Starting on May 10th of 2011, Dell began shipping some configurations of Enterprise Client systems (Latitude, Optiplex, Precision) with Advanced Format (AF) hard drives. This page will provide general information, deployment scenario recommendations, and a discussion thread (bottom of the page) on deploying Dell systems with AF drives.

Another Tech Tuesday Chat discussing AF drives is scheduled for July 19th. Read the transcript from the Tech Tuesday Chat on May 3rd, 2011.

Advanced Format Quick Links

Dell Image Support for AF Drives Windows 7 RTM and SP1//WinPE 3.0 patch for AF support - This KB article was updated 4/28/2011 with a new version of the KB982018 patch- v3 which now applies to SP1 also.
Download Paragon Alignment Tool from Dell WAIK Update to WinPE 3.1 - AF site Advanced Format Overview PDF Vista patch for AF support
Aligned vs. Unaligned performance tests WAIK and MDT info from Michael Niehaus' blog
VBScript to check alignment WinPE 3.1 support for ConfigMgr 2007 (bottom of page)
PowerShell Script to check alignment How to patch WinPE 3.0
Dell Advanced Format Detection Tool - New on 06/10/2011 Understanding the impact of Large Sector Media - Microsoft

5 Steps to Advanced Format readiness in your deployment process

The goal of Advanced Format readiness is to have your deployment process support both existing hard drives and Advanced Format drives without having to have separate processes for a specific drive type. The steps below will guide you through the process of modifying your deployment process to achieve the goal.

1. Acquire an Advanced Format Hard Disk Drive (AFHDD) for testing

  • Request an AFHDD from your Dell sales team - ask for a AFHDD customer kit from your Dell Account team 
  • Verify an existing test drive is Advanced Format with the Dell Advanced Format Detection Tool

2. Modify your disk configuration process to support Advanced Format Hard Disk Drives

  • WinPE - many deployment processes use tools contained in WinPE (like diskpart.exe) to configure the hard disk when deploying a new operating system. It is recommended that you use WinPE 3.0 or higher when deploying systems with AFHDD's. If you use WinPE do the following:
    1. Patch WinPE 3.0 with KB982018. Microsoft has instructions on how to patch WinPE. If you are using WinPE 3.0 already, this is the quickest way to support AFHDD's with WinPE. OR
    2. Upgrade to WinPE 3.1 This option has more challenges that you need to be aware of. If you use Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) for your deployment process, you need to read Michael Niehaus' blog on the specifics of using WinPE 3.1 with MDT. If you use Microsoft Configuration Manager (ConfigMgr) for your deployment process there is a document that explains the WinPE 3.1 support for ConfigMgr.
    3. If you must use a version earlier than WinPE 3.0, verify that a proper partition alignment is set during disk configuration (see Step 4)
  • Sysprep - Ensure that you DO NOT use "ExtendOemPartition = 1" in your sysprep.inf
  • Ghost - Symantec doesn't formally support AFHDD's with Ghost, but they provide a switch "-align=1mb" which appears to properly align partitions on an AFHDD.

3. Include AFHDD support in the Windows Operating System (OS) image to be deployed.

  • OS Updates
    • Windows 7 SP1 includes support for AFHDD but it is recommended that you include the KB982018 patch as it is also applicable to Windows 7 SP1.
    • Windows 7 RTM needs to have the KB982018 patch applied.
    • Windows Vista SP1 and higher needs to have the 2470478 patch applied.
    • Windows XP and older OS's are not supported on Advanced Format drives. KB2510009 has more information on Microsoft's AFHDD support policy.
  • Drivers - Ensure that you have the latest drivers for your deployment process. Specifically the Mass Storage drivers as some older drivers are not compatible with AFHDD's.

4. Test your deployment process
Now that you have your disk configuration and OS ready for AFHDD's, do a test deployment onto your test AF drive. You will want to check for the following:

  • Verify partiton alignment by using one of the following methods
    1. Dell Advanced Format Detection Tool - this command line tool will identify Advanced Format drives on the system and give partition alignment status. No switches are required, but there are switches available to target a specific drive.
    2. Diskpart.exe - Use the following commands
      1. select disk 0 (hit enter) or use the disk number of the disk you want to evaluate.
      2. list partition (hit enter) Look for the offset to be equal to "1024 KB" OR
      3. select partition 1 (hit enter) or select the partition you want to evaluate
      4. detail partition (hit enter) divide the "offset in bytes" by 4096. If it equals a whole number it is aligned.
    3. Scripts - Sample scripts are available here for VBscript and Powershell for verifying partition alignment.
  • Check for other issues
    1. Encryption - If you encrypt your drives you will want to check this carefully. McAfee has an article on an issue with their encryption software and AFHDDs here KB71967

5. Audit and Remediate systems with Advanced Format Hard Disk Drives
Since most environments will contain standard and Advanced Format drives for quite some time it is imperitive to be able to know what systems have AFHDD's and be able to verify their partition alignment.

  • Audit - The Dell Advanced Format Detection Tool provides exit codes so that it can be incorporated into systems management tool reporting as most systems management tools include the exit codes in their standard software deployment reporting.
    • Exit code 0 = No AFHDD found
    • Exit code 201 = AFHDD present and partitions are aligned
    • Exit code 202 = AFHDD present and one or more partitions are not aligned
  • Remediate - When systems with AFHDD's are found that are not aligned and cannot be re-imaged then the Paragon Alignment Tool can be used on existing systems to re-align their partitions. (note: a scriptable version of the Paragon Alignment tool is available for a fee if you need to address a large amount of miss-alignned systems)

Deployment Scenarios

Configuration Manager 2007 OSD - Testing with the Dell IT staff on AF drives shows that a current ConfigMgr2007/WinPE3.0 infrastructure delivers systems (Windows 7 and XP) that have mis-aligned partitions (offset of 1026KB) on AF drives.

Advanced Format Drive - Not Aligned

Patching WinPE3.0 produces a correct offset of 1024KB on AF drives for both Windows 7 and XP. Windows 7 still requires the patch or SP1 to address the perfomance issues related to using AF drives. Note: The updated KB982018 patch (version 3) applies to SP1 also.

Advanced Format Drive - Aligned

If you are using the Dell Driver CABs you can check the details page for each of the cabs to see if they contain the correct Intel mass storage driver required to support AF drives (9.6 or higher)

Hard Drive Encryption - If you encrypt your drives, you will have to be extra careful in your deployment processes. Specifically, you need to ensure that your drives are aligned BEFORE encrypting them. Using an alignment tool after encryption will cause data loss. Also, ensure that your encryption vendor has certified their product on AF drives.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do I tell the difference between an AF drive and 512B drive when looking at the label on the drive?
A: Hard Drive manufacturers will be putting the AF logo on AF drives, but some stock may have shipped without logos. If it doesn't have a logo, you will have to check the model number of the drive to see if it is AF or 512B, or use one of the processes below for identification.

Q: Is there an easy way (WMI data, script, etc.) to detect if a system has an AF drive?
A: Yes. The Dell Advanced Format Detection Tool is the easiest way to identify AF drives. It also provides partition alignment status in the output and can be easily included in a script.

Windows 7 SP1 can also identify AF drives if patched with the v3 version of KB982018 which includes an update to FSUtil.exe. Below is the output from running "fsutil fsinfo ntfsinfo c:" on a standard 512B drive. You will see in the highlighted area that "bytes per physical sector" is 512.

FSUtil.exe output from a 512B drive

Here's the output for the same command on an AF drive. You will see in the highlighted area that "bytes per physical sector" is listed as 4096.

FSUtil.exe output for an Advanced Format Drive

Also, for Intel systems, you can install the Rapid Storage Technology utility and it will show you the physical and logical sector sizes in the GUI.

Q: Is there an easy way (WMI data, script, etc.) to detect if an AF drive is aligned?
A: Yes, you can detect alignment on a drive with these VBscript or PowerShell scripts, but you won't know if it is an AF or standard 512B drive so you may get some false positives when targeting existing systems. Using the output of the Dell Advanced Format Detection Tool, you can check alignment with a script in addition to identifying AF drives in your environment.

Q: Do I need to use an alignment tool on every system with an AF drive?
A: If you have verified that your deployment process is aligning AF drives, then you do not need to use an alignment tool.

Q: Do I need to incorporate an alignment tool into my deployment process?
A: It is recommended that you do not incorporate an alignment tool into your deployment process. You should be able to deploy systems with AF drives that are aligned without an alignment tool if you have met the criteria required (see links above).

Q: How is Dell notifying customers that a new system may contain an AF drive?
A: A flyer with the above  information is being inserted into the shipping boxes of new Enterprise Client systems that are capable of having an AF drive. Note: The flyer is not an indicator that the system DOES contain an AF Drive.