About a month ago, a friend called to tell me her computer had died and to ask whether it would be possible to save the data. (No, she didn’t have any backups.) I said it would depend on whether her hard drive had failed, and asked her to describe just what had happened. Reassured that there were no awful clicking, clanking, or grinding noises coming from the machine, I said it might be possible to rescue the data by removing the hard drive from the PC and putting it into an external drive enclosure.
So my friend picked up a USB enclosure for a 3.5” drive at Office Depot and I went over to her house to pry her computer tower apart and retrieve the hard drive. This was not one of those machines handily designed to pop open when you moved a lever: not only did it require a screwdriver, but a fair amount of brute force. And, of course, there was dust everywhere, inside and outside. “No wonder it wasn’t working,” my friend said.
Computers attract dust. It’s a fact of life. The Ur-Guru puts fine mesh fabric (slices of pantyhose) over the vents on his, to help keep it out, because if too much dust and grime accumulates on your fans, they’ll get unbalanced, wobble, make nasty noises, and stop working. Then, if you’re lucky, you’ll have to replace the fans.
In fact, if all you find inside your computer is dust, you’re doing pretty well. I have found fairly impressive spider webs inside of computers before; one friend who used to work doing hardware repair found a thriving nest of cockroaches. My own computer, I know, is full of cat hair. I know this because my previous laptops, when taken in for repair, have proved to be full of cat hair, and the cat has not changed her shedding habits.
In any case, we duly removed the hard drive, a Western Digital Caviar 1600JD, from its previous home inside the PC tower, and I commenced to unpack the drive enclosure—whereupon I discovered that I had a SATA drive and an IDE enclosure. In other words, the connectors on the enclosure were the wrong size and shape for the connections on the drive. And we couldn’t go back to Office Depot to swap the enclosure we had for one that worked, because neither they nor anyone else local had one in stock. So we had to order a SATA-to-USB enclosure and schedule a second appointment.
(How would you know whether you had a SATA or an IDE drive? If you still had the original product specs for your machine, it would be listed there. It honestly had never occurred to me to ask; every drive I’ve transferred from internal to external has been an IDE drive.)
We reconvened today, this time with the right kind of drive enclosure. The connectors mercifully fit into the correct places on the drive. The screws lined up with the holes. When I turned on the power switch and hooked the USB cable up to my netbook, Mena recognized the drive right away, not even prompting me with a Found New Hardware dialog.
Actually, what I saw in Windows Explorer was “Local Drive E” and “Local Drive F.” On “Local Drive F” were a number of folders that didn’t mean much, plus what appeared to be a stray folder of photos, plus a folder labeled “i386.” On Local Drive E…I couldn’t get into Local Drive E. I just got an error message. I wondered for a minute whether “Local Drive E” didn’t refer to the Rebit I’m testing, not then connected.
I looked at my friend. “Did you have two partitions on this drive?” I asked.
“Did I have what?”
“When you looked in Windows Explorer, did you have both a C drive and a D drive?”
“Uh…better ask my partner.”
Right. But that elusive “Local Drive E” had to be the partition with the operating system, program files, and most of the data on it.
One thing I’d had to do when transferring IDE drives was re-set the “jumpers” (little caps that go on the end of copper pins) to the “master” position before connecting them to the enclosure. (Don’t ask me who thought up this whole “master” and “slave” thing for hard drives. I’m told it applies to flash photography, as well.) Since I could see there was a jumper on one set of four pins, I thought maybe that was the issue. The instructions (such as they were) that came with the enclosure started with an admonishment to check the jumper position, even though one website I’d checked said you didn’t need to worry about this with SATA drives. And was there an illustration of the jumpers on said directions? Of course not. It didn’t even contain illustrations of the parts included in the package.
Nevertheless, there is a saying in the computer world, usually applied when someone has asked a particularly stupid question: RTFM. Read The F***ing Manual.
Just because no one supplied me with a manual didn’t mean no manual existed. I learned that when replacing my CD drive. A bit of searching for “WD1600JD manual” turned one up. Western Digital’s was not the first site to appear on the list, however, though it was the first site to have the correct manual. (Someone should perhaps talk to them about SEO.) A quick look at the installation guide revealed to me the purpose of these pins and their attached jumper:
It’s nothing to do with whether the drive is a master or a slave; it disables “spread spectrum clocking,” which is something you’re apparently not supposed to know about unless you’re using the drive in an enterprise environment. So I put the jumper back where I’d found it and concluded that something had gone sufficiently wrong with Windows, or something else that kicked into gear on that partition, that it wasn’t willing to talk to my computer.
We had a workaround, however. The loaner computer my friend is using is an iMac. When we connected the newly-enclosed SATA drive to the iMac, we were able to see the contents of both drives. It took a while—the drive was slow to spin up once we switched on the power, and generally doesn’t appear to be in wonderful health. (It froze up about half an hour into the first copy job and I had to talk her through re-starting it.) But with any luck my friend will be able to finish transferring all her photos and documents off it before it gives up the ghost entirely.
She was lucky. This time. Her next task will be to copy all those files—and whatever new files she has created on the loaner machine—onto a more reliable external drive. And then to set up an automated backup system. Or two.