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Select replacement internal hard drive for Dell XPS 1730 laptop

I need help selecting a replacement internal hard drive. My Dell XPS 1730 came with two Hitachi 200GB 7200RPM internal hard drives. These were 2.5 inch SATA drives. I have used them in RAID 0 (striped) configuration to maximize the usable hard disk space.

One of the two internal hard drives has crashed and I need to replace it (again). The first time it crashed, I replaced it with a WD 250GB 7200RPM hard drive. That drive crashed after more than one year and I replaced it with another WD 250GB 7200 hard drive. Now... this one has crashed after a little over one year.

I had backed up my entire computer (Windows XP, applications, and data) with both Acronis and Paragon.

I live in a small town in Costa Rica and have gone through three internal drives and four external drives in more than three years. I have a problem that no one else in my town is having, and I'm looking at that and will probably post a separate question about that.

My immediate need is to order a new internal hard drive from the U.S. very soon. Since prices of hard drives have dropped so much, I want to buy a 500GB 7200RPM hard drive. I want to make sure it's suitable for my Dell XPS 1730. I think it's OK to replace a SATA drive with a SATA II drive, but I don't have much technical knowledge. I just google for info on the web.

I'm looking at http://www.amazon.com/Western-Digital-Scorpio-Black-Mobile/dp/B004LR1RPK/ref=pd_cp_e_1 and http://www.amazon.com/Hitachi-Travelstar-Cache-Internal-0S02858/dp/B003SX0ORA/ref=sr_1_4?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1320368133&sr=1-4.

I'm open to any 500GB drive of good quality that has a fair price (for the quality). There are lots of hard drives brands, many of which I've never heard of.

I will appreciate your recommendation and brief explanation why you think it would make sense.

Thanks for your help.



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Either of those drives will work fine in your system;  although I'd prefer the Scorpio Black.

Buy them soon, as hard drive prices are rising rapidly due to the recent floods in Thailand.    Many have already doubled in price.



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iwould look at tyhe warranty; here it says 3 years ! : http://www.wdc.com/en/products/internal/mobile/

i suggest to choose from the Enterprise hard drives, they are intended for continous use - or contact WD :
http://www.wdc.com/en/products/internal/enterprise/

maybe this is what you want :  http://www.aria.co.uk/Products/Components/Hard+Drives/Notebook+-+2.5%26quot%3B/SATA/WD+WD3000BLFS+VelociRaptor+300GB+2.5%22+SATAII+10k+16MB+Enterprise+Laptop+Hard+Drive+-+OEM?productId=46699
Gary CaseRetired
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NO !!    The Velociraptor is NOT what you want.    While it is indeed an excellent drive, it will NOT fit in your laptop => it's 15mm high, whereas a standard laptop drive is 9.5mm high.

Buy a Scorpio Black.    It's a superb laptop drive and will work fine in your laptop.
And I would look at the operating temperature range/rating on the drives.  Different drives are built to different tolerances.  I would agree the top-end "black" models from Seagate and WesterDigital tend to have the 3 or even 5 year warranty and are typically built for heavier use, but they also tend to run hotter than green drives that are always spinning-down to save power.  (btw green drives may be prevented from working best that way when they are part of a RAID, it can depend on the RAID)  It could very well be that one of the two locations inside your laptop isn't as well ventilated and more prone to overheating, hence usually the one that fails.
What sort of failures have they been?

Another issue is when you replace a drive in a RAID array, many raid controller will set-aside "bad blocks"/sectors/tracks based on any of the drives, so, you could put in a drive with zero faults and already a bunch of the drive gets set aside because the other, OR the previous drive had faults at those spots.  Most RAID implementations are very dumb old-school that way, they do not let different drives have different bad sector mappings, they want them all to be in lock-step to keep the mapping table simple and efficient.  Sometimes a rebuild of the virtual drive and full restoration from backup garners you a clean badtrack table and perfectly striped/defragmented volume.

Prior and/or after these drive replacements you can try inspecting the health of the drives before putting them in as well as after taking them out.  Each manufacturer has diagnostic tools, be sure you use the one that matches.  It IS a good idea to do it BEFORE you add the drive to a raid volume, because sometimes bad blocks happen during shipping after the factory.  I know most people use the drive straight out of the box but really one should scan it first.  Be very careful however you never do "looking for badtrack" type tests on drives that are part of a RAID unless you plan on rebuilding the RAID from scratch because as explained RAID uses a DIFFERENT way of bad block mapping.  That said, there are also third-party tools such as HDTune Pro, and SpinRite or better yet HDDRegenerator.  You may find that the old drives can be reasonably reconditioned, DEPENDING on what was wrong with them.  Sometimes failures on drives are "soft errors" and can be reconditioned, not "hard errors" that cannot.

Going forward you'd like to be monitoring the drives' health if at all possible.  There are tools out there, such as HDTune Pro, but, it's not always possible to use tools for monitoring hard disk s.m.a.r.t. status because when you put drives into a RAID configuration, then the raid acts as a middle-man making it look like a virtual drive to the system, such that system tools cannot act on the drives directly.  Depending on your raid implementation, you might be lucky in this case and be able to monitor the drive temperatures and health.
A few more tips:
Going forward, keep in mind the RAID probably has a maintenance utility and maintenance routines that you should be using from time to time.  SOme people think you set RAID and you forget it, but no, usually there is some sort of BIOS extensions that you can get into the RAID configuration at boot time but also some utilities either there or to be run from boot or hidden partition, and the BIOS and/or maintenance routines will reveal how healthy the disks that make up the RAID volumes as far as the RAID controller is concerned, and that is something to check into and check now and then.  That is the RAID substitute for the other kind of diagnostics that would handle bad tracks the non-RAID way.

In the vast majority of cases you should not try diagnostic or reconditioning utilities on hard disks if the hard disk is attached via USB in an external enclosure.  This is because the USB specification only has SCSI commands, but most external drives are EIDE or SATA not SCSI, so there is a lost-in-translation problem, and also precious few circuitboards in external enclosures do enough command extensions pass-thru so there is also a "you can't get there from here" problem.  Some external drive manufacturers are making specific enclosure circuitry so their diagnostics can test and external drive, but those are VERY rare, doubtful you have any.

So, to test drives properly, a SATA disk should be attached to SATA, but careful if you're trying to do it on the very same machine you normally run RAID on, no, you should have the drive you're going to test connected as the ONLY drive in single SATA mode and boot from a bootable CD with the diags/utility on it just to be sure you're not going to mess up your system or raid volumes etc and yet so that the utlity can communicate DIRECTLY with the drive.  (not to mention SATA is 7x faster than USB 2.0 so a mechanical drive will work 3.5x faster directly)
Every hard drive I've seen lately that's "too young to die" is Western Digital or Maxtor.  I have best luck with Seagate.
Gary CaseRetired
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Not sure what your capacity requirements are, or how cost-sensitive you are;  but if you can afford the cost in both dollar terms and in lower capacity terms, a high-quality SSD would provide MUCH better speed;  MUCH better thermal properties;  notably longer battery life for the laptop;  and much better reliability.     A 300GB Intel 320 series drive would be an excellent choice ... but this will cost almost as much as 6 of the Scorpio Black drives :-)   [http://www.amazon.com/Intel-SATA-2-5-Inch-Solid-State-Drive/dp/B004T0DNI8/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1320420706&sr=1-1 ]

... you would, however, most likely be "blown away" by the performance improvement in your laptop !!

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Commented:
Quick question for you experts. I've appreciated the feedback on my specific question, and the discussion is starting to get into a related but more serious question I was going to ask anyway. I've had 3 internal hard drives fail and 4 external hard drives fail in a little over three years.

The little town in Costa Rica where I live has fluctuations in electrical voltage... although no other friend or either of the Internet cafes has had any recurring problems with hard drive failures. My laptop may be part of the problem. The question also gets into what type of battery backup to get... as one expert has already mentioned.

Would you prefer that I award points for this question and then post a separate question and link to it? I want to make this as easy and rewarding for you experts as possible.
Gary CaseRetired
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No need for a 2nd question -- clearly the REASON for the excessive failures is part of this topic.

A laptop, by its very nature, has it's own "battery backup" ==> so you don't need a separate UPS unit.

However, the power fluctuations could indeed be causing some issues with your laptop's charger, so what you may want to do is get a good automatic voltage regulator ... essentially a high-quality UPS without the battery.    This is an excellent unit:  http://www.amazon.com/APC-LE1200-Automatic-Voltage-Regulator/dp/B00009RA60/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320424492&sr=8-1

Note that your laptop's charger and/or battery may have already been damaged by the fluctuations;  so you may want to replace the charging unit as well  [If the battery still holds a charge okay, it's likely fine].

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Commented:
@garycase, thanks for the info and suggestion. Before posting my question here, I had run my question of voltage regulation by a friend who has a computer consulting business in the U.S. Because I can't find anyone else in town who has problems similar to mine, he said the problem is likely the circuit or the entire electrical wiring in the (older) house I rent. He said I should get a battery backup with "boost and trim". He recommended this or any other in the APC "Pro" line: http://www.apc.com/products/resource/include/techspec_index.cfm?base_sku=BR1300G&total_watts=200.

I wasn't totally satisfied with that recommendation, so I posted here. Your point that my laptop doesn't need a battery backup makes sense. I bought a battery backup here in Costa Rica about 2+ years ago. I can't even find a brand name on it, so it may not be doing anything to sufficiently control voltage fluctuations. My friends in town and the two internet cafes aren't using any kind of voltage regulator for the computers, so I'm wondering if the house wiring could be the problem. I've called the electrical utility company to come out and check the wiring. That may take a couple of days.

@ocanada_techguy, I've wondered about the fact that the internal drives in the very same (drive 0) position has always been the one that failed. Before my internal drive crashed this most recent time, I was struggling to keep it alive long enough to get a couple of good images of my entire computer on external hard drives.

While working with that internal drive (WD), I used CHKDSK, Western Digital's utility for checking the health of a hard drive, and SpinRite 6.0.

Before it crashed, SpinRite and chkdsk kept finding a few bad sectors on the internal drive (not on the second internal drive). I kept repairing them with SpinRite. Finally, my laptop would not boot to Windows XP. SpinRite found hundreds of bad sectors and would have taken weeks to look at and try to repair the whole drive.

BTW, the error message that now appears when I try to boot the laptop in either normal or safe mode is the same as an error message that appeared when I started having problems several weeks ago:

"STOP c0000218 {registry file failure} The registry cannot load the hive (file): \systemroot\system32\config\software or its log or alternate. It is corrupt, absent, or not writable."

When I found and eventually fixed that problem several weeks ago, the (hidden) file was missing.

About temperatures: During the several weeks I've been working with the internal hard drive, both drives have been running in the range of 109F to 117F. Usually around 113.

@garycase, I ordered one Scorpio Black drive yesterday so I could buy it before any big price increase and while my wife could bring it to me when she returns to Costa Rica next week. The Intel 320 Series 300 GB SATA 3.0 Gb-s 2.5-Inch Solid-State Drive you recommended would be very tempting if I had full confidence I can fix this darned problem, because my laptop has been running so slow it's been driving me nuts. I've wondered if the laptop had been running slow because of a problem with the internal hard drive.

Other other piece of info: The owner of one of the Internet cafes in my little town has a much better knowledge of computers than most people here. He studied computer engineering at a reputable university here. I've tried to get good help that's available. But he hasn't had any problems similar to mine and has no idea what could be causing the problem.

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Commented:
@ocanada_techguy: I'll have the local computer expert test my hard drive before I put it into my laptop. Excellent suggestion.
Gary CaseRetired
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If the problem is the electrical wiring in the house you're renting, a good AVR will resolve that.   The AVR unit I suggested is, as I noted above, essentially a high-quality UPS without the battery => it has the boost & trim circuitry your friend recommended you get on a UPS.    You clearly don't need a UPS for a laptop => but getting "clean" power is a good idea.   I'd buy the Line-R unit and plug the laptop into it.
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imo - there is no AC adaptor for laptops that can handle many - or serious power fluctuations, as you posted
in such case - the best is to provide a nice stable AC to the AC adaptor - this should keep your laptop runnning independant of the power fluctuations - and YES thes require a battery
Gary CaseRetired
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NO -- you do NOT need a battery (e.g. UPS) when the target system is a laptop.    A high-quality UPS has essentially two different functions:  (1)  to "clean" the power by providing boost & trim automatic voltage regulation;  and (2) to power the target system with an inverter powered by a battery when there's a power loss.     Note that many low-cost UPS units only do #2 [they simply switch to battery power when the voltage is out-of-line instead of incorporating a good AVR circuit].

The most important of those functions in an environment with "dirty" power is the AVR.    The APC Line-R does exactly that => it's a high-quality boost & trim automatic voltage regulator ... as I noted earlier, essentially a UPS without the battery.   In fact, many of APC's lower-cost UPS units do not have AVR -- or they have trim-only circuitry ... so the Line-R is actually better than those.

As for the 2nd function - powering the system in the event of a power failure => that's EXACTLY what the laptop's own battery does.     There is NO advantage to a UPS vs. a Line-R when the target system is a laptop.

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Commented:
1, Before this question gets wrapped up, I want to ask if anyone thinks that something other than electrical voltage fluctuations could be causing the large number of failures of both internal and external hard drives for my Dell XPS 1730.

I've tried to rule everything out that I can. The drive temperatures (109-117 F) don't seem to be the cause. The Dell XPS has two fans, and I keep the laptop on a base that has two fans that continually run.

The humidity here is high and the houses are very "open". But the humidity is about the same in all homes and the Internet cafes. But they also have significant voltage fluctuations, too, and the other computer owners are not having similar problems as mine.

As ocanada_techguy pointed out, all of the internal HD failures have been in the same slot in this laptop that contains two internal drives. More than a coincidence? Could voltage fluctuations likely cause drive 0 to fail but not cause drive 1 to fail? If so, what could help prevent more failures?

2. Is there a good 7200RPM internal drive that's significantly faster than the WD 7200RPM SATA drive that I have but less expensive than the $550 solid state drive suggested by garycase?


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Commented:
Correction: In question 2 above I meant to ask if there's a 500GB internal drive that will fit the Dell XPS and is significantly faster than the WD 7200RPM drive.
Gary CaseRetired
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While 117F is moderately high for a hard drive (47C) it's still well within the design limits, so that shouldn't be an issue.    What MAY be happening is that with two drives in the caddy, the "upper" drive (with the laptop in it's operating position) may be getting too much heat from the lower drive -- that may be causing circuit board overheating ... which wouldn't show in the drive temps, as that measures platter temperature.    Hard to say with any certainty -- but certainly possible with two drives mounted that close together.

There's not any drive that would be appreciably faster than a 7200rpm Scorpio Black except for SSDs.

One thing you could do that would give you appreciably faster operation AND eliminate the possibility I just outlined r.e. heat transfer from one drive to another is to use an SSD for the OS drive, and a 500GB Scorpio Black for your data drive.     An 80GB or 120GB Intel 320 would make an excellent OS drive, and these are a lot less than the 300GB versions ($149 and $195, respectively):
http://www.amazon.com/Intel-2-5-Inch-Solid-State-Drive-Retail/dp/B004T0DNJC/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1320437712&sr=8-10
http://www.amazon.com/Intel-SATA-2-5-Inch-Solid-State-Drive/dp/B004U8ZHY2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320437712&sr=8-1

If you do that, put the SSD in the outermost slot in the caddy, so it will be below the Scorpio when the laptop's in its operating position => the SSD draws VERY low power (~ 100mw) ... about 1/15th the power of a rotating platter drive ... so it will not cause any heat-related issues with the other drive.

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Commented:
Given the following from the review below, does it still make sense to use this laptop's battery with the APC Automatic Voltage Regulator (which does NOT have a battery)?

"... it is no wonder that the M1730 cannot stay unplugged for long. Anyone buying this notebook is probably not concerned with battery life "

The battery in the M1730 serves as more of an Uninterruptable Power Supply(UPS) than anything else. Running with the screen brightness at full while surfing on Verizon wireless WAN, I measured 56 minutes of life. With the screen dimmed and the wireless turned off, battery life improved by about 20 minutes. Consider for a moment how much power this notebook consumes; Dell's regular Inspiron 17-inch notebook achieves almost 3 and a half hours of life with the same battery. With dual hard drives, dual video cards, and an Extreme processor, it is no wonder that the M1730 cannot stay unplugged for long. Anyone buying this notebook is probably not concerned with battery life so I do not view it as a con.
Review from http://www.notebookreview.com/default.asp?newsID=4085
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then an ups with battery  can help you out...depending on the duration of the power cuts
Gary CaseRetired
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Yes, it still makes sense to buy the Line-R.    The complaint in that review is that you don't get a long battery life => which is not surprising considering the large, bright screen, two hard drives, etc.   Doesn't change the concept at all -- laptops do NOT need UPS's, since they have their own batteries.

If you want longer battery life, don't buy a UPS -- buy an extended life battery for the laptop.

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Commented:
Thanks for the help, experts. I really appreciate it.

I've asked a different but related question here: http://www.experts-exchange.com/Storage/Misc/Q_27433185.html. That new question is different enough that I want to award points both here and there.