The configuration of disk platters, heads, and access arms makes
it possible to position the head over any part of any surface of
any platter in the mass storage device. However, this is not
sufficient; to use this storage capacity, we must have some method
of giving addresses to uniform-sized parts of the available
There is one final aspect to this process that is required.
Consider all the tracks in the many cylinders present in a typical
mass storage device. Because the tracks have varying diameters,
their circumference also varies. Therefore, if storage was
addressed only to the track level, each track would have different
amounts of data — track #0 (being near the center of the
platter) might hold 10,827 bytes, while track #1,258 (near the
outside edge of the platter) might hold 15,382 bytes.
The solution is to divide each track into multiple sectors or blocks of
consistently-sized (often 512 bytes) segments of storage. The
result is that each track contains a set number of
A side effect of this is that every track contains unused space
— the space between the sectors. Despite the constant number
of sectors in each track, the amount of unused space varies —
relatively little unused space in the inner tracks, and a great
deal more unused space in the outer tracks. In either case, this
unused space is wasted, as data cannot be stored on it.
However, the advantage offsetting this wasted space is that
effectively addressing the storage on a mass storage device is now
possible. In fact, there are two methods of addressing —
geometry-based addressing and block-based addressing.
The term geometry-based addressing
refers to the fact that mass storage devices actually store data at
a specific physical spot on the storage medium. In the case of the
devices being described here, this refers to three specific items
that define a specific point on the device's disk platters:
The following sections describe how a hypothetical address can
describe a specific physical location on the storage medium.
As stated earlier, the cylinder denotes a specific position of
the access arm (and therefore, the read/write heads). By specifying
a particular cylinder, we are eliminating all other cylinders,
reducing our search to only one track for each surface in the mass
Table 5-1. Storage Addressing
5-1, the first part of a geometry-based address has been filled
in. Two more components to this address — the head and sector
— remain undefined.
Although in the strictest sense we are selecting a particular
disk platter, because each surface has a read/write head dedicated
to it, it is easier to think in terms of interacting with a
specific head. In fact, the device's underlying electronics
actually select one head and — deselecting the rest —
only interact with the selected head for the duration of the I/O
operation. All other tracks that make up the current cylinder have
now been eliminated.
Table 5-2. Storage Addressing
5-2, the first two parts of a geometry-based address have been
filled in. One final component to this address — the sector
— remains undefined.
By specifying a particular sector, we have completed the
addressing, and have uniquely identified the desired block of
Table 5-3. Storage Addressing
5-3, the complete geometry-based address has been filled in.
This address identifies the location of one specific block out of
all the other blocks on this device.
While geometry-based addressing is straightforward, there is an
area of ambiguity that can cause problems. The ambiguity is in
numbering the cylinders, heads, and sectors.
It is true that each geometry-based address uniquely identifies
one specific data block, but that only applies if the numbering
scheme for the cylinders, heads, and sectors is not changed. If the
numbering scheme changes (such as when the hardware/software
interacting with the storage device changes), then the mapping
between geometry-based addresses and their corresponding data
blocks can change, making it impossible to access the desired
Because of this potential for ambiguity, a different approach to
addressing was developed. The next section describes it in more
Block-based addressing is much more
straightforward than geometry-based addressing. With block-based
addressing, every data block is given a unique number. This number
is passed from the computer to the mass storage device, which then
internally performs the conversion to the geometry-based address
required by the device's control circuitry.
Because the conversion to a geometry-based address is always
done by the device itself, it is always consistent, eliminating the
problem inherent with giving the device geometry-based