Troubleshooting SATA and IDE CD, DVD and Drive Problems
Warning! You must unplug your ATX power supply from the wall before working inside the case.
Copyright 2010 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
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Hard Drive Failure Diagnostics
Note that these steps correspond with decision points on the flowchart and are reached directly by clicking on the diamond symbols. The text below cannot be read sequentially.
Are all installed ATA drives properly identified by the BIOS and displayed on the start-up screen? Any modern PC should be able to identify the drive by model number, brand, capacity, and usually the transfer mode. Some brand name PCs may not display a start-up BIOS registration screen, so you'll have to enter CMOS Setup to view the information. If the key stroke required to enter CMOS Setup isn't displayed on the screen as the PC begins to boot, you'll need to look it up in the documentation or on the Internet. Common keys used to access CMOS Setup at boot are, <DEL>, <F1> and <F2>.
Does the hard drive spin up? We covered this in the power supply diagnostics, but I'll repeat it here for convenience. When the PC powers up, you should hear the hard drive motor spinning up the drive and the gentle clunking sound of the read/wrote head seeking. If I can't tell whether or not the drive is spinning up, even with my fingers on the drive's top cover, I run the drive in my hand. A spun up drive resists a slow twisting movement just like a gyroscope. Don't flip it quickly or play with it or you may damage the drive, not to mention touching the circuitry against a conductor and causing a short. Just power down, put the drive back in and continue with the diagnostics. If it's a SCSI drive, you're on the wrong diagnostics page, but maybe some new ATA hard drive will adopt the SCSI practice of a jumper to delay spin up. SCSI drives offer this option since you can install up to 15 on a single controller, and spinning them all up at once would cause the hardiest power supply to droop. Try swapping the power lead or running the drive on another power supply. One of the reasons I always use four screws in older PATA drives is so I can push hard on the power connector without the unit shifting around and possibly damaging the circuit board. I've never broken a power socket off the circuit board on a hard drive, but I've seen it done, so don't go too crazy on it. USB enclosures are the easiest way to test hard drives, and I just put up a page for recovering laptop hard drive data with a USB enclosure.
The diagnostic tree splits here between the newer SATA (Serial ATA) drives and the older PATA (Parallel ATA) drives. PATA drives are often referred to as plain "ATA" or "IDE", the terms refer to the same technology. SATA and PATA drives feature different connectors for both for power and data, so you can't hook the wrong drive up to the wrong interface. On the SATA drives, the power cable is wider than the data cable, on the older PATA or IDE drives, the data cable is a wide ribbon cable and the power cable is an old fashioned Molex with red, yellow and black wires.
The initial interface speed for SATA drives was 150 MB/s, also known as SATA 1. The newer 300 MB/s SATA 2 drives are now widely available, but replacing a SATA 1 hard drive with a SATA 2 hard drive on an older PC can get tricky. If the SATA 2 drive isn't recognized by the BIOS or won't boot reliably, check if the drive has an onboard compatibility jumper that will force it to work properly with the older 150 MB/s controller.
SATA drives are pretty bullet-proof in comparison with the older IDE technology. If the drive powers up but isn't recognized by the BIOS, it's possible that the data cable is bad, or not properly seated on either the drive and the motherboard. If the data cable is known to be good (ie, it works in another system), try attaching it to a different SATA port on the motherboard. Some motherboards offer a completely separate set of SATA connectors for RAID arrays (see hard drive performance). If the drive manufacturer supplied software that works with the drive and the operating system loads, even though the BIOS doesn't recognize the drive, you can still use it.
Any time two old IDE drives share a single cable, the computer needs a way to tell them apart. This can be accomplished by using jumpers on the drives to set one to "Master" and the other to "Slave" or through selection by the cable. The Master/Slave setting is fixed by a single jumper, usually on the back end of the drive between the power socket and the IDE connector. The labeling for the jumpers is usually in shorthand, "M" for Master and "S" for Slave. Some older drives include a jumper for "Single" (and spelled out labels) for when the drive is the only drive installed on the ribbon. Since pre-SATA motherboards always supported both a primary and a secondary IDE interface, it's not necessary with a two drive system to hang them both on the same cable. The boot hard drive should always be the Master on the primary IDE interface. If the CD, DVD, or any other IDE drive is to share the same cable, it should be set to Slave.
Most new PATA drives support Cable Select (CS) which means the pin 28 connection in the cable will determine which drive is Master and which is Slave. The 80 wire ribbon cables that should come with all new motherboards and drives support cables select and have color coded connectors: Motherboard IDE Connector - Blue, Slave IDE connector (middle connector on cable) - Grey, Master - Black. Cable select is supported by custom 40 wire ribbon cable and older drives; these are usually found in brand-name systems. The jumpers on both drives should be set to cable select if you aren't setting one as Master and the other as Slave.
If the drives still don't register properly, make sure the power cable is seated in the drive's power socket, which can take a bit of force. The ribbon cable connectors must also be seated all the way into the IDE port on both the drives and the motherboard, or adapter card if you're are using a RAID adapter. The most common reason for a cabling failure of this sort is that the connection was partially dislodged when you were working in the case on something else. Try a new ribbon cable. While cable failures are rare, it can happen, and it's a favorite trick of investigative reporters writing articles about computer repair rip-offs to intentionally introduce a bad IDE cable into a PC, just to see how many parts a shop will sell them.
Are the ribbon cable connectors and the IDE ports on the drives and the motherboard keyed such that the cable can only go one way? Check the pin 1 location on all of the connectors and ports. On IDE drives, pin 1 is traditionally located next to the power cord, but it's not a 100% rule for all time. Motherboards can be pretty strange about cable ports. I've even remember an old one where the pin numbering on the floppy and IDE interfaces were oriented in opposite directions. The pin 1 location on the motherboard is normally marked with an arrow, a dot, a white square, anything to show one end of the interface as different from the other. If the motherboard won't register any drive you attach, even on new cables, and if those drives are spinning up, it indicates that either the IDE controller is bad or all the drives you've tried are bad. You can try running on the secondary IDE controller if you've only been working with the primary, but the next stop is installing an add-in IDE adapter or replacing the motherboard.
The troubleshooting procedures for ATA drives that aren't recognized by the BIOS are identical, whether they are hard drives, CDs, DVDs, tapes or any other ATA device. If the BIOS registers the installed ATA drives correctly and the drive you're having problems with is a CD or DVD, proceed to the CD or DVD Failure diagnostics.
Does the drive cycle up and down? Try swapping the power lead for a spare or one used by another drive. For older IDE drives, try isolating the drive on its ribbon cable, even if it means temporarily doing without another drive for the sake of troubleshooting. If neither fix helps, try disconnecting the data cable to ensure that the drive isn't receiving some flaky power down signal from a bad ATA interface or crazy power management scheme. If it still cycles up and down, the drive is probably toast. Test the drive in another system or a USB shell before labeling it dead.
If you have an old drive that spins up but won't seek (you never hear the head move in and out), it's probably a mechanical failure. The last ditch effort before giving up or sending it out for data recovery is tapping lightly with a screwdriver on the cover of the drive, away from the circular section where the disks are spinning. This might encourage a stuck head to get moving. Freezing the drive for a few hours in the freezer (use a sealed bag) may get you temporary access to a drive with failing electronics that overheat in a hurry. Just make sure you have your backup media prepared if you try any of these last ditch efforts, because it may work just the one time.
Does the drive make little clicking noises and fail to get going? Restart the machine, with the reset button if you have one, and hopefully it will boot. If not, try in a warmer room, or put the PC in direct sunlight to warm up and then try it again. You can also replace a laptop hard drive, in fact, it's one of the few components that can be easily procured. It's far from guaranteed, but this is one of the few problems that can result from the drive being too cold rather than too hot. If you do get it started, run ScanDisk. It doesn't hurt to reseat all of the cables on the drive and the ribbon cable to the motherboard, since connections can also loosen up over time. However, if you can't get it going, it could be a legitimate drive failure. If you mind losing all of the data onboard, try FDISKing and reinstalling the operating system again.
Does the BIOS report the transfer mode correctly for older PATA drives, ie, UDMA/100, ATA/66? UDMA must be enabled in CMOS, or set on "Auto," for high speed transfers. IDE hard drives after around 1995 require the 80 wire ribbon cable, at least for high speed operation. You can check CMOS Setup to see if there's a manual override to select the higher speed transfers, though the automatic settings should pick it up. Also try isolating the hard drive as the sole device on the primary controller. If you're adding a new hard drive to an older system, it's possible that the old motherboard and BIOS simply don't support the faster transfer, even with the new cable. I'd be leery of flashing the BIOS to try to get the speed up, even if the motherboard manufacturer supplies it.
Can you install an operating system, or access the drive with any generation of FDISK to create or view partitions? Check again that the ribbon cable is fully and evenly seated and there aren't any "read only" jumpers set on the drive (normally only found on SCSI's). Try a new ribbon cable. If this doesn't do it, it sounds like either the drive's MBR is messed up, or there's a problem with the way the software is communicating with the BIOS, which really shouldn't happen. If you don't mind losing whatever info is on the drive, you can try FDISK/MBR and see if it helps.
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