Low-Level Formatting


By George Snell

Caution! Low-level Formatting your hard drive will permanently remove all data from your hard drive. It will be in the same condition as when received from the factory. Back up all data, and check the Re-installing Win95 section for notes on a complete re-install of an operating system to ensure you have all necessary programs, drivers and other material at hand before continuing!


Many useful utilities for Maxtor hard drives are available from: http://www.maxtor.com. Whatever scripting they are currently using buries the utilities. From the home page, highlight product support, then on the dropdown, click "Software & Utilities," then, whenever that screen opens, click on "download library." (Author's note: If you do not have broadband, you will learn that "patience is a virtue" when first viewing this site.) Be sure to check their site if you have a DiamondMAX 6800 or newer hard drive, and still have a UDMA33 controller!

Maxtor lists several low-level formatting utilities. After reviewing all of them, the one most general utility I will cover here is MAXLLF.EXE. The documentation enclosed with the file indicates that it may be used with all Maxtor IDE drives. Keep in mind that although a manufacturer may claim compatibility, it is your responsibility to ensure that any utility will work with your system. If you want to explore the other fine utilities available for Maxtor drives on your own, you will find them all at the above link.

Before running any utility to low-level format, check to see that the hard drive is properly identified in your BIOS. If your computer cannot find the hard drive, make sure your cables are connected properly and in good repair. If in doubt, replace the IDE cable. If you cannot hear the hard drive start up, try using another power cable (or momentarily unplug the CD-ROM drive or tape drive). Turn the power off and unplug the power cable before removing or changing any cables.


Download llfutil.exe

Purpose: The Low-Level Format utility is designed to return the surface of the media to manufacturing specifications and format the hard drive as it was shipped from the factory.

MAXLLF.EXE is available from the above link, as LLFUTIL.EXE, which includes the executable file and a .TXT file that should be read before using the utility.

To use MAXLLF.EXE, prepare a bootable floppy disk. This disk should be bootable to DOS 5.0 or higher, Windows 95 or Windows 98. Copy LLFUTIL.EXE to this floppy. Restart your computer with the bootable floppy in drive A. Run LLFUTIL.EXE to extract the user files. Before running MAXLLF.EXE, I recommend removing all hard drives except the one you plan to low-level format. Once you choose the hard drive to format and start the utility, ALL DATA WILL BE IRRETRIEVABLY LOST!

If you have not already done so, boot the computer to a clean boot A:> Prompt. (This means boot from your floppy, with no drivers loaded.) After accepting the license agreement, and acknowledging disclaimers, you will be presented with a menu to choose the hard drive you want to format. The drive may be on a primary or secondary controller, and may be a primary or slave drive. When you have selected the drive to format, you will be shown the specifications for the drive. Now select "Format current device".

You will be asked if you want to format using Logical Block Addressing (LBA) mode. If you have an older computer, such as a 286, 386 or 486, you will want to use the default choice of   N   (No).  If you have a Pentium class (Intel Pentium, P-II, P-III, AMD K5 or K6, or Cyrix M-II) or a special controller in your older system allowing LBA mode, choose   Y   (Yes) to maximize capability of your drive. If you have a Maxtor hard drive with 504 or less Mb of space, choose   N   (No).

If you choose the wrong option, your hard drive will not be properly formatted, and you will have to do it over again.

After choosing the address mode, you will be presented with the following alert:

            Warning!!! All data will be lost. Are you absolutely sure? (Y/N)

Pressing (N) will return you to the main menu. Pressing (Y) will immediately start formatting the hard drive.

To terminate the execution of the Low Level Format program press the [Esc] key. This will return the program to the Main Menu. NB: If the program is stopped, Data on the hard drive is lost even if only the first sector of the drive is low-level formatted.

The low level format will take between 4 and 30 minutes, depending on the capacity and the speed of the hard drive, and the speed of the computer and it's interface.

Upon successful completion of the low level format of the hard drive, the MESSAGE WINDOW displays the following:

          * The Low Level format completed with no errors.
          * Press a key to return to the main menu.

Note: If any error is encountered and MAXLLF.EXE returns an Error Code, contact Maxtor Technical Assistance at 1-800-2MAXTOR (USA only) for further help.

Press the [Esc] key (or press any other key) to return to the Main Menu.

Select "EXIT" and press the [Enter] key close the low level format utility. This will return the user to the operating system's command prompt.

Before you can use the hard drive, you will have to use FDISK, or a utility such as Ontrack's Disk Manager or EZ-Drive to partition and high-level format the hard drive for use. Maxtor offers more formatting utilities than most of the other drive manufacturers combined. You might want to check out some of the other programs designed to keep your Maxtor hard drive in top shape.

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George Snell 1999