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  1. #1
    Super Moderator Rick Corbett's Avatar
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    Is it feasible to replace an HD controller board?

    A friend's elderly neighbour has just asked me for help. He showed me how his external 500 Gb hard disk - a mains-powered 3.5" Seagate unit - is no longer recognised by either his Windows PC or laptop. He said he isn't worried about the hard disk itself, just the data on it, i.e. years of photos. I took the HD home and connected it to several other PC's but none of them would recognise it. In each case, Windows Explorer would just show the Windows 7 equivalent of a never-ending egg-timer. With his permission I opened the HD case, disconnected the actual HD from its USB interface board and connected the drive directly to a SATA connector on my PC's mainboard.

    This time the drive WAS recognised by the PC's BIOS but the following warning appeared:
    hd1.png
    Click to enlarge

    I tried to boot into Windows 7 but the PC refused to go past the Loading Windows screen.

    I tried to boot into the latest SeaTools for DOS (from a USB stick) but the PC hung on the FreeDOS boot screen.

    The only thing I was able to do was to carry out a low-level DPS test (it's an HP base unit), which failed immediately:
    hd2.png
    Click to enlarge

    During all this I found out that what I thought was a (S.M.A.R.T.) standard method of reporting HD diagnostics doesn't appear to be a standard at all...
    hd3.png
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    ... and that HD manufacturer's like Seagate (on its particularly unhelpful website) don't actually let you know what the S.M.A.R.T. error codes mean:
    hd4.png
    Click to enlarge

    (Thanks, Seagate... I'll remember this.)

    Anyway, when I told the chap the news, he told me that he had been moving his data to the external drive rather than copying his files to the backup HD. That's right... he has no backups of years of photos other than his damaged external HD nor can he afford a professional company to remove the platters from his 'dead' hard disk (in a clean room) and mount them on a substitute drive for reading.

    Instead, he asked this question (which I can't answer as I have no experience)... is it possible to buy the exact same model of HD and transfer its controller board to the damaged HD to read the physical data (in order to copy to another drive)?

    The controller board of the HD appears to be secured by 8 Torx screws:
    hd5.png
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    I have no idea what lays beneath and thought I would ask before exploring further.

  2. #2
    jwoods
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    I would try a tool like GRC's SpinRite to see if the disk can be repaired...

    https://www.grc.com/sr/spinrite.htm

  3. #3
    Super Moderator Rick Corbett's Avatar
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    jwoods - I looked at SpinRite. IMHO it's quite clever how Steve Gibson describes SpinRite's capabilities but doesn't make its limitations particularly clear. Instead you have to interpret statements like 'SpinRite works with HD's "that can be made visible to DOS through the addition of controller BIOS or add-on DOS drivers" '.

    I could be wrong but I take that to mean that SpinRite would not work in my case... 'cos the drive is not visible to either the BIOS or (Free)DOS (or Windows) as an accessible/addressable device (... hence me asking for help from anyone/everyone who has previous practical experience of perhaps swapping controller boards).
    Last edited by Rick Corbett; 2015-11-09 at 17:51.

  4. #4
    jwoods
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    Take that up with Steve Gibson.

  5. #5
    Super Moderator Rick Corbett's Avatar
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    Have you used SpinRite yourself? Did you recommend it from personal experience?

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    Silver Lounger wavy's Avatar
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    Rick there are SATA drivers available on GRC, but as it has always seemed like a PITA to get anything going I have not expressed my S/W iunky gene. Assuming that there is no translation problems w/ removing the usb/sate I/F, I would want the same, exact same controller board. Not just the same model #. Stuff frequently gets changed w/in model numbers, cheaper components, or maybe less flaky . Any dif COULD cause an incompatibility. I would explore the costly pro option if he feels it is really important to him. And be warned these pros operate in a clean room, if you are not a recovery specialist you do NOT have one no matter how much scrubbing and vacuuming you do. (Have you ever tried to put on a screen protector?)
    David

    Just because you don't know where you are going doesn't mean any road will get you there.

  7. #7
    Super Moderator Rick Corbett's Avatar
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    Hi David... yep, gone through all the possible/probable costs of professional (clean room) recovery with him. He and his wife are pensioners with limited savings and I hate to see an 80-year-old trying to hold back his tears... but I don't know what else I can do.

    I'm more than happy to spend whatever time is necessary to try to repair his HD if it's possible to swap the controller board with one from an identical HD. I just need to know if anyone has done it before.

    He's given me the OK to remove the Torx screws to see whether data connections are soldered or sockets. I guess that's the next step in the absence of any feedback.
    Last edited by Rick Corbett; 2015-11-09 at 18:20. Reason: clarified 'identical'

  8. #8
    jwoods
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Corbett View Post
    Have you used SpinRite yourself? Did you recommend it from personal experience?
    I have been fortunate not to have needed to use it yet, but I would not hesitate if I had a drive that was in trouble.

  9. #9
    Super Moderator satrow's Avatar
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    That data could mean an awful lot to the owner, from the description/screenshots, I can't tell which part is most likely to be at fault there - attempt the wrong 'fix' and it could make things worse, even irretrievably so.

    Rick, how does the drive smell & what kind of noise does it make during boot? How long before it sounds like it starts to spin up & does it sound like it's hitting full speed without fluctuating?

    Yes, it's possible to do a 'board swap, providing the donor 'board is close enough in all details - but it will almost certainly require the firmware info to be transferred from the old drive to the new 'board - most reputable companies will do this FOC, often by return of post and usually at no extra cost. Prices do vary...

    Try HD Sentinel to check the SMART details, the author is knowledgable and approachable, if you can get some details give him a nudge, he might have some specifics about that Seagate range's SMART report.

    Turn off Explorer's autorun 'feature' before you connect it again, you don't want it hanging around being hogged by that.

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  11. #10
    Silver Lounger wavy's Avatar
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    From experience autopsying HDD (ok I just like taking things apart) it is all ribbon cable in a header. older might have some pin connectors IIRC, but likely not. You may have to get a few to get the exact same board. I do not see any identifying marks on the board.
    Best of luck

    PS some maybe a different type but I don not recall any soldered, that would be an expensive op for mftrs.
    Last edited by wavy; 2015-11-09 at 18:39. Reason: ps
    David

    Just because you don't know where you are going doesn't mean any road will get you there.

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    Super Moderator Rick Corbett's Avatar
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    Hi Satrow - Many thanks for your reply.

    There's neither any smell nor noise whatsover, no matter how long I leave the drive connected and the PC powered up. It sounds (and feels, when I put my hand on it) like it spins up immediately without any problem and I haven't heard any speed fluctuations once it spins up. It's a guess at this point but I think the issue may be totally electronic, not mechanical.

    There appears to be a contact/friction mark on the front of the drive's original plastic casing but the owner swears blind he hasn't dropped it or knocked it. I've listened very carefully and there's absolutely no sound of any 'clicking' that would indicate undue activity of the HD's actuator arm.

  13. #12
    jwoods
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    Sounds like the best option would be to send the drive to a professional data recovery service.

  14. #13
    Super Moderator Rick Corbett's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jwoods
    Sounds like the best option would be to send the drive to a professional data recovery service.
    I agree... but they're pensioners who don't have the money to spend hundreds and hundreds of pounds on the off-chance they'll be able to recover their photos.

    If you can't help with either practical advice or personal experience then that's fine.

  15. #14
    jwoods
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Corbett View Post
    I agree... but they're pensioners who don't have the money to spend hundreds and hundreds of pounds on the off-chance they'll be able to recover their photos.

    If you can't help with either practical advice or personal experience then that's fine.
    My best practical advice is that the drive could be damaged further by tinkering, and could eliminate any chance of data recovery entirely.

    You could pay for it yourself...sort of "paying it forward".

    HTH.

  16. #15
    Super Moderator Rick Corbett's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wavy
    From experience autopsying HDD (ok I just like taking things apart) it is all ribbon cable in a header. older might have some pin connectors IIRC, but likely not. You may have to get a few to get the exact same board. I do not see any identifying marks on the board.
    Best of luck

    PS some maybe a different type but I don not recall any soldered, that would be an expensive op for mftrs.
    David - Sounds like you've been drinking. ROFL.

    However, it does sound like you've been playing around with these controller boards... and I don't think I'll break anything if I take the 8 Torx screws out to have a quick look to see whether any connections are socketted or soldered.

    Here goes!
    Last edited by Rick Corbett; 2015-11-09 at 19:33. Reason: typo

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