Hard disk heads not working- how do I disable them

I have a laptop PC with a hard disk (mini-IDE 1.2GB) which recently crashed.

When I attempted to access it again FDISK said it was read only. An attempt to high level format the disk failed, and a low level format attempt identified that there are at least 4 heads which repeatedly fail.

If I can disable the heads using software, then I hope to be able to use the disk for another few months, but as first child is due next Wednesday I can't afford to go out and buy another disk for a long while.

If anyone has any ideas they would be greatly appreciated, and I will consider going OVER 200 points if the answer solves this!

Please don't suggest anything this mundane. I wouldn't be offering a ridiculous number of points (180 MINIMUM) if I had explored all these avenues before even thinking of posting to a forum. It IS the heads- I've tried the disk on 2 machines, both new, so it isn't software or BIOS orientated. There's also a grinding sound every time a suspect head is activated.

I'm not trying to be rude, it's just annoying to have to wade through 40 emails (like I did yesterday), most of which appear to originate from novices suggesting the things I mentioned.

For instance: I have posted this question on several forums around the Web and I keep getting messages like "Use Attrib to un Read Only the disk", "Your BIOS probably doesn't support LBA / >1GB disks", "You can't disable the heads", "try DEFRAG" etc.

Living in hope,
Happy new year to all!
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Well, it is possible but it not easy to do what you ask.  In order to salvage what you can out of the drive you can try this.  By the way, this will work only if you head 0 (the first head) is OK, if it not OK then you're out of luck (except as noted below).  Let's say you have 6 heads and that two of them are bad.  The heads are numbered 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5. If 3 and 4 are bad, you can still use 0, 1, & 2 by telling your system BIOS (in the CMOS setup) that the drive has only 3 heads instead of 6.  You may have to turn off any AUTODETECT.  This will cause your system to ignore any heads past the good ones.

If you aren't lucky enough to have head 0 OK, then it's harder but if you are handy electronically, you can do it.  You can modify the disk's printed circuit board and "remap" the heads so that the good ones are consecutive and at the beginning of the disk.  I can't give you specifics since each drive is different but basically you need to trace back the thin cable that comes out of the hermetically sealed part of the drive enclosure from the head assembly.  This is usually a flat brown cable with 2 wires in it for each head.  This will go into some chips that contain head driver and amplifier circuitry.  Near that (or connected to it) should be some logic circuitry which controls which head is active.  That is, a DECODER.  If you can identify which pcb trace controls which head, you can cut and jumper the board to change the selection order.  I won't tell you that this is easy, but I've done if myself in the past and in a pinch it's better than no drive at all.

tstaddonAuthor Commented:
Cheers, jhance!

I'm afraid it's going to take a while to evaluate this one as I haven't got a small enough tool to dismantle the disk, but I will get back to you. I'm tempted to give you the points for your answer on its own, it's that comprehensive!

BTW- Head 1 has gone. either that, or something else is wrong because whenever FDISK starts the disk starts grinding, and only turning it off stops that from happening. Hitachi weren't helpful. In fact, so far you're the only person who has been.
Glad to be of assistance.  The've got some really nice miniture toolkits at Sears that are excellent for this kind of work.  For about $20 you can get some tiny little screwdrivers of all shapes and sizes.  On your 1.2G drive, there are probably only 3 or maybe 4 heads.  You should be able to try it with only head 0 and see if you can get 300MB-400MB working.
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Would a program such as HARDPREP be of any value in this situation?  I beleive it enables the user to lock out any head/track combo, thus skipping the offending one.  The only problem is that as I recall, you would have to enter each defect manually.

tstaddonAuthor Commented:
Ralph, you're a star! This is the sort of thing I've been looking for.

My email address is tstaddon@geocities.com, can you forward any info (or the utility itself) to me?


tstaddonAuthor Commented:
Sorry, all, but none of these suggestions worked.

HARDPREP just says "Out of memory" when I try creating partitions, and just hangs otherwise.

Even setting BIOS to 1 head fails. I have identified that heads 6,7 and 8 definitely work but am unable to verify the other heads.

I had an similar old drive which I broke open to see if I could rewire the heads, but I have quite poor eyesight and it's too risky (if the Hitachi's anything like its older counterpart). Besides, it's only about 15 months old so I rather hope Hitachi can help before I write it off by pulling it apart.

At this stage a utility which can identify a working or non-working head would be handy. I tried knocking out one in assembler going by an old technical reference book I found in a junk store, but it just crashed!

Unless there is such a utility out there, I think I'm going to have to fax Hitachi again and keep fingers crossed.

Why is email technical support from large corps so crap? I haven't even received an aknowledgement from their support team. How often do customers complain about faulty hard disks anyway?
It may be possible to "rewire" the heads from software.
Let me see if I can come up with something...

Meanwhile, I'm sending you a utility that I had written
to test my harddisk it should identify the damaged heads.

  My guess is, if the drive is in that kind of shape, it won't last much longer anyway.  I never would have considered the idea of re-mapping the heads... physically.  I would have figured you would have had to change the microcode for something like that anyway.  My idea would have been kind of raw, very simple, very base.  Use some utility like Norton Calibrate (from the good old days) and let the thing run for a couple of days.  Or use something a little more flexible and alter your hard error map to reflect that ALL the track of ALL the affected platters are bad.  Frankly, I'm surprised the drive is coming up at all...  No chance of a warranty?
   Come to think of it, Norton Calibrate wouldn't work if you can't format the disk...
tstaddonAuthor Commented:
Sorry, that TEST2 utility didn't work either- it just aborted after 2 hours. It was going really well though, but for some reason it insisted my disk has 63 heads and there are only 16. It was good at identifying each sector, cylinder or whatever, but it didn't report on which heads were bad.

Anyone had experience with Hitachi? Their tech support is appaling.  I mean, how often does a hard disk fail within 2 years of manufacture, you'd think they'd be interested.

Canacar- what do you use to write these little utilities? I've always wanted to get low level.

Finally, a utility called DOS6PR.ZIP is listed at Execnet with the description

     Checkit Ckmedia Applet, For Dos 5 And 6 Touchtone
     Software's Diagnostics For Latent
     Disk Surface Errors, Physical Media Defects, And File            Structure Problems On Hard Disks

The buggers won't allow me to download it unless I sign up and the only other copy on the Net (I can find) is at Channel 1 File Library (www.filelibrary.com)- but it's corrupt.
Anyone got it?
I almost had a similar problem...your headsw may need to be reset...a way to do this is to take the harddrive to a pro and have him "tap the harddrive so that it dislodges the heads" this may seem wierd, but it happenes.
tstaddonAuthor Commented:
I've tried tapping the disk to release the heads, but it didn't work either. (I am a pro, I'm just avoiding breaking the disk open JIC Hitachi do respond to my messages).

A utility which can check the heads, without going sector by sector through the disk, is my best bet but
If you have a 1.2 Gig Hard Drive, Is it still under warranty?

What brand is it?

Most laptop hard drives have a 3 year warranty.

In othere words...when we say is it under warrenty...we mean, it is not worth the hasle. Get another one...scrap this one.
No, I mean call the drive manufacturers' tech support, and receive an RMA Number (Return for Maintenance Authorization).
Then ship them the defective drive, and they will send you a new one.
tstaddonAuthor Commented:
I see what you're getting at, guys, but the whole problem is aggravated by Hitachi not responding to my phone calls, faxes or emails. I've been contacting them for 2 months without success.

The URL for their tech support is available at


My disk (by the way) is a DKC13A-13 1.3MB disk.
If you so much as crack the seal of the hard drive, you will not only void the warranty but completely destroy the drive.

Hard drives are assembled in a clean room just like processors.  The smallest spec of dust, pollen, bacteria, whatever getting inside the drive will ruin it.

Once the platter spins up and creates it's own air current, and then the heads move from the parked position. The heads of a hard drive are aerodynamically designed so that the air current causes them to "Suck" up to the drive platter and float on a cushion of air only microns thin.

If you got your fingerprint on the platter, it would be comparable to the drive head's running into a brick wall.

IIIIIII don't think that opening the drive would be an option here....

Continuing to run your drive after a head crash will cause the heads to rub against the platter.  Their once aerodynamic shape is now gone.  The friction will create dust, which will only serve to destroy the rest of the drive.  You are dealing with a problem that will only snowball.

Even if you could selectively disable certain heads, the drive's usable life span could be counted in hours.  And will only serve to bring you closer to the expiration of your warranty.

You could theoretically accomplish what you are trying to do using a utility called Drive Pro 3.0, by MicroHouse.  It is a very powerfull utility that enables you to take control of your drive at Ring 0 memory management.  (Take control of the heads directly, and position them manually. etc)  But it is something that not even I have tried.  Any time I have a hard drive that has this extent of damage, I will use Drive Pro to recover the information, then scrap the disk.
--Side Note:  I have used Drive Pro 3.0 to recover data from a floppy that had a pencil stuck through it.  

I also had a customer who's file server had a head crash, and they let their drive continue to run.  It was making some god awful grinding noises.  I used Drive Pro to recover as much data as I could, then I opened up the drive (it was old, and out of warranty).
The top platter's head crashed, and the head continued to etch into the platter until the platter broke free, and fell down onto the 2nd platter.  I could still recover the information from the remaining platters even with that extent of damage!
Drive Pro is a VERY powerful utility, cost is around $295.00, I Think

My only (and best) suggestion to you is to contact Hitachi to obtain an RMA.  If you call them or e-mail them requesting to obtain an RMA, they will have no problem telling you where to go, and how to get there. ;o)

It is something I do on a weekly basis with drive manufacturers in running my business.

Good Luck!


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tstaddonAuthor Commented:

I'm going to give you the points as you seem to have answered my question as well as can possibly be achieved.

I'm still not happy about Hitachi though. If anyone can provide suggestions as to how best to contact them without hitting a brick wall, I'd appreciate them. I'm being well and truly ignored and that really winds me up.

My disk is almost certainly under warranty, but if I can't get hold of them I can't get an RMA and I can't send it back!

This utility sounds well worth the money, and I'll certainly look into it, but $295 is a helluva lot of money for me. Still, if I go into the PC repair business it'll be a worthwhile investment. Not much use for a one off situation though.

The keyword here in dealing with Hitachi is RMA,  So long as the first words out of your mouth are "I need to obtain an RMA #", you'll probably get transfered once or twice, or given another number to call.  BUT, RMA's are something that gets done EVERYDAY.
Just make sure that when they ask you what's wrong with the drive, say "It had a head crash", "It makes noise".
The next words from their mouth will be, "What's the serial number".  And you'll be well on your way to getting a new drive.

They are not responding to you because, Who wants to help some end user troubleshoot their stupid hard drive?  They should be calling the people they bought the computer from, NOT US! We don't troubleshoot end user problems...

So long as you present them with the attitude that you already have all the answers, and you are just there to tell them what to do, you should have no problem getting a response.

If your approach is "I need help", Their response will be, "that's not what we're here for".  "Go Somewhere else".

Hope it helps!

tstaddonAuthor Commented:

Do you have a phone number?

I took your advice but I'd like to annoy them with the personal touch if they still ignore me.
A phone # for Hitachi?

I'm not sure I understand your comment..

I have a small laptop drive with no use for it. (256 meg i think) It works and is pretty small. I do not know if it will fit in your laptop.

I'd be willing to let it go for $1 plus shipping.
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