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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Hard Disk Drives | Hard Disk BIOS and Capacity Factors | Hard Disk Size Barriers ]

The Int 13 Interface (7.88 GiB / 8.46 GB) Barrier

This barrier, often just called the "8 GB barrier", is one of the most important in the hard disk world. Now that hard disk capacities have moved into the tens of gigabytes and beyond, it gets most of the attention that the old 504 MiB / 528 MB barrier used to get in the mid-to-late 1990s. Many people run into this particular barrier as they attempt to upgrade systems originally purchased in the late 1990s with hard disks of 1 GB to 8 GB or so in size.

Like most of the others, this barrier is also based on a BIOS limitation. It is a tougher nut to crack than most of the smaller-valued barriers, however. The reason for this is that with this particular barrier, we have actually come up against one of the traditional limits of how hard disks are used in the PC: the Int13h interface. That standard allocates 10 bits for the cylinder number (and thus a maximum of 1,024 cylinders), 8 bits for the head number (maximum of 256) and 6 bits for the sector number (maximum of 63, since the number 0 is not used). Multiplying these together, and assuming the standard of 512 bytes per sector, you get a maximum of 8,455,716,864 bytes. This is the largest hard disk size that can be addressed using the standard Int13h interface.

Unlike the old 504 MiB barrier, there is no translation that can get around this because it isn't the result of a combination of limitations like the 504 MiB barrier is. It is in fact the limit of how hard disks can be represented using the BIOS Int 13h routines used by DOS and applications to access the hard disk. To get around this barrier, we must change the way hard disks are accessed entirely. This means leaving Int13h behind and using Int13h extensions.

Note: Int13h extensions require support from both the BIOS and the operating system. Some older operating systems do not support Int13h extensions, and there are no plans to provide it for them. In particular, all versions of straight non-Windows DOS (6.22 and earlier), and Windows NT version 3.5 will not support Int13h extensions and cannot use hard disks over 8.4 GB in size.

Note: Some systems have a smaller Int13h capacity limit due to the use of modified translation to avoid presenting geometry with 256 heads to the operating system. See here for details.

Next: The Windows 95 Limit (29.8 GiB / 32.0 GB) Barrier


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