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The Hard Disk Drive Short Stroke Guide Rev. 2.0
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The Hard Disk Drive Short Stroke Guide

When we wrote the article, Modding A Barracuda 7200.11 Into A VelociRaptor, a number of readers insisted that we were wrong and the LBA mod works. Perhaps they didn't read it properly.

The article was not written to dismiss the concept of short stroking a hard disk drive to improve its performance. Far from it. We were merely pointing out that it was misleading to say that short stroking a Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 will turn it into a Western Digital VelociRaptor.

Short stroking will not magically turn a 7200 RPM drive into a 10,000 RPM drive. As we pointed out in our article, that perception is somewhat illusory as the physical characteristics of the "modded" drive remains the same. However, short stroking will improve performance in certain situations... and believe it or not, most of us are already short stroking our hard disk drives without knowing it.

Surprised? We will clarify it all in this guide.


What Is Short Stroking?

Short stroking a hard disk drive is a technique used to improve the drive's performance by limiting the movement of the read/write heads as much as possible. In other words, it aims to shorten the stroke of the drive heads, hence its name. This reduces the read/write head's seek time.


Short Stroke Methods

Surprisingly, there are a few ways to short stroke your hard disk drive. Let's take a look :

  1. The LBA Mod

    This is the poster child of short stroking. Most people automatically assume that it is synonymous to the short stroke concept.

    What it basically involves is using a special tool provided by the hard disk drive manufacturer to limit the number of LBAs (Logical Block Addresses) accessible in your hard disk drive. In other words, you use the tool to block access to the slower parts of the drive.

    What's bad about it? You lose access to the part that's blocked and cannot use it to store any data. Also, this is a low-level mod, so there's no easy way to get out of it. You will need to redo the entire drive (including repartitioning and reformatting) to restore it.
  2. Drive Partitioning

    Partitions are created from the outermost tracks inwards, so the first partition is always the fastest partition containing the outermost tracks. You can obtain the same benefits of the LBA mod by creating a first partition and using that to store the most frequently-accessed data (e.g. operating system, paging file).

    This method has many advantages. First of all, you can make use of the remaining storage space to keep infrequently-used data. You also do not need special tools to do it - you can do it in Windows! And if you need to expand your partition, you do not necessarily need to redo the partition and reformat it. In some cases, you can just expand the partition. Even if you have to repartition the drive, it's easier than readjusting the drive's LBA.
  3. Drive Defragmentation
    This optimization method has been around for ages and it actually does the same thing as the LBA mod, and drive partitioning method. Most of us have been using it to short stroke our hard disk drives without even realizing it!
    Drive defragmentation does not only keep fragmented files together, it will also move frequently-used data to the outer tracks. If all of your frequently-used data are located on the outer tracks, then the drive is virtually short-stroked! After all, the drive's read/write heads will always remain on the outer tracks.
    This method only suffers some performance degradation if you fill the drive up with other data. Still, the "performance loss" is only momentary as the read/write heads will only move beyond the outer tracks when it needs to access the infrequently-used data.
    What's bad about it? Well, you need to regularly defragment the hard disk drive to ensure all frequently-used data are moved to the outer tracks. Otherwise, you will start to lose some of the performance benefits.


Which Method Is Better?

Purists will insist that the LBA mod is the "only true way", but we feel that like religion or ice-cream, it's all a matter of personal taste.

One can see the attractiveness of the LBA mod - it's a low-level method that requires some technical ability and a pinch of courage. Certainly, not everyone can do it, or would dare to do it. Anyone who does it is part of an "exclusive club" and can brag about it to their friends. It's like jumping off a cliff or rolling down a San Francisco hill in a shopping cart - it's stupid, but if you do it, no one can deny you the right to brag about it.

The drive partitioning method is the most reasonable method to obtain all the benefits at minimal cost. The performance improvement is the same as the LBA mod, but you get to make use of the remaining storage capacity. It is also much easier for someone with little technical knowledge to understand and perform.

Finally, we have the drive defragmentation method. This is the refuge of the lazy. You do not have to do anything more than what you are doing right now - defragmenting your hard disk drive on a regular basis. As long as you do that, you get most of the performance benefits of the other two methods without the hassle. Of course, regularly defragmenting the drive is a hassle itself...


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What Is Short Stroking?
Short Stroke Methods
Which Method Is Better?


What Effect Does It Have On Performance?
The Testbed & Testing Methodology


Platter Data Transfer Rate Profiles
   - The Original Profiles
   - After Short Stroking

   - What Does This Mean?


WinBench 99 Test Results
Disk Transfer Rate Results


IO Meter Random Access Results


IO Meter Sequential Access Results


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