ITPro.co.uk reported yesterday that a new study has revealed some interesting information about why some hard drives fail. The main cause of drive failures is apparently a magnetic effect which causes the areas on the disc platters to change their polarity. This was previously thought to be the case but the new study goes into much more detail, even suggesting that the material used by manufacturers may have its part to play. This change in polarity then jumps to neighbouring tracks causing widespread data corruption. Known as magnetic avalanche, the process could be better described as magnetic wildfire or magnetic exlosion due to the fast and devastating effect it can have on our data. I wonder if this problem could be what is wrecking so many Seagate Momentus 2.5″ drives?
http://www.itpro.co.uk/news/120196/magnetic-wobbles-cause-disk-failure.html (Link now Broken, Provided for reference)
We recently received a white 5G iPod for repair. The problem with this iPod seemed fairly simple. After loading tracks from a windows version of iTunes, the songs would appear in the list as usual, but after playing one or two songs the iPod would stop playing and appear to skip through the rest of the songs. We have seen this sort of issue before, when songs have gone into the iTunes Library but never copy correctly over to the iPod. We confirmed that this was not the case as we were using a fresh iTunes install with only one album in the library.
Another issue we see is when the iPod’s system area becomes corrupt and therefore causes problems playing music. We removed the Toshiba hard drive from the iPod and performed a complete write process on the drive to remove all partition and data information. As a matter of interest we decided to restore the iPod on a Macintosh computer. When we added the sample songs, all was good. They played correctly and we thought problem solved. We had to restore the iPod on a Windows PC to give back to the customer, so we carried out the restore and added some sample tracks. Unexpectedly we were back in the same situation again. The songs would initially start to play but then skip around all over the place. Next on our list of possible fixes were iPod diagnostic modes. These are accessed on this iPod using the following process:
Toggle hold switch on (red) then off (white)
Hold down the menu and center (select) button for a few seconds to reset the iPod
Once the white apple logo appears, press and hold center (select) button and previous (<<) button
From this secret menu we tried a full test (be aware that testing the SDRAM took around 20-30 minutes and shows no activity until it is finished)
These test all passed with flying colours so it was back to the drawing board. Thinking back to the fact that the iPod worked fine when it was Macintosh formatted we decided to try a firmware downgrade. All we had to do was choose a firmware from the list and load it onto our iPod. We tried 2005-11-17 which contains firmware version 1.0 for the 5G iPods. We did have to plug the iPod into the PC and then eject it from the taskbar before the restore utility would work.
Since downgrading the iPod it has worked flawlessly and been playing music non-stop. Apple appears to be ignoring this problem instead of providing an update or even recommending this downgrade option. Hopefully this little guide will save a few iPods from the scrap heap and maybe even provoke a response from the big A. We will have to wait and see what Firmware 1.3 brings.
Samsung has today started production of it’s 64GB solid state drive. (How long until we see that in an iPod hack?…) These 1.8″ flash hard drives would be a welcome addition to any portable device, provided you keep regular backups. At least if the drives do fail you won’t have to put up with the heart wrenching click of death. (but good luck trying to desolder and then resolder all those chips in an ill-fated and expensive data recovery attempt.)
Playing a game of catch up, Samsung and Seagate have gone head to head with Hitachi’s big boy by each announcing their version of a terabyte drive. Both drives feature the SATA 3Gps interface. The Samsung offering has only 3 platters opposed to Hitachi’s 5 and Seagate’s 4 which would suggest that it is not only more reliable but may be the forerunner of a future 1.5TB drive (with all that extra space for platters!).
Seagate have announced “industry’s first 250GB-per-disc, 3.5-inch disc drive.” They call this the second-generation of perpendicular magnetic recording technology. The new Barracuda 7200.10 which apparently has 180GB of storage capacity per square inch, also sports the speedy SATA 3Gb/s interface to get all that storage into your life extra fast.
Yet another attempted data recovery was thwarted today by the dreaded head crash. We have seen possible head problems with these drives and were not surprised when the drive didn’t come ready and identify. This particular drive, an ST96812AS from a MacBook Pro was giving off some interesting sound effects to say the least. Expecting the usual failed read/write head we took it into the cleanroom and removed the cover. This drive had clearly had a head crash. Not only was a large area of magnetic media forcefully gouged off by a stray head but there was also a faint scrape towards the outer edge. We have seen this minor damage on these drives before and still been able to recover some data, although the read/write heads don’t tend to last very long. Data recovery after a head crash like this one is impossible and will be a waste of donor parts and spare drives.
News of the Hitachi 5K250 drive was today posted to Engadget. This 5,400rpm drive now boasts capacity up to 250GB and has started shipping in volume. Coming in both SATA 3Gbps & 1.5Gbps interfaces. The drive also features Hitachi’s Bulk Data Encryption for protection if you were to lose you laptop (Or have it stolen!)
Engadget today posted news of the new solid state disks from PNY. In 1.8″ and 2.5″ flavours they feature 66MB/s read and 55MB/s write speeds with standard ZIF, Micro SATA, 44-pin IDE and SATA interfaces. These drives will be simple replacements for laptops and will eventually (by the end of the year) be shipping 1.8″ and 2.5″ drives up to 128GB capacity. Finally my whole music collection can follow me to the gym without fear of trashing the 1.8″ drive and it’s glass platters! It is now more important than ever that people start to put a decent backup routine in place because with solid state storage there is not much a data recovery company can do to resurrect them when they fail.
Here is a perfect example of why you should not attempt data recovery on a failing hard drive. This Maxtor 6Y160P0 drive was sent to us after being attached to a PC as a slave and then spun up and down repeatedly in a data recovery attempt. Needless to say the telltale crunchy spin-up was heard and we headed into the cleanroom to check out the damage. It was not a pretty sight. So much of the magnetic coating had been scraped off that there was a layer of soot on all of the components inside the hard drive enclosure. Even after a deep clean, debris and rough edges would wreck a new head mechanism in seconds, rendering any further data recovery attempts pointless.
We received an iPod containing a Toshiba MK6008GAH 1.8″ drive for data recovery recently. The iPod was rattling when inspected so we thought the ipod itself may have been broken. Upon removing the drive we observed that the rattle noise was in fact coming from inside the tiny drive.
We checked if the client wanted us to move into the cleanroom phase of recovery which is more expensive. The client said yes and so we took the drive in for its diagnosis.
After removing the cover the level of damage was very clear. The top disk platter was completely shattered leaving no chance of recovery. The other intact disk was scratched to pieces by the loose fragments of glass that were knocking around inside the drive enclosure. The read/write mechanism had not even left the ramp as you can see in the photographs although it would be clearly contaminated by the glass dust.
Looking at the severity of the damage it is difficult to understand the reasoning behind using glass disks inside such a portable hard drive. We do not know how much shock caused the disk to shatter but the fact that it is possible at all seems strange.