How do I get rid of the bad blocks on my iBook's hard drive?
February 21, 2005 7:40 PM   Subscribe

A couple of days ago, my iBook (G4, dual USB, 800Mhz) hard drive started making excessive noise, like it was continually writing, and the computer slowed wayyy down. I backed up all the important data, then ran several diagnostic programs: TechTool Pro 4, Drive 10, Norton Utilities 8. All came up with major errors, first with the volume bitmap, then with the disk surface itself, i.e. bad blocks. None of them could fix the problem (although Norton said it did), so I erased the disk with the option to write zeroes selected. After erasing three times, TechTool Pro still found bad blocks on the surface scan test.

I tried all I could think of, so I reinstalled OS X, and everything is working OK, but the S.M.A.R.T. status in Disk Utility is showing failing. I'm afraid it's just a matter of time until the bad blocks start causing trouble.

Replacing the drive on this model is incredibly involved, so is there anything else I can try?
posted by letitrain to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
I'm not a "mac guy" but I can tell you this: If SMART is telling you the drive is dead, she is. That with all the other confirmations means it pretty much has to be a physical failure.

You can keep using it, but eventually it will just quit on you forever, probably at a really inconvenient time.

Sorry about that...
posted by shepd at 7:50 PM on February 21, 2005

Best answer: I think you need to face that the hard disk is no longer usable. Replacing it isn't so hard; you just need to be able to keep track of a lot of screws and turn nihilistic when levering the clips open around the case.
posted by cillit bang at 7:54 PM on February 21, 2005

You can't do much about the hard drive but to back up what data you can.

Still, don't risk damaging the case.

Take it to a bonded repair shop and have them replace the drive. Don't try it yourself: you will have a very difficult time.
posted by AlexReynolds at 7:56 PM on February 21, 2005

I guess you could pay some cash to have a bonded repair shop do it for you... I make my living that way. It will cost you.
posted by Dean Keaton at 8:05 PM on February 21, 2005

I had a disk that failed S.M.A.R.T. and it was pooched. Luckily it was still under warranty and I got a replacement.

The only way I was able to back up any data though (60 Gigs worth!) was with DiskWarrior. It was able to mount the disk when all other utilities failed to even recognize it.
posted by Robot Johnny at 8:15 PM on February 21, 2005

Well... do you have AppleCare or are you still under warranty? If so, take it to your local Apple authorized service center. The hard drive in my Powerbook crapp ed out after about six months, and First Tech in Minneapolis turned it around in about 36 hours.

If not, definitely take the opportunity to make this a drive upgrade: If your iBook had a 40GB 4200 rpm drive in it, now is the time to go for that 80GB 5400 rpm drive.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:49 PM on February 21, 2005

Best answer: I have a fairly new model of G4 iBook (August 2004) and I replaced my hard drive when I received it. It's not really that hard, just be sure that you have the right tools (torx). Don't try to improvise them.
posted by scazza at 8:49 PM on February 21, 2005

(How common is hard drive failure on a Notebook; or a MAc Notebook? I'm contemplating either buying a powerbook or an iBook, and using either somewhat heavily for 4-5 years before replacement; my iMac's hard drive (old Bondi blue) needed to be replaced twice; and has hard drive reliability improved over the last five years?)
posted by ParisParamus at 8:57 PM on February 21, 2005

(actually, make that iBook or iMac)
posted by ParisParamus at 8:58 PM on February 21, 2005

(I have had the Cube, a 15" PowerBook, and this new iBook over the past 5 years and my harddrive has never failed. I have replaced my harddrive for reasons of speed and/or size. This is personal experience, there may be a recent AskMe question that asks this, otherwise I don't have any statistics. I have found Apple laptops to be very reliable.)
posted by scazza at 9:03 PM on February 21, 2005

Response by poster: Darn. I was holding out hope that someone out there knew of some special trick to just make this problem go away. *Sigh*

Thanks for the responses.
posted by letitrain at 9:59 PM on February 21, 2005

PP: Notebook hard drives live a tough life, but they are getting better. Apple's newest Powerbooks have an accelerometer on board that auto-parks the heads when a certain acceleration is reached, to try and prevent head crashes from drops and bumps. I expect everyone to copy, but it'll take a couple of generations before the tech is perfected (and see below for more on 2.5" drives...)

letitrain: Your disk is toasting, if not already toast. What is happening -- a cascade of block failures. A certain amount of these occur naturally, from weak spots in the oxide. Thus, all drives have a "remap track", where, if there's problems reading, the block is copied.

If you run out of remap sectors, though, something is very wrong. Usually, this means that something has come off the drive and has hit, or is hitting, the platters. This is a cascade failure -- a bit gets knocked loose, bounces around, does more damage, those spots now fail, get loose, bounce around, and so on.


1) Back It Up, Right Now. If you care about it, it needs to be on other media, right now. (I back up my home dir to two other drives, one on this machine, one on another, every four hours. This saves my accounting info and my mail spools.)

(puts on sysadmin hat.)

How to have almost *no* failures. Watch your hard drives. The moment they throw *one* error, replace them. In production servers, you're mirrored or striped, thus, no downtime. Heck, in desktops, get a RAID-0 controller, install two drives. When one throws an error, replace both, give the other good drive to someone, and tear apart the bad one for the wicked strong magnets inside.

Hard drives are cheap. Thus, they aren't made as well as they could be. Consider them disposable. When they even start to think about possibly mentioning a problem, replace them.

You can buy more reliable drives. The traditional ones are SCSI, though WD now makes SATA drives that are identical to the SCSI frames except for the controllers. They're faster, louder, use more power, and built for 100% duty cycles. They're also considerably more expensive, don't hold as much (the top end 10K drives are 146GB, the top end 15K drives are 72GB) and require much more cooling. Add to that the cost of a controller, since your computer almost certainly won't have one, and a controller worthy of these drives (at least a U160 SCSI, preferably a U320) isn't cheap either. (Already mentioned exception, the SATA WD drives.)

You can spot these drives in two ways -- one, the size will be multiples of 18GB (9, 18, 36, 72 and 146GB are the common ones) and two, the cost will be much higher per gigabyte.

Personally, I don't think it's worth it for desktops -- the noise and heat are real issues, but it is for servers.

Finally, in the notebook front, they're starting to make 2.5" HDD that are server grade. Same problems as above, but they can handle 100% duty cycles, which notebook drive *cannot.* Do not use your Mac Mini as a busy NFS server -- the hard drive will last days, not years.
posted by eriko at 4:43 AM on February 22, 2005

Best answer: I did a HD replacement on my dad's iBook recently, and it is a pretty complicated repair process (at least when compared with the same procedure on a powerbook). There are several different "levels" that each have lots of screws that need to be removed.

Suggestion: Before you take any screws out, make a simple drawing of the section you're working on, and tape each of the screws in the appropriate place on the drawing.
posted by sluggo at 6:07 AM on February 22, 2005

I second sluggo on the screws.
posted by scazza at 7:47 AM on February 22, 2005

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