Mangled Mass Storage

BOSTON (06/05/2000) - Last week Gearhead delved into the convoluted world of the SCSI. What fun it was! With that whole realm of technology still fresh in our minds, let's discuss what to do when your disk drive seems to have joined the choir invisible, to be pushing up the daisies or to be an ex-disk drive.

Gearhead will skip the extremely obvious comments on the need for backups, as a) we all know about backups, b) the need for backups has been part of every article we have ever read on PCs and every seminar we have ever attended, and c) we don't do no stinkin' backups around here so don't mention the topic because it is embarrassing and irritating.

So, there are three scenarios to consider: Case 1 - dead drive, as in no whirring or anything normal; Case 2 - normal drive noises with or without flashing lights, but no data access joy to be found (and without obvious error messages like "Bad sector found"); Case 3 - abnormal nasty noises with or without access to the data and error messages.

In the first two cases, check the disk drive cables. We know it's a stupid, dumb thing to suggest, but check 'em anyway. They could have been put on poorly when the system was built and been jarred loose when you turned the box around to connect that printer to the parallel port. If it is a SCSI-based system, make sure the terminators are in place, as they can come loose too.

If the cables are, to use a Woosterism, tickety-boo, then in the first case the drive may be truly dead. We'll come back to that later because it is where real drama creeps in.

In the second case, you may have a corrupted CMOS RAM. You'll need to access the CMOS setup (usually by hitting F2 or similar during boot up) and check that the drive configuration is correct. You don't know what the CMOS setup should be? Check the manual that came with the system.

No manual? Ah, small problem. Nope, actually, big problem. May we suggest keeping a copy in the future? There's a dozen good tools for this, including the venerable Symantec Corp. Norton Utilities.

Failing authoritative information, you can always examine the drive and find its specifications either on the drive, the vendor's Web site or from one of the many books on the subject (as Gearhead mentioned last week, PC Hardware Library Volume 1 by Scott Mueller is an invaluable reference).

Once you have its details (typically the number of physical and logical heads, sectors and cylinders) then you can go and plug that data in to the CMOS disk drive setup and pray.

So, let's say that your CMOS isn't corrupt and that the drive won't give up its data. If the error message says something like "What the hell is this," then assume that your disk is in the process of self destructing. It may only be a bad sector, but as your PC is complaining in an unusual way, the problem may be in the more important areas of the disk surface such as the file allocation table or the master boot record.

Next week, we carry on with dead and dying drives. Till then, normal access at

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