Can't clone a drive - software can't see it but Windows can! Why?
November 16, 2011 1:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm cloning a hard drive. Windows can see the new drive and access it, but none of the cloning software can access it, no matter how I format or set it up. What's going on here, and how do I fix it?

I have a laptop running Win7 Pro. (If it's significant, it started life as WinXP Pro.) The hard drive is failing, so I'm replacing it. I intended to just use one of the many cloning utilities out there to set up the new drive, then scandisk it to fix the errors from the failing drive, just as I did many times in my time doing tech support. I've got the new drive hooked up via USB, and Windows can see it, read it, write to it - everything I can think of. It's got one big partition that Disk Management shows as Healthy (Active, Primary). I've formatted it. I also tried working with it unformatted, not set as active, etc. None of the cloning software I've tried can clone onto it. I've tried the following (with its errors):

CopyWipe (hangs at select target drive screen, tech support says it's due to having a USB keyboard, which I don't, or says the disk is formatted as 4096 byte sectors when the source is 512 - tried reformatting with 512-size allocation sectors, tried reformatting using an XP machine, no change)

Image for DOS, Linux, Windows (all that same 4096/512 error)

Clonezilla (target drive may be smaller than source? - it isn't, I'm cloning an 80GB onto a 250GB)

DriveImage XML (says I don't have a partition on the new drive, even though I can see the dang thing and access it)

XXClone (can't even see the drive at all)

WTF is going on? What am I missing? The OEM drive in the machine is a Hitachi, the new one is WD, both SATA. But I've never seen that cause something like this?

After 3 days and 7 cloning programs, I'm losing it. Help!
posted by dust.wind.dude to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
Is the drive encrypted?
posted by dgeiser13 at 2:07 PM on November 16, 2011

Sounds like you're running up against Advanced Format (the switch from 512-byte to 4096-byte sectors in the disk hardware), assuming it's a WD Scorpio Blue. Try taking a look at the WD Advanced Format Align utility here.

If the new drive is a bit older, then it may have a physical jumper to change -- details are also on that page.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 2:13 PM on November 16, 2011

Addendum -- I just noticed that due to Javascript trickery, that link goes to the main page for the Scorpio Blue. Click on the "Advanced Format" tab to go over to the page for the utility.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 2:15 PM on November 16, 2011

do you have two sata channels in your box? USB could be the culprit if you're trying to get to the drive via USB.

i clone my drive (monthly to two backup clones) by connecting them this way (i.e, one to each sata connector.)

i use an el cheapo clone utility called ezgig II from a bootable CD that came with a drive I bought years ago. kinda dumb, but bulletproof.
posted by FauxScot at 6:17 PM on November 16, 2011

WTF is going on?

Somewhere in the mists of distant memory, 512 bytes became the One True Sector Size for hard disk drives. From an interface point of view, hard disk drives have looked like an enormous collection of 512-byte sectors since approximately forever.

But 512 bytes is an insanely small amount of data, and on modern drives occupies a literally microscopic amount of disk surface. And since all operating systems have been reading and writing data in 4096-byte (8-sector) chunks for at least fifteen years, disk surface dedicated to making data addressable in blocks smaller than 4096 bytes is pretty much a pure waste of space and speed. This is why drive manufacturers have started to build drives that use 4096-byte sectors on the actual disk surface.

This move has been telegraphed for long enough that most operating systems are now capable of dealing with their disk drives at their native sector size, rather than blindly assuming 512-byte sectoring. Cloning apps, though, might perhaps not be.

To provide some level of backward compatibility, drive manufacturers who make drives with the new 4096-byte sectoring usually offer a 512-byte interface compatibility mode. Such drives can be used as if they still had real 512-byte sectors, and the drive's onboard controller will take care of translation. There is no performance difference at all between this mode and a "pure" 4096-bytes-per-sector mode, provided the OS always does disk access with 8-sector granularity on 8-sector boundaries, as most are currently set up to do.

However, if the interface is asked to write a bunch of 512-byte sectors that doesn't begin and end on a 4096-byte boundary, the drive is pretty much forced to do a read/modify/write sequence to get that stuff onto the disk, which slows things down a lot.

Unfortunately, disk partitioning conventions that have hung about for far too long mean that many, many drives are set up with exactly 63 spare sectors before the beginning of the partition actually used for the main filesystem. That means the partition doesn't start on a 4K boundary, which means that every 4K chunk the OS writes causes read/modify/write sequences inside the drive. As of Vista, Microsoft's disk setup utility has started leaving 1MiB of free space before the first partition and aligning partitions on 1MiB boundaries, which lines things up much better. Lots of Linux installers still use the old 63-sector convention by default.

You can format an NTFS filesystem in such a way as to make it do disk access in chunks of other than its default 4KiB, but this does not change the sector size it uses when talking to the drive, which depends only on the drive model and possibly jumpering; all it does is change the number of sectors transferred per low-level disk transaction.

So. If your aim is to make a block-for-block clone of a disk containing a damaged filesystem in order to perform repairs on the cloned copy (which is admirable practice), and your original disk has XP-vintage partitioning where C: starts at sector 63, you'd best do your cloning onto another drive with genuine 512-byte sectoring. Using a 4K-sectored target drive will either cause incompatibility woes or slow disk access or both.
posted by flabdablet at 6:59 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: whee still working on it! updates as to your suggestions:

dgeiser13: as far as I am aware it is not encrypted - this was a new drive right out of the box (and I'm having no problems making copies of the original drive).

McCoy Pauley: I downloaded the Align tool (as well as the free WD-branded version of Acronis True Image, sweet!) and ran it, and it tells me there is nothing to do, the drive is already set properly. True Image errored out on me too - in the clone process, it recognizes the source drive, and can see the destination drive, but you can't select anything - all target drive choices are grayed out, no matter what source you pick. I've emailed WD, and am going to try cloning to an external drive, and then installing the new drive and booting to the external, then re-cloning.

FauxScot: This is a laptop, with only one SATA channel that I know of.

flabdablet: holy hell, that's an awesome explanation! I will tuck it away in case I can't get this drive to work and have to buy a different one.

I'll keep you posted on my adventure, and let you know what WD says too.
posted by dust.wind.dude at 10:50 AM on November 17, 2011

Response by poster: Success! My officemates had to watch me do the dance of victory all around the room. Here's my story:
WD wrote back and claimed you can't copy to an external drive using their software - which isn't true because by the time they got back to me, I had cloned the faildrive to an external backup drive which didn't end up fixing anything but that's beside the point - but it gave me an idea.

The solution:
I made the bootable CD version of TrueImage that came with the software package, then installed the new drive into the machine and the faildrive on the USB connector, then booted from the CD and cloned from there. And it worked! For some reason, it couldn't see the new drive on the USB, but it could see the old one.

Thank you all for your efforts and education. Yay!
posted by dust.wind.dude at 7:49 AM on November 18, 2011

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