Storage

Rescue a bad hard drive by swapping controllers

Don't let a bad controller stop you from retrieving valuable data from an old hard drive. In this From the Technical Q&A, a TechRepublic member attempts to track down a hard-to-find Western Digital drive to save the stored data.


The contents of a hard drive can be worth millions; especially in the legal profession where the integrity and security of data is critical. Just ask Mark Bucherl (aka ITclimber), an IT manager in Indianapolis, IN. When a local attorney asked him to retrieve data from an old hard drive, he thought to himself, "No sweat. I'll just pair up the hard drive [with] my spare machine and burn a copy of the contents."

It seemed simple enough. Mark hooked up the Western Digital Caviar 22400 drive, paired on it IDE, configured it as the slave, and then booted the machine. To Mark's dismay, his plans for a smooth retrieval were quickly shattered when the machine's BIOS presented the following message: 1782 Error: Hard Drive Controller Error.

Frustrated by the error, Mark turned to the TechRepublic Technical Q&A for answers to the following questions:
  • Why can't I find this particular model listed on Western Digitals Web site?
  • Is there a way to swap the controllers?
  • Will a fix require shipping the hard drive platters out?

A mysterious model number
Charles Harag Jr. (aka TheChas), a senior process engineer for CDH Adventures, pointed Mark to the Western Digital archives. An initial search for this specific model produced no records, though. After hearing that Mark couldn't find the drive listed in the archives, TheChas made the following hypothesis: "I just looked myself at WD's site and did not find a 22400 either. This makes me believe that what you have is an OEM drive."

This would make sense—two similar models are listed in the archives—a Caviar 22100 and a Caviar 22500. Western Digital could have manufactured the Caviar 22400 specifically for an OEM box. Mark was quick to prove TheChas right. He figured out that "it was a Compaq box (probably OEM)" that the attorney had been using.

Swapping the controllers
TheChas also advised Mark on successfully retrieving the data. "To recover data from a drive with a controller error, you need to find the exact same model hard drive. Then, you need the aid of an electronics tech with excellent soldering skills. Swap the electronics between the working drive and the dead drive."

Caution—Before you open the drive
One must be extremely cautious when exposing the internal components of a hard drive. Exposure of the platters can cause drive failure and the loss of all stored data on the disk.

According to TheChas, the following sites are great sources for older hard drives. Searching these Web sites might turn up an exact match for the Caviar drive in question:

Put down the soldering iron
Luckily for Mark, the controller on this particular hard drive plugs in to, rather than being directly soldered to, the platter case. So once a working controller is found, it can be used as a replacement, as long as it is an exact match. That's the important part—you must use an exact match. And that's also what makes Mark's problem trickier: He must find a match for a hard drive that isn't listed in the Western Digital archives and seems to have been created for an OEM system. Finding a replacement for a new, widely manufactured, over-the-counter drive is a relatively easy task, but hunting down an old, irregular model like the Caviar 22400 is challenging to say the least.

Don't donate that old Pentium just yet
At this point, Mark was blessed with a bit of good fortune. The system the attorney was using was one of several identical Compaqs being used in his office. Because the desktops were bought in bulk, finding a box with the same Caviar 22400 hard drive became much more likely. It turns out that the attorney had given away a similar Compaq desktop just recently; one that he hopes will have the same hard drive and a working controller.

"Hi five, TheChas!" Mark responded thankfully. Keeping his fingers crossed, Mark must anxiously wait for the duplicate to be returned. Then, he will be able to swap the functioning hard drive controller for the bad one.

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