Originally Posted by Bruce Hill
Could you explain how doing a low-level format "could
damage newer (pretty much anything over 512MB) drives."
I have used utilities from Maxtor, Seagate, and IBM to do
low-level formats on drives for at least 7 years, and have
never had a single problem. And I've never even seen a
drive of 512MB or under.
In fact, there are at least 4 drives in computers we're
using every day, which are under 3 years old, and all
40GB or above, which have had more than one low-
level format -- and they're all just fine.
Modern IDE (including SATA) cannot be low-level formatted by the user, because that function of the drive is not available through the ordinary drive interface.
Low-level formatting writes clock and address information that is recorded between data-storage sectors on each track. The IDE interface lacks any connection to the section of the drive controller that can access the low-level format command set.
Another part of the low-level format is to write the disk-hardware internal operating software that is processed internally by the drive itself.
Another part, which is the magnetic flux demarcating the beginning and end of each track, which some drives no longer use because of even more advanced performance and increased flux-density considerations. If the head starts reading immediately after it is positioned over the cylinder, and the start/end demarcation point is reached before all the data is read, the drive knows it began reading in the middle of the data, so when it reaches the start of the data it will read to the sector just previous. That way it doesn't have to wait for the start of a track to begin reading. Then, the drive electronics switch the data around so it's concatenated at the proper bytes.
You have to remember that each track must not only hold user data but also must contain information about relative location on the drive, so the drive head can calculate the route to where it's going.
The head actuator uses timing (clock) information relative to the disk platter, recorded as magnetic flux. Otherwise, tiny fluctuations caused by temperature and electrical characteristics would cause the drive to suffer many errors; far too many.
So, you can see where it would be a bit difficult to perform low-level formatting, since it must be done in a laboratory equipped with ultra-precise power sources and tight temperature tolerances.
Drive utilities usually refer to overwriting the drive with zeroes, or in some other way obfuscating user data stored on the drive, as a "low-level format." Hard drive technology is closely guarded by obscuring terminology. For instance, the ATAPI specification for concealing the Boot Engineering Extension Record (BEER sector) from system users is the acronym, P.A.R.T.I.E.S. If you google beer parties, it'll be like finding a needle in a haystack.