How many drives can a computer handle?

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How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Thu Jul 31, 2014 7:46 pm

I thought I knew the answer to this question, but the way I saw an external drive work yesterday is making me doubt myself. And although I sit here trying to refine this to as simple a question to ask as possible, it is becoming ever more difficult as time passes. Perhaps I'll try a restricted version of the question I'm looking for an answer to first and then see how things go:

If between the motherboard and case, you have a combination of 18 SATA/USB ports - with an adequete power supply for all - could you run 18 drives or does the OS (Windows XP Home 32 w/SP3) limit the count?

Believe me, sometimes I start trying to account for so many (unnecessary) variables I've wasted an hour without answering the basic question. I ask you to consider the restricted question first. Meanwhile, I'll skip a few lines down and explain why I'm asking.


I've been losing drives at a faster rate than usual. If these were old drives, I'd expect it, but I have 5+ year old drives still running fine while five month olds are dying. Except for the Toshibas, I think I've had problems with all of my Advanced Format drives - Seagate, WD, and Hitachi (which is owned by WD now). Yesterday, I had a drive in an external enclosure that wouldn't show up (BTW, it came from a shoebox of dead drives) in Computer Mgmt/Testdisk. I swapped out another drive, same. One more drive, same. To me, it's statistically impossible - especially since one of the drives didn't come from the box and I could see all contents on another system. Of course I had already checked connections, tried different positions, etc. I swapped USB ports and Bingo! even explorer sees the drives contents. Now...

It's possible the USB port I had been using is the problem. I haven't had the time to try with another drive, same port/enclosure. But, I find myself wondering if I've just been assuming all this time that if I had a port, it could take a drive (18 was just a number thrown out earlier, not how many I've even gotten close to having real life experience with) because it always seemed to work. But now, I wonder, besides the number, if the order in which ports are used, makes a difference? Logic seems to scream no, because in all the posts I've read, all the instructions on how-to-build I've gone through and specs I've seen, no mention of it mattering has ever come up.

But then, I got bitten on the ass by Advanced Format drives without seeing any signs either...
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Thu Jul 31, 2014 8:12 pm

IIRC, XP limits network drives to 10, but I'm not sure about physical drives. I imagine you'd run out of power or swamp the controllers before reaching a limit in the OS.
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Thu Jul 31, 2014 8:31 pm

USB ports are goofy.

Also, I'm sure that the actual number (just my speculation) that Windows can support connected locally is somewhere along the lines of a whole fricken' lot.
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Thu Jul 31, 2014 8:33 pm

If you want the drives to show up with drive letters then there's a fairly obvious limit there. IIRC XP can mount ntfs partitions to folders though so you don't have to limit your self that way if you don't want to.
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Thu Jul 31, 2014 11:05 pm

Dai wrote:I have 5+ year old drives still running fine while five month olds are dying. Except for the Toshibas, I think I've had problems with all of my Advanced Format drives - Seagate, WD, and Hitachi (which is owned by WD now). Yesterday, I had a drive in an external enclosure that wouldn't show up (BTW, it came from a shoebox of dead drives) in Computer Mgmt/Testdisk. I swapped out another drive, same. One more drive, same. To me, it's statistically impossible - especially since one of the drives didn't come from the box and I could see all contents on another system. Of course I had already checked connections, tried different positions, etc. I swapped USB ports and Bingo! even explorer sees the drives contents. Now...
Did you ever use AF drives as internal instead of in enclosures with USB? Conversely, did you ever take those 5+ years old drives and try them in those enclosures? USB enclosures are not designed to long term connectedness. If you do then you should have been using the internal connections anyway.

There should be no limits, especially with the NTFS mounting points that cheesyking mentioned.

Hz so good wrote:IIRC, XP limits network drives to 10, but I'm not sure about physical drives. I imagine you'd run out of power or swamp the controllers before reaching a limit in the OS.
I only heard about 10 network connections, not 10 mapped network drives (that is outgoing connection not incoming anyway).
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Thu Jul 31, 2014 11:40 pm

cheesyking wrote:If you want the drives to show up with drive letters then there's a fairly obvious limit there. IIRC XP can mount ntfs partitions to folders though so you don't have to limit your self that way if you don't want to.


Yes, you can mount partitions to folders UNIX style, and it will also cycle to AA:, AB:, AC: etc.
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Fri Aug 01, 2014 12:05 am

I'm a bit curious as to what you're doing with all these drives, connected in such a fasion...
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Fri Aug 01, 2014 12:14 am

Ethyriel wrote:it will also cycle to AA:, AB:, AC: etc.

Oooh, didn't know that. I bet there's a lot of legacy 3rd party software that gets tripped up by that though.
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Fri Aug 01, 2014 12:19 am

just brew it! wrote:
Ethyriel wrote:it will also cycle to AA:, AB:, AC: etc.

Oooh, didn't know that. I bet there's a lot of legacy 3rd party software that gets tripped up by that though.


You know what, I think I'm wrong. I'd heard this in a couple of places, but nope, you have to use filesystem mount points if you want more than 26 partitions mounted.
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Fri Aug 01, 2014 1:58 am

Flying Fox wrote:Did you ever use AF drives as internal instead of in enclosures with USB? Conversely, did you ever take those 5+ years old drives and try them in those enclosures? USB enclosures are not designed to long term connectedness. If you do then you should have been using the internal connections anyway.

There should be no limits, especially with the NTFS mounting points that cheesyking mentioned.

Hz so good wrote:IIRC, XP limits network drives to 10, but I'm not sure about physical drives. I imagine you'd run out of power or swamp the controllers before reaching a limit in the OS.
I only heard about 10 network connections, not 10 mapped network drives (that is outgoing connection not incoming anyway).


Yes and yes. Why and do you mean retail displays of EE or home use? My home use seems to not have covers on to better assist in cooling. Back in the day of Dells, you were limited by physical space for drives, so some of the drives were put into them for practical reasons - I mean, I don't think they had gotten to 500 GB drives before I upgraded . Antec cases and Asus followed by Gigabyte mobo's eventually came back to space - a couple of times - and besides, by the time I progressed to those, some of the drives in the EEs weren't new. But one reason for them is I went awhile keeping the FAT32 format before finally realizing NTFS really did save data when the system locked. Which is also a reason for the EEs: when the system froze, you could disconnect/turn it off without having to reboot the whole system and sometimes save the time and everything else.

I prefer to have my drives internal, but sometimes due to haste/uncertainty to how easy the install will go/need for some mobility, I'll go with a temp EE - which does sometimes last longer than originally intended.

One thing about the power is since all of my drives are retail internal in the box/barebone, when I put themin the EE, they have their on AC power supply. I've never bought a 'MyBook' or similar drive because I didn't want to be restricted to options when the drive failed.

TwistedKestrel wrote:I'm a bit curious as to what you're doing with all these drives, connected in such a fasion...
I've never had 18 drives going at once, but even when I had maybe 12, some of them were below 100 GB. Hell, for a decade, my boot drive was 16 GB. And sometimes, you don't realize a drive has died until you really start examing the system. :oops:

Airmantharp wrote:USB ports are goofy.

Also, I'm sure that the actual number (just my speculation) that Windows can support connected locally is somewhere along the lines of a whole fricken' lot.


My belief as well...
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Fri Aug 01, 2014 6:18 am

I can confirm that a whole fricken' lot is accurate.

I have a snapshot server that has maybe 2000 read-only "drives" mounted. They're snapshots rather than real drives but Windows doesn't know that and it handles them just fine.
For most people the convenience decreases once you run out of drive letters, but it's pretty easy to keep going as others have already mentioned.
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Fri Aug 01, 2014 9:09 am

IMO you are just blaming the wrong thing (Advanced Format), as usual. Whatever you have seem to be very flaky for some reason. :-?
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Fri Aug 01, 2014 4:01 pm

Flying Fox wrote:
Hz so good wrote:IIRC, XP limits network drives to 10, but I'm not sure about physical drives. I imagine you'd run out of power or swamp the controllers before reaching a limit in the OS.
I only heard about 10 network connections, not 10 mapped network drives (that is outgoing connection not incoming anyway).



I double checked, and you're correct. I haven't tried to max out the number of HDDs on an XP box. I just remembered (incorrectly) there being an artificial limit, to keep people from using XP home/pro as a server, and "encourage them" to use 2003/2008.

And I haven't done this in forever, but netware let you fill all the drive letter from c: to z:, than reversed them for network search drives (Z1, Y1, etc...). If I recall correctly, that is. It's been 13 years at least since I had to do that.

/That said, on my Win7 64 box, I've got 6 physical HDDs, a Dual layer DVD burner, 4 virtual CD drives, and one or two 32GB thumbdrives, so my drive assignments range from C: to N:, no issue so far in 3 years.
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Fri Aug 01, 2014 4:55 pm

You certainly aren't limited by the physical number of SATA ports. You can get port dividers. For example, I have an external enclosure that splits a single eSATA connection into up to 4. Each drive shows up individually in Windows.

The answer to this question, then, in summary is: Somewhere between 26 and "a whole frickin' lot".
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Fri Aug 01, 2014 5:06 pm

You know, this could be an interesting project for the powers that be, here. *HINT HINT, DAMAGE*

I'd find it more interesting than the "Break an SSD Showdown".
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Fri Aug 01, 2014 5:31 pm

Flying Fox wrote:IMO you are just blaming the wrong thing (Advanced Format), as usual. Whatever you have seem to be very flaky for some reason. :-?


I don't recall blaming AFDs for all the problems - for one, it omits too many other things too easily - but in a way, I could try; if I took the time to include all the variables - but like now, as then, I'm too tired to try (and I think "all the variables" really weakens my case.) I would say that if you can connect one and format it without having to use any special software, you are already dealing with different circumstances than I am and therefore it probably does seem wrong to you. If that's the case, I envy you for it.

I think one point I wanted to get at yesterday but didn't was if using a USB port connected drive could cause any problem with a SATA mobo connected drives? I wouldn't think so, but that's why I risk the ridicule coming here to ask :P

BTW, my Toshibas, which are ADF and required Paragon software, are working fine. The others, Seagate/WD/Hitachi use Acronis. Their own versions of Acronis. Buying a retail version of it doesn't seem to really help out, either...
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Sun Aug 03, 2014 2:41 pm

Dai wrote:*snip*....


I sent Damage an email about this. He replied that they're pretty swamped at the moment (new CPUs, SSD shootout) , but agreed that this could make for a neat future project for TR at some point. You might get your answer yet! :D
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Re: How many drives can a computer handle?

Postposted on Mon Aug 04, 2014 3:06 am

According to Microsoft, the maximum number of volumes is 2000 in older versions of Windows. This is done between 1000 basic volumes and another 1000 dynamic volumes.

Things get a bit more complicated in Windows 2012 due to Storage Spaces, a.k.a software RAID.
A single volume can be composed of
240 drives in a non-clustered storage array thus putting the limit at 241,000 physical drives (1000 dynamic volumes of 240 physical disk storage spaces plus 1000 basic volumes). Glancing through the storage spaces documentation, it appears that a single logical hardware RAID drives is not supported so there is no additional RAID drive multiplier.

On the Linux side of things, the number of hard drives appears to be limited to a 20 bit value in recent kernels. That's 2^20, a little over a million. This can then be multiplied again by each logical drive in reality being a hardware RAID volume. I recall software RAID solutions still requiring that physical disks to appear in /dev so they wouldn't actually affect the number of drives connected to a system.
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