A Windows Backup-compatible External HDD

A few years ago, I was setting up a backup plan for my home computer, when I encountered the lovely 4K sector incompatibility issue in Windows 7. It caught me entirely off guard, as I thought my OS was recent enough for MS to support something so critical. Think again!

I solved this at home, as explained in my earlier post, by avoiding Windows Backup in favor of a better, third party solution. Since then, we have encountered the same problem at work with Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server Backup. Last year, we bought a batch of 2TB Seagate externals and they worked fine. When we bought new, visually identical ones more recently, they failed because they are native 4K drives — uh oh! Needless to say, we don’t plan on the headaches of updating a server to 2012 R2 to “solve” that.

Apparently it has grown difficult to reliably find a non-4K sector external HDD these days. How would you know where to look, it’s not exactly an advertised spec? After searching for a while, I found this great discussion over at Spiceworks, where some people have tried various brands and models of external HDDs. Western Digital has a formatting tool that supports some of its drives and allows formatting them in a special 512-byte compatibility mode (yay WD!)  Seagate appears to have no such tool.

Screenshot of Western Digital Quick Drive Format tool
Screenshot of fsutil in command prompt

So we bought one of these 3TB drives, hooked it up, formatted with WD’s tool and it works with Windows Server Backup in 2008 R2. WD to the rescue! The trick is to choose Vista compatibility, not XP, older is not better in this case:Then use fsutil to check if it worked, you should see Bytes Per Sector change from 4096 to 512, like so:Note this isn’t well-supported by anyone and might not work, use at your own risk and all that. But with luck you can continue using Windows Backup software with new external HDDs on Windows 7 or Server 2008. The alternatives are to upgrade Windows or use a different backup software, the latter is certainly worth considering!