At least for once, I have good backups...
October 29, 2009 8:46 AM   Subscribe

iMac drives failing - first external, then internal. Seems to be hardware in both cases. Questions about troubleshooting or replacement inside.

My 1TB external media drive (usually connected via firewire, but has USB as well) on my iMac went bad last week, randomly dropping off until it's powercycled. It was a WD MyBook, which I have now come to understand has an overheating issue. The firmware upgrade didn't help. I bought a new (1.5TB Seagate USB 2.0) external and migrated over the files using rsync. Opening the external case and pointing a desktop fan at the drive seemed to help it stay up longer, but SEVERAL times during the process it crashed, sometimes hanging the host computer with it. Several forced powercycles and hours later, I had all my data moved. One of these crashes happened in the middle of a Spotlight index job which I tried to kill to no avail.

I was just about to "retire" the old drive when it crashed once more, again hanging the iMac. I held down the power button on the iMac and forcefully rebooted it, and this time the system came up to the "question-mark-within-a-folder" icon. Booted from Snow Leopard install DVD, and tried to run Disk Utility. Disk Utility was having some problems detecting the filesystem/partitions on the internal drive, so I tried to repartition it to restore my Time Machine backup and found that its capacity was listed as 0 bytes.

I've gotten the drive to (briefly) recognize properly once, but most of the time the drive begins clicking as it's trying to read. When it was recognized I attempted a verify and repair, but the drive stopped working (and again hung the computer) in the middle of the process.

Is there any possible correlation (unstable power, magnetic interference, sunspots?) between the external and internal drives failing so closely together? It seems like this is a hardware failure where both drives are concerned; the external due to heat intolerance, and the internal due to unknown causes but making a telltale click. Could the internal drive have failed due to my powercycling the machine? I would think the machine should have brains enough to gracefully kill off its drive before shutting itself off....

Secondly, is there anything else I can do to save the drive? I'm assuming the click generally means the drive won't ever be good again. I know about the freezer trick and other temporary methods, but I don't care about the data on the drive as it's backed up and easily replaceable.

Third, if the internal drive is permanently dead, how easy is it to replace it with a new one? I have a 3.5" 250GB SATA drive that I can use to replace it, but have never taken apart an iMac before.

Lastly, is there anything I can do with the overheating external? It seems to work fine, so long as I direct a lot of airflow at it, but otherwise it crashes within 30-60 minutes of use. It seems to be getting more intolerant of heat as time goes on.

The receipt lists this as an "iMac 17/2.0/1G/160/SD/AP/BT/WLKBM, Part Number MA758LL/A". It was purchased July 29, 2007 so is not still under any warranty.
posted by tkolstee to Computers & Internet (5 answers total)
Apple doesn't recommend that users self-service iMacs, but if you really want to do it yourself, they do seem to have a .pdf available for download which has detailed instructions. (If that's not the appropriate instruction set for your model iMac, some simple Google searching with "iMac internal drive replacement [model]" should return something, I would think.)

An important thing to remember about Apple products is that they can get a bit grumpy if you don't swap out like-for-like with the replacement parts, so do your research and make sure whatever drive you put in will be one that Mac OS will play nice with.

If you can afford it, I'd recommend taking it to an Apple Store or calling your local Apple Authorized Service Provider and seeing how much they charge for doing such a service. It might save you a lot of headaches.

Also, and it's a bit late for this, but the next time you buy a Mac, BUY THE APPLECARE FOR IT. This seems like a silly cost at the time, but it extends your computer warranty to three years, and nearly all repair work on it will be done, no questions asked, by an Authorized Apple Service Provider. It's gold-star, Cadillac warranty service, and I cannot stop recommending it enough for any new Apple purchase. If you'd purchased this in 2007 when you bought your computer, it would still be under its coverage umbrella.

As far as the external drive failure goes, that is likely unrelated to the internal drive failure, but I also haven't done and research on the issue.
posted by hippybear at 9:26 AM on October 29, 2009

I've replaced the internal drive on my iMac per instructions found on the internet. If you don't already have a well stocked tool kit (torx screwdrivers, etc.), I wouldn't recommend it.
posted by digsrus at 9:37 AM on October 29, 2009

Thanks for the responses so far. I looked at the receipt more carefully after pulling it up to get the model number, and I did purchase AppleCare on that system at the time of purchase. I guess I never registered it, because I can't find the registration on their website, but I'm guessing they can link it using the information on the receipt (it contains a "serial number" for the AppleCare plan). I have a Genius Bar appointment for tomorrow.

Anyone know whether or not forcibly powering down a computer can cause the hard drive to incur physical damage? I've never run across this before.
posted by tkolstee at 11:07 AM on October 29, 2009

Odd to lose two drives in such succession. I've only had one drive ever die on (any of my thirty or so) Macs over the years, and that was after about 7 or 8 years of use.

Seconding that it's easy to swap out and replace with a new drive. iMacs aren't the easiest to crack open, but it's not impossible and there are good video tutorials on the web you can follow, pause, follow, pause... you'll also end up with a much bigger drive for almost no money, since storage prices have fallen and fallen and fallen since 2007.

Longer term, I'm suspicious of your power supply (in the iMac) or source (in your walls). I've never lost a computer to a power surge or lightning strike, but I did lose a drive once. They don't like power jumping around when writing.

I don't usually recommend extra Applecare for desktops (since they get much less abuse) but it's seldom a bad idea. Three years is a decent effective lifetime for a computer, not because they die but because they get old and you want a new one, so a three year warranty is pretty much forever.
posted by rokusan at 11:36 AM on October 29, 2009

If you bought the computer and the external hard drive around the same time, it's not totally impossible to believe that they just failed at the same time. They were in the same environment, after all (at least the same room; the MyBook is probably hotter than the iMac's case, if it has a known overheat problem). I'd just chalk it up to bad luck.

One thing that can cause premature drive failure is if the computer they're attached to is set to not spin them down during periods of inactivity, and then you leave the computer on constantly. That can shorten a drive's lifespan to only a couple of years, from the normal 5+. Of course, if you spin them down too soon, the spinup/spindown cycles can also cause premature failure. I think by default MacOS spins down drives after 10 minutes.

One thing I have noticed on my Mac is that it sometimes spins up and accesses the external HD for stupid reasons. E.g., if I go to save a file in any application, even if the default directory isn't on the external drive, it will spin it up (incurring a 5s or so delay) if it's mounted on the Desktop. As a result of this, I keep my backup drive unmounted and powered down until I want to use it. This may be annoying if you want to use Time Machine and have it run automatically, but if you can remember to switch the drive on at the end of the day it might save some unnecessary spinups during daily use.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:15 PM on October 29, 2009

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