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Hard drive pain.
April 27, 2008 10:15 PM   Subscribe

Highly technical hard drive filter: My hard drive failed. Came home, and PC was sitting at the "where's my hard drive" BIOS screen, to my great horror.

My question is more of a "please confirm my diagnosis" and "what have I missed" sort of thing. Hard drive does not spin at all. In fact, it does nothing at all. Doesn't spin, click, hum, vibrate, whine. And the PC doesn't see it.

I looked at the controller board and could find no burnt spots nor any visual indication that something was fried. I even pulled off the board to make sure the contacts were clean. Completely fine, visually. If I give the drive a twist along the axis of the platters, I can hear them move, so I know the platters aren't stuck. And there is nothing rattling around inside.

So my thinking is that the controller simply went belly up, and if I go out and get another identical hard drive and swap controllers, it will function long enough to get the data off. I have done this in the past with success, on an older IDE drive of the 4GB vintage. This drive is a 7 year old SATA drive.

But there are comments on websites saying that there is "tuning" information on the controller, and thus it won't work. I'm not sure I believe that- sounds more like scare tactics perpetrated by data recovery people to drum up business. But maybe not? Is the bad sector table stored on the board?

Anyway, thanks in advance.
posted by gjc to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
please confirm my diagnosis

This does not sound like a controller failure to me. But, if your controller has failed, you generally can plug your SATA drive into a similar SATA controller, on a similar machine, and it will work.

This may be a silly question... but have you tried hooking the drive up to another power supply (perhaps in an external enclosure?)

SATA drives tend to be a smidgeon more power-hungry than the ATA drives of years back, and if your system requires a controller, rather than having SATA on the motherboard, then it might be that part of your power supply wasn't quite up to snuff, and eventually blew.

The modern PC power supply is actually several power supplies in a single box, providing DC power of several voltages, at differing capacities per voltage. Sometimes, when they fail, only certain lines are affected (so +12v and +3v work, but +5 doesn't.)

Does your CD drive work?
posted by toxic at 10:53 PM on April 27, 2008


sounds like a power supply problem. plug it into a different computer first.

>Is the bad sector table stored on the board?

good question. but even if it was, wouldnt the new controller merely map the bad sectors over again? Sectors dont give any warning when they go bad after all, as they sometimes do, and the controller should be able to deal with it.

I like your idea of plugging in a new controller. Though I dont know for sure, my guess is "tuning" would be automatic. If plugging into a new computer doesnt help, I'd say go for it.
posted by jak68 at 11:29 PM on April 27, 2008


If you're talking about changing the chip on the hard-disk itself, and I assume you are, make sure to use the exact same drive. Manufacturers generally change around small parts and release HDDs with newer firmware. You'd have to buy the exact same drive, preferably one that came from the same batch. Since this isn't probably possible, be prepared for failure. If you do manage to get your data off the drive, consider yourself incredibly lucky.
posted by cyanide at 1:47 AM on April 28, 2008


As cyanide says, very slight differences between drives - not just capacity, but also firmware version, circuit board revision number, and it goes on - are enough to make a board-swap not work.

(I've written about this previously.)
posted by dansdata at 3:24 AM on April 28, 2008


Power supply probably. This just happened to my gf computer, wouldn't boot, not even to Bios, cd would spin but it didn't see her 2 hd, opened up power supply and a bunch of capacitors looked fried.
posted by jara1953 at 3:43 AM on April 28, 2008


With hard drive forensics, I usually take the hard drive out of the desktop and put it in an external enclosure to make sure it's not something wrong with the machine it was in. Since this is a step I'd do anyway for attempts at data recovery, I find it valuable to keep at least one enclosure of each type around the house anyway, to be used in situations like this.

Which reminds me that when I start using SATA drives I should definitely keep an eSATA external enclosure around for that purpose (currently just EIDE these days).
posted by kalessin at 5:38 AM on April 28, 2008


Toxic-

I'm sorry, I was unclear. I used the word "controller" to mean the circuit board actually on the drive, not the SATA controller in the PC. And I did hook it up to another (known good) power supply to verify the failure.

jak68-

I agree, but I really don't know the nitty-gritty of drive electronics. It's possible that when they manufacture the drive, they plug it into a magic machine that calibrates each drive individually and writes that info to the firmware of the drive. On the other hand, that *seems* labor intensive, so there must be some standardness between components...

cyanide-

I am prepared for failure. The data is worth me spending the time and money to do what I said, but no more. The data on this drive is sort of "tier two" in importance to me- not worth spending a grand to have it recovered.

dan-

Thank you! I've read and enjoyed your work in the past. The exact model is available out there, and I plan to use one. (although not cheaply- vendors must know that anyone looking for an exact model number has my plan in mind. There's on on ebay right now with a buy it now price of $147...)

Kalessin-

I have an external sata to usb adapter and it has worked in the past. Although it doesn't work with the manufacturers' testing software (like data lifeguard tools and Sea-tools).

Thanks for the info everyone! Does anyone have anything to add?
posted by gjc at 8:41 AM on April 28, 2008


If the data is really valuable enough to justify buying another identical drive on long shot, you may as well pay a real data recovery firm to do the job. I think they would have a better chance of success than someone who doesn't do this all the time, and the difference in price may not be as bad as you'd think.
posted by jewzilla at 8:50 AM on April 28, 2008


gjc, I mean I put the drive in the enclosure/use the USB adapter to just see if I can access data on the drive. Yes, you have to attach it to a controller in most cases to use SMART and other tools and diagnostic/recovery software.
posted by kalessin at 10:13 AM on April 28, 2008


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