Thursday, April 19, 2012

Another One Bites The Dust

In 2008 I bought a Western Digital My Book Home Edition 500GB external hard drive to do Time Machine backups to. Although when I got a Time Capsule the drive was repurposed as an adjunct to my Media Centre Computer (i.e. my old 12" PowerBook plugged into the TV), although it didn't seem to like the fact the PowerBook went to sleep and eventually the file system got corrupted. I wrote a Perl script to recover files from an "unrecoverable" HFS+ filesystem (if anyone is interested I could clean up this code and post it) and got all the data back off it, reformatted it and attached it as an external disk to the Time Capsule.

And so it chugged on, occasionally having things dumped on it. Until last week, when I noticed that the Time Capsule seemed to be playing up, and the cause was apparently the external disk. I disconnected it and had a quick look with it plugged into my laptop and it seemed to be OK (although in retrospect I should maybe have done a bit more investigation that just looking to see if a directory listing showed there were files there).

Shortly afterwards I happened to be in Maplin and noticed they had a deal on Seagate GoFlex Desk 2TB External Drives, and so I got one of those, hoping I would be able to copy all the data off the failing 500GB drive before it lost the plot completely.

It turned out that although all the empty boxes in the shop proclaimed the drive was USB 2.0 and "upgradable to USB 3.0" (the GoFlex drives have swappable bases that allow you to choose different interfaces) that the drive I got already had a USB 3.0 adapter base. And so I ended up with my first USB 3.0 device, which by itself isn't particularly useful. However the supplied cable was perfectly adequate to connect the rather wacky USB 3.0 Micro-B socket on the HDD to the standard USB 2.0 A socket on the Time Capsule, and everything seemed to work fine. I kicked off an archive of the Time Capsule's internal disk and the next morning all my backups had been duplicated to the new disk.

So then I tried to recover the data from the failing 500GB drive. It turned out that it wasn't as happy as I'd originally thought. Although files would show up in Finder, if you actually tried to copy them off the drive the whole thing failed, making spin-up/spin-down noises and then disconnecting. I tried it through various interfaces (FireWire and USB), and also with the drive in various physical orientations (you never know). I even tried a different power supply in case the original one could no longer supply enough juice, but to no avail.

After I decided that there wasn't anything critical on the drive (mostly old TV shows I hadn't got round to watching) and that it was out of warranty, I thought I'd open it up. This was easier said than done. I eventually managed to lever the sides of the MyBook slightly open with a screwdriver and then open it like, well, a book, and get to the drive inside.

The MyBook is a sturdy well-constructed package, but once I got in I found there was a WD Caviar GP 3.5" SATA drive inside. Unfortunately I don't have a 3.5" SATA/USB enclosure. I probably should have guessed it was a SATA drive, as the MyBook has an eSATA connection as well as FireWire and USB. So I had a last ditch attempt at reviving it without it's case on, and even tried dropping the drive from about 6" onto my desk - just in case it helped. Then it dawned on my that the adapter for the GoFlex drive is just a SATA/USB3 bridge, so I removed the GoFlex drive from it's base, and then precariously balanced the bare WD drive on top of the adapter and proceeded to recover all my data from the WD drive.

This makes me think that the SATA/USB/FireWire bridge board in the MyBook enclosure is the component that is failing. Although it's not completely failed as it still talks to the disk to some extent. I find this slightly perplexing as I would have thought it was the component least likely to fail. Maybe some component on the board is undergoing heat failure.

Anyway, I offer this story up to the Internet in the hope that someone in a similar situation may be able to recover some important data that they thought was lost for ever, by using the power of the search engine, a screwdriver and a SATA adapter.