Home Networking – Day 1: Understanding the GPT File Format
Gone are the days when you would plug in an LCD device (laptop) to another LCD device (HDTV) just to view a movie on a larger screen. We live in the post-PC era and these things should be considered standard in most houses today. I’m talking about setting up a small home network accessible only to your family members that can solve a multitude of problems. This is not just about sharing files or printer anymore. This is a mixture of proper data management, convenience and embracing technology to its fullest.
My write-up here is scaled down to the most basic user who wants to make the most out of technology, so I will try to make things as simple to understand as possible, but if you need clarification over something, feel free to drop a comment at the bottom.
We are definitely going to need gadgets. These things are not cheap, but then again, Rome was not built in one day. Take your time, buying the items one at a time and slowly build your little home network environment. Among the items that we are going to need:
- A 3TB hard drive. You can either buy an external one or an internal one. I bought a Western Digital external hard drive for this project. Yes, get a 3TB one. Nothing less.
- ASUS RT-AC66U wireless router. This one is definitely worth the investment.
- ASUS O!Play TV Pro. This one is optional and you can settle with any media box that can connect with internet, but this one will be worth having for many reasons that I will explain when we set it up soon.
- A HDMI capable HDTV. I’m using a Sharp HDTV for this project because Sharp is awesome when it comes to HDTVs!
- High-speed internet. Preferably Unifi or Maxis Fibre if you are a Malaysian. I’ll be using both because I’m switching to Maxis in the next few days. Mine will be 20MB unifi or 30MB Maxis Fibre.
I know it sounds like an insane setup. Trust me, I took my sweet time to build my home network too up to this stage. My ASUS RT-N65U had a spoilt LAN port so I decided to re-do the whole setup and share the knowledge with anyone who is looking to achieve the same.
Ultimately, we are creating a home network that allows us to connect more than 30 devices that includes personal devices, our visitor’s devices, stream multimedia in our living room or even play online games, all simultaneously, yet access controlled. On top of that, we will have a storage dumping area that will allow us to reduce unnecessary burden on our computers. You will be surprised with the outcome.
Today’s agenda is pretty simple. We are going to format our hard disk! Yeah, as simple as that. If you stop reading now and attempt it right away, it’s most likely you are going to be back reading this again. We are formatting a 3TB hard drive. “So?”, you ask. A 3TB hard drive and a 2TB hard drive has more than just capacity in difference. The hard drive on your desktop is formatted using the MBR (Master Boot Record) partition format. The problem is, MBR has a limit of 2TB maximum and that is if we use a 512-byte sectors making it non-practical. There is a very complex reason for this but I will not explain it here. MBR has been around since 1980s, so for it to have survived till today is already a big achievement. So anything above 2TB will require you to format using the GPT (GUID Partition Table) partition format. The biggest limitation of the GPT format is that you are not able to use it as your boot partition. This means, you will not be able to run an OS from it. But GPT is excellent when it comes to handling large amounts of data. This explains why I got myself the external hard drive in the first place.
Formatting a 3TB hard drive into GPT partition format is not difficult at all. In fact, partitioning it into MBR partitions can be a nightmare. I did it just once because my RT-N65U did not support GPT partitions. I basically used a combination of Linux and Windows to achieve that. If you are a techie and came in search for that answer, I basically used Linux to create three ext4 partitions, then used Windows to convert each of them into NTFS. Don’t argue about why I did not create an ext4 partition on Windows and all that. It took me plenty of toying around to achieve that, so save the trouble.
Back to the topic, partitioning the drive. It’s pretty simple really. Just connect your drive to your desktop and fire up the Computer Management tool (Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Computer Management) and then click the “Disk Management” item in the left tree. You will eventually see all your hard drives like in the image on the left. You might have lesser items than mine in most cases. Disk 3 in my setup is holding 2794.49GB in total. So that is clearly my 3TB hard drive. As you can see, I have three volumes formatted in NTFS here. Initially, I decided to separate Videos, Music and Pictures into separate partition, but I ended up filling up my Videos partition and having 95% space in Pictures and Music partition that I can crossover. This is why we are just going to leave 3TB in whole and just create folders instead.
So, if you have any volumes on the hard drive, right click the volumes and delete them (all your data on that volume will be gone. Make sure you have made your backups!). You will see that there is no possible way to put 3TB in one stack in MBR mode. Now, right click on the Disk (not the volume area but rather the grey area next to it) and select “Convert to GPT Disk”. Then, select the whole 3TB partition and format it into NTFS with 512-byte sector blocks. That’s about it. Your GPT Disk is now ready and that concludes our first lesson!