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A Blue Perspective: Hard drive surgery

Hard drive surgery
11 June 2004

Moral no. 1: Backup ... regularly.

Moral no. 2: Always keep useless junk.

What could possibly go wrong just plugging the cables from my new computer into my old hard drive? It's only a distance of 30 centimetres and a timeframe of 5 seconds. The amount of space-time any oncoming disaster would have to occupy was barely enough to fill Einstein's shot glass.

But five seconds later, I had a cracked controller card, an inoperable hard drive and a painful fist – I'm sure the wall was indifferent.

My, let's say, "relaxed" backup procedures meant that I had a sleepless night thinking about what the hell I was going to do about 6 months of missing work. The folllowing morning all I could do was mope to work, impotent gigabytes in hand, and gather exorbitant quotes for professional data recovery. It was then that a sympathetic colleague thought along these lines: "There's nothing actually wrong with the data, is there? It's just the controller card." Genius.

Google quickly confirmed the possibility of swapping controller cards between hard drives, in particular this Tech Republic article. But triumphant stories from successful Dr. Frankensteins were few and far between. It was a toss up between spending thousands to have a professional possibly retrieve some of my data, or run the gamut and do a backyard swap. You know which one I went with.

Thankfully, the inability of my workmates to throw out anything of possible value (used printer cartridges, empty hamper baskets – anything larger than a sticky note) meant they had a ready supply of five year old hard drives. Of course, you can't just screw any circuit board onto your hard drive and fire it up; the two parts have to be compatible. Lo and behold, one of the donors was the exact same model as the victim.

It should be noted here that if you're going to pull this stunt yourself, the two hard drives I had were identical model numbers: Quantum Fireball CR; and the controller cards had the exact same numbering on them: chip numbers, assembly numbers – everything. However, the drives themselves were different capacities. The damaged one was 8 GB, the soon-to-be-extinct one a bouncing 13GB.

I left these components in the inestimable hands of Michael Koukoullis – whose knowledge of things with screws runs far deeper than my own – and prayed. (There, you got a mention Mike :o] )

The next day (another sleepless night), a freshly bandaged drive awaited me in a state of quantum uncertainty. At that moment, my data simultaneously existed and vanished. The outcome could only be determined by booting it up.


Detecting IDE devices ...

Found ...

Primary Slave: Quantum Fireball 8550

Rapture. From the depths of disaster to the peaks of relief. Something you really don't want to experience. So backup. Or even better, get a RAID-5 array.


1/7. 11 June 2004 @ 03:35, Dave Marks wrote:

/me slips a blank cd into the writer, lines up some files from the dev server, and hits write, while gently sweating at the thought!

2/7. 11 June 2004 @ 08:52, Woric wrote:

>>So backup. Or even better, get a RAID-5 array.

Cameron, I am confused again. How is RAID 5 better than backing up? If your controller card goes ballistic, the house burns down or the computer is stolen then you still lose everything because you haven't backed up.

My personal suggestion is to always copy your data to a portable storage device that is also an MP3 player.

3/7. 12 June 2004 @ 00:45, The Man in Blue wrote:

It isn't better than it, Wozza :o]

It was sort of a throwaway line. It certainly would have helped in my case, as you wouldn't be relying on one hard drive, but from a backup perspective it's no replacement.

But for a home system, what's the best backup solution? It's hardly worth getting a tape unit, and tens of GB won't (easily) fit on CDs. For some reason I don't feel comfortable using a portable MP3 player for critical data storage ... *shrug*

4/7. 12 June 2004 @ 10:04, Alex Taylor wrote:

I know the feeling.. I've never had anything that bad happen, but definitely a few close calls every once in awhile.

5/7. 14 June 2004 @ 10:44, Tom Werner wrote:

Count yourself lucky! I lost a HD due to an overheating problem, and lets just say that due to my "relaxed" backup habits I lost a client's entire project two days before it was to go to print. I had to reshoot 30 sandals and recreate the layout in 48 hours. I made it happen, but it wasn't fun. I had a several month old backup so I didn't lose *everything,* but still...

Suffice it to say I now backup religiously every night. My backup method of choice is a disk copier app that simply synchronizes one IDE drive to another. That way I don't have to worry about RAID controller haywire either (I almost got burnt by that too). All in all, I've had the worst luck with computer hardware of anyone I know. You name it, I've suffered it.

What doesn't kill us, makes us backup more often.

6/7. 14 June 2004 @ 11:51, ACJ wrote:

Hmm, I should try this with the old HD I have laying around some time. It stopped working years ago, and contained (or, perhaps, contains?) about 3.4 GB of data and thousands of hours of work. When it crashed, I was sick for a week, and I never even considered throwing it away (though I did consider leaving the computer business alltogether). So yeah, I need to check the specifics of the thing and find myself a fitting controller card. I'm over the stuff I had lost now, but I wouldn't mind getting it back.

7/7. 16 June 2004 @ 11:50, Michael Koukoullis wrote:

RAID spreads the risk of a hard disk crash, similar in nature to spreading risks in a financial portfolio, it occurs in real time and ensures you can keep working on redundancy until you get a new hard disk.

Backups proper will always have their place, there is allways a chance that a RAID controller can go nuts or that all three disks in a RAID array simultaneous seld destruct.

RAID in conjunction with nightly backups is enough insurance for about 95% of most likely catastrophes, note this does not include the chance of a meteor coming through your roof and burning a whole through the center of your hard drive platters.


Michael Koukoullis

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