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Updating PC Hard Drives: The SOS Guide

Periodically checking your hard drive partitions for bad sector errors, as shown here, can tip you off about problems that point to the drive being possibly about to fail.Periodically checking your hard drive partitions for bad sector errors, as shown here, can tip you off about problems that point to the drive being possibly about to fail.

You're planning to change your PC hard drives, so you just unplug the old ones, plug in the new ones, and off you go, right? Wrong: there's many a slip, and this month we aim to help you avoid all of them.

I suspect that most PC musicians will, at some time, install a new hard drive in their computer, either to expand their existing audio storage area or to replace an existing Windows drive with one that offers faster performance and more space. Physical installation of a drive is normally straightforward, simply requiring attachment using four bolts, and then connection of power and data cables between it and the motherboard. However, modern motherboards may offer various connection options for drives, and if yours offers PATA (Parallel Advanced Technology Attachment) and SATA (Serial ATA) connectors, you first have to choose the most suitable drive. Complications can then arise if you're replacing your Windows drive, as you may also have to change BIOS settings, especially if you're moving from PATA to SATA, and the various options can vary considerably depending on whether you're still running Windows 98/ME as opposed to Windows 2000/XP, or if you're attempting to run both in a multi-boot setup.

The biggest challenge is if you want to replace an existing drive containing Windows and all your applications with a new model, and you don't want to have to spend countless hours reinstalling everything from scratch on the new and initially empty drive. This is exactly the scenario I faced this month — replacing two PATA drives, containing four Windows partitions and a further six data partitions, with two new SATA drives. Before retiring them I wanted all the PATA data transferred to the SATA models. I eventually got everything working perfectly, but not before experiencing disappearing drives, linked clones and non-functioning boot utilities (you'll find out what I mean in due course). Judging by the SOS Forums, many of you are attempting to do the same thing, so let's see what the best choices are, and find out how to avoid problems.

Drive Temperatures

Did you know that many modern hard drives let you monitor their temperature? No, neither did I until recently, when Glenn Garrett of Quiet PC provided me with a link to a very useful utility that lets you display the current temperatures on your Taskbar. DTemp is a tiny 94kb free download ( that, when run under Windows 9x, 2000, NT or XP, interrogates the Smart Monitoring features of your hard drive(s), and can show info such as capacity, buffer size, supported and current transfer modes, various of the more esoteric features that it supports, and details of current parameters including error rates and temperature. You don't have to enable each drive's Smart Monitoring mode in the BIOS to do this, either (most builders disable Smart Monitoring mode, as it imposes a tiny extra overhead during data transfers).

I was particularly interested in temperature monitoring because my two new Seagate Barracuda SATA hard drives run hotter than the previous PATA versions, and I was unsure whether or not to fit them into my existing Silent Drive sleeves for fear of overheating. Many musicians have abandoned their existing sleeves because of this worry, but using DTemp I could adopt a more scientific approach and monitor the stabilised temperatures of my drives before making a final decision.

According to the spec sheet for my ST380013AS drives, they can run with an operating temperature of up to 60 degrees Centigrade (you can generally find safe operating temperatures on drive manufacturers' web sites). In free space (outside my PC's case) they both settled after some hours at a steady 42 degrees Centigrade, and once mounted inside the sleeves this temperature didn't rise beyond 43 degrees. At first I was surprised by this, as I expected their temperature to rise considerably once confined, but this has not happened. However, I've mounted the sleeves at the bottom front of my PC's case, where they sit in the incoming cool airflow from the two front intake fans, which probably explains things. I'm certainly not complaining, as I don't now have to invest in new drive silencers.

Before The Event

I hadn't planned to buy new hard drives, but had to respond quickly when I experienced problems with my existing Windows drive. Twice this month I booted up my PC and encountered 'bad sector' faults. These are flagged when Windows has difficulty reading files on a drive, and it suggests that you run the Check Disk utility to scan the disk's entire working surface in search of further problem areas. If any bad sectors are found the data stored in them can then be rescued, as far as possible, and then the sectors are permanently marked as bad so that Windows can work around them.

If you suffer a single bad-sector problem out of the blue, it may be because you accidentally knocked your PC with your foot or the vacuum cleaner while it was switched on and jarred the drive's read/write heads. However, two instances within a short period suggests that the drive may be about to fail, and you should immediately back up all its data and strongly consider buying a replacement. Even if Windows doesn't routinely report any bad sectors, it's worth periodically running Check Disk to check your drives. You can do this by right-clicking on them in Explorer, choosing the Properties option, and then clicking Error-checking on the Tools page. Make sure the box labelled 'Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors' is ticked.

Since hard drives are comparatively cheap, but the data stored on them is generally far more valuable, I decided to buy a replacement drive. I took advantage of the situation to switch from two Parallel-connected Seagate Barracuda ATA drives to a pair of the faster Serial ATA (SATA) models. These are by far the most popular drives with specialist music retailers. While the PATA models provide about 40Mb/second sustained transfer rates for both read and write, the newer SATA models can manage 56Mb/second, which means that Windows and your applications will load more quickly, and — probably more important for the PC musician — you'll be able to stream more audio tracks and samples if you need them.

Like many others, my Asus P4P800 Deluxe motherboard provides connections for up to four PATA drives, using the familiar ribbon cables, and two SATA drives, and it came bundled with a pair of the thinner SATA cables, so all I needed was the drives themselves. I took advantage of this to order a pair of the slightly cheaper OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) drives with no cables, manuals or bundled software extras.

In the old days of PATA-only motherboards, it was comparatively simple to decide where to connect your hard drives, since there were generally only two IDE sockets, each supporting up to two drives as Master or Slave. Your boot drive was always connected as Primary Master, your audio drive normally as Secondary Master, and any CD-ROM or DVD drives in the Primary or Secondary Slave positions. Although there were some variations on this theme, there weren't that many options to try out.

But many modern motherboards with SATA support are capable of running six or more hard drives, and sometimes even RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives) arrays (the ICH5R South Bridge chip on mine supports up to four Ultra DMA 100 IDE drives, plus two SATA drives with a RAID 0 function), and there are, therefore, many more permutations on offer. I still maintain that for musicians who don't want to run more than 48 simultaneous tracks at 24-bit/96kHz or video tracks alongside audio, RAID is unnecessary, so if you don't fit into those categories you can generally leave this option disabled in the BIOS.

The most important settings in most BIOS menus when you're installing a new drive are found on the IDE Configuration page. Over the last year or so I've noticed various SOS Forum posters asking for help in deciding on the most suitable settings for their systems, but this entirely depends on what OS you're running and what combination of drives you have installed. However, all should become clear if I describe the options I had on my PC.

As is the case with most motherboards, there was an 'Onboard IDE Operate Mode' with Compatible or Enhanced Mode options. Depending on this setting, a second parameter appeared. In Compatible Mode it was labelled 'IDE Port Setting', while in Enhanced Mode it was labelled 'Enhanced Mode Support On'. Both settings led to three further options — no wonder people get confused! If, like me, you upgraded to a SATA-capable motherboard but initially carried on using some existing PATA drives because their performance was perfectly adequate, you can simply accept the default 'Enhanced Mode' setting. Only if a SATA drive is plugged in will the various other choices come into play.

Trial & Error

I found that the most helpful way to proceed was to connect both of my new SATA drives, providing me in total with four hard drives and a CD-ROM drive, and then use a trial and error approach by selecting each of the six IDE options in turn, saving the BIOS configuration changes each time and exiting the BIOS, then immediately pressing the Delete key to re-enter the BIOS with the new settings in place (your PC may use another key, such as F1 or F10, to enter the BIOS). With each IDE setting a new combination or arrangement of my five drives appeared.

The general advice is to choose Compatible Mode if you're still using a 'legacy' operating system such as MS-DOS, Windows 98, ME, or NT 4.0. This will restrict you to a maximum of four simultaneous drives in various combinations, but does still allow you to benefit from the speed advantages of the latest SATA drives. With 'PATA Ports Only' the two new SATA drives were totally ignored in favour of the PATA Primary and Secondary Master and Slave drives. I can't see a lot of use for this option unless you temporarily want to access four PATA drives and ignore your new SATA ones. After all, this is exactly the same configuration as leaving the default Enhanced Mode on with no SATA drives plugged in.

Updating PC Hard Drives: The SOS GuideUpdating PC Hard Drives: The SOS GuideUpdating PC Hard Drives: The SOS GuideYour motherboard may support various combinations of SATA and PATA drives in configurations like this. Only Enhanced modes support more than four drives.Your motherboard may support various combinations of SATA and PATA drives in configurations like this. Only Enhanced modes support more than four drives.The other two options are more useful: 'Primary PATA + SATA' left me my Primary Master and Slave plus the two new SATA drives, and 'Secondary PATA + SATA' moved the two new SATA drives to Primary Master and Slave positions, leaving my original Secondary Master PATA drive (and any Secondary Slave drive such as a CD-ROM or DVD drive) in their original positions. In practical terms there's little difference between these two. You can access two PATA drives in each case, either connected as a pair to the Primary IDE ribbon connector or the Secondary IDE ribbon connector. Use whichever is more convenient.

For those running Windows 2000 or XP, the Onboard IDE 'Enhanced Mode' lets you access more than four drives. With the default 'SATA' option for the 'Enhanced Mode Support On' parameter (which, on my motherboard, seemed to do exactly the same as the 'PATA + SATA' option), my original Primary and Secondary Master and Slave drives were left as before, with the new SATA drives appearing as Third Master and Fourth Master. This is the classic configuration for most modern PCs. Unless you really do need a third or fourth hard drive for streaming samples alongside your System and Audio drives, the best configuration is probably SATA drives for system and audio duties, with any CD-ROM and/or DVD drives connected as Primary and Secondary Master on the old PATA ribbon connectors. This gives all four devices Master status.

On my motherboard the final Enhanced Mode 'PATA' option moved the SATA drives to Primary and Secondary Master positions, shunting the PATA drives to Third and Fourth Master and Slave. Again, since the vast majority of BIOS designs let you specify a 'boot sequence' for the available drives, so you can decide which one becomes the System drive with Windows on it, this doesn't seem to offer anything different from the default 'SATA' setting.

The Silent Option

While many modern drives are extremely quiet compared with their predecessors, and any remaining noise may be sufficiently silenced by lining your PC's case with acoustic material, movements of the drive's read/write heads can still sometimes be obtrusive in the studio. So once you've decided on the best connection and BIOS options for your needs, you may also want to consider some sort of silent mount for your new drive.

The most famous is Molex's Silent Drive sleeve (about £22) which totally encloses the drive. Its lead cut-outs actually only fit IDE cables, but it takes just a few minutes with a Stanley knife to modify these holes to suit SATA drive cables. Of more concern to many musicians is that some modern drives may run too hot inside it, although I didn't have any problems with my SATA drives and my existing Silent Drive sleeves (see 'Drive Temperatures' box earlier).

Other, more recently introduced, solutions include Zalman's Heatpipe Cooler ZM-2HC2 (about £25). As its name suggests, this is primarily a cooler, although it does incorporate rubber-damped mountings that greatly reduce the amount of vibrational noise from the drive that is transmitted into the PCs case and amplified. If vibrational noise is your main concern, rubber cradle mounts such as Noise Control's Hard Drive Cage (£25) or the Silentmaxx Rubber HD Isolator kit (£23) may fit the bill. For the budget-conscious there are rubber hard-drive mounts (around £10 for a set of four).

This aluminium Silentmaxx enclosure should completely remove drive noise from your PC, for the ultimate in hard-drive silencing.This aluminium Silentmaxx enclosure should completely remove drive noise from your PC, for the ultimate in hard-drive silencing.

The latest deluxe hard-drive enclosure must be the Silentmaxx. Although expensive, at about £38, this 100 percent aluminium enclosure offers maximum heat dissipation and a huge reduction in airborne noise, and it also comes with rubber mounts to reduce vibrational noise. All the above solutions fit into a standard 5.25-inch drive bay, and if you can place them in the incoming cool airflow somewhere near the bottom front of your PC's case it will further aid in drive cooling.

Some musicians now swear by drive caddies. A caddy is a two-part device that lets you plug different drives into your PC and reboot it. Having one for your Internet usage and another for music-only duties is the ultimate approach to keeping viruses, spyware and other nasties at bay, and placing your drive in the caddy also provides a useful reduction in acoustic noise. I discussed caddies in depth in SOS June 2004, as part of my 'Ready For The Road' feature.

You can buy all these products from suppliers including Chillblast (, The Cooling Shop (, KoolnQuiet (, Kustom PCs (, and the one that started it all: Quiet PC (

Things To Save From Previous Installations

If you're starting afresh with a clean Windows installation, don't abandon the contents of your old Windows partition before you've saved any data you still need. If you have an imaging utility, such as Norton's Ghost, the safest approach is to save an image of your old Windows partition in compressed form onto a data partition on the new drive, then you can selectively restore specific items from this, as required, to your new Windows partition.

The most vital items will be any audio files or synth/plug-in presets you've created. By default, DirectX plug-in presets may be saved somewhere in the plug-in folder structure, while VST plug-in presets may end up in the 'vstplugins' folder. Make sure you drag any you find into a folder on your new drive, or (like me) always save all your presets onto a separate data partition so you know where they all are and can back them up more easily.

One thing that's easy to forget is your old Internet Explorer Favourites and Links collection. This may have grown into its present form over several years and could take a long time to recreate. All you need to do to save it for posterity is copy the contents of the 'C:\Documents and Settings\General\Favorites' folder somewhere safe to a data partition that will still be visible on your new hard drives, and then drag it into the identically named folder on your new Windows partition.

Transferring email or other software address books is another time-saver, although some ISPs (Internet Service Providers) do store the contents of your Address Book for you, so when you install its software and log on it may be intact. Don't leave it to chance, though!

Starting From Scratch

At this stage, those who are adding an extra data drive can simply reboot their PC, have the drive recognised by Windows XP as new hardware, and have any required drivers for it installed automatically. If the drive is larger than 137GB it will require 48-bit LBA (Logical Block Addressing) to access data beyond the 137GB boundary. Windows XP with Service Pack 1 or later, plus a compatible BIOS, will be needed.

Most modern BIOS setups auto-detect new drives and their capabilities, and will enable LBA mode for you when appropriate, but if your PC is more than a couple of years old you may either need a BIOS update or to be content with a maximum of 137GB from your new drive. Also, if you've installed Intel's Application Accelerator drivers for your Intel motherboard (see SOS April 2003 for more details) you may also need to update them to provide 48-bit LBA support.

Once the drivers have been installed, you can use Windows XP's Initialise and Convert Disk Wizard, which you can find in the Disk Management section of Computer Management, launched by clicking on its shortcut in the Administrative Tools applet of Control Panel. There's an extensive help file to guide you through the process. You end up with a new drive that's completely 'unallocated', and you can then right-click on it and select 'New Partition' to either create one huge partition or split the drive into several partitions, for Windows and its applications, Data, Backups and so on.

If you've decided to have a good clearout and start from scratch with a freshly installed Windows XP on your new drive, followed by your applications, there's a possible complication if you have a large drive. If your Windows XP CD-ROM is one incorporating SP1 or SP2 you shouldn't have any problems, but if the CD-ROM is the first release, without LBA support, you may find that your drive isn't recognised properly. The answer to this conundrum is to install XP in a smaller partition, upgrade to SP1 afterwards, and then use a third-party utility such as Partition Magic to increase the partition size to your desired capacity. For more answers and FAQs concerning 48-bit LBA, and particularly the issues arising with Windows 2000, 98, and ME, the definitive web site to visit is

Transferring Data

At this point some people will be inclined to rip out their old drives to replace them with the new ones, but if you want to save yourself a huge amount of time you shouldn't be so hasty. Since I'd already got several perfectly good Windows partitions on both of my old drives, I decided to follow my own advice, originally featured in SOS March 2003, and clone them on to the new drives, to save me having to install everything all over again.

So I left my two PATA drives temporarily in place and plugged in the two new SATA drives, balancing them on cardboard boxes outside the PC's case, with the side panel off. I then booted as usual from my old PATA drive into Windows XP SP2, and let it detect the two new SATA drives and install any drivers it needed to use them. My old data partitions were the easiest to deal with, since I could copy their contents directly, using Windows Explorer, into their partitions on the new drive.

Then I used Partition Magic to copy all three of my existing Windows XP partitions across to the new SATA drive I eventually intended to boot from. I then had to check that each partition had the correct information in its Boot.ini file. Regular readers will remember from the March 2003 feature that this file points to the partition in which XP is installed, so a clone will only work first time if its Boot.ini file points to exactly the same partition (first, second, or third) on the new drive as on the old. If not, it will need editing to boot correctly.

Last time around I hadn't cottoned on to the possibilities of Partition Magic 's Browse function. With a little fiddling you can use this to modify any file on a currently hidden partition — Browse to its root folder, use the right-click option to copy the Boot.ini file, then browse to a visible partition and paste it somewhere handy. Now you can load the file into Notepad and modify it to point to the new partition, then use the same cut/paste operations to place the modified file back into the hidden partition.

Re-authorising Protected Software

Moving the entire contents of an old Windows partition to a new drive means that you'll certainly save yourself a day or two of reinstalling Windows and all its applications. Any software protected by dongles will almost certainly continue to work, as will any that has Pace protection (as used by Waves, amongst others). But the chances are that at least some of your protected software that uses challenge/response authorisation will 'throw a wobbly' and demand re-authorising. Strictly speaking, some applications only allow a single authorisation, or perhaps a couple (one for your desktop and one for a laptop, say), but given that so many of us upgrade hard drives and PCs, developers have to allow us some leeway.

After cloning a Windows partition onto a new drive, a few of your applications may require re-authorising. This is the relevant page for Waves products.After cloning a Windows partition onto a new drive, a few of your applications may require re-authorising. This is the relevant page for Waves products.

Here's a list of the products that needed authorising again on my music partition, and how the developer responded in each case. Since I still maintain an Internet-free music partition I also explain how I dealt with re-authorisation requiring Internet access.

  • AAS Tassman 4.0 and Lounge Lizard 2.0: Required re-entry of serial number and then issued a new challenge. I copied the HTML pages generated when these new challenges appeared to my SDRAM card, plugged this into my Internet-enabled laptop, then ran the pages in turn and clicked on their Submit buttons. New responses appeared within seconds, which I could transfer back to my music partition using the SDRAM card and then copy and paste into the authorisation dialogue.
  • Spectrasonics Atmosphere & Trilogy: Generated a new challenge that I could copy and paste onto my laptop and request a new response. Since I'd already used up my two initial authorisations, the submit page asked me the reason for my additional authorisations, but accepted 'Hard Disk Upgrade' as a valid reason and provided me with new ones.
  • Steinberg Groove Agent: This was the only application I had to reinstall from scratch, but it simply required a standard Windows uninstall via the 'Add or Remove Programs' applet, and then installation from the original CD-ROM, which only took a few minutes.
  • Steinberg Wavelab 5.0: Came up with an error message stating that it wasn't properly installed, but I was able to run its existing Uninstall utility and choose its 'Repair Wavelab ' option to reinstall it with exactly the same components as before from the original CD-ROM, and without disturbing the subsequent 5.01a update.
  • TL Audio EQ1 plug-in: Simply required the original CD-ROM to be placed in the drive so that the plug-in could be re-opened successfully.
  • Waves plug-ins: These generated a new challenge, since they were no longer on the drive that was previously authorised, although if you have an iLok key (for plugin versions 4.0 and above) you will be immune to drive changes. I copied this challenge to Notepad and saved it as a text file, logged on via my laptop to my Waves Account using my ID and password, used the 'Request Disk Re-authorisation' option and got a new response shortly afterwards.

Attack Of The Clones

So far so good — I could now reboot into the BIOS setup and navigate to its Boot page, where I could change the Boot Device Priority to point to my new SATA drive, save the new setting and then reboot, so that Windows XP now booted from the clone on the new drive rather than from the original drive.

However, for the first time ever I experienced the problem that's been plaguing some other musicians who've tried to clone a Windows XP partition — the clone seems to work, but is actually still linked to its originating partition, and won't run without it. The giveaway is that if you examine your drives in Explorer after booting into the new cloned partition you'll still see the old drive designated as the C: system drive, while the clone has some other drive letter (mine ended up as F:), even though your PC now boots from the clone and uses the bulk of its files. It didn't matter whether I created the clone by copying the existing XP partition across, via Partition Magic, or using a previously saved image file made with Drive Image — the problem was still there. Fortunately, I remembered participating in a very in-depth discussion about XP partitioning on the SOS Forums, and was able to track down the solution. It's actually quite simple once you know how.

First, note down the drive letter of the clone's partition as shown in Explorer, and then open the registry editor, by choosing the 'Run' command from the Start menu and typing in 'Regedit'. Now locate the entries under the heading 'HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\ MountedDevices\'. Near the bottom of this list you'll find a set of DosDevices: delete the existing \DosDevices\C: entry, and then rename the one for your clone (mine was \DosDevices\F:) to \DosDevices\C:. When you reboot, your clone will finally be standing on its own two feet (so to speak) and you can safely disconnect the old drive.

Strangely, the other two XP partitions I cloned onto my new SATA drive remained totally independent, requiring no further Registry tweaks, but using this cloning technique to move all three existing XP partitions across to the new bootable drive saved me countless hours of reinstalling Windows and all its applications in each one, and I didn't have to contact Microsoft by phone or Internet to reauthorise any of them either.

Once all the data had been copied across or cloned, I could finally power down and unplug my two old drives, pull them out of their Silent Drive sleeves, and bolt the new ones into the sleeves instead. However, while you're shuffling drives, a few words of warning. During the process I found a few instances where unplugging my old PATA Primary Master drive resulted in my PC not being able to boot up. This was because, despite designating one of my new SATA drives as First Boot Device, the BIOS was still looking for the previous Primary Master boot drive. The only way to continue was to plug it back in so that I could enter the BIOS to disable the auto-detect function for the Primary IDE Master drive. So before you completely remove your old drives, just unplug their power cables temporarily to see if everything boots successfully without them.

I still prefer to use the Boot Magic utility to choose between my various Windows partitions at boot-up, rather than using Windows' own boot menu, so I installed Boot Magic onto my first new XP partition, used its configuration utility to choose the appropriate partition options for my new boot menu, and then rebooted. Unfortunately, no boot menu appeared, and it took me some time to track down the cause of the problem. It transpired that Boot Magic always modifies the boot sector of 'Drive 1' to add its menu options, rather than whichever drive you choose to boot from in the BIOS, and in my PC 'Drive 1' was still one of my old PATA drives, which was being used to transfer various other data partitions. As soon as I physically unplugged the PATA drive, the SATA boot drive became Drive 1 and the Boot Magic menu could be successfully saved to it.

After cloning a Windows partition it's just as well to clear out any unwanted files, using a utility such as Iomatic's Disk Medic.After cloning a Windows partition it's just as well to clear out any unwanted files, using a utility such as Iomatic's Disk Medic.

The Clean-up

After this huge changeover, for each of my new Windows XP partitions I used the steps described in PC Notes June 2004 to make any hidden and no longer used devices visible in Device Manager — most of the 'greyed out' entries due to unconnected hardware (and therefore suitable for deletion) were to be found in the Storage volumes section and labelled 'Generic volume', because of many changes in partitions, along with two entries in the Disk Drives section for the two PATA hard drives I'd now unplugged.

I had a few applications with challenge/response copy protection to re-authorise (see 'Re-authorising Protected Software' box), and a little tidying up to do. I used Iomatic's Disk Medic ( to ferret out loads of temporary, obsolete, backup, and empty (0-byte) files, plus invalid Start Menu links. It found at least 40Mb of these on each of my Windows partitions, and it also offered to clear various Internet Browser caches, histories and cookies, and wipe the recent document histories of 96 different applications. At just $19.95, Disk Medic has proved to be a very handy utility. I then further cleaned up the Registry in each of my Windows partitions, using Microsoft's Reg Clean and Iomatic's Registry Medic, then defragmented each of them.

So there you are. Installing a new drive can be comparatively easy, but sometimes there can be quite a few complications along the way. I hope this feature will help you avoid most of them!