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“Niagara,” The Short Stroking Tool

Accelerate Your Hard Drive By Short Stroking
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Niagara 2.2.9.0 main screen.Niagara 2.2.9.0 main screen.

The Niagara 2.2.9.0 tool is small and does not require installation, but it is only available for large Hitachi customers. To our knowledge, it’s not (yet) available to the public. However, the Niagara tool is required for SAS drives only. You can accomplish very much the same thing using Hitachi’s Feature Tool, which is available for download at hitachigst.com. After launching the utility, it makes sense to first lock hard drives that you do not intend to modify. We found this feature useful, as it prevents accidental modifications in systems running multiple hard drives. Your selected settings will be applied to all drives that aren’t locked.

Lock your system drive before you apply short stroking settings.Lock your system drive before you apply short stroking settings.

Re-Formatting

Niagara offers several features, including a drive self-test and some configuration options. The formatting process, which we need for our short stroking project, isn’t straightforward, but it is logical. You have to select the format button to move to the next step, and format the drive using only a limited number of blocks. In the following screenshot, we selected the full number of available blocks, which results in the full 450 GB capacity of the Ultrastar 15K450 drives.

In this example we format 879,097,968 blocks at 512 bytes per block, which results in 450,098,158,616 bytes. Hard drive makers define one kilobyte as 1,000 bytes, which turns the 450 billion bytes into 450 GB. Defined as 1,024 bytes per KB, it would be 419.19 GB.

We formatted the 450 GB Ultrastar 15K450 drives using three different settings, so we reached 100% (450 GB), 10% (44 GB), and 4% (20 GB) of the total capacity. The following screen shot shows our formatting choice to receive 44 GB volumes. These settings were recommended by Hitachi, as this figure covers the first three zones of the 15K450 drives.

In this example we formatted 90,151,200 blocks at a 512 byte block size, which results in a 44 GB capacity.

We only had one issue during the process: the tool would not reformat the SAS drives when we used Adaptec’s 5805 RAID controller. Switching to a non-RAID Adaptec 48300 SAS host adapter solved the issue.

Formatting Results For Short Stroking

Voila. Here are the results. For this screen shot, we formatted two of the drives to provide 20 GB capacity, and two more at 44 GB capacity:

We could have selected other capacities as well, but we decided to benchmark the short stroked drives at 20 GB and 44 GB capacities.

SATA Short Stroking via the Hitachi Feature Tool

As already mentioned, the Niagara tool would not work with SATA drives such as the Deskstar 7K1000.B. To configure these at lower capacities we went to hitachigst.com and downloaded the Hitachi Feature Tool. It doesn’t operate using LBA blocks, but rather actual capacity figures, making the process a bit easier. The result, however, was the same. We configured the 7K1000.B 250-GB drives to 250 GB, 33 GB and 12 GB for our benchmark session.

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Top Comments
  • 17 Hide
    mitch074 , March 5, 2009 6:53 AM
    HOWTO - take your new hard disk drive. Create a 32 Gb partition, from the first LBA block. Format it. Don't forget to enable NCQ if it isn't enabled by default. Store your test data on said partition. Create another partition with the leftover space, where you'll store, say, backups.

    Would you mind repeating your tests without using the Hitachi-specific tools, but a mere partitioning tool? 'far as I know, drives access platter sectors sequentially (platter 0 sector 0, platter 1 sector 0, etc.) thus partitioning correctly should have the same effect... That's certainly what I see with my own drives.
  • 10 Hide
    philologos , March 5, 2009 6:52 AM
    It's odd that you report short-stroking as a process of acceleration. I usually employ short strokes if I'm trying to delay the satisfaction of my I/O needs.

    Sorry, couldn't resist.
Other Comments
  • 8 Hide
    eddieroolz , March 5, 2009 5:02 AM
    You know, clicking on this article redirected me to a "Antivirus 360" popup which then said that my computer was infected. My fat ass - I have NOD32.

    You guys might want to check where your ads are coming from - only matter of time until one day someone infect themselves.
  • 5 Hide
    cl_spdhax1 , March 5, 2009 5:26 AM
    i just noticed that also, running adscan and virus scan.
  • 3 Hide
    cangelini , March 5, 2009 5:46 AM
    Not sure what you guys are experiencing. Running AVG here and no issues. But I'll report it just to make sure. Thanks for the heads-up.
  • 10 Hide
    philologos , March 5, 2009 6:52 AM
    It's odd that you report short-stroking as a process of acceleration. I usually employ short strokes if I'm trying to delay the satisfaction of my I/O needs.

    Sorry, couldn't resist.
  • 7 Hide
    Anonymous , March 5, 2009 6:53 AM
    Interesting article.

    I do wish they had a similar to for the WD's and Seagates just to see what kind of boost the higher density platters will provide and maybe you won't lose as much capacity in the process.

    Another thought would be for the tool to also allow you to format the one partition for performance but still allow you to use the remaining capacity as you see fit. If I want to try and keep everything in one section I could still get the benefits but if I need to, I can use the remaining room and know that I will get a performance hit.
  • 17 Hide
    mitch074 , March 5, 2009 6:53 AM
    HOWTO - take your new hard disk drive. Create a 32 Gb partition, from the first LBA block. Format it. Don't forget to enable NCQ if it isn't enabled by default. Store your test data on said partition. Create another partition with the leftover space, where you'll store, say, backups.

    Would you mind repeating your tests without using the Hitachi-specific tools, but a mere partitioning tool? 'far as I know, drives access platter sectors sequentially (platter 0 sector 0, platter 1 sector 0, etc.) thus partitioning correctly should have the same effect... That's certainly what I see with my own drives.
  • 0 Hide
    arkadi , March 5, 2009 8:06 AM
    Well the results are logical and make sense. Cant say it a new concept, but it is nice to see it on paper.
  • 3 Hide
    Thesmj , March 5, 2009 8:16 AM
    I got the same popup. The site it came from was "cleanyourpc-now.com".

    It spawns a pretty convincing looking explorer window which appears to scan all your drives. It even makes what looks like a bubble pop up above the tray telling you viruses were found.
  • -2 Hide
    sbuckler , March 5, 2009 8:17 AM
    It's always been known that using less of a hard disk makes it faster but that is hardly likely to make it perform on an SSD like level. HD's are done for when it comes to high throughput work.

    If want to make a HD peform better then instead of emptying it and only using 10% of the capacity which is somewhat impractical use a smart defragger that puts all the frequently used data together at the fast end of the disk. That will give you most of the performance most of the time without the disadvantage of a tiny disk size.
  • 2 Hide
    curnel_D , March 5, 2009 8:27 AM
    cangeliniNot sure what you guys are experiencing. Running AVG here and no issues. But I'll report it just to make sure. Thanks for the heads-up.

    This didnt show up at all on my vista 64-bit that I just tried, but did show up on an older xp machine I used when I first read this article. Bad news. :(  Would love to hear an explanation...
  • 4 Hide
    Silluete , March 5, 2009 9:02 AM
    Didn't get anything here too, I using vista 32-bit but my friend using xp and got some pop up, and now he running his AVG.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , March 5, 2009 10:01 AM
    I would like to see this in comparison with a RAID of SSD's. Comparing a RAID of short stroke with a RAID of SSD's, to see how they compare... This is very interesting and intriguing information.
  • 0 Hide
    armistitiu , March 5, 2009 10:03 AM
    Nice article. Didn't expect this kind of stuff from Tom's Hardware.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 5, 2009 10:13 AM
    im using xp and no popups for me. What browser are using those who get it?
  • 7 Hide
    wilsonkf , March 5, 2009 10:39 AM
    It is expectable that dual-head harddisk is coming - one for the outermost track, one for otherwise.

    Or may triple head?
  • 2 Hide
    Darkk , March 5, 2009 10:48 AM
    I didn't get the anti-virus ad pop up. Then again I'm running Linux and Firefox 3.0+
  • 2 Hide
    shreeharsha , March 5, 2009 10:56 AM
    No popups on Firefox 3.0.7 / Mac OS X 10.5.6
  • 0 Hide
    pcfxer , March 5, 2009 11:23 AM
    I find it odd that they recommend the crappy onboard RAID in most motherboards...I suppose server/workstation boards have better host controllers equipped onboard.
  • 0 Hide
    Pei-chen , March 5, 2009 11:48 AM
    I ran into the Antivirus 360 problem two days ago visiting Tom's home page; ran AVG and turned up nothing on my computer. IE7 + Vista 64

    Back to topic. I think a large Raid array made up of 2.5" hybrid drives or SSD + 2.5" drives is better than an all SSD array. Most accessed data are on the SSD and less accessed on 2.5"
  • -4 Hide
    konchus , March 5, 2009 12:26 PM
    i also utilize short stroke technology on my woman friends...they love it
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