Monday, January 19, 2009

SATA Drive Disappears

I recently purchased a Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31500341AS 1.5TB for a PVR I was rebuilding (hopefully I will get around to blogging about this project). There are many reported problems with this drive, but since it is the only 1.5TB HDD currently on the market, and the price is so low, I figured it was worth a shot. I was wrong.

First, there are known firmware issues with this drive. There is also a high reported failure rate. So when I encountered problems with this drive, it was unclear where the fault lay.

The problem I experienced is, apparently, fairly common with SATA drives. After a period of time the hard drive simply disappears from Windows. It cannot be found in either Windows Explorer or Computer Management. It will, however, reappear after a reboot. For me, the HDD consistently disappeared while attempting to copy files onto it.

Reported solutions to this problem include defective cables and power issues. Others mention driver, BIOS, and firmware trouble. Still other "computer voodoo" solutions include switching SATA ports. However, nobody mentioned what may be a more common cause: the HDD is dying.

After spending nearly a week chasing down Seagate Tech Support to obtain a firmware update for my drive, they informed me that the firmware on my drive (CC1H) was the most current (at least for my OS - Windows XP).

After exhausting every other possible solution (including switching SATA ports), I was about ready to RMA the drive when, on a whim, I decided to load up SeaTools, the Seagate Diagnostic software. It immediately informed me that S.M.A.R.T. had been triggered on the drive in question. When I requested the "Long Test" be performed, it essentially informed me that the HDD was already known to be defective, and did I really want to subject it to the Long Test - I conceded.

So, the lesson learned from this experience is that whenever I encounter HDD issues, one of my first steps should be to download the latest version of the manufacturer's diagnostic software and confirm that the drive is not defective. At least in this case, the bad S.M.A.R.T. status was not reported during boot-up nor in the BIOS. I don't know if this is typical of SATA drives or not, but it seems that if you do not specifically check the S.M.A.R.T. status of a HDD, you cannot be assured that it is okay.

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