Low Level Formatting IDE HARD DRIVES IDE hard drives can only be properly low-level formatted at the factory. All IDE drives have control information on track 0 or -1 that only the controller can read. This information includes bad track information, head skew factors and zone sector information. Fortunately, all newer hard drives only operate in a translation mode, so we can successfully do a format that could be more properly called a mid-level format. I don't know of any virus that can infect the low-level format installed by the manufacturer. The reason for this is twofold: All hard drives are initially formatted in native mode, and all, except the oldest IDE drives, operate in translation mode. The special tracks containing information specifically for the controller cannot be accessed in translation mode. Even if you could access this information, the BIOS and operating system would not be able to read the hard drive, as they cannot handle Zoned Bit Recording. All computer viruses are programs. They may be Java script, Word Macros, or machine language. They must be run on top of the operating system. The operating system cannot access your IDE hard drives, except when the drives are in translation mode. IDE hard drives are broken down into several groups. Early IDE drives used the same control interface commands as the forerunner MFM, RLL and ESDI drives. The main advantage came from having the controller mounted on the hard drive, as opposed to on a card mounted in a slot on the motherboard. This freed the design engineers from having to conform to interface standards between the hard drive and controller, since the controller would never be used with another drive. Later hard drives conform to various ATA (AT Attachment) standards, which specify various additional commands and other features found on the modern IDE hard drive. A few words about IDE controller cards are in order. The earlier separate cards are not controllers, only interface cards with buffers to prevent damage to the drive or motherboard due to stray electric impulse. The controllers mounted on the motherboard are, for the most part, nothing more than a stripped down ISA slot, with a 40 pin subset of the 98 pins available on a standard 16-bit ISA slot. An IDE connector only requires one IRQ, plus the required signal pins. All IDE and EIDE interfaces are a 16-bit bus. 32-bit disk access is accomplished 16 bits at a time. The reason for this is that, even with 2 hard drives hooked to the same controller using 32-bit disk access, the bus can handle the data faster than both hard drives working simultaneously can send data. BEFORE YOU LOW-LEVEL FORMAT Be sure you have all programs, drivers and other material at hand to restore your hard drive. If possible, back up all the important data on your hard drive. Don't forget address books and Internet bookmarks. Boot up from the floppy drive with a known good boot disk. This can be Disk 1 of MS-DOS, or your Windows 95 or Windows 98 emergency boot disk. Any drive over 2 gig should be prepared using a Windows 95 OSR@ or Windows 98 boot disk. (Don't worry if you are using Windows ME, Windows NT, Windows 2000 or Windows XP. A Windows 98 boot disk can be used to remove the partitions and install a container that will allow you to reinstall your version of Windows. For the purist, remember that we are talking about reformatting, and wiping out all data currently on the drive, anyway.) When you get to the A:> prompt, run FDISK. Type FDISK and press Enter. Remove all partitions in the following order: a. All assigned drives in extended partitions b. Any extended partitions c. The primary partition Exit FDISK, and reboot the computer with the reset button or Ctrl-Alt-Del keys. When you are back to the A:> prompt, type in exactly the following:
Check to be certain the command looks exactly like the above. NO SPACES! When you are sure the command is typed correctly, press the Enter (Return) Key. The screen may or may not blink, and should return an A:> prompt. No other message will appear. You have now written a new Master Boot Record to your hard drive, and have overwritten any virus hidden in the master boot record. Reboot your computer. Run FDISK. If using Windows 95B or higher, or Windows 98, you can choose to use FAT-32 large drive partitions. Choose option 1 to create a primary dos partition, then create extended partitions and drives, if you want or need to. Exit FDISK and reboot the computer. From the A:> prompt, type FORMAT C: and press Enter. If you want to have the disk bootable, the command is FORMAT C: /S to format and transfer the operating system. You have now removed any virus that resided in your Master Boot Sector or Boot Sector. You have also replaced any damaged FAT tables, and mapped out any bad sectors to prevent them from being used by the operating system or any programs. Use normal procedures to install your operating system and programs.