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Does Windows Support Drives Larger than Two Terabytes?

Question: Hi, Leo. Many people say that three terabyte external hard drives don’t work with Windows 7. Do they? Here’s the issue. I’ve been using a 1TB Seagate Go-flex with a changeable bottom, which has worked well, but now I need a bigger drive. I went looking on Amazon for a 3TB unit and found a lot of scary reviews saying that basically drives bigger than 2TB don’t really work with Windows. The quote is about Seagate specifically but the same complaint has come up for the other drives too. “The drive is formatted in a way that causes the Windows backup and restore to fail when creating a system image because it uses a native 4K sector size. Native 4K sector drives are not supported by Windows 7.” If that’s not true, can you advise which drives are good these days? The answers I found on the site are all about smaller drives and dated in the past. There are so many drives out there that I can’t tell the good from bad. Do I go for one without an included backup utility? Or with? I just don’t want to return to or stick with a product out of ignorant inertia. Thanks for any help you can render.

The short answer to this fairly complex question is Windows supports drives larger than 2 terabytes (TB) just fine.

I’m running a 3 TB drive on my system as we speak. It worked in both Windows 7 and again once  I upgraded to Windows 8.

There are a couple of issues that can sometimes come up.

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Reformatting the drive

3 terabyte drive on Leo's Machine
3 terabyte drive on Leo’s Machine

One is that you might actually need to reformat the drive first. It’s very possible that the format on the drive is something that is incompatible with Windows. That doesn’t mean that the drive is incompatible; it just means that the drive needs to be reformatted by Windows in a way that will allow it to work with Windows. There’s a Microsoft knowledgebase article on this called, “Windows support for disks with capacity greater than 2 TB.” This goes through some of the topics that may come up in cases like this, but I can absolutely assure you that 3 TB works just fine. I’m doing it.

As they say in the commercials, “I’m soaking in it.”

Choosing a drive brand

When it comes to specific brands of drives, I don’t have recommendations. I actually don’t make them because it tends to change over time. When it comes to hard drives specifically, manufacturers seem to come and go in terms of quality, so a brand that was good one month might be so-so the next.

Right now, I’m pretty happy with Seagate but six months from now, we could be talking about Hitachi, Fujitsu, or something else. It’s really kind of tough to make a blanket recommendation in the hard drive industry.

Choosing a backup program

When it comes to backup programs, I actually don’t recommend using the one that comes with most drives. Not because they aren’t any good but usually because they’re typically cut-rate versions of backup programs with the intent of actually up-selling you to something else.

What I strongly recommend you do is you actually choose a backup program separate from the drive. I happen to heartily recommend Macrium Reflect. There is a free version, but I actually recommend the paid version because it simply has more functionality – and that will backup your system just fine.

As far as Windows’ own included backup, it’s not a program that I recommend. It’s better than previous versions of the Windows’ included backup, but it still doesn’t make the grade if you’re serious about backup. And of course, I really think everybody should be serious about backup.

So my recommendation is don’t rely on whatever comes on the drive. Go out and get yourself a copy of Macrium Reflect and go from there.

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6 comments on “Does Windows Support Drives Larger than Two Terabytes?”

  1. When I got my 3TB Hitachi, it wasn’t immediately recognized, and when I used disk management to recognize it, it still didn’t find it. I then had to run EaseUS Partition Master to partition it correctly. I assume that it was partitioned to be compatible with older OSes.

  2. I know you don’t like OT posts, Leo, but I really feel the need to congratulate you on the new look of your website. It’s, quite frankly, lovely. Kudos! Welcome to Web 2.0! :-)

  3. I got a 3TB Western Digital My Book Essential about a year ago. There was nothing I had to do but plug it in. It comes with USB 3; it’s too bad my computers are only USB 2. So it is USB backwards compatible; it runs at USB 2 speed.

    I am using this as a backup medium for both my Windows XP Home edition computer and my Windows 7 Home Premium laptop. Maybe it’s because I haven’t crossed the 2TB threshold, but I’ve had no problems so far. It just worked.

  4. I have 1TB harddrive when I install in on my core 2 pc it doesn’t support it, I’m using windows 8 pro so I wnt 2 know what’s wrong bcs I also hv 4gb can email me at {removed}


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