), you let the BIOS auto‑detect the type of new hard drive. Then switch off the computer and reboot using your standard Startup floppy disk (so far, exactly as discussed in the main text). Now comes the good bit. You replace the Startup disk with the DriveCopy disk, and run its program. The entire contents of your old drive now get copied across to the new one, including Windows 95 (or other operating system), and all of your applications and data, without losing a single byte or preference setting. The benefits are that you completely bypass the need to partition or format the new drive, so you can simply wipe all the data from your old drive, then either remove it or leave it as a second storage device. If you are buying the new drive for additional music data only, you won't need DriveCopy, but if you're replacing your existing drive, at £29 DriveCopy could save you hours of fiddling.