SATA Drive problem - Drive failure, hot-plug and comaptibility question

Posted on 2007-11-15
Last Modified: 2008-02-20
A client reported that his computer (a Gateway 550GR w/ P4, 512RAM, 200GB SATA I Drive, WinXPHome) would not boot; the computer would boot into the 'Choose Startup Mode' screen, attempt to boot Windows and then spontaneously reboot.

When I arrived onsite, I started it up and found that it wouldn't even go that far. The first time I tried, I got a 'Missing or corrupted NTLDR' error. The second time, the machine displayed the 'Choose Startup Mode' screen, then froze.

Fearing that the drive might be at fault, my first thought was to backup the data, so I brought it back to the shop, removed the drive and installed it as a slave in my office machine's PCI --> SATA card (and connected to power using a SATA power connecter). When I started it, I found that the office computer would not boot from a cold-start with this drive connected. I also tried starting the office computer and then hot-plugging the drive in (power-up first, then connect SATA power and data cables in that order); this caused the machine to periodically pause as it tried to access the drive. It couldn't. I couldn't access the drive in the 'My Computer' window or see it in 'Device Manager'.

I checked the specs of the drive and my PCI card and realized that the PCI card was a 150Mbps card and the drive was a 300Mbps drive. I reset the drive's jumper to 'Force 150' mode and tried again. The results were the same.

In an effort to see if the drive would function at all, I put it back in the client's computer and tried to start it, but got a 'S.M.A.R.T. Command Failed' error, followed by a 'Disk Read Error', if I attempted to continue the startup process.

I had read a number of online articles that suggested that SATA I is a hot-pluggable technology (which agreed with what I thought I knew) and that compatibility should not be an issue between SATA I devices (though readability would be problematic, if the data rate wasn't set properly). For this reason, I felt comfortable attempting to hot-plug the drive.

I am inclined to think that the drive was failing already and that my initial failure to detect that the card and drive functioned at different transfer rates, though an oversight, didn't contribute to the drive's failure. On the other hand, I have seen some threads, on various forums, that suggest that not all SATA devices are hot-pluggable or compatible. If I have, in some way, damaged the client's drive, I would feel responsible for making the client as whole as the situation permits.

If anyone has any suggestions as to how the drive might be made accessible (at least long enough to copy the data) I would be very grateful. Beyond that, if I have done something that contributed to the drive's failure, I would like to know that, as well, so that I can act with integrity and responsibility toward my client in this situation.

I'd also like to know what limitations, if any, there are in terms of 'hot-pluggability' and compatibility between SATA devices. I did a considerable amount of reading on the web, but have found little in the way of 'rules of thumb' in this regard.

Thanks much for your time, energy and help.
Question by:cscadmin
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Accepted Solution

rindi earned 500 total points
ID: 20291529
Whether it is hotplugable or not depends on your controller. Usually no harm will be done if you plug in a Sata disk to a running system. Unplugging a disk is something else. If the disk is being accessed at that time you can damage files or corrupt the filesystem. That's what the "Safely Remove the Device" is for in the task bar, it makes sure all data is written to the disk and access has stopped before you are allowed to remove it.

SMART is built into disks to warn users of disk faults before they happen, so the user has time to react and backup his data and change the disk before disaster strikes. So if a SMART error is shown but the system still functions, you should take that seriously and change the disk. Often SMART reporting is disabled in the BIOS so the user doesn't get the messages in time.

I don't think you damaged the disk, but rather the disk had a SMART error which was ignored, and it died eventually.

You could try booting the PC using a Knoppix CD and accessing the disk that way.

Author Comment

ID: 20291538

When I went over my notes from last night, I realized that the first error message I got was NOT 'Missing or corrupted NTLR'.

It was 'Missing or corrupt Ntfs.sys'

That makes a big difference. Since this is a Gateway, no recovery CD was supplied (it's a separate partition on the now-inaccessible drive), but I'll contact Gateway to see if one can be obtained. I apologize for the inaccuracy; that's what I get for not reading my notes.

Is the drive recoverable, or do the other errors indicate that it's beyond hope?

Again, sorry for the mis-statement.

Author Comment

ID: 20291572
Thanks; I'll check Knoppix out.

With regard to 'Safely Remove Hardware', it never appeared, since the system never recognized the drive in the first place. I DID hot-disconnect the drive, when I found it wouldn't recognize, but I assume that that would not have affected it.
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Author Comment

ID: 20291644
Rindi, I assume you're talking about booting from the Knoppix CD, seeing if the drive can be seen and accessed, then using that situation to copy the files?

I don't see anything there that would allow me to perform repairs to the drive or to the Windows installation on it. If there are such utilities, forgive me; I'm already running behind on this afternoon's service calls and hadn't time to throughly explore the Knoppix site.

Thanks for your help!
LVL 88

Expert Comment

ID: 20291832
Yes, with knoppix you wouldn't repair the disk, but it can give you an indication if it is accessible and if so you could copy the data off. To revive a disk there are other tools, my favorite being HDDREG.

If I can start windows with the disk attached and with it being visible to the BIOS, but I can't see it within windows, then I use getdataback to scan it and then to copy the data off. The free trial version will show you what you can recover, but you need to pay to actually copy the data off.

Another trick that has at least temporarily fixed a disk enough to get the data off, is to put it in an airtight plastic bag with moisture absorbing stuff inside, then freeze it for an hour. This has worked for me in about 2 of 10 tries.

Expert Comment

ID: 20943488
Forced accept.

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