How to remove hidden Virtual CD (VCD) partitions on your Western Digital external disks


Updated: July 3, 2010

Every now and then I head into my favorite local computer store and buy a handful of gadgets, mainly disks of all kinds. Just a few weeks ago, I bought a 640GB Western Digital 2.5-inch Passport external USB drive, which I started using for multi-booting various Linux distributions off my RD510 laptop, including Ubuntu, Linux Mint and others. As the machine was already clogged with a quadruple boot, exploring new operating systems would necessitate wiping some of those away or using a second hard disk.

Well, I knew the device would come preformatted with NTFS and loaded with all kinds of garbage utilities that no one needs. However, I did not expect a hidden partition to be included, one that most conventional partitioning tools could not detect or delete.

Teaser

Anger!

I was angered, but this the experience gave me a superb opportunity to show you how you can handle the super-annoying menace of completely unnecessary vendor crap that is so audaciously bundled with sold hardware.

The tutorial explains how to do this with Western Digital (WD) disks, but the general approach should work well with all devices by all vendors, if and when you stumble across a bad example. There's also a brief mention of U3 removal tools.

Step 1: Explore

If you have a Linux machine, use it first for examining the new hardware. It is not uncommon for preformatted disks to include an autorun file, which can trigger the execution of software on Windows machines with this functionality enabled. In fact, autorun and autoplay are enabled by default, unless you take the steps to prevent them.

Next, it is not uncommon to find Windows malware on external disks now and then. In this case, using a Linux machine to examine the contents of the device is a very good option.

Well, I plugged the disk and, lo and behold, I had two devices showing up in Nautilus.

There was the standard disk, which is what the simple consumer would expect:

Disk

And there was the absurdly named SmartWare, a UDF-formatted partition the size of a CD, containing all kinds of stupid software.

Ware

Well, no matter. Let's format the device and get rid of the unneeded stuff. However, the presence of two devices was already a sign of bad things to come. For example, if you use the fdisk utility, you will only see the normal partition show up. The SmartWare is a virtual CD drive and read-only.

fdisk

I also tried using GParted and it was unable to kill the SmartWare partition. It was time to explore some more stringent methods.

Into Windows

Reading online and consulting with friends who have already had to tackle this nonsense before, I found a handful of tips and tools that could help. Most people having to fight this problem will be Windows users, which is why they will appreciate Windows-related tips on how to combat digital oppression.

Here's what it looks like in Windows:

VCD

I have killed the My Passport partition, which shows as unallocated Disk 5, but the extra CD-ROM is there.

Western Digital does advertise a Virtual CD utility on their site, which can disable the Virtual CD device. But it's not quite what you think. Read on.

The SmartWare Virtual CD Manager is a tool that lets you hide the VCD on your drive. However, it does not truly remove it, merely prevents Windows from showing the device and keeping you ignorant of its presence.

Main

Status

If you click Configure Drive, the VCD will be hidden, but if you examine the Passport device in the Disk Management facility, you will notice there is no change in the available space.

Hidden 

We still only have 595.51GB, just as before. Just to make sure, I did the same thing on Linux. Indeed, the utility merely hides the presence of the virtual CD drive, but it does not vanish it. Another gallant, blatant disregard of users. Time to use a third-party tool.

HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool

What you want is HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool. This little program will truly destroy the VCD utility and make your disk into one whole unit, which you can then use and partition as you please.

Utility

Warning

Formatted

Now, looking in the Disk Management utility, we have some extra space gained:

After format

And in Linux:

New look

Job done! We now have a normal disk to work with.

Question ...

Why do vendors have to bundle their useless stuff with the hardware they sell? Better yet, why does it have to be included on the devices sold? Why not include a CD, which users can then explore and install specific applications or tools at their own leisure?

Why do I have to have a non-removable virtual CD drive in use? I did not ask for it, nor do I want it. The sensible solution would be to have the virtual CD thingie disabled by default and then let users choose if they want to have it used, not the other way around.

This is annoying on so many levels. It's more than just a software thing, it's the one-size-fits-all decision by the vendor to jam moronity down users' throats and make blanket rules about what and how the users should use the useless software.

Well, now you know how to get rid of the stuff, so all is well.

Thanks to A. W. for his tips!

Oh, I will continue exploring and see if there's an equivalent Linux utility that can murder these hidden partitions. I'll have another tutorial baked once this is done.

What about U3?

Ah yes, another nonsense. Well, there's the U3 utility that truly kills it off, available for Windows and Mac users. In Linux, you may want to try u3-tool, which does the same thing. Thanks to Ocky for this discovery.

Conclusion

I was a little angry when I wrote this tutorial, even more than that while actually doing the formatting. I have always loved Western Digital products, they are stable, robust and durable and have always served me well, but I cannot accept the automated demotion of my intelligence into a mindless yes-man. The trend of bundling tons of genuinely useless software with hardware products is worrying. It's more than just packaging some leaflets and a CD or two. It's turned aggressive, to the point users are forced to chew on whatever the vendor decides to do.

Most average users won't be able to discover how to get rid of the VCD and will have to live with it, which is probably what the vendor had it mind when they opted for this solution. Just two years ago, when I bought my first Passport, there was none of this nonsense. The disk was shiny and clean.

Forced, embedded solutions are almost like malware, an undesired by product the user has little or no control over. It's like having browsers install toolbars or ad-supported solutions that you do not need, without giving you any option of removing them, merely hiding them from the view.

I won't go as far as recommending you boycott companies doing this, since you would be denying yourselves fairly decent hardware products, but you should take every step to express your anger and disapproval. And fight back. I've just shown you how.

Cheers.

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