All About Disk Geometry and the 1024 Cylinder Limit for Disks.

Topics: Operating system / Pages: 14 (3374 words) / Published: Oct 9th, 1999
All About Disk Geometry and The 1024 Cylinder Limit For Disks.

Large Disk mini-HOWTO Andries Brouwer, aeb@cwi.nl v1.0, 960626

1. The problem

Suppose you have a disk with more than 1024 cylinders. Suppose moreover that you have an operating system that uses the BIOS. Then you have a problem, because the usual INT13 BIOS interface to disk I/O uses a 10-bit field for the cylinder on which the I/O is done, so that cylinders 1024 and past are inaccessible. Fortunately, Linux does not use the BIOS, so there is no problem.

Well, except for two things:

(1) When you boot your system, Linux isn't running yet and cannot save you from
BIOS problems.This has some consequences for LILO and similar boot loaders.

(2) It is necessary for all operating systems that use one disk to agree on where the partitions are.In other words, if you use both Linux and, say, DOS on one disk, then both must interpret the partition table in the same way.This has some consequences for the Linux kernel and for fdisk.

Below a rather detailed description of all relevant details.Note that I used kernel version 2.0.8 source as a reference.Other versions may differ a bit.

2.Booting

When the system is booted, the BIOS reads sector 0 (known as the MBR - the
Master Boot Record) from the first disk (or from floppy), and jumps to the code found there - usually some bootstrap loader.These small bootstrap programs found there typically have no own disk drivers and use BIOS services.This means that a
Linux kernel can only be booted when it is entirely located within the first
1024 cylinders.

This problem is very easily solved: make sure that the kernel (and perhaps other files used during bootup, such as LILO map files) are located on a partition that is entirely contained in the first 1024 cylinders of a disk that the BIOS can access - probably this means the first or second disk.

Another point is that the boot loader and the BIOS must agree as to the disk geometry.It may help to give

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