Hard-drive changes: Long Block Data standard gets green light

But not all vendors are on board yet

Paving the way for hard disk drive makers to take advantage of higher areal density -- something that can boost capacity without sacrificing disk reliability -- the International Disk Drive, Equipment and Materials Association (IDEMA) announced it has finalized the definition of the Long Block Data (LBD) sector standard.

The LBD sector specification will replace the 30-year-old standard of 512 bytes per sector with a new one, which allows 4,096 bytes per sector on disk surfaces. By moving to the larger block size, the amount of error correction code (ECC) is expected to drop, resulting in data that is easier to read and more accurate, said Joel Weiss, president of the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based IDEMA.

Saving space on the hard drive surface enables more storage density and better data integrity, including more efficient data transfers. In fact, Weiss said that the IDEMA working group discovered that data integrity could be enhanced by as much as 10 times by moving to a 4,096-byte block size.

He also said that this should be a boon for storage vendors looking to accelerate their design, construction and rollout of speedier and more reliable hard drives.

While storage users wouldn't discern any prominent changes in day-to-day management of their storage devices and products, Weiss said that the larger block size would boost defragging speed as well as the I/O speed of hard drives.

The goal of the IDEMA is to get drive vendors and software industry leaders to embrace the larger physical block sizes on disk. Microsoft Corp. has already enabled its Windows Vista operating system to be fully compatible with the LBD standard.

Weiss acknowledged that systems and storage vendors such as Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc. and others will go through a "transition phase" of integrating the new high-performance drives with operating systems and other compatible software, including databases.

Seagate Technology LLC and Western Digital Corp. have already agreed to align data on their drive drives to 512-byte sectors that can be placed together in eight-block chunks to equal 4,096 bytes. They also said they will provide software to enable their drives to be used at either 512-byte or 4,096-byte sizes.

However, Weiss noted that Hitachi Global Storage Technologies isn't as eager to comply. The company has announced that it will support 512 bytes or 4,096 bytes -- but not both -- when it comes to that point in hard drive development.