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Essay/Term paper: All about disk geometry and the 1024 cylinder limit for disks.

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Society

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All About Disk Geometry and The 1024 Cylinder Limit For Disks.


Large Disk mini-HOWTO
Andries Brouwer, aeb@cwi.nl
v1.0, 960626


1. The problem

Suppose you have a disk with more than 1024 cylinders. Suppose moreover that
you have an operating system that uses the BIOS. Then you have a problem,
because the usual INT13 BIOS interface to disk I/O uses a 10-bit field for the
cylinder on which the I/O is done, so that cylinders 1024 and past are
inaccessible.

Fortunately, Linux does not use the BIOS, so there is no problem.

Well, except for two things:

(1) When you boot your system, Linux isn't running yet and cannot save you from
BIOS problems.This has some consequences for LILO and similar boot loaders.

(2) It is necessary for all operating systems that use one disk to agree on
where the partitions are.In other words, if you use both Linux and, say, DOS on
one disk, then both must interpret the partition table in the same way.This has
some consequences for the Linux kernel and for fdisk.

Below a rather detailed description of all relevant details.Note that I used
kernel version 2.0.8 source as a reference.Other versions may differ a bit.

2.Booting

When the system is booted, the BIOS reads sector 0 (known as the MBR - the
Master Boot Record) from the first disk (or from floppy), and jumps to the code
found there - usually some bootstrap loader.These small bootstrap programs found
there typically have no own disk drivers and use BIOS services.This means that a
Linux kernel can only be booted when it is entirely located within the first
1024 cylinders.

This problem is very easily solved: make sure that the kernel (and perhaps other
files used during bootup, such as LILO map files) are located on a partition
that is entirely contained in the first 1024 cylinders of a disk that the BIOS
can access - probably this means the first or second disk.

Another point is that the boot loader and the BIOS must agree as to the disk
geometry.It may help to give LILO the `linear' option. More details below.

3.Disk geometry and partitions

If you have several operating systems on your disks, then each uses one or more
disk partitions.A disagreement on where these partitions are may have
catastrophic consequences.

The MBR contains a partition table describing where the (primary) partitions
are.There are 4 table entries, for 4 primary partitions, and each looks like

struct partition { char active;/* 0x80: bootable, 0: not bootable */ char
begin[3];/* CHS for first sector */ char type; char end[3];/* CHS for last
sector */ int start;/* 32 bit sector number (counting from 0) */ int length; /*
32 bit number of sectors */ };

(where CHS stands for Cylinder/Head/Sector).

Thus, this information is redundant: the location of a partition is given both
by the 24-bit begin and end fields, and by the 32-bit start and length fields.

Linux only uses the start and length fields, and can therefore handle partitions
of not more than 2^32 sectors, that is, partitions of at most 2 TB.That is two
hundred times larger than the disks available today, so maybe it will be enough
for the next ten years or so.

Unfortunately, the BIOS INT13 call uses CHS coded in three bytes, with 10 bits
for the cylinder number, 8 bits for the head number, and 6 bits for the track
sector number.Possible cylinder numbers are 0-1023, possible head numbers are 0-
255, and possible track sector numbers are 1-63 (yes, sectors on a track are
counted from 1, not 0). With these 24 bits one can address 8455716864 bytes
(7.875 GB), two hundred times larger than the disks available in 1983.

Even more unfortunately, the standard IDE interface allows 256 sectors/track,
65536 cylinders and 16 heads.This in itself allows access to 2^37 = 137438953472
bytes (128 GB), but combined with the BIOS restriction to 63 sectors and 1024
cylinders only 528482304 bytes (504 MB) remain addressable.

This is not enough for present-day disks, and people resort to all kinds of
trickery, both in hardware and in software.

4.Translation and Disk Managers

Nobody is interested in what the `real' geometry of a disk is. Indeed, the
number of sectors per track often is variable - there are more sectors per track
close to the outer rim of the disk - so there is no `real' number of sectors per
track.For the user it is best to regard a disk as just a linear array of sectors
numbered 0, 1, ..., and leave it to the controller to find out where a given
sector lives on the disk.

This linear numbering is known as LBA.The linear address belonging to (c,h,s)
for a disk with geometry (C,H,S) is c*H*S + h*S + (s-1). All SCSI controllers
speak LBA, and some IDE controllers do.

If the BIOS converts the 24-bit (c,h,s) to LBA and feeds that to a controller
that understands LBA, then again 7.875 GB is addressable. Not enough for all
disks, but still an improvement.Note that here CHS, as used by the BIOS, no
longer has any relation to `reality'.

Something similar works when the controller doesn't speak LBA but the BIOS knows
about translation.(In the setup this is often indicated as `Large'.)Now the BIOS
will present a geometry (C',H',S') to the operating system, and use (C,H,S)
while talking to the disk controller.Usually S = S', C' = C/N and H' = H*N,
where N is the smallest power of two that will ensure C' <= 1024 (so that least
capacity is wasted by the rounding down in C' = C/N).Again, this allows access
of up to 7.875 GB.

If a BIOS does not know about `Large' or `LBA', then there are software
solutions around.Disk Managers like OnTrack or EZ-Drive replace the BIOS disk
handling routines by their own.Often this is accomplished by having the disk
manager code live in the MBR and subsequent sectors (OnTrack calls this code
DDO: Dynamic Drive Overlay), so that it is booted before any other operating
system. That is why one may have problems when booting from a floppy when a Disk
Manager has been installed.

The effect is more or less the same as with a translating BIOS - but especially
when running several different operating systems on the same disk, disk managers
can cause a lot of trouble.

Linux does support OnTrack Disk Manager since version 1.3.14, and EZ-Drive
since version 1.3.29.Some more details are given below.

5.Kernel disk translation for IDE disks

If the Linux kernel detects the presence of some disk manager on an IDE disk, it
will try to remap the disk in the same way this disk manager would have done, so
that Linux sees the same disk partitioning as for example DOS with OnTrack or
EZ-Drive.However, NO remapping is done when a geometry was specified on the
command line - so a `hd=cyls,heads,secs' command line option might well kill
compatibility with a disk manager.

The remapping is done by trying 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 255 heads (keeping H*C
constant) until either C <= 1024 or H = 255.

The details are as follows - subsection headers are the strings appearing in the
corresponding boot messages.Here and everywhere else in this text partition
types are given in hexadecimal.

5.1.EZD

EZ-Drive is detected by the fact that the first primary partition has type
55.The geometry is remapped as described above, and the partition table from
sector 0 is discarded - instead the partition table is read from sector 1.Disk
block numbers are not changed, but writes to sector 0 are redirected to sector
1.This behaviour can be changed by recompiling the kernel with
#define FAKE_FDISK_FOR_EZDRIVE0 in ide.c.

5.2.DM6:DDO

OnTrack DiskManager (on the first disk) is detected by the fact that the first
primary partition has type 54.The geometry is remapped as described above and
the entire disk is shifted by 63 sectors (so that the old sector 63 becomes
sector 0).Afterwards a new MBR (with partition table) is read from the new
sector 0.Of course this shift is to make room for the DDO - that is why there is
no shift on other disks.

5.3.DM6:AUX

OnTrack DiskManager (on other disks) is detected by the fact that the first
primary partition has type 51 or 53.The geometry is remapped as described above.

5.4.DM6:MBR

An older version of OnTrack DiskManager is detected not by partition type, but
by signature.(Test whether the offset found in bytes 2 and 3 of the MBR is not
more than 430, and the short found at this offset equals 0x55AA, and is followed
by an odd byte.) Again the geometry is remapped as above.

5.5.PTBL

Finally, there is a test that tries to deduce a translation from the start and
end values of the primary partitions: If some partition has start and end
cylinder less than 256, and start and end sector number 1 and 63, respectively,
and end heads 31, 63 or 127, then, since it is customary to end partitions on a
cylinder boundary, and since moreover the IDE interface uses at most 16 heads,
it is conjectured that a BIOS translation is active, and the geometry is
remapped to use 32, 64 or 128 heads, respectively.(Maybe there is a flaw here,
and genhd.c should not have tested the high order two bits of the cylinder
number?)However, no remapping is done when the current idea of the geometry
already has 63 sectors per track and at least as many heads (since this probably
means that a remapping was done already).

6.Consequences

What does all of this mean?For Linux users only one thing: that they must make
sure that LILO and fdisk use the right geometry where `right' is defined for
fdisk as the geometry used by the other operating systems on the same disk, and
for LILO as the geometry that will enable successful interaction with the BIOS
at boot time. (Usually these two coincide.)

How does fdisk know about the geometry?It asks the kernel, using the HDIO_GETGEO
ioctl.But the user can override the geometry interactively or on the command
line.

How does LILO know about the geometry?It asks the kernel, using the HDIO_GETGEO
ioctl.But the user can override the geometry using the `disk=' option.One may
also give the linear option to LILO, and it will store LBA addresses instead of
CHS addresses in its map file, and find out of the geometry to use at boot time
(by using INT 13 Function 8 to ask for the drive geometry).

How does the kernel know what to answer?Well, first of all, the user may have
specified an explicit geometry with a `hd=cyls,heads,secs' command line
option.And otherwise the kernel will ask the hardware.

6.1.IDE details

Let me elaborate.The IDE driver has four sources for information about the
geometry.The first (G_user) is the one specified by the user on the command
line.The second (G_bios) is the BIOS Fixed Disk Parameter Table (for first and
second disk only) that is read on system startup, before the switch to 32-bit
mode.The third (G_phys) and fourth (G_log) are returned by the IDE controller as
a response to the IDENTIFY command - they are the `physical' and `current
logical' geometries.

On the other hand, the driver needs two values for the geometry: on the one hand
G_fdisk, returned by a HDIO_GETGEO ioctl, and on the other hand G_used, which is
actually used for doing I/O.Both G_fdisk and G_used are initialized to G_user if
given, to G_bios when this information is present according to CMOS, and to to G_
phys otherwise. If G_log looks reasonable then G_used is set to that.Otherwise,
if G_used is unreasonable and G_phys looks reasonable then G_used is set to G_
phys.Here `reasonable' means that the number of heads is in the range 1-16.

To say this in other words: the command line overrides the BIOS, and will
determine what fdisk sees, but if it specifies a translated geometry (with more
than 16 heads), then for kernel I/O it will be overridden by output of the
IDENTIFY command.

6.2.SCSI details

The situation for SCSI is slightly different, as the SCSI commands already use
logical block numbers, so a `geometry' is entirely irrelevant for actual
I/O.However, the format of the partition table is still the same, so fdisk has
to invent some geometry, and also uses HDIO_GETGEO here - indeed, fdisk does not
distinguish between IDE and SCSI disks.As one can see from the detailed
description below, the various drivers each invent a somewhat different
geometry.Indeed, one big mess.

If you are not using DOS or so, then avoid all extended translation settings,
and just use 64 heads, 32 sectors per track (for a nice, convenient 1 MB per
cylinder), if possible, so that no problems arise when you move the disk from
one controller to another.Some SCSI disk drivers (aha152x, pas16, ppa, qlogicfas,
qlogicisp) are so nervous about DOS compatibility that they will not allow a
Linux-only system to use more than about 8 GB.This is a bug.

What is the real geometry?The easiest answer is that there is no such thing.And
if there were, you wouldn't want to know, and certainly NEVER, EVER tell fdisk
or LILO or the kernel about it.It is strictly a business between the SCSI
controller and the disk.Let me repeat that: only silly people tell
fdisk/LILO/kernel about the true SCSI disk geometry.

But if you are curious and insist, you might ask the disk itself. There is the
important command READ CAPACITY that will give the total size of the disk, and
there is the MODE SENSE command, that in the Rigid Disk Drive Geometry Page
(page 04) gives the number of cylinders and heads (this is information that
cannot be changed), and in the Format Page (page 03) gives the number of bytes
per sector, and sectors per track.This latter number is typically dependent upon
the notch, and the number of sectors per track varies - the outer tracks have
more sectors than the inner tracks.The Linux program scsiinfo will give this
information.There are many details and complications, and it is clear that
nobody (probably not even the operating system) wants to use this
information.Moreover, as long as we are only concerned about fdisk and LILO, one
typically gets answers like C/H/S=4476/27/171 - values that cannot be used by
fdisk because the partition table reserves only 10 resp. 8 resp. 6 bits for
C/H/S.

Then where does the kernel HDIO_GETGEO get its information from? Well, either
from the SCSI controller, or by making an educated guess. Some drivers seem to
think that we want to know `reality', but of course we only want to know what
the DOS or OS/2 FDISK (or Adaptec AFDISK, etc) will use.

Note that Linux fdisk needs the numbers H and S of heads and sectors per track
to convert LBA sector numbers into c/h/s addresses, but the number C of
cylinders does not play a role in this conversion.Some drivers use (C,H,S) =
(1023,255,63) to signal that the drive capacity is at least 1023*255*63
sectors.This is unfortunate, since it does not reveal the actual size, and will
limit the users of most fdisk versions to about 8 GB of their disks - a real
limitation in these days.

In the description below, M denotes the total disk capacity, and C, H, S the
number of cylinders, heads and sectors per track.It suffices to give H, S if we
regard C as defined by M / (H*S).

By default, H=64, S=32.

aha1740, dtc, g_NCR5380, t128, wd7000: H=64, S=32.

aha152x, pas16, ppa, qlogicfas, qlogicisp: H=64, S=32 unless C > 1024, in which
case H=255, S=63, C = min(1023, M/(H*S)).(Thus C is truncated, and H*S*C is not
an approximation to the disk capacity M.This will confuse most versions of
fdisk.)The ppa.c code uses M+1 instead of M and says that due to a bug in sd.c M
is off by 1.

advansys: H=64, S=32 unless C > 1024 and moreover the `> 1 GB' option in the
BIOS is enabled, in which case H=255, S=63.

aha1542: Ask the controller which of two possible translation schemes is in use,
and use either H=255, S=63 or H=64, S=32.In the former case there is a boot
message "aha1542.c: Using extended bios translation".

aic7xxx: H=64, S=32 unless C > 1024, and moreover either the "extended" boot
parameter was given, or the `extended' bit was set in the SEEPROM or BIOS, in
which case H=255, S=63.

buslogic: H=64, S=32 unless C >= 1024, and moreover extended translation was
enabled on the controller, in which case if M < 2^22 then H=128, S=32; otherwise
H=255, S=63.However, after making this choice for (C,H,S), the partition table
is read, and if for one of the three possibilities (H,S) = (64,32), (128,32),
(255,63) the value endH=H-1 is seen somewhere then that pair (H,S) is used, and
a boot message is printed "Adopting Geometry from Partition Table".

fdomain: Find the geometry information in the BIOS Drive Parameter Table, or
read the partition table and use H=endH+1, S=endS for the first partition,
provided it is nonempty, or use H=64, S=32 for M < 2^21 (1 GB), H=128, S=63 for
M < 63*2^17 (3.9 GB) and H=255, S=63 otherwise.

in2000: Use the first of (H,S) = (64,32), (64,63), (128,63), (255,63) that will
make C <= 1024.In the last case, truncate C at 1023.

seagate: Read C,H,S from the disk.(Horrors!)If C or S is too large, then put S=
17, H=2 and double H until C <= 1024.This means that H will be set to 0 if M >
128*1024*17 (1.1 GB).This is a bug.

ultrastor and u14_34f: One of three mappings ((H,S) = (16,63), (64,32),
(64,63)) is used depending on the controller mapping mode.

If the driver does not specify the geometry, we fall back on an eduĀ­ cated guess
using the partition table, or using the total disk capacĀ­ ity.

Look at the partition table.Since by convention partitions end on a cylinder
boundary, we can, given end = (endC,endH,endS) for any partition, just put H =
endH+1 and S = endS.(Recall that sectors are counted from 1.)More precisely, the
following is done.If there is a nonempty partition, pick the partition with the
largest beginC.For that partition, look at end+1, computed both by adding start
and length and by assuming that this partition ends on a cylinder boundary.If
both values agree, or if endC = 1023 and start+length is an integral multiple of
(endH+1)*endS, then assume that this partition really was aligned on a cylinder
boundary, and put H = endH+1 and S = endS.If this fails, either because there
are no partitions, or because they have strange sizes, then look only at the
disk capacity M.Algorithm: put H = M/(62*1024) (rounded up), S = M/(1024*H)
(rounded up), C = M/(H*S) (rounded down).This has the effect of producing a
(C,H,S) with C at most 1024 and S at most 62.

 

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