Should I upgrade my old P4 to turn it into a housing for multiple 3TB drives?

Joe Videtto April 30, 2012
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Hi all,

I have an old Pentium 4 machine (circa 2002) with 512MB RAM, an old Intel 850MVL socket 478 motherboard, and Windows XP.

I would like to use it to house my data backups, and to be able to fill it with 5 or 6 3-TeraByte internal hard drives, and have purchased a SYBA Sata Card that has 4 SATA connectors.

Here’s my dilemma:

I’ve learned that old BIOS’s don’t support over 2TB drives, and I know the old BIOS cannot be upgraded. I am pondering whether to:

1.) try and use the old machine and MULTIPLE SYBA PCI Sata Controller cards to connect 3 TB drives – but am not sure if I am asking for trouble to go this route – both in terms of hacking the old bios to be able to support 3TB drives (if this even can be done) – or using MULTIPLE SYBA PCI Sata cards might be tricky in terms of getting consistent drive labels for each drive

2.) just settle for 2TB drives, because trying to get the old machine to play well with 3TB drives is more trouble than it’s worth, and the old machine with XP should easily support the 2TB drives.

3.) just bite the bullet, and upgrade the processor / motherboard / RAM in the old machine NOW to avoid headaches

4.) decide what file format system to use – because I’d like to be able to easily take out the internal drives and put in an external doc to txfer files to other computers at times

Sorry for such a long, detailed questions. I’m hoping others considering using an old PC to house the new large capacity hard drives may also learn something from a discussion about the tradeoffs and alternatives.


  1. Bruce Epper
    April 30, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    You will have problems with XP on this system:

    It does not support GPT disks, only the old MBR type. This means that there is a 2.2TB limit on drive capacities for a drive under WinXP unless there is a patch that I am not currently aware of.

    You should not have to worry about the BIOS as extensions to support these SATA drives should be part and parcel of the SATA adapters.

    The cards I found with my search only returned PCI-X 4 channel adapters. These don't work in a standard PCI slot and the motherboard you have listed only has PCI slots, not PCI-X. The standard PCI slot does not have the throughput required to attain the transfer rates of SATA II and above drives.

    Overall, your best bet would be to get your hands on a low-end ITX board, RAM, and processor to handle the job. The overall cost should not be much higher and you will end up with fewer headaches in the long run. And many of they will support SATA III out of the box. In order to get the number of drives you are talking about, you may still need to add an extra SATA III controller to the mix and you will have faster interconnect options with the newer board.

  2. Susendeep Dutta
    April 30, 2012 at 7:15 am

    I would recommend you not to tinker with your BIOS in order to support HDD configuration of higher capacities as there's a risk of your working motherboard getting damaged.

    There's no harm in turning your old PC into large backup machine.2 TB HDD is good and why not use external HDDs so that to overcome the limitations and taking no risk of BIOS hacking.

    It's better to use NTFS file format system as it supports file transfer larger than 4 GB which is limitation of FAT file format system.