Why did my HD catch fire?
January 25, 2011 9:18 AM   Subscribe

I inserted a power cable into a hard drive and it caught on fire (started smoking and crackling). Now I'm paranoid about leaving my computer on. How often does this happen, and why?

This was a 3.5 internal HD that I was using as a USB drive using one of these ide/usb adapters with power supply, something like this (but not exactly that one). I didn't have the idea cable plugged in yet, I just plugged the molex cable into the power port on the drive and instant fire.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
How often does this happen, and why?

I've handled a couple gazillion hard drives and had a few mechanically fail in my hands, but never actually had any start on fire. I'd say its fairly rare.

My officemate once set a drive down on a screw and left a nice scorch mark on the desk, though.

I bet something on the drive shorted - maybe there was a crack or damage to the circuit board you didnt notice.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:24 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

You probably plugged the power cable the wrong way. It happened to me too, once, and it fried the drive. There is no reason to think you will have any problem at all leaving your computer on if you plug the cable right.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 9:26 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the problem was likely with your USB adapter and power supply, not with your drive.
posted by Jairus at 9:26 AM on January 25, 2011

Anecdata: I had an external drive which I plugged into the wall using what I thought was the proper adapter. Once I turned it on it started smoking and while there was no actual fire, it was well and truly toasted. So, I've seen this happen once and now I am more careful to make certain the power cord is the right one for the drive.
posted by jessamyn at 9:28 AM on January 25, 2011

I have had this happen, with the exact same type of device. I blamed it on the device. I have also seen the transformer from that device melt. It has definitely made me paranoid about using it. When I tested it with a multimeter, the voltages were way out of spec, although I can't say that didn't happen after the incident.
posted by alexei at 9:35 AM on January 25, 2011

The same thing happened to me with the same type adapter. The adapter was cheaper/lower end, so I chalked it up to just cheap hardware.
posted by Biscuit-Head at 10:17 AM on January 25, 2011

Here are some best practice tips for you using those IDE\SATA to USB connectors.
Connect the IDE or SATA cables first.
Connect in the molex or power second.
Then plug into the wall.

I used to use those connectors on about 1-20 different drives every day for 2 years and I never had a single problem even when it was a failing hdd.

The power supplies, as noted above by alexei, are notoriously way off spec for the power that they are supplying.

With how cheap storage is, I prefer using laptop hdds now that only need to connect to usb for power.

As far as your concern with leaving your computer on that's not something you need to worry about.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:20 AM on January 25, 2011

I've done something similar many, many, many moons ago - I connected the power connecter to an internal Amiga floppy drive the wrong way around; same result - a flame running down the wire, along with a hideous stink. The FDD still worked, amazingly enough - but I'd expect a hard disk to be a lot less resilient.

Basically, it sounds like you've shorted across the power supply lines (there is a +12V and a +5V line, and two neutrals) - always best to connect things up without any power on (some recommend leaving it all connected to the wall socket to provide an earth, though) and to double - and perhaps triple, if you're nervous - check all of the connections.
posted by Chunder at 10:43 AM on January 25, 2011

The chance of this happening again to anyone else is super low, the chance of you misdiagnosing the problem and then having another problem in the future with this machine is high.
posted by Felex at 11:02 AM on January 25, 2011

Same thing happened to me — smoke, yellow flames, dead drive. I had plugged the power connector into the drive the wrong way (upside down) which sent 12VDC to all the 5VDC circuits. Lesson learned: Don't trust the little rounded edges on the power connector to prevent disaster. Look at it and insert it the correct way.
posted by exphysicist345 at 2:41 PM on January 25, 2011

This happened to me with a 2.5" notebook hard drive. I plugged the power adapter in backwards, and there was smoke. Good thing there wasn't actual fire; we'd have had to clear the building, and it was embarrassing enough as it was. The drive was destroyed, as well as the cables. They should make it harder to plug cables in wrong.
posted by theora55 at 3:27 PM on January 25, 2011

Don't blame yourself, magic smoke is always trying to escape from things.
posted by soma lkzx at 8:19 PM on January 25, 2011

« Older Looking for a pen to draw Tarot cards   |   Where to go in Indonesia or Malaysia Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.