Hard Drive Circuit Board Transplant

Here's a story I thought I'd share with you, and like most good tales it ends with a moral to it.

WARNING -The information presented here is experimental and, as with all good experiments, there are no guarantees! Take care when following the instructions and take steps to protect your data if at all possible. If your drives are under warranty then consider pursuing this avenue before experimenting.

The other day I had a disk failure in our of my main XP boxes, nothing spectacular, just the drive simply became unavailable during bootup.  I try again without success.  Then I do a quick check of the cable connections in case the gremlins had loosened anything abut all was tight.

The dead drive was my data drive (drive D), which should have freaked me out but, fortunately for me, I had a very fresh backup (couple of days old) so things weren't all that bad. Nevertheless, I had a few emails and bits of work on it that I wanted back - and I'm not one to give up easily either.

The faulty drive was Maxtor DiamondPlus 45, 7200 RPM, 30.7 GB drive which had, typically, just gone out of warranty.  I took it out and gave it a visual inspection and guess what I see - a burn mark on one of the controller chips on the circuit panel on the underside of the drive.  Small but guaranteed to be the problem (probably either due to a micro-fracture on the chip, localized overheating or just plain wear and tear). 

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When I buy drives I tend to buy a pair and use one as C drive and the other as D, I find that that gives me the best load balance for data transfer on the machine and anyway I only have one manufacturer to deal with, warranty wise!

So, having spotted this burn, I decide that I can recover the data with a transplant, a circuit board transplant!  Before I get my scalpel out (or at least my toolkit) I go out and buy two new drive (from my local PC World store - not a place I'd normally go to but it was quick).  I get two Western Digital Caviar 7200 RPM 60 GB, with 2 MB cache and install one in the system.  I then used Norton Ghost 2003 to clone my unaffected C drive onto this new drive. I then swap the the old Maxtors for the new Western Digitals and booted up off the new 60 GB drive.  All works fine but nevertheless I do a quick scan of the drive using chkdsk "just in case". 

A quick visual of the two Maxtor drive confirmed that the two were of the same model - confidence was high!  I have a suitable donor drive for the temporary transplant.

Removing the circuit panel off the back of the drive wasn't all that hard, the only tool I needed was a T8 Torx bit (available from a car parts outlet or PC store).  Once the five screws were undone (slackening off each one a little bit at a time so as not to strain the board and risk a crack) it was a simple matter to lift the board off of the drive. 

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Swapping panel was easy and refitting the functioning board was the reverse of removal, again doing up each of the Torx screws a little bit at a time so as not to risk a crack at this stage.

I carefully take the drive, pop it into the machine and boot up ... success! I copy all the data off this drive onto the new 60 GB drive, again using Norton Ghost 2003, set the new drive as D drive and I'm back up again with zero loss of data!  Finally I swap over the circuit boards again (I wouldn't fully trust that drive again so I put the good circuit board back on the good drive) and I have a spare drive.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
Last updated: May 4th 2004
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