Strange Behaviour on Dying Hard Drive

Posted on 2006-06-17
Last Modified: 2010-04-03
Okay, I have a hard drive that is definitely not perfectly healthy anymore.

But the thing is, it's not acting like all the other dying hard drives I've encountered.

I'm having huge problems trying to copy the files off the drive onto a new drive. It would start copying okay for a second or two, but then just like stall. It'll get stuck for maybe 30 seconds, then continue transferring for a second, and then stall again.

Strangely, with the same video file, I can play it perfectly fine and scroll to different parts of it instantly.

The dying hard drive is a 160GB drive and it's pretty much full. I'm trying to think of a way to get the files off, but am not sure how I can do that.

1.) With that information, what could the actual problem be? Why am I able to play/access the files perfectly fine, but can't copy them off the drive?
2.) How can I copy the files off the drive?
Question by:ISoul
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Accepted Solution

garycase earned 500 total points
ID: 16928266
A few thoughts/things to try:

(1)  Does the copy eventually finish?   (after it stalls, restarts, stalls, etc. ==> or are you aborting it?)

(2)  What is the destination for the copy?   ... just curious if THAT is what's causing the stalls.

(3)  What are the symptoms that have caused you to conclude that the drive is bad/failing?

(4)  I don't normally suggest intentionally slowing drive access down to PIO mode, but this MAY be a case where that could be helpful.   Go into Device Manager, expand your IDE/ATA/ATAPI controllers, right-click on the channel this drive is connected to (primary or secondary), and set the Transfer Mode to PIO => then reboot.   This will SLOW the access down a lot, and cause accesses to the drive to use a high CPU %, but can help in some difficult-to-access scenarios.


Expert Comment

ID: 16928289
Copying a file requires it to be CRC checked along the way, playing it doesn't.  Chances are media player is a little robust when it comes to minor errors in the file, where as a copy isn't, thus it needs to retry.
Either that or the bus is becoming saturated.

For what's it's worth, I've seen this 'stuttering' scenario myself so it's not unique.

As to copying off the files, I'd go to robocopy.  you can get it from the 2003 resource kit which you can download here:

robocopy is a command line utility that allows files to be copied in a restartable state (/Z switch), which means that if the copy is interupted part way through, if you re-run it, it'll pick up where it left off.  it also supports retries and time outs for open files.
Let that nibble away at the drive overnight, or longer if required, and eventually you'll get everything off - so long as the drive doesn't completely die in the meantime.

Good luck, and get cracking!

Below I pasted a sample command - I use this for copying my Uni work to a number of different drives on different PC's, just in cas I get a failure.  the /MIR means mirror, so if I delete a file on the source, it gets deleted on the destination.  /ZB means copy in restartable, but if that fails try back-up mode - basically it allow copying of open files  The /R is how many times to retry (if file is locked), and /W is how long to wait between retries (in seconds), and /ETA gives you an estimated time of arrival for each file.
robocopy <source> <destination> /MIR /ZB /R:5 /W:60 /ETA
robocopy "C:\Downloads\My Files" R:\Downloads\CopiedFromC /MIR /ZB /R:5 /W:60 /ETA

Note the use "" to caputure paths with spaces in them.

Other useful switches include:
/MOT:?? means to monitor the source for changes - thus the command never really ends, every ?? minutes it checks if any files have changed and updates the destination as required.  You probably won't need that switch in this instance, but it might be useful in the future.
/LOG:<filename> dump the results to a log file.  Note that this tends to make the command 'silent' so you'll need /TEE to output to the dos screen as well as the log file.  The log file options are useful for checking later what files were skipped etc.
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Author Comment

ID: 16928558
garycase: Well, yes... I think it will eventually finish. I tried copying smaller files to test out the behaviour. For example, even if I try copying over 50 images that total 10MB, it may stall for awhile during the transfer, but it will finish. But obviously even dealing with a 700MB file, it will easily take many hours to transfer that, and ideally I would like to transfer out over 150GB.

No, it's definitely not the destination. It's a brand new 300GB hard drive, and just trying to transfer data out from this 160GB drive, I transferred about 60GB off of another hard drive, and that went perfectly fine.

I started having problems copying files to the hard drive awhile ago. I had the hard drive disconnected for a few months now because I didn't have time to deal with it until now.

I'll give PIO mode a quick try.
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Author Comment

ID: 16928588
Wow... VERY interesting.

Okay, originally, the 160GB drive was actually on a PCI IDE controller, so I couldn't change it from DMA to PIO mode... so I switch some cables around and put the hard drive on the motherboard IDE controller instead and changed it to PIO mode there.


It looks like it's actually working! So far, there does not seem to be any stalling while I'm copying whatsoever!

You may be wondering whether it could have been the PCI IDE controller that was the problem... but I'm quite positive it isn't. I had other hard drives hooked up to it before and didn't have any problems, and I had the 60GB hard drive hooked up the exact same way just earlier to copy the files off that.

Hmm, I should have actually quickly tested the copying before switching to PIO mode just to be sure... maybe I'll do that just for the sake of curiosity later on.

Expert Comment

ID: 16928629
Are you using the 80pin ribbons or the old 40?  it could be that the drive's been trying to write too quick for the cable (40 pin) hence the change in mode works.  Also could be a faulty cable of course
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Author Comment

ID: 16928943
Nope, can't be the cable. Using 80pin, and used the same cable for transferring files from the 60GB drive.

I AM still curious however to know what the problem is on this hard drive, and why switching from DMA to PIO mode would make files able to transfer off of it properly.
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Expert Comment

ID: 16929138
HI Pal

Download this great utility. "Hirenbootcd" I am 100% sure all your probs will get resolved within no time

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Expert Comment

ID: 16929934
The key thing (as I presume you know) is to copy everything while it's working !!  THEN you can "play" with other settings and not have to worry about the drive finally giving up the ghost.

As to why PIO mode will work when DMA won't -- the transfers occur MUCH slower in PIO mode.   That can make a difference if the platter is having marginal read issues; or if the drive electronics are having problems with the DMA transfer modes.  In any event, it's now working -- so you can (or already have) get your data copied off of it :-)
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Expert Comment

ID: 16938676
Thank you Garycase! this trick of change mode is working just fine! :) I was able to copied off data from start-to-die harddrives. Also thank you ISoul for put down this question (actually). Due to budget is limited, my boss wont want any spending for such recovery data, but in manufacturing technical field, our folks will need such data that stored in hdds to help everything on production lines. A reward of 500 points that I will post in this Storage forum for you, Garycase! Please accept.
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Expert Comment

ID: 16939547
Punky ==> Appreciate the thought -- but that's not a valid thing to do on EE.   Points passing is not allowed.

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