How to align your SSD or RAID array for free

We’ve talked recently about the importance of aligning your partitions on your SSD or your RAID array. It helps performance, sometimes tremendously, and it also dramatically improves your SSD’s life expectancy. Newer versions of Windows automatically align their partitions, if you do a clean installation to an empty drive. Older versions of Windows create their partitions starting at sector 63, for tradition’s sake. Someone at Microsoft must be Lutheran.

Or maybe it’s for compatibility’s sake. But would I pass up an opportunity to take a swipe?

Two readers, Jim and Xrocode, suggested utilities to do the job. One costs $30 and seems fairly automatic. One is free and requires a small amount of work. Guess which one I like? (Hint: I’m Scottish and Lutheran, so it’s no contest. Grab the freebie here. It’s a 155MB download, so it doesn’t even take all that long.)

To align your disk:

Make a backup. You shouldn’t run into any problems doing this. But I can think of any number of disasters that weren’t supposed to be a problem either, so if there’s anything important on the drive, make a backup.

Download Parted Magic CD and burn the ISO or create a bootable USB drive.

Boot from it. Click the Partition Editor icon on the desktop when it appears.

First, check and make sure this is even necessary. Right-click on your primary partition and select Information. Look at the starting sector. If it starts on sector 63, it needs to be aligned. If it starts on a nice, even binary number like 2048 or 4096, it’s already aligned and you can skip the rest.

Select your primary partition. Choose Partition -> Resize/Move.

Move your primary partition to the right by 1 or 2 MiB, whatever it allows. Select the option that says “Align to MiB.” Grow the partition into the few megs at the end of the disk if you want. Consider it your reward for your trouble, like finding a couple of pennies on the sidewalk.

Click the Apply Pending Changes icon. Accept the dire warning (I’ll tell you how to fix that in a minute), then hurry up and wait. It will do a read-only pass to look for problems, then do the real thing. It took about 10 minutes, total, for it to do both on my 30 GB OCZ Vertex drive.

Reboot.

If your system won’t boot afterward:

Boot off a Windows 7 or Vista CD, select your language, then select the Recovery Console. In my case, it found the Windows installation and offered to fix it for me. I let it, and it worked. If that doesn’t work, or if you want more control, drop to a command prompt and issue the following two commands:

bootrec /fixmbr
bootrec /boot

Or boot off your Windows XP CD and do the same thing, except the commands for the command prompt are the following:

fixmbr
fixboot

If you don’t have an installation CD, you can download a Windows 7 recovery disc from http://neosmart.net/blog/2009/windows-7-system-repair-discs/ and use that to repair your MBR.

Once you’re up and running, all that’s left to do is to enjoy the newfound speed and improved life expectancy. Use some of that $30 you saved to pay off a debt a little faster, and do me a favor and give a little of it to a charity that helps people.

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5 Comments

  1. Nice work Dave!!! Great writeup, better than the wall of text I have the habit of writing and easy to follow.

    It’s great that gparted does a simulation run first.

    What do you recommend to do disk imaging? I currently use Acronis True Image 10 Home (old version nowadays) and I have not had any problems using WinXP SP2. I should also say that I did make a bartpe cd disc with the acronis plugin on it so that I have absolute bootable compatibility (it boots on any machine and works).

    I have heard good things about clonezilla but not used it. Have you?

    I would much rather depend on a gpl project…

  2. Dave Farquhar

     /  December 30, 2010

    Xrocode, thanks. I appreciate it. And thanks for the idea.

    I have not used Clonezilla, but know someone who has and he recommends it, at least in an environment where you have a server, or something that can stand as one. I use Ghost because I’m familiar with it, but that’s the only reason. Acronis works well but I’ve used it maybe a half dozen times, where I’ve used Ghost hundreds or thousands of times.

    I do need to investigate some GPL imaging software, definitely. The question comes up a lot, if my Google search logs are any indication. But if Acronis 10 is working for you, don’t worry about it being old. I’ve been using the same old version of Ghost since 2005 or 2006. Before that, I used a DOS version of it for a good 5 years.

    As for the difference alignment makes, I didn’t run any benchmarks, but on my main workaday PC it’s enough that I definitely notice it. Enough that I know I’m not imagining things. I’m really curious to see what it does to a JMicron 602-based drive now.

  3. As far as I can tell, clonezilla doesn’t require a server. It can use a server though to image many machines at a time over the network (just from reading the webpage).

    Not worried about using an old version of Acronis for myself, but it would be nice to have a canonical free gpl stable solid program to recommend to others to download quickly when people need it.

    I used ghost for dos for a few years as well, when I was a computer tech circa 1995.

    Haven’t tried my old copy of acronis with vista or win7 as I’m still using xp sp2.

    For sure I highly recommend spinning a custom bartpe boot cd with any win32 apps you need for tech work. And that’s apart from linux live cds, of course.

    I ran benches on an old machine (sempron 754) and alignment made a huge difference. I use AS SSD benchmark program which all the overclockers and benchmark guys seem to be using these days, it tests very nicely compared to older benches that are tuned for mechanical drives. This testing app will do threaded reads etc to really stress what solid state offers: very fast random access. Of course it does the usual bw tests too.

    http://www.alex-is.de/PHP/fusion/downloads.php?cat_id=4

    What I’ve noticed when using sandforce SF-1200 is that the only thing you really need to care about is alignment. I use IDE mode, so no ahci, and no SSD specific OS tweaks. Honestly this is the way I like it, simple and useable without screwing around forever.

    So yeah I’m an SSD fan.

  4. jim`

     /  January 2, 2011

    So I guess aligning the partitions on RAID_1 array will improve performance.

    I’m also guessing that doing so does NOT do a defrag in the process.

    Should I do a disk alignment first, or a partition alignment?

    • Dave Farquhar

       /  January 4, 2011

      It should. Align the partition(s) so they start on an even 1MB boundary, and you’re set. “Aligning drives” is a bit of a misnomer; I probably say it, since that was something we had to do in my Commodore days all too often. Of course back then, alignment meant something entirely different.

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