Hard Drive Problems with a Solution

There are times when I really love technology, but there are even more times when I hate it. Like most things in life, things are great until something goes wrong. This time around for me was a pretty big wrong.

TUESDAY – SEPTEMBER 5TH

I had just gotten home from work early on a Tuesday, ready to stream some more Splatoon 2 that I had beenrecently getting into. When i was getting things ready, I noticed my computer was off. It’s normally on all the time, but sometimes Windows 10 loves to just update and shut down the computer whenever it wants. Only this time it wasn’t turning on when I pressed the power button. Hmm. This computer has done this once before, and I had to dig it out, unplug everything, and it magically restarted when I plugged everything back in. Thinking it would work this time around, I was let down.

With the computer lying on its side and its beautiful components looking back at me, I tried to figure why it refused to start. I first tried different power cords and different outlets which didn’t make any difference. When I put my ear closer to the PSU, I can hear two rapid, faint clicks. I looked through the manual and online forums for any indicators, and most pointed to dead PSU or a failed component. Since it was early enough still, I decided to run to Fry’s Electronics and pick up a new PSU. I brought home and hooked it up, and bam. The computer started! All looked good except the loaded programs looked a bit odd. I went to toggle through the various drives and noticed the C and E drive were there, but the D drive was absent. My SSD happens to have two partitions that I call drive C and E, but my D drive is a separate mechanical drive that holds all of my data. I must have not connected it completely or perhaps it came loose on its own. Further inspection revealed that it was indeed plugged in. I restarted the computer and fired up the BIOS which showed no signs of a second hard drive. I felt the side of the hard drive for any heat or any signs of life. You can imagine what I had discovered. The absolute worst situation you could possibly imagine. All of your data, gone in a flash. And of course, I am not one who is crazy about making routine backups. Though I should, and we all should. But when it’s a 2TB drive, the motivation is difficult to come by.

I remove the HDD and attach it to an enclosure just to see if maybe some cables had gone bad, but still nothing. The drive wouldn’t even spin up. Was this the end? I am not one to panic right away about anything, but this was beginning to be too much. Always being the optimistic one, I tried to search for some answers. I’m not new to HDD problems, and I’ve had several break down to mechanical failure, but this particular case was just new to me. I had to dig deeper. I browsed many forums and videos related to my particular problem, and all seem to boil down to this; a power surge sent from the power supply possibly zapped the HDD. However the drive has on-board diodes (5v and 12v typically) that will sacrifice themselves in order to protect the rest of the drive. The downside is the drive will not work again unless they are removed or replaced. To check them you need to remove the PCB from the drive using a special torx driver. I have a bunch of weird tools and various sets of screwdrivers, so I went digging to see what I had, and sure enough I had a nice set of torx drivers. There were four screws holding down the board and three came off nicely. Except. One. It just wouldn’t break. And because the screws are so tiny and the head was a star shape, any amount of pressure would destroy the head of the screw, and that’s just what happened. How I have a drive what a rounded off screw head that refused to come off. Further research says to buy a Dremel tool and cut a line across the top and use a flathead. Sounds super risky, yet super fun. I’ve never used one before, but hey why not. I ended up going to a 24-hour Wal-Mart and picked one up. I decided to wait until the next day to try it since it was already well into the middle of the night and the noise would be pretty loud.

WEDNESDAY – SEPTEMBER 6TH

The next morning I decided to just go for it without any practice. Pretty ballsy considering I had no idea what I was doing and the screw was so close to the PCB. I was amazed how quickly it went. It took a few sparks, sharp, piercing metal-cutting sounds, but after about 10 seconds it was all over. I used a nearby flathead screwdriver and got it off. Then I flipped the PCB over to examine the damage.

No apparent damage. No signs of burning, busted components, destroyed traces or anything. I also tried removing the diodes but I didn’t have the necessary tools to get them off without potentially destroying the rest of the board. Everything was so ridiculously tiny. I really wanted to believe it was just a busted PCB. All signs seem to point to that. And the more I looked into it, the more daunting it appeared to me for me to do it myself. On newer hard drives, including this Western DIgital, there are soldered ROM chips on the board the contain specific information about the mounted hard drive that, without it, would render the HDD unable to read itself if swapped to another board. Which means if I wanted to swap the board with a donor board, I would also have to swap the ROM chip. It was then when I soon realized I should seek a professional. I looked into several options. Some ranging into the $1,000+ for data recovery services. Yuck. Luckily I came across a site that offered a PCB swap service. Basically, you remove the PCB pff your hard drive, you mail it to them (you keep the actual HDD with you), they will find a donor PCB and swap the ROM chip over, and send it back to you. All of that for $50. Sounded incredibly reasonable to me. I decided to go for that option. And if that didn’t work, then I would try something else. I sent off an email to the company explaining my situation, then went to bed.

THURSDAY – SEPTEMBER 7TH

That morning I received an email with their diagnosis. They believed it to be due to a PCB failure and a donor board was recommended. I went ahead and shipped off my board to them. They would find the donor board for me and do all necessary swaps and send back the new one. Unfortunately I wouldn’t have it back in my hands for another 2 weeks or so. SO…

…MANY DAYS, LOTS OF SLEEPLESS NIGHTS, HORROR-FILLED DREAMS ABOUT HARD DRIVES AND SEVERE PANIC LATER…

TUESDAY – SEPTEMBER 19TH

I had been checking the mail every day since Saturday (I never check the mail regularly). Unfortunately they did not send me a tracking number so naturally I was on my toes every night. Well tonight was the night. Inside this tiny little package was a shiny new PCB ready to be mounted to my hard drive. I worked slowly and remained deeply hopeful for a good outcome. I’ve had enough bad dreams through the weeks of it not working or something else going wrong, but I put those beside me for a moment. When the drive was back together, I slowly connected it to the external hard drive enclosure, connected it to the computer, and gave it a few moments before I decided to press the power button. I was a bit nervous about it! I pressed it. And I heard that signature buzz, the slow whir and some light disk activity. It turned on! So far it’s working! However, the drive did not show up in the explorer. I loaded up Disk Manager and it didn’t show up there. Hmm. I waited a few minutes, but nothing. So I powered down the enclosure. I loaded in a different hard drive. It turned on and loaded up the drive information. So I powered down and put the repaired drive back in. This time, I powered up, heard all the familiar sounds, and there it was! D Drive, Data Files all there. I felt so relieved. All the work and stress and finally paid off and I reconnected it to my main computer.

After starting up the computer, certain Windows programs were still confused and erased a lot of my customized settings in favor of some basic layout. It would take a lot of work to try and fix this. OR. I could try a Windows Restore point sometime just before the 5th! Luckily, and conveniently, one was made on August 29th, merely a week before the inevitable. After restoring, it was almost like nothing had happened at all. It was finally over, and I can move on.

Even though I did replace my power supply for around $130, I also picked up a backup hard drive, but I plan to return it. All in all, I think I figured out what went wrong, in case anyone is interested: When the power supply surged and fried my HDD, I think it felt bad and went into a sort of lockdown mode where it would refuse to startup again as long as the HDD was still attached. Possible? It may also be possible that the power supply is still good? It’s only about two years old, so I don’t really know. Either way, after what happened, I think I’ll stick with my new power supply. I still wonder why it only got the HDD and no other components. I’m both grateful and horrified to think about it.

In fact, let’s stop thinking about it. Now to try and schedule some backups!