Hard Disk Heaven

Unfortunately my computers main hard disk and back up drive have once again thrown up some SMART errors, that whilst thankfully are non-fatal, have sent me into a flurry or backing everything up. This got me thinking about all the hard disks I have floating around in my collection and so I decided to dust them all off and take some photos of the more interesting ones.

MiniScribe Drives

MiniScribe Drives

First up are two MiniScribe MFM hard disks from the early days of PC computing. The one on the right shows the common use of stepper motors to move the heads in early hard disks, the other may be one of the first to use voice coils, we can’t tell from the outside.

MiniScribe as a company is famous for how they went out of business. They were running low on funds, but wanted to make everything look good on paper, so they sent out a bunch of bricks instead of hard disks to some customers who were in on it. They laid off some staff involved shortly after, who of course went to the papers and of course the rest is history. A rival company Maxtor ended up buying their intellectual property.

Full Height 3.5 inch SCSI Drives

Full Height 3.5 inch SCSI Drives

The second group here are all full height 3.5 inch SCSI drives, all around the 200MB capacity. In the back left is a Conner cp3200F, a drive that came out of a 486 we had in my late teens, as far as I know it still works. At the back right is a drive made by Digital (Digital Equipment Corporation), this would have most likely been in one of their computing products of the time like a vax station. It may actually be a re-badged drive from another manufacturer such as Conner. You’ll notice they both look very similar. Also in picture is an old Quantum ProDrive 210S and a Maxtor LXT213SY.

Common SCSI Drives

Common SCSI Drives

Here we have a Quantum ProDrive LPS SCSI drive (top) that was very common in early Macintosh machines. I had heard that these drives had a problem where the lubrication in the spindle was too stiff for it to spin up until warm. Users were instructed to try to jolt the machine in such a way as to loosen the grease and start the drive. I guess they could have also warmed it up by some means. The story sounds a bit fanciful, but I didn’t use machines with these drives so I don’t know how true it is.

The drive on the bottom left is a Seagate ST31055W SCSI drive that is quite a bit more modern. Drives like it were frequently used in commodity PC servers in the early 2000’s. The drive on the right is a fujitsu MAN3184MC SCSI drive with an all in one connector. This connector was commonly used in more high end equipment and was frequently found in Sun machines. My old Sparcstation 20 will accept these drives and it was developed in 1992. This type of drive didn’t fall out of favour until SAS became the norm for servers, many servers currently still running are using these drives. I’m lucky to have a number of these drives spare including four 10,000 RPM HP drives of this type.

Some smaller IDE drives

Some smaller IDE drives

Two of these drives are remarkable in the form factor they seem to fit in. Both are Seagate drives, a ST51080N and a ST5660A, which are about 1GB and ~500MB in size respectively. You can see that they are both significantly smaller than the Western Digital Caviar drive, which is about the standard size for most 3.5 inch drives today. The Western Digital drive is a Caviar 11200 10G disk, and as such is younger than the other two. It seems to have an IBM sticker on it, so at some point it came out of an IBM machine.

"Modern" drives

“Modern” drives

The last three drives are somewhat more modern than the rest, two are laptop drives which are an IBM TravelStar and a SATA Hitachi 120G drive. Both are pulled out of laptops from when I was working in IT support. The third drive is a Western Digital WD3200KS drive which is SATA and 320G. This used to be my main drive for a time until it developed bad sectors and got retired. I keep it pretty much only for nostalgia and the fact it has a nice backup of my system on it from the time it died. Whilst it was purchased in roughly 2006, it is a good physical representation of what modern drives look like today.

This concludes the photo tour of the mostly retired hard disks of my collection. In the time it’s taken me to prepare this post, I’ve managed to run the Western Digital tool on my main disk, and it is now looking healthy again without any data loss. I’ll still need to replace it sooner or later as errors like this are often indicative of more arriving soon. The backup drive is looking distinctly much less healthy, but at least it wasn’t storing anything more than a backup, so I’ll simply replace it when I get some money.

I’ve found it interesting that the older drives I have are more reliable than my modern equivalents, some of the old ones still work with no bad sectors, and I’ve put them to use in my Sun machines. Most however are untested. I’ll be keeping all the older drives as they have historical value even if they don’t work. Some like the small Seagate IDE drives I picked up simply because of the small form factor and are in my collection mostly as a curiousity.

I also have a bunch of modern hard disks that are untested, but are frankly mostly unremarkable, so I may dispose of them if I need space. They might become a good source of strong magnets.

5 Responses to “Hard Disk Heaven”

  1. 1 goughlui
    October 14, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    Love this post! Reminds me of my first machine that had a Miniscribe 40Mb MFM hard drive, lucky one too as it only had ONE factory defect. Lots of memories about the sound of those stepper motors, it was pretty musical. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to run them anymore, especially without the right controller card and documentation (low level format with the defect list often required opening debug in MS-DOS and jumping to a ROM address to run the utility (assembly code) from the ISA card ROM itself). Also reminds me about optimizing interleave and remembering to park the heads before shut down and moving … Unfortunately, I was too young and I junked the 40 megger (d’oh!), but it would have likely been still working just fine :). It was just several bad 386/486 motherboards, a dead monochrome monitor … and we just gave up and went with a new machine.

    The shipping-bricks story is very iconic of Miniscribe. I spotted a Conner – my memory was that they were sometimes poor, and sometimes stable but generally not of high performance. Conner was eaten back by Seagate from memory and their Medalist series IDEs with the flat base owe their heritage to the late Conner products. Compaq used them a lot.

    I did manage to stumble upon a 20Mb Quantum Prodrive LPS from an Apple, it was SCSI, and it wasn’t healthy and I pulled it apart. It turns out that there are rubber bumpers to prevent the head from “hitting the spindle” or “hitting the edge of the disk” which is housed in the magnet voice-coil motor assembly. The rubber itself had disintegrated to a gooey mess, and when the drive first energized the voice-coil motor to “un-park” the heads, the head would slam into the rubber limit stop and get stuck by the goo!

    Needless to say, that one didn’t live long enough to get a post because I discovered it before I started blogging – and it made a ripe mess of everything.

    The odd sized Seagates are an odd sight – I’ve never seen them in so many old machines that I’ve been given/pulled apart/salvaged.

    • October 14, 2013 at 10:41 pm

      The first machine I had at home had an early 40Mb ATA style hard drive, from when the standard wasn’t quite concrete yet. It died, but not before about 8 years of hard service! Fortunately by that time I had long recovered the data off it using laplink and a serial cable. I think the drive was a Seagate, but I can’t remember the model.

      You do indeed see a Conner drive, and from what I remember you are right about the low performance. That particular drive is reliable (when last used anyway) but has never been a good performer. I thought the drive from Digital looking almost identical to the Conner was interesting, did digital use conner drives despite the lower performane? Apparantly drives like that ended up in some Vax stations and servers.

      I have a few 200Mb Quantum Prodrive LPS disks from apple, so I may disassemble one that doesn’t work, which from what I remember is fairly likely. It would be interesting to see if the rubber died in many of the drives, but I think these ones simply don’t spin up. I searched the net and couldn’t find out if the story about the spindle motors is true, but I vaguely remember an Apple technician telling me about it. Can’t be sure thought.

      I found the strange sized Seagates while working in a local computer repair shop. I used to keep some of the more interesting pieces of hardware and hard disks when I came accross them. (after asking the client of course!) So I have managed to amase a small collection of generic PC hardware some of which is interesting. It was one of the perks of the job. We used to regularly see older hardware, but none really older than say the early Pentiums in the time I worked there. I will gradually catalog my collection and post information about it as I go.

      • 3 goughlui
        October 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm

        I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t think WD would risk their reputation on Conner drives. Maybe it was the other way around – Conner may not have had any high performing SCSI products of their own and just OEM’d WD drives instead. Either way, I did catch WD “OEMing” IBM/Hitachi drives (see http://goughlui.com/?p=2479), so anything could be possible.

        I’m not sure about the Quantum Prodrive LPS (I thought mine were 20Mb ones, but it may be 200Mb) as I never got one which did work! (All of mine were junked from a local school which would have likely replaced the hard drives in their Macs, left it on a shelf for a few decades and then decided to bin them a few years back.) What you may find (which I haven’t found on any other drives yet) is a hybrid servo system when you disassemble it. You will know it when you disassemble it as you will see a glass plate with laser-etched grooves in a reflective film coating, wedged between an optical encoder. It seems that Quantum hadn’t mastered embedded servo (wedge or dedicated) and instead relied on this to provide feedback with its voice coil motor. If you do find it, do take some pictures – I “forgot” to, and I haven’t seen it since!

        I’ve never worked in a computer shop, but I’ve seen enough equipment having been the “tech” guy many people come to for help. As a result, when people want to dispose of their stuff, they normally come to me ;).

        • October 15, 2013 at 8:26 pm

          Ah, I didn’t mean western digital, I meant digital as in DEC, the makers of pdp-11 and VAX machines. They didn’t make their own hard disks as far as I know, and that is a variant of the digital logo on the drive. The drives look very similar, so unless another manufacturer uses the same external chassis moldings I’d say it’s probably a conner, but I’ll have to look at the circuit boards when I get home to see how alike they are electronically.

          I think the drives I have might be for a younger Mac, I know these are 200mb from when I first got them and they still worked. I’ll have to find my SCSI card and find out which one is dead. If they use opticall sensors that would be interesting to see. I also suspect thar they used the prodrive LPS moniker for a few different sizes and of course left very little markings to indentify the drives.

          I have also acquired old hardware when friends or family dispose of old gear. But working in the industry you run into a larger variety more often. I’d like to get a few more special machines such as an SGI, Alpha, archimedes, or HP PA-RISC. Those are however much harder to find as they are much rarer. I am lucky to have some nice sun machines of varying vintage.

          Having so much hardware is a bit hard to store, so I have to be quite picky about which systems or parts I get now. I may have to get a rack the way I’m going!

      • 5 goughlui
        October 15, 2013 at 8:31 pm

        Ah good old DEC. Didn’t cross my mind – too young to be that far in the industry, although retro always has its intrigue, and it’s also more “obvious” in the way it works.

        I suppose one has to be fairly selective in curating things. I’m getting that way – too much stuff, too little space. Some of it will end up as pictures on my blog, and the “excess” (nothing special, multiple units of the same model) would probably get trashed. At least that way, it doesn’t take up any physical space :).

        Look forward to seeing what else you dig up in the future ;).

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