Musical Maxtor Hard Drives
Iain Laskey finds he is the owner of a musical hard drive with a death wish.
Last night I fired up my trusty albeit rapidly aging PC and was met with a Power on Self Test Failure (POST) whereby I got to see a bit of the BIOS boot message but more curiously, an interesting melody emanating from the PC. Normally if anything goes wrong, the BIOS provides a series of beeps to tell you what the problem was but this was different. Distinct notes in a rising tune, a pause then a repeat.
I opened the box and poked around a bit, nothing obvious but I then realised the music was coming from the hard drive. I'm not aware of anyone putting speakers in hard drives so what on earth was it doing? This wasn't the usual grind, fluttery noises or other such sounds that indicate a drive failure, it was a proper series of tones a bit like alarms on watches, tinny but very distinct.
I unplugged the drive and this time, the PC booted straight up - luckily it wasn't the boot drive that had failed. I powered down, reconnected the musical drive and tried again - same as before. I could also hear a sound that indicated something was sticking inside, a slow repeating chug chug noise.
On the basis the drive was pretty much a no hoper, the only option was to try the trick of last resort - stick it in the freezer for a couple of hours. Here's a useful tip - when you take it out, use thin gloves, the freezing cold metal can really mess up your fingertips as you struggle to replug the cables in. Initially the drive kept up the iPod impersonation but after a minute or two and repeated reboots, the BIOS saw it and the system fired up. I then copied everything to an external USB drive to save what I could before it failed. Luckily the drive kept going for the few hours this took. Note that the freezer trick really is a last resort as the resulting condensation often makes things worse - this really is just for getting data off before it dies completely.
A new drive is on order and the faulty one, having tried it again this morning is back to beeping but why? After some exhaustive searching online I found the answer and it's certainly a new one on me. The drive is a Maxtor (now owned by Seagate) and it seems Maxtors have an interesting solution to a common problem. If the heads become stuck to the lubricant on the platter, the drive tries to get the heads free by vibrating the head at different frequencies. Sometimes this actually works although I'd not fancy using the drive much afterwards. When it doesn't, the entire platter ends up vibrating and effectively becomes a speaker. The musical notes are the different frequencies being tried by the firmware to free things.
Seagate/Maxtor's website makes no mention of this that I could find but it does get mentioned elsewhere so I can only assume unless anyone knows differently that this is indeed true.
Finally, it's worth mentioning another option you can try yourself with any sort of hard drive that is sticking. Hold it in your hand rapidly flick it in a circular motion - the extra inertia can sometimes free the heads. Alternatively, a gentle tap on its edge against a table can work wonders with an apparently failed drive.
But then you've got up to date backups haven't you so it's not a problem anyway, right?