Help me understand Advanced Format Drives and USB 3.0 Docks

I’m writing this as a general question, because I recently purchased a USB3-SATA-U3 hoping it would solve the problem I am having, but it didn’t. Maybe a little backstory would help to explain.

I have a few dozen bare hard drives that I use to exchange large video files with other people. Most of them are 1TB and 2TB but now we’re starting to see more 3TB drives, and this is where I’m starting to see problems. I use a mix of USB 3.0 docks made by Thermaltake (model ST0019U) and Vantec (model NST-D300SU3) to access the drives. Since I started getting 3TB drives, I’ve had issues where drives formatted in one dock were not readable in the other. This never happened with any drive before the 3TB drives (and I would assume 4TB drives would present the same problem).

Thinking the problem was the docks, I went out and got a U3 dock, but soon discovered I was wrong. Being technical, I started doing some research and came across this page on your site which talks about how Windows XP deals with large SATA drives:…

So at this point I realize the problem is that the new 3TB drives are all 4K Advanced Format, and although I’m running Windows 8.1 64-bit, I still found the article helpful. I started pulling out each of my drives and recording which dock it worked with, and what each drive reported for bytes per sector, and bytes per physical sector. (I found no compatibility problems with the 1 and 2TB drives.) Then I started doing experiments where I’d format a blank 3TB drive in one dock and copy data to it, then try to read it in the others. Then after that, I would take the same drive, hook it directly up to a SATA port in a spare computer, and test it on all 3 docks. So now I’ve got a spreadsheet with all of this information, but I’m still no closer to what I’m really after here, which is this: is there a way to ensure that all of my Advanced Format drives are readable in any dock I might happen to use? Does it matter where I format and initialize the drive? Would using SATA or eSATA be more beneficial?

Hi Scott-

The firmware on the dock used to initialize the AF volume is *key.*

Anything initialized on a SATA controller or dock with sector re-emulation will show up as gobbeldygook on any SATA controller or dock not using the same exact firmware re-emulation “feature.”

If you’re not using anything on XP 32 bit, making sure to update any docks with firmware as listed in the article, and then cleaning and re-initializing any volumes you can’t use should make anything interchangeable.

If you have other brands of docks that aren’t using the interchangeable non sector re-emulating firmware, you may have to remove those from the mix to get full interop.

Hope this helps summarize.

Let me know of other questions.



Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the response. I guess now I’m stuck trying to figure out which docks or motherboard SATA controllers use sector re-emulation?

Hi Scott-


The process in the understanding post for listing sector sizes should help ID the drives that are using 4096k instead of 512k sectors.

Any that are will need to be backed up and re-initialized on docks/controllers on “standard” firmware.

Our firmware version check utility should make the process quick for our docks (or other ASMedia based ones, just connect only a single dock at a time to check f/w version). For other brand of dock/controller you may have to initialize and check some drives to infer what their behavior is. Most won’t have any special sector re-emulation features.

Hope the details help.



So what I should be aiming for is either 512/512 or 512/4096, right? And anything that reports 4096/4096 is using sector re-emulation?

Spot on, Scott, exactly!