Maybe I’m the only guy that didn’t hear about this, but when I did my post on “Make Your Own External Hard Drive” below, I stumbled upon Western Digital’s new “Advance Format” hard disk drives (HDDs).  In the Advanced Format HDD, Western Digital has replaced the previous 512 byte hard drive sector with a 4 kilobyte (4096B) hard drive sector.  The first drives out there now are the WD Green Caviar series (1TB, 1.5TB & 2TB).  All should have “EARS” in the drive model number (i.e., WD10EARS).

Now… why do you care?  There are some compatibility issues with Windows OS’s prior to Vista & Windows 7 (duh… like Windows XP).  In fact, it has issues on Vista & Win 7 if you use currently available disk partitioning/cloning software to copy to an Advanced Format HDD.  The disk imaging software companies (i.e., Acronis, Paragon, etc.) have yet to update their products to conform to the new 4K sector (but hopefully they soon will).

Fortunately, Western Digital provides alignment software that you can download from their website.  It is strongly recommended that you run this software after partitioning/formatting with Windows XP, or after using any disk partitioning/cloning software on Vista/Win 7.  In addition, the new Advanced Format HDDs have a jumper setting (pins 7-8) which you can use on XP when initially partitioning & formatting a new WD Advanced Format HDD (if you use the jumper setting, you DO NOT use the WD Alignment Utility).  Here’s the configuration details from Western Digital’s website:
So… what happens if you don’t follow the above procedures?  Well, supposedly you will not lose or corrupt any data, but you may drastically slow down the transfer speed of your new HDD.  Also, if you use the jumper pins 7-8 setting before partitioning/formatting the HDD, DO NOT run the Alignment Utility afterwards and DO NOT later remove the jumper (unless you’re completely starting over with the HDD… new partition, etc.).

Here’s links to information concerning the Western Digital’s Advanced Format HDDs:

UPDATE:  Ars Technica did an even more detailed article on this (“Why new hard disks might not be much fun for XP users”)

Western Digital currently offers two alignment utilities, one from Acronis & the other from Paragon.  The Acronis alignment utility is provided as a bootable ISO that you need to burn to a CD, whereas the Paragon utility is a Windows installer file.  Western Digital states the the Acronis utility may be as much as 3 times faster than the Paragon utility (I know which one I’ll be using!).

This is just one more reason you should build your own External HDD, as the WD Align Utility may not work on all USB Ext HDDs that are Advanced Format, requiring you to remove the HDD from the external enclosure, install it in your PC, and then run the WD Align Utility on it.  Well… it’s not always easy to crack open retail external hard drive cases to remove their HDD; but it’s trivial for an external HDD that you built yourself.